We’ve just come out of delivering two virtual media experiences for adidas; launching the new X Ghosted football boot and celebrating the brand’s latest innovation in running footwear. These were the brand’s first full-scale online events for global media and influencers, adapting the approach to storytelling following COVID-19. Their success – the effectiveness and efficiency at landing the story internationally, combined with immediate ecom impact – has naturally created significant questions about the future of live brand storytelling.

Virtual events have enabled us to ‘easily’ bring together the most world’s most influential commentators when diaries would traditionally limit who could travel to a set location. They’ve allowed us to put brand spokespeople front and centre of the story, confidently speaking to the captive audience following bespoke training and rigorous rehearsals. We have been able to create virtual content capture studios so attendees can remotely direct and secure their own bespoke assets. We’ve used break out rooms for exclusive access, and have broadcast live from HQ to provide a BTS brand experience.

The events look amazing, deliver impressive ROI and importantly are far more sustainable. The team are buzzing with the possibilities for how we can continue to push boundaries and innovate our virtual storytelling experiences – however, we simply can’t ignore what’s lost in the physical event. The feel and the scent of the product, the human touch and genuine connection that comes in person, the off-schedule conversation over drinks, the unique camera angle providing guests with truly exclusive content, and the spontaneous joyful moments that can’t be scripted or planned; all critical aspects to building brand affinity. We’re left considering how we can successfully merge the notion of URL and IRL.

As an ever-follower of fashion weeks, I’ve long enjoyed watching how the shows and designers have adapted to our changing world. And while reflecting on the opportunity cited above, this month’s showcase provided the perfect inspiration. A step on from London’s first digital fashion week in June – a stripped back, fast yet impressively effective adaption to the pandemic – we witnessed a more considered hybrid physical and digital schedule for SS21. From London and New York, we were presented with great food for thought on how brand storytellers can explore a future blending cutting edge virtual storytelling with moments of powerful physicality.

Ever the trailblazer, Burberry kicked off the LFW schedule with the live stream of a guest-free runway show deep in a forest outside of London. Without the pressure of having to get VIPs to a desirable venue, creative director Tisci could select a location that was perfect for the story, closer to nature and of course visually stunning. The show was streamed on Twitch, making Burberry the first luxury brand to partner with the platform normally associated with gaming.

Without the budget and effort going into large scale event production, LFW showcased a diverse collection of films to bring to life the vision of the various designers. Michael Halpern cast ‘eight heroines of the frontline’ in a buoyant fashion film that aired on the LFW website. It featured a group of hospital workers reflecting on their lockdown efforts whilst dressed in Halpern’s creations. Vivienne Westwood unveiled her unisex SS21 collection with a dramatic punk rock video and JW Anderson released a short film starring The Crown’s Emma Corrin taking the viewer on a fun virtual shopping trip.

Victoria Beckham ended up pivoting from her planned live show at the last minute, instead presenting the collection online via a catwalk video (apparently still being edited minutes before going live) alongside a series of private appointments at the Victoria Miro gallery. Like Beckham, many designers opted to complement their open, accessible online storytelling with intimate briefings for small groups. Christopher Kane did this beautifully in his Mount Street store, presenting the SS21 offering alongside a selection of his own paintings, a personal focus for his time in lockdown. With the current challenge our physical retail spaces are facing, I love the idea of using the store as the location for in-person fashion week storytelling; making ‘the high street’ a must-visit destination and attracting people into the centre of our cities.

And the ‘week’s’ events closed with a literal bang, thanks to London-based Persian designer Paria Farzaneh, who staged a pyrotechnic-heavy runway show on a farmer’s field in Amersham for a small group of socially-distanced editors. It was cited as one of LFW’s most immersive experiences, and while only for the few, it created the memorable, talked about moment to enhance the brand’s online storytelling

Without a doubt, our efforts have to go into how we can keep virtual experiences fresh. We’ll see more and more invites to URLs promising headline-worthy news and feature friendly access. The demand for journalists’ time will go up, as the boredom threshold goes down…and the ability to leave is only one small click away! We’ll need to be ever ready to embrace new technologies and use our creativity to stand out, and keep guests in. However, an important consideration for the future of live storytelling is how we can combine a first-class online experience, with safe, memorable moments of physicality. Destined to be more personal and far rarer, how do we go beyond the screen and enable the right people to touch and experience the brand story first-hand? As experts in the craft of relationships, I’m looking forward bringing our creativity and innovation to ‘in person’ storytelling; to successfully supplement effective remote storytelling with brand tangibility and intimacy, creating a lasting impression and sustained advocacy.