EMP’s Gordon Stake recently talked with Joe Spaccarelli, a longtime event marketing professional who is now director of preparedness for the American Red Cross’s greater New York region. Watch the full video interview to hear Joe’s insight on how events will evolve and help attendees feel comfortable participating or read a lightly edited transcript below.
Joe: At the Red Cross, we have two worlds that we live in; we’ve got blue sky world and gray sky world. Blue sky world is when there aren’t a lot of disasters happening and in it I’m responsible for the country’s largest home fire preparedness program. In gray sky mode, I’m actually operations management and manage a large-scale field operation for the Red Cross during times of disaster.
Gordon: Joe, I’ve known you for years and you have such a unique background as one of the best of best event marketers I know. How has that helped you with what you’re doing today?
Joe: When you think about event managers and what we do; it’s problem solving. Everybody brings you their problem and they need an immediate fix. You’re the person with all the answers and know how to get things done. That translates really well into emergency management.
Gordon: How do you see Red Cross events happening for the next 2, 4, 6, 12 months?
Joe: We’re still delivering on our mission, and we’re still doing the things that we do to help people who are suffering and those that are in need. But we’re doing it in a modified way and I believe that same thing is going to translate in the event world and how events are done. We’re going to do it in a modified way and there’s going to be a greater need driving technology in events. There are a couple of schools of thought, right? People talk about virtual events and that they will never replace the human interaction. I don’t think virtual events are intended to replace in-person. As event marketers, we should be looking at it as a way to augment live events. As an example, there’s a fast food company that’s been up-and-coming, growing fast. Their same store sales have doubled since the pandemic. They’re now rethinking their dining room and having people come into their location, sit down and eat their fast food. They’re rethinking that model because they have their profits have even increased significantly.
Right now, event managers should start thinking out of the box and thinking about how do I incorporate multiple facets of technologies and human interactions to create an event portfolio that is safe and helps achieve their business objectives.
Gordon: Using your Red Cross background, when do you think events will be coming back?
Joe: That’s a tough question. We’ve got to follow the guidance of the CDC and health officials. They’re going to give us an indicator based on data on when things can start to open up. The natural inclination is for us to say ‘let’s get back to where it was pre-pandemic’ and I don’t know if we will ever get back to that in the way that we imagine.
This is an opportunity to drive innovation. We’ve got ebbs and flows of innovation that have occurred in the events industry over the years. I been doing this 30 years or so now, and event marketers need to be very innovative now in the way we approach it.
We need to be able to demonstrate that we’re putting the proper measures in place that are going to allow attendee and companies to make smart decisions for themselves. Give them the opportunity to participate either at a virtual level, at a distance or in a room with 10, 15 other people. Event marketers have to be able to demonstrate to them that, we’re doing everything we can to make sure that they’re safe. But it’s a lot of like the public messaging right now. You own that. You know, you own this for your community. I’m wearing my mask for you. That is how I think it will unfold.
Gordon: It’s really like you said, learning and adapting to what we’re in to help you achieve your objectives, which is perfect. Joe: This really forces us to think about quality versus the quantity. As event marketers and brand marketers, we think about wanting as many eyeballs as possible. But if the primary goal is to advance the sales funnel and impact sales, then I think you can do it with less numbers if they’re the right people and you make them comfortable that they will be safe.