Despite Nationwide Event Cancellations, This Show Did Go On

Why Adweek decided to go ahead with Challenger Brands summit, despite coronavirus concerns

the main room of challenger brands full of people
Only about 10% of attendees and speakers canceled their plans to attend Challenger Brands. Sean T. Smith for Adweek

The last few weeks have not been kind to companies that produce events. Mobile World Congress, Adobe Summit, Qualtrics X4, Expo West and Dubai Lynx are just a few of the major summits that have decided to cancel their gatherings in the face of the widening coronavirus epidemic.

While the business implications of a canceled event pale in comparison to the human toll of the global epidemic, millions of dollars and thousands of hours could be lost forever for event companies. Some have opted to take a wait-and-see approach: This morning, organizers of South by Southwest announced their festival in Austin, Texas will go on next week; Cannes Lions is also still on the calendar for June.

For Adweek, the decision was made to go ahead with its annual Challenger Brands summit, taking place today and Thursday in New York, and the event ended up being filled to capacity with standing-room crowds only during the morning breakout sessions.

“The benefit for us is that this is really a New York show,” said Adweek CEO Jeff Litvack. “So for many of the attendees, as well as the sponsors who are local, despite the concern of coronavirus, the barriers to attend were low.”

Adweek chief brand officer Danny Wright kicked off the two-day event at the Convene space in Lower Manhattan by thanking the more than 750 marketing professionals and sponsors for attending in the face of the epidemic.

In his introductory remarks, Litvack pointed out that the companies represented in the packed room account for more that $4.5 billion in capital raised, and $1.7 trillion in goods sold.

The morning kicked off with a fireside chat with NFL CMO Tim Ellis, who talked about how he is marketing the league for the next generation. “I was brought in to bridge those generations between our core audiences and the younger generations,” Ellis said. “How do you reach and engage that elusive younger audience without losing your core? Let’s not just go after them, let’s inject youth culture into the NFL.”

Discussions with Reddit, Ulta Beauty, Glossier, Puma and Fandango followed.

Earlier this week, Adweek offered all attendees the option to transfer the value of their ticket to a future event if they had recently traveled abroad or weren’t feeling well. Less than 10% chose that option. Additionally, four of the 40 speakers did not attend because of their own companies’ newly enacted travel policies.

“It was a great feeling seeing all the attendees, all the partners, who still chose to come and learn and discuss and meet about these topics that will affect their business even after we get through the coronavirus epidemic,” Litvack said.

@ChrisAriens Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.