This post is guest-written by Matt Lorz, media relations director for the Arnold Sports Festival. The Arnold Sports Festival is held annually in Columbus on the first weekend of March and welcomes more than 22,000 athletes from more than 80 nations competing in 80+ sports and events.

What are event organizers to do when faced with the possibility of postponing or cancelling an event due to health and safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic? Move it online! When the Arnold Sports Festival, the largest multi-sports festival in the United States, needed to close the 3-day Arnold Fitness EXPO, which annually features 1,000 booths and an expected 200,000 attendees, we needed another way for attendees to visit exhibitors safely. Enter the virtual expo.

The Arnold Virtual EXPO was born out of the necessity to fulfill a promise to bring customers to the exhibitors. Virtual attendees could still connect with and have access to products, services and offers they would have experienced in person at vendors booths. We just had to bring the exhibitors to them.

The Arnold Virtual EXPO concept and website was created for us by Foley Media and Innovative Displays. Invitations to join the Arnold Virtual EXPO were sent out to all exhibitors. Using an online questionnaire, exhibitors supplied their page’s content which includes contact info, company or product description, a photo and video and, if desired, an event-specific promotion. The video and promos linked back to the exhibitor’s website which helps the exhibitors build their own audience.  

Within just 48 hours of the event’s cancellation, company principals Mike and Doug Foley were able to build out a virtual exhibition that featured 40 or our exhibitors with dedicated pages where each had an opportunity to simulate the booth experience or product demo for their customers.

Arnold Sports Expo 2019

All the Arnold Virtual EXPO needed was attendees, which we reached with a newsletter and social media posts. So far, we have seen more than 6,000 unique visitors to the Arnold Virtual EXPO and the number of exhibitors has doubled, with more joining each day.

Although a virtual expo will never replace the physical interaction and broad public appeal that attendees experience at a real live event, they are a safe and effective alternative to see that your exhibitors still receive exposure to their products and services.

We were fortunate that Mike and Doug Foley were here when we needed them. If you are looking for creative ways to move your event’s digital experiences forward in the age of social distancing, we encourage you to take part in their free Virtual Agency Summit, April 1-2, where they will provide the tools, guidance and encouragement for growing your business - all from the comfort and safety of your own home!

Editor's Note: If you are unable to postpone or reschedule your event in Columbus and are interested in moving your event online or creating a virtual expo, Experience Columbus has partners on hand and ready to assist, including Innovative Displays, Markey's Rental & Staging and more. Contact your services manager today for more details and a connection.