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Event agencies are still in crisis mode amid rampant cancellations, but predict that fashion and luxury marketers will more quickly adopt digital capabilities.

“​We have been swamped with requests of how to begin creating virtual experiences. There has been a huge surge of interest in virtual, augmented and mixed realities,” said Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion. “Currently, it’s not as if brands have another choice. Events have to stop, so if they want to continue communicating they will have to look at digital alternatives.”

“Brands are super ready, and they were before the crisis,” agreed René Célestin, founder of the Paris-based fashion and luxury events company Obo.

Yet how quickly they adopt “digital solutions to push content and ideas” will depend on the length of lockdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic, he said. “In the short term, everyone’s P&L is hugely impacted, so brands will probably cancel a lot of their programming to focus on the essentials.”

To be sure, they will at some point be obliged to again promote their products and their brands. The seasoned event producer has seen a steady migration of budgets from advertising to digital media and live events, especially complex ones that blend theatrical environments, live performances and elite hospitality, like Roger Vivier’s Hotel Vivier experiences that have touched down in Paris, Los Angeles and New York.

“Every event in the world can be digitally enhanced, whether they be shows, product launches, brand experiences, live performances,” Célestin said. “One should be careful though, as neglecting live audiences has a huge reputation cost. Digitally enhancing an event should never be done at the cost of the live experience.”

Others agree that brands will be hard-pressed to let go the emotional impact of high-level, artistic, curated gatherings.

“They still have the same mind-set for the moment. I just had two clients call me to inquire about events for April and June,” said Hicham Abboub, principal of H.Stories, an event agency in Paris.

That said, he cited heightened concerns about excess and environmental damage prior to the health crisis, compelling him to conserve and repurpose materials from events wherever possible. He collaborates with La Réserve des Arts, a nonprofit association in Paris that collects and redistributes discards from cultural events.

Pre-crisis, brands were already oriented toward “less waste, a renewed guest-list focus, a more local approach, and a lesser amount of waste and pollution starting at the creative level, Célestin agreed. “We see coronavirus as being a great reinforcer of brands and companies wanting to do good.”

Alexander Werz, co-chief executive officer at communication and p.r. firm Karla Otto, echoed that “the benefits of offline experiences and events are undoubtedly unchanged,” calling them a “powerful vehicle for a more personalized interaction with clients, a great way to connect with the media, and an important piece of content that influencer marketing relies upon.”

That said, the crisis is ramping up interest in virtual reality solutions. “We are exploring numerous virtual and digital concepts for events and shows in China and Europe at the moment — some that could complement physical events,” he said, without giving particulars. “Data on clients, on sales, on conversations on social media will become a driving force to shape events in the future and make them all the more relevant when and where and with whom they happen.

“Brands are improving in their capacity to have a more targeted and granular approach to their marketing spend and are more in tune with their customers than ever before,” Werz added.

So what does a perfect event look like?

According to Werz, it’s well attended and generates “coverage” opportunities across social media, print and digital. But “it most importantly provides a quality, unique and memorable experience for those who are in attendance, encouraging prolonged conversation as well as creating opportunities for them to share across their social channel increasing both engagement and building out the brand community.”

Célestin cited Savage x Fenty as a great example of a live fashion event expressly designed for digital media distribution. Meanwhile, examples abound in music of intimate and vivid online concert experiences hosted by the likes of Boiler Room, Sofar Sounds and Cercle.

According to Drinkwater, consumers will soon be able to “walk around life-sized, photorealistic holograms. Catwalks could be taking place in your home in real-time in augmented reality or streamed to VR headsets allowing for creation of sets that would be physically impossible to build.”

Likewise, retail buyers need never visit a physical showroom. “They could be getting a fully immersive experience in their home office,” he said. “Designers could be working on a garment collaboratively in real time from wherever they are in the world. All of these could be happening now.”

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