The Future of Events – Re-starting the engine

By JR Event Services and soap creative

Outdoor event illustration

Things will improve, the pandemic will retreat, and we will reduce the need for self-isolation of those vulnerable people in our communities – life will be ‘normal’ again, but what will the ‘new normal’ look like?

From different specialisms but with many of the same socio-economic inputs, Rebecca Hacker, of branding and design agency, soap creative, and John Radford, of JR Event Services, discuss their industry and individual business perspectives.

RH. We have worked in the events industry for well over 10 years and have seen a binary response to Covid-19. Around the 19th March, one after another the emails came in: “We have been forced to take the difficult decision to postpone our event.” With each one my heart sank, as the realisation of what this would mean for both our business and events around the world. The events industry is reported to be worth over £42bn to the UK with 570,000 full time equivalent jobs supported*. Many of us in industry are starting to ask, what should we be considering now in order to pivot back once on the other side?

JR. For us, we are already beginning to see a revised focus from events, more customer experience, take away memories, family focussed, and it is interesting discussing what the wider experience could be from differing perspectives. Discussions are focused on what potential customers might want to experience after lockdown and life begins returning to normal (what that new normal looks like is still open to debate).

It’s certainly not going to return to “as was” at a flick of the switch. We need to be ready to work in synergy with our clients and ensure we are meeting those revised expectations and potentially new ways of working.

RH. We received a few emails asking: “Can you help us take our event online?” A bold move for many companies as virtual events are vastly different to those in the real world, which now feel like a life time ago. These past few weeks, organisations have been willing to pivot their business models in response to this crisis, displaying business agility, innovation and a willingness to take risks. Fortune favours the brave – or so they say. That being said, those event clients who have decided to wait until it’s safe to go back in the water may be using this time to consider their brands and their positioning. Anyone experienced in events planning understands how fast paced it is. Is this dormancy a good opportunity to revisit brand values and customer insight? I’d say yes.

JR. We suspect there will be some reticence among certain key groups to immediately re-engage in social gatherings beyond family and friends. How quickly that will soften in order to provide an opportunity for larger scale events with viable ticket sales or attendance remains to be seen. Current commenting in both the printed and social media suggest a wide variation on thoughts dependent on age and perceived risk. Younger members of the public may feel less prone to the risks associated with social gatherings and crave a quicker return to social interaction on a larger level. As a business we need to be able to pick up the baton as soon as we are given the go ahead.

RH. As John says, different demographics will react to the easing of lockdown in different ways. Brand messaging will be crucial as we transition from smaller to larger events. What is clear is that this pandemic will have changed everyone in some way – whether they be younger people champing at the bit to get social again, or families reconnecting on a more personal level, our interactions will have to change. What appears to have worked successfully for the government so far is social pressure. I believe we should consider peer-to-peer expectations as we start to promote events again, revisit mission and vision statements and set out our stall to ensure our brand values match the new normal and meet the expectations of our target. Our brands need to inspire and connect with our changed audience.

JR. As a small business within the event industry, we saw a collapse in our summer business. Initially, there was a flurry of postponements into late August and September, but now we are seeing cancellations or postponement until 2021. I think people are realising that it won’t all be “back to normal” in a few months. As the pandemic develops, we are working through various contingency plans – both for clients and ourselves. What does a complete cessation of business look like until October, December or maybe even next May? With so many unknown variables it is difficult to be precise, but it allows us and our clients to look at some modelling and consider suitable approaches. The need to have a “return to business” strategy in place and ready cannot be underestimated. Sitting and waiting isn’t a natural position for me, so this kind of discussion and planning provides us with a focus to look at opportunities and potential revised methodologies of working.

RH. soap works across several industries and the events is not unique in these challenges. In this crisis, each is feeling the heat and every industry will need to find a way out of the paralysis. This rebuilding will likely be phased and will take time. Those conversations are happening now for many brands. If you are yet to start that process, then you may be wise to do so now to secure a head start. What should we be considering? How do we communicate and engage with our customers now to ensure they remain invested in our brands? What should we be saying? Reassurance is one of the most important things to communicate – these are times when brand loyalty is at risk so, be present and be relevant. Whatever industry you operate in, you need to keep on engaging with your customer. Try new ways of communicating: explore new channels, and be bold and confident.

JR. Keeping in communication with our teams has been critical throughout the current situation. Clients, business colleagues, freelancers and even prospective customers have all taken part in some of our “virtual coffee meets”. It provides a great sounding board and discussions are wide and varied. At the least it can support mental wellbeing, but it also ensures we retain those relationships that we have built up over many years. Everyone is hurting from the situation so there is a real “esprit de corps” in place. We have been extremely careful not to talk specific business in these meets but focused more on the generic issues present – funding streams, employee support, best practice etc. It has been extremely useful and has already created potential new ways of working in the future.

RH. I think good businesses live and breathe their values through their culture, which translates across their brand. People, and their relationships within their team, with partners or with suppliers, create the success of every business. You need to keep communicating and sharing experiences. It builds trust. Reaching out is more important now than ever.

JR. What will our future projects look like – that is a guessing game. We will undoubtedly be doing some things differently though and our business growth plans will have to be revised but I certainly see a strong future for our industry. People will always need to feel part of a community and the event world creates those communities and provides a huge element of personal well-being to many millions around the globe. We just need to get that engine re-started and become engaged once again.

RH. What next? Who knows. We saw changes in how people engaged in business after the 2007 recession and I suspect we will see the same again when we turn this next corner. It remains to be seen how, but I am confident we will all be better, personally and professionally. And for brands?  Those that adapt and use this time to revisit their marketing and brand strategies will be first past the post on the other side.

*SOURCE: Eventbrite – An Introduction To The UK Event Industry In Numbers https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/blog/academy/uk-event-industry-in-numbers-ds00/