Industry event cancellations and postponements escalate as Covid-19 becomes a pandemic

We round up the latest marketing and advertising industry events globally and locally to be cancelled or transformed into digital experiences


It’s been a couple of weeks of cancellations and warnings as industries from technology to culture and sports to marketing and creative cancel, postpone or take events digital in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While it hasn’t yet officially postponed, the latest industry event revealed in doubt this week was the Cannes International Festival of Creativity, which confirmed it has secured alternative dates to run the high-profile event should it be forced to cancel.

Originally slated for 22-26 June, the event has secured an option to run from 26-30 October as part of contingency plans. A decision is expected by 15 April.

“Cannes Lions continues to put the health, wellbeing and safety of our customers and employees first and we are doing everything that a responsible business in our position can do to mitigate the risk posed by Covid-19,” the Cannes festival organiser stated on its website.

The news came off the back of cancellation of South by Southwest (SXSW), scheduled for 13 to 22 March in Austin Texas, and expected to attract 35,000 attendees. In a 12 March statement, the organiser said having to cancel the event so close to its scheduled date was a logistical nightmare.

“We’ve learned that if there’s anything more difficult than producing an event the magnitude of SXSW, it’s cancelling one,” the organiser stated in a post. “This is a devastating time for the company, for our staff and for our community of artists, educators, musicians, filmmakers and small businesses that support this annual event.

“The cancellation of SXSW due to concerns around Covid-19 by the City of Austin was the right decision, but it has rocked us to the core, as well as the thousands of people who help make SXSW an extraordinary and unique event. We didn’t expect the outpouring of support that we’ve received, and it has been both overwhelming and humbling.”

Rather than try and directly replace the physical event with a digital version, SXSW was cancelled this year. However, the organisation said it is exploring options to deliver some experiences online in the near future.

“At this time we cannot realistically reschedule the 2020 event because the Covid-19 situation is still developing, and we don’t want to be in a situation where the City faces the decision to cancel again,” the statement read.

The organiser also confirmed the decision had cost it staff – one of the many economic fallouts many are now predicting off the back of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Given financial factors that came to light very quickly, we were required to go where the company didn’t want to. We needed to cut costs immediately to survive, which regretfully required reducing staff. It is heart-wrenching for everyone, and we are not the same today,” the SXSW organiser stated.  

The SXSW organiser is now working to create a deferral package for 2020 registrants for the 2011, 2022 or 2023 editions of the event, to be confirmed within the week.

Tech giant events impacted

Marketing technology giant, Adobe, also opted to halt its annual Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, which at last count attracted more than 13,000 delegates and was slated for 29 March to 2 April. The vendor has now said the event will run as a virtual event from 31 March.  

“Over the past few weeks, we have been closely monitoring and evaluating the situation around Covid-19 to ensure we are taking the necessary measures to protect the health and wellbeing of Adobe Summit attendees. As a result, we have made the difficult but important decision to make Summit/Imagine 2020 an online event this year and cancel the live event in Las Vegas,” a statement read.

“While we are disappointed that we will not be together in-person with our community this year, we are excited to host Adobe Summit as an online experience.”

In a similar situation is Oracle, which has opted to postpone the in-person component of its Oracle Modern Business Experience in Chicago from March to 21-24 September and relocate it to Las Vegas.

“Due to increasing concerns about the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, and to help protect the health and safety of our customers, employees, partners, and everyone who helps host the event, Oracle is postponing the in-person component of Oracle Modern Business Experience Chicago,” the statement read.

It will, however, run a 90-minute live Webcast, dubbed the ‘state of the union’, to cover off keynote presentations the Oracle senior product leadership team were due to announce on 24 March. These cover the customer experience platforms as well as Oracle’s wider technology suite.

Facebook’s F8 in-person developer conference, slated for May, is being transformed into locally hosted events and live-streamed content, while Google Cloud Next will also be reimagined as ‘Digital Connect’ after the search giant cancelled the 6-8 April event.

Responses by other organisers servicing the marketing and advertising industry are mixed. Advertising Week Europe, a further casualty in March, has been delayed to September. The announcement was made just a week before the event was scheduled to be held. WFA Global Marketer Week in Singapore (31 March – 3 April), meanwhile, will not go ahead at all in 2020.

And cancellations are creeping through May, too. Creative Week in New York City, scheduled for 11-15 May, has been cancelled as a live event plans for an online experience have been flagged.

Other brands have been cancelling events planned for May across the media and marketing ecosystem too in favour of streaming. The May upfronts week in the US, for example, will now be completely digital after several supporters such as ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal pulled out and opted for digital-only engagement.

Australian shores

Closer to home, the recent Salesforce World Tour in Sydney was run as a virtual-only event on 4 March after the CRM giant decided not to proceed with a physical conference. To do this, the vendor turned its ICC space into branded studios, recording and streaming more than 100 sessions live.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our Ohana. Over the last few months, we have been closely monitoring the evolving situation with the Coronavirus outbreak to ensure we are taking every precaution to look after our customers, partners, and employees,” Salesforce stated at the time. “After careful consideration of our customers and reflection on our values, we’ve decided to change the format of our World Tour in person event on Wednesday 4 March to be an online experience.”

And it was reportedly a decision that paid off, with 80,000 viewers tuning in and 1.2 million total video viewers across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.  

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“With the best interest of our customers, employees and partners in mind, we changed the event to an online experience, due to health concerns caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus. This eliminated the need for attendees to travel to Sydney while enabling them to still benefit from the event content,” Salesforce stated this week.  

As for the rest of March, events continue to tumble. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has cancelled its Summit from 31 March – 2 April in Sydney, covering both IT and customer experience technologies.

“After a careful review of the current situation with Covid-19 and listening to the guidance provided by the local authorities, Amazon Web Services regrets to announce that we have made the decision to cancel the AWS Summit Sydney and Amazon Innovation Day 2020,” the company stated on its website. “We are currently looking at all options for a follow-up event.”

However, at this stage, the upcoming IAB Australia Direct Brands Summit (24 March), Customer 360 Summit (24-25 March) are both still scheduled to go ahead, with both associations introducing several measures and processes onsite as a precaution around Covid-19.

However, ADMA on 16 March confirmed it was cancelling the upcoming ADMA Global Forum (31 March – 1 April) in Sydney due to the latest Australian restrictions around large event gatherings.

The association has also postponed the ADMA Town Hall on 17 March due to travel and participation restrictions across participating organisations.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia. 

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