Automation Group’s Return to Live Events Shatters Pre-Pandemic Attendance
While many events are seeing a decline in attendees as they return to in-person meetings, the Association for Advancing Automation boosted its numbers by 50 percent. The group attributes the increase to new interest in the tech, virtual outreach, and social media.
While recent surveys of event professionals and anecdotal experience suggest some events are seeing lower attendance numbers as they return to in person, the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) bucked that trend: The group saw a 50 percent increase in attendance for its Autonomous Mobile Robots & Logistics Conference last month in Memphis, Tennessee, compared to its 2019 event.
Jeff Burnstein, president of A3, attributes the boost in live attendance to three factors: pandemic-spurred interest in automation, new leads from online events held during the pandemic, and innovative social media marketing.
“During COVID, everybody was sitting at home buying things online,” Burnstein said. “That explosion of e-commerce meant that companies had to be able to meet that demand. One of the ways they did that was by automating, and that’s why there is so much interest in this particular segment of automation.”
On top of increased interest, A3 attributes increased in-person attendance to the number of new people the association interacted with during the pandemic.
“During the worst part of COVID, we had done a lot of virtual conferences on these technologies,” Burnstein said. “So, we had built up a new database of people that we had been in contact with and who should know about this technology.”
The third thing the organization did was shift gears on its marketing. Pre-pandemic, A3 did a lot of direct mail. But with everyone working from home, the organization knew that wouldn’t work. Instead, A3 took to social media.
“We did some really unique things in the social media world,” Burnstein said. “There are these influencers that specialize in manufacturing. They were engaged with us, and we did preview events, live interviews, and live streams prior to the event. We did live streams from the event. I feel like this role of social media, especially on LinkedIn, is more important than ever.”
In addition to the bolstered attendance, which was around 650 people, the event was well-received. Attendees particularly enjoyed networking events and demonstrations, which Burnstein said are much better in person than online.
“I was not only looking at Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot; I was driving it,” he said. “This is just an example of what you can do in the real word that you can’t possibly do virtually in the same way. The demos can be much more sophisticated than you can do virtually.”
In terms of health and safety protocols, attendees were required to either be vaccinated or submit a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours. “Some people weren’t happy, but many people who came said they were happy that we had that policy and it made them feel safer,” Burnstein said. “Some said they wouldn’t have come without that COVID policy.”
With the success of virtual events in helping boost the attendance for the recent meeting, A3 is launching a digital hub on November 15 that will take some of the content from the meeting and share it online. The goal is to engage with those who didn’t go to this year’s conference, so they’ll have a stronger feel for what they missed and, hopefully, more interest in attending the live event next time.
“What we are calling a digital hub is highlights of what we just did live—many of the presentations, videos from some of the companies who exhibited, maybe some extra interviews with people,” Burnstein said. “This will be a way to keep education out about these events and encourage people to come [attend in person] when the next events occur.”
(via A3’s Facebook page)