April 1, 2021

The future of events: Q & A with Alex Patriquin, CEO of Circa

We caught up with Alex Patriquin, the CEO of virtual and in-person event marketing platform, and Cronofy partner, Circa.
15 min read
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Jeremy Bourhis
Demand Generation Manager
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We caught up with Alex Patriquin, the CEO of virtual and in-person event marketing platform, and Cronofy partner, Circa. Alex is someone in a unique and expert position to comment on the new and evolving events landscape. His company has also been on a journey of their own adjusting to the new normal this year!

Hi, Alex, great to chat with you. Would you like to begin by just introducing Circa and what your company does?

Alex (Circa): Circa is an event marketing management platform, designed to help marketers track and record return on investment (ROI) for virtual, hybrid or in-person events. Our customers are larger enterprises, Salesforce and Honda for example. They often host hundreds, even thousands of events in a normal year and Circa provides the platform to run all of them. The calendar, the budget and the ROI. We like to think about event calendars as a digital marketing channel – which is a pretty fresh approach.

I know you’ve been on an incredible journey this year – the event landscape was turned upside down in March when the pandemic took hold. Can you walk me through it?

Before COVID, Circa had a different name and a different mission. We were EventGeek and did in-person event logistics. We were founded in 2016 and over the course of the four years between founding and COVID, we did about 240,000 events on our platform. Primarily to big enterprise businesses with large numbers of events, ranging from hosted conferences to sponsorship, speaking engagements and exhibits.

With COVID, we’ve changed a lot, not just our name. We have really evolved our platform to be more focused on using events like digital marketing and less so on all the in-person logistics, like travel and shipments. In terms of the general landscape, we’re kind of leading the way a little bit. It’s been a fast but necessary transition. If you think about pivoting since March and managing to relaunch in August – that’s the timeline in which the transformation happened. Now we do both virtual and in-person events!

In terms of the competitive landscape and other companies and professionals in the events space, are people adjusting quickly enough? What does the future hold?

Yeah, it’s a great question. I think the landscape is still evolving. A lot of event marketers (and I’ll speak to event marketers specifically since that’s really what we know), when they’re in that corporate world, they are doing events as a marketing channel. A lot of event marketers have experimented with virtual events this year. And as we look into 2021, they’re setting up experience or hybrid events. The results are really great in some ways, and not quite the same as in-person in other ways.

For example, they’ve got greater reach than they had before and greater engagement but in some ways there are impacts of not being able to meet in person.

That’s kind of the big question. When we do have a vaccine and whenever we’re able to get back together in person the really big question is, how much are in-person events going to be digitized? To what extent will we continue to do virtual events? How will they have a role in the event calendar and event marketing portfolio?

Those were questions that we helped to answer, and we’ve definitely seen strong traction since our relaunch. Both from existing customers, utilizing our different platform and new customers, coming in to ask those questions and get answers from our platform.

We’re really excited about the future because we do think it’s an opportunity for event marketing across the board, to catch up with digital marketing. The latter being so efficient and trackable – it’s grown year after year for decades. Whereas event marketing, I think, has been stuck in the stone age in terms of digital transformation, and this is a great leap forward for it.

You're really seeing it as a channel of its own now, a marketing channel. Let’s explore that further, this idea that events are perceived as periodical or sporadic perhaps, for a lot of companies.

I think there are a lot of event management professionals who have thought about events as a one-off. Happening one by one, without a more cohesive, holistic approach. They may have a big user conference they might go to, a lot of trade shows where they’ve set up exhibits or a sponsorship, but there hasn’t been a connected strategy.

For example, seeing the events calendar as kind of a customer journey. How to best move a prospect from digital marketing to a live event, engagement, back again, and then ultimately to a sales meeting. That’s the kind of customer journey that we’re now able to track and help our customers to map out. This is because we are able to have a lot more reliability and accuracy in the tracking.

If the event was in person, you might have somebody just swinging by an exhibit booth. They’ll maybe drop off a business card and chat with the sales rep for five minutes. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that happened if you were looking at the analytics from an in-person event. If you’re lucky, there’s a very determined event marketer who tries to grab everything in a spreadsheet and then does their best to upload it into the CRM. But in most cases, those spreadsheets are incomplete, and the event marketing team is just too busy producing the event to worry about the tracking. The data doesn’t get captured. In a virtual event environment, it can be automatically captured because it’s all running in the browser. We’re able to use data signals like that, to bring a lot more reliability and accuracy and to measuring the ROI of the events portfolio.

Do you have any predictions, any other predictions for 2021 and beyond?

I’ve seen some statistics that 97% of marketers think hybrid events will become more prominent in the future and 73% of marketers will do their first hybrid event in 2021. Which is a little scary. Hybrid events are new and they’re difficult. It’s almost like putting on two events in one.

You’ve got people dialling in virtually and then people there in person as well. There’s actually quite a lot of difference in terms of what experience is needed and the extra workload. The teams that produce the in-person events don’t necessarily have those event technology, live streaming production skills. They can bring in agencies, but ultimately, they want to be planning and strategically thinking through their events calendar from the beginning with that insight. It’s a big challenge, but it’s also very exciting because it does mean we could take advantage of the benefits of virtual and the benefits of in-person at the same time, at least theoretically.

Some of the enterprises we’re talking to are questioning whether they host a hybrid event – as in one single event – or if it’s a hybrid calendar where there is an in-person event. Then maybe a few days before or after there’s a virtual version – so it’s best of both

That sounds like a viable and good option. It could work better because you kind of focus on one type at a time, but actually you get all the benefits and the global reach

Certainly it’s simpler to produce that way. I think we'll see more companies thinking about a hybrid events calendar, versus a single hybrid event.

Well, as you've mentioned calendars, perhaps now's a good time to kind of talk a bit more about the role of scheduling and calendars in virtual events and obviously our partnership together

Calendars, I believe are really the foundation of a successful events program. As I’ve said, enterprise scale companies tend to have thousands of different events, but their focus is often on a huge end user event. The leaders in the market of event management technology have really focused on this “bigger is better” idea and getting more registrations and more ticket fees that come from that.

As we enter this new world of virtual and hybrid events everything should be connected now. It’s no longer about just one-off and “bigger is better” but more about a customer journey. And that customer journey from an events perspective happens on a calendar.

For us at Circa, the foundation is really event calendars and that’s the most popular activity that we see on our platform. Thousands of sales reps look up the events that are happening in their territory or region and search around dates. I believe that it is a really important paradigm shift from thinking of events as singular activities. Event technology is shifting focus to think about events as connected customer journeys, with more of a calendar focus.

So if I understand, the idea is to be able to dip in and out of more events instead. Attending an event in person is a big deal. You have to get hotels, plan the timeout of your day - sometimes even a whole week out of the office. Whereas actually in this new world or landscape, you’ve got more flexibility. I know that there's an online, three-day product marketing event coming up. I just added to my calendar the sessions that I wanted to tune into, and I'll see where I am on the day, but hopefully I'll get to attend some of them

Exactly, and you might go to that product marketing event in January or revisit it in March. It’s not as time bound anymore. And it's not as much of a one-off experience, but more of a continuous journey that you could even come back to.

How do Cronofy, calendar sync and scheduling fit into that? I know that you've got some ideas of how we could support you in the physical events, but you've also got ideas about helping with virtual?

I think as the event marketing teams are looking to 2021 and beyond, they are looking at calendars as kind of the foundation for planning their programs and for experimenting with hybrid. That’s where Cronofy comes in. Looking at the availability of team members to execute an event, where it fits on a calendar in terms of other commitments as well, like competitor partner events and then confirming that people are actually available. Getting on their calendar to present or to plan attendance.

All of that, as well as scheduling one-on-one meetings during a hybrid event is based on calendars and we use Cronofy to automate our connection to people’s calendars. At the end of the day there’s two certainties in life: death and taxes. Both are really about time. It’s money. And we only have so much of it.

Calendars are how we measure our time, for our personal lives, but also for our professional roles. It’s really the ultimate source of truth in the single record for people as they work and live. It’s essential to be on the calendar to make something happen. And to have that insight to plan for something to happen, Cronofy handles all the complexity of working with a Microsoft Outlook or Google calendar and makes it very easy for us to have that kind of facile back and forth interaction between individual’s calendar and the company’s plans.

So with Circa’s clients, it's enhancing their experience of working with you as well as potentially the attendees at the event, it's improving their experience as well. There's a chain of efficiency that our partnership with you enables?

Absolutely. For an attendee, who's looking to have a meeting with a sales rep or who's looking to put an agenda on their calendar directly. Having that connection automated to their calendar instead of them having to manually send emails back and forth for scheduling or copying data from events to their calendar, which is clunky. Cronofy makes all of that seamless. With in-person, there are lots of moving parts to coordinate and temporary meeting rooms or theatres – it was great to find a solution that could manage all of that complexity for us.

That’s fantastic. I know I find it frustrating adding event sessions manually. Often it doesn’t work the first time either. If calendars are synced and it’s seamless based on just choosing the sessions you’re interested in that would transform the process and save time.Finally, have you seen anything in terms of technology adoption and changes in it over this past year?

Well video is a big one. We can’t be in person, so we need live streaming and a replaced solution. I think that that’s really the key thing with virtual.

Then there’s a lot of experimentation happening around matchmaking and meetings and exhibit booths. It’s not really possible to virtually walk a trade show floor yet. And this is one area where anything virtual doesn’t quite have the same impact.

When you walk down a trade show aisle, you have to spend at least five to 10 seconds in that trade shows exhibit booths sphere. Even if you’re just walking through it. With the virtual event exhibit booth, it can be a nanosecond. You just could click and leave. So matchmaking I think is really important between attendees and exhibitors and even attendees and attendees.

That’s based on kind of an interest graph, but it’s also based on availability. And some tools are experimenting with integrating calendars to streamline the availability part of that equation. And that’s been nice. I haven’t seen it done really well yet, but I think it’s kind of a no brainer of something that will need to develop even further. At some point we’ll have kind of a calendar passport when we go to one event and we simply just provide our availability. You wouldn’t have to go back and forth over email at all. A tool like Cronofy can play a big role in that.

Another thing is polling. It’s something that’s been under-utilized at in-person events for a long time. You have people who may already be on their phones and not paying attention when you asked them to bring up the polling landing page after. We’ve heard the most effective way to get survey responses after an in-person session or an event is to have staff just stand there with a handful of t-shirts in one hand and a survey and ask for quick poll responses. With virtual, in the moment polling is such a seamless thing and there’s such a low friction to attendees just clicking a response on a window that’s popped up in front of them. We’ve definitely seen increasing conversion rates on polls that happen at real time virtual events.

You can also look at time spent in session, ideally in an active window assessment. And the kind of influence that the event may have had on achieving goals and becoming a sales opportunity, then converting into a customer.

Those I think are the big ones but there’s lots of experimentation going on for tracking. All that engagement online – it’s so much more trackable. It definitely becomes part of the marketing conversion funnel and is much easier to attribute. This opens up lots of opportunities for marketers.

That’s something we’re really championing at Circa and the idea of mapping event attendance using the calendar is something we’re pursuing a patent for – it’s really exciting, the relationship between calendars and events has a bright future!

About Circa

Circa is the B2B event marketing platform for transitioning in-person event and meeting programs to virtual, with a focus on customer engagement, and events as central to the customer experience. Circa adds virtual event measurement capabilities, ensuring that enterprise marketing and sales teams can adapt existing event programs effectively and unify engagement data across all their events, whether they are hosting or sponsoring an event, and whether events are in-person, virtual or hybrid.