This story is a part of a series of stories on Glossy about the future of experiential, looking at all the ways face-to-face interactions in beauty and fashion are changing. You can read other stories in this series here.
Events are back, and editors and publicists have mixed emotions about them.
Prior to Covid, PR-organized brand events and deskside meetings took up a hefty chunk of NYC-based editors’ time. There were, as with anything, pros and cons. Events allowed for networking, not only with the hosting brands, but also with other editors, writers and freelancers. Often, they were also fun, serving as respites from busy schedules heavy on screentime. On the other hand, they took place across the city at all hours of the day, from before work to smack in the middle of it, and long past traditional hours, too. The travel time alone was a time suck.
At the start of the pandemic, Zoom “events” became the norm, and editors found themselves as busy as ever, with back-to-back-to-back Zoom meetings.
Now, as restrictions lift and vaccinated workers become the majority, a reckoning is afoot, with people becoming more thoughtful about how they spend their time, money and energy. According to publicists, editors and brands alike, events need to be more carefully considered and intentional than before. For Madeleine Fawcett, co-founder of boutique beauty PR agency Project MM, “That consideration is going to be more important than ever, as we’ve all had a forced pause to consider the pace at which we were bounding through life pre-Covid.”
Erica Metzger, beauty and fashion director at Better Homes & Gardens and founder of The Beauty Loop newsletter, has used her newsletter to conduct surveys of editors on their sentiments around events, both digital and in-person. She can boil the results down to a single word: efficiency. When it comes to virtual events, the general consensus is that 30 minutes is the maximum. ”Editors want short, streamlined, informative presentations,” Metzger said. For example, they don’t always have time for the “experiential” element, like a cocktail-making lesson on Zoom. Metzger recommends making that part optional and tacking it onto the latter half of an event.
Some brands have been quick to plan real-life events. But there’s “a strong desire for virtual events to remain a norm, as they are huge time-savers [compared to in-person events] and make presentations more inclusive to editors and freelancers no longer living in NYC,” Metzger said. “The expectation is that there will always be a virtual option along with an IRL experience, so that everyone can partake.”
PR agency Jennifer Bett Communications decided to test its own theories on the topic and run a survey, which Glossy covered in early May. According to Melissa Duren Conner, partner and managing director at JBC, editors showed interest in returning to experiential events, as long as they were made aware in advance of the safety measures being taken. Specifically, they wanted to know about masking protocol and checks on vaccine status. “Disclosure is important,” she said. She noted that a portion of respondents said they were comfortable with indoor events, as long as they were “intimate.” Smaller events can work to everyone’s benefit, she said: “They can lead to a more meaningful interaction between the media and brands, pandemic or not. That’s a much more valuable way for everyone to spend their time.”
When it comes to IRL events, members of the media are now looking strictly for experiences that cannot be replicated via Zoom. “We’re excited at the prospect of being able to gather again and celebrate our clients’ hard work, but we continue to advise them to be mindful of the format in which news is presented,” Fawcett said. “If there is a real reason we should gather in person, let’s absolutely do it. But, if it’s straightforward news that can come across equally efficiently through Zoom or email, then we should also consider that option.” The sentiment is shared by editors, too. “Another big thing editors talk about is feeling completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of events these days. Editors also crave fewer, more mindful, higher quality, newsy events overall. And they prefer a mailer, email pitches or a press release whenever possible.”
After the summer, Metzger predicts an uptick in in-person events, though, she said, editors plan to be more selective about which they attend. “Transportation is another issue for editors because of health and safety concerns,” she said. “It’s a major time suck going to-and-from events. Editors have also noted that one-on-one ‘deskside’ meetings can always be done virtually now.”
Direct-to-consumer bra brand Cuup hosted a Zoom event with 23 editors when it launched its swimwear category in May, which founder Abby Morgan saw as a success. “[Of course] virtual events are less intimate because you don’t have that nonverbal communication and that organic conversation that pops up,” she said. “But at the same time, you’re in the comfort of your own home. [From the brand’s perspective,] you feel more focused. It’s not as nerve-wracking when you’re presenting.”
In early June, Keys Soulcare, Alicia Keys’s skin-care and wellness brand hosted an experiential event to mark the brand’s entry into body care. The event was planned by its PR agency, Shadow, and took place at Soho spa Chillhouse where editors were invited to experience massages, manicures or pedicures that made use of the brand’s new products. “We knew this event would likely be the first in-person experience for many of our guests, or maybe their first in-person service. So we expected it to feel truly poignant and special,” said Liza Suloti, partner at Shadow.
Ultimately, Duren Conner said she expects around half of the industry to change their ways. “I think 50% of the industry will go back to exactly the same approach they had [pre-pandemic], but the other half is rethinking everything,” she said, calling out the current opportunity to change things for the better. “Returning to the status quo is a little boring.”