As originally seen in Associations Now

Here’s how the country’s top convention city adapted swiftly and creatively in the pandemic.

While disruption offers the possibility of big payoff, major shake ups come with substantial risk. So under ordinary circumstances, organizations may be reluctant to make structural changes to their ways of doing business, finding reasons to put off such moves in favor of sticking to business as usual. But along with a historic global crisis came the necessity to innovate nimbly and strategically to survive 2020—and flourish into the future.

Indeed the pandemic has dramatically and indisputably changed the way the entire country—even the world—does business and conducts meetings. The question has shifted from if meetings will have virtual components to how these components will be executed technically and conceptually.

Indianapolis, the country’s top convention city, recognized the seismic shift immediately. Visit Indy, the city’s official marketing and sales organization, quickly certified an on-staff Hybrid Concierge and digital event strategist. Major players across the city also jumped into action, bringing key partners together to establish new audiovisual infrastructure for virtual and hybrid meetings, and to offer a city-wide hybrid meeting incentive to drive business to the destination.

Mark Miller is the president of Markey’s Rental and Staging, one of Indy’s leading audiovisual companies. Here, he shares how he helped make it happen, and how the moment unified competitors for the industry’s greater good.

Acting Fast

As the pandemic spread in mid-March and the CDC mandated a hold on events, Miller was looking a step ahead. “I took my senior leadership and said, we have to get a platform. We have to understand how to start offering a virtual solution to our customers.” he says. “And we have got to be first to market.”

Although the company had been in business for 60 years, Miller knew it was time to make sweeping changes, which would challenge and push the entire team. “We’d have to retrain our staff,” he says. “It was kind of like a startup mentality.”

Cooperating for a Common Goal

While vendors and venues within the event community may be healthy competitors in normal times, the extraordinary circumstance brought them together as a committee, where the best ideas rose to the top and were swiftly implemented in the pandemic’s early weeks. In Indy, the industry has “always been very community oriented, we do what’s best for the whole,” Miller says. “It was very natural for us to work together with competitors in a cooperative manner.”

The idea came together to offer a citywide audiovisual and Internet discount as a way of driving event business to the city. Participating partner venues include the convention center and all of its connecting hotels.

“There was no hesitation on anyone’s part—it was, ‘let’s get this out there,’” Miller says. “This is a community that in 1984 built a stadium for a football team that they didn’t even have—they were looking to the future. This is a community that’s always looking at the greater good.”

Embracing Change

If some industry stalwarts feared virtual events would cut into attendee rosters, holdouts find themselves now without choice to leap into the digital realm.

And while no one would have wished for the circumstances that drove the need for innovation on this level, Miller sees the creative stretching as a good thing. “We’re going to adapt to it, we’re going to be willing to accept it and embrace it and engage in it,” he says, referring to the entire industry. “When we persevere, we become stronger as people and as organizations and as communities.”

And Miller sees a permanent—and positive—shift in the changes born out of necessity in the pandemic. Through virtual events, Miller says, “We can reach a wider audience in the future. It’s part of cultural change, and it’s not going away.”