Event Design

Humans Triumph Over AI in Head-to-Head Competition 

Attendees gathered at PCMA Convening Leaders competing

Skift Take

Using AI to help with event marketing is becoming standard practice. However, the results are surprising compared to a fully human approach.

“Human Heroes vs. AI Wizards” brought two competing groups of event professionals together to create a marketing campaign during the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Convening Leaders 2024 conference in San Diego. It was for an actual event — the AAO-HNSF 2024 Annual Meeting & OTO Expo in Miami, September 28-October 1.

There was a twist. One group could use AI. The other couldn’t.

The results surprised many as the group without access to AI won the competition.

Shawn Cheng, event strategist, Curious Bear Management and the competition creator and judge, suggested they feature an actual meeting or convention. This convention for specialists who treat the ears, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck fit the bill perfectly as they hadn’t launched registration yet. The goal was to create a marketing campaign to help the association drive registration.

Comparing the Human and AI-Enhanced Approach

The AI team jumped right in, writing the prompt straight into Spark, the Generative AI platform launched by Gevme and PCMA in May 2023. Instead of high-level brainstorming, they dived straight into AI-driven execution. 

Nick Borelli, marketing director of Zenus, PCMA’s AI facilitator, and another judge, admits that he thought the group using AI would prevail. That did not happen.

The volume of tactical information created by AI impressed Borelli added. The AI team had about 60 line items, while the human team only had six, but they were highly creative.

The AI team created a tactical checklist. In contrast, the human team devised a highly focused, creative campaign focused on making waves, apropos for this group that deals with sound waves and the seaside destination, Miami Beach. 

“The wording was a bridge between the conference’s purpose and Miami. Waves were also incorporated into the Miami iconography,” said Borelli. “It was human ingenuity that rose above the tactical readouts of AI. But it’s like comparing apples and oranges. When used together, they work really well.”

Human Creativity Prevails

“What we saw was how people’s behavior changes when a tool like AI is involved,” said Cheng. “The team without AI came together and threw ideas off each other.”

“They gave up in some way, giving up their own thinking and just following what AI told them and building on that,” said Cheng. “AI is just a tool. The human brain is still most important.”

The customer — Beth Burchill, senior director of meetings and corporate development for the American Academy of Oolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery — was also a judge. She brought notes and ideas from the competition back to her team.

“Everything I expected to happen didn’t, and that is exciting. It was a real design learning experience,” said Borelli.

Events have a wide array of ingredients. “It’s a messy business bringing people together. AI is not messy; it’s very clinical and facts-based, while the events world is much more nuanced,” said Borelli.

“My biggest takeaway is we need to be more careful and mindful of how we use AI because it is a powerful tool that can kill our creativity,” said Cheng. Add to that experience that the non-AI team also tapped into.

The Technology Perspective

There is an overarching sentiment that AI is going to take away jobs. This competition demonstrated that this is not going to happen. “If you focus on the areas that AI is not good at, you will be fine,” said Borelli. “Empathy and true creativity.” 

Jonathan Easton, VP of design at Gevme, the company that created Spark AI, expresses disappointment that the team using AI did not win. “However, the real takeaway for us was to observe how our technology interacts with human creativity. This gave us profound insights into the relationship between human intellect and artificial intelligence and how they can work together,” he said. 

This competition gave Gevme, the creators of Spark, insights into how to adjust their product. “As we continue to develop and integrate AI into various aspects of our work, let’s remember, technology is a powerful tool, but the key to unlocking its potential lies in our hands,” says Easton.

Knowing how to use AI is critical in leveraging its full potential, Easton added. “AI is a powerful technology, but the key to unlocking and shaping its potential really lies in our humble human hands,” says Easton. In addition, he points out that the competitors on the AI team didn’t have any previous Spark training. A quick tutorial will kick off future competitions, he adds.

Experiential Activation

“I was very pleased with the turnout and interest level of those who attended the competition. It was difficult to select a winner as both the human and AI groups brought value. They complement each other and are a powerful synergy,” said Carol Motley, SVP of convention sales and services for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), which sponsored the competition.

The competition took place in the Tech Playground, part of The District. This bustling area was alive with many different activations, including a pickleball court sponsored by Visit Seattle and an aura reading sponsored by Caesars Entertainment.

“When PCMA contacted us about sponsoring this competition, we felt it was great brand awareness and, most importantly, an opportunity to explore this new platform and engage with our community in this forward-thinking, innovative way,” said Motley. “At the same time, we had the chance to involve and engage one of our upcoming customers, putting her ahead in understanding and utilizing AI in her Miami event planning process.”

Photo credit: Sina Bünte, Hybrid and Digital Events Producer at IUCN / IUCN