Contract flexibility, consumer and client confidence and case studies will all be vital to getting live events back up and running in 2021 when the Covid situation improves and restrictions ease.
These were some of the key areas discussed at our first micebook talks session of the year featuring agency leaders – Smyle’s Rick Stainton, First Event’s Richard Murphy, Pure Events’ Charlotte Gentry and Purple Dog Solutions’ Chris Clarke. It followed our first industry leaders’ forum, in which agency heads discussed some of their concerns about the latest lockdown and the year ahead (see more here).
Below are some of the top takeaways, or you can watch the full session via our micebook Voice Forum here.
Murphy said there is a strong will among clients to get back to live. First Event has two clients in the construction industry with events for 100+ planned for Lisbon in May and Venice in June that are still confirmed. “Both clients are still really keen to go ahead with the events, providing it is safe to travel. They don’t want to postpone or cancel and will leave it as late as possible – around middle to end of March – to make a decision.”
One concern for Murphy is staff motivation: “Staff are not as engaged and enjoying the job as much as it’s not what they signed up for. We are training them to deliver virtual events but they were hired to deliver live events. From a resource point of view – there will be a crossover where we have team delivering virtual events and briefs and enquiries coming in for live events, which is going to be difficult to manage. I do think there will be an issue with resource and capacity.”
Another concern is the impact the pandemic will have on the traditional incentive programme, particularly for clients who have an annual incentive trip designed to drive sales. “Many of those companies have seen sales growth even though the incentive didn’t take place. Will they now question if it’s a valid expense? It is a concern for us.”
He believes flexibility on contracts with suppliers is a major thing: “What has come out of this pandemic is that we have worked together to be flexible. But clients will only sign up to things if there is complete flexibility.”
“Our live events have all been pushed back. We have had one cancellation, and the rest have been postponements. We were supposed to have first live event of 2021 in March, which was postponed from March 2020, and has now been pushed back to March 2022. We got awarded one new event for this 2021 on Christmas eve, which was postponed on 4 January. Clients don’t want to make decisions or commit right now.”
Clarke believes that when travel does return, there will be a tendency to go back to the perceived safe destinations such as Spain, LA and Dubai. “I think this could set us back years in terms of where clients are prepared to travel. Corporate buyers are thinking about safety, cleanliness and managing risk, as opposed to being innovative and going to new emerging places.”
He believes that case studies will be really important going forward. “Once some live public events do finally go ahead, there will be a cascade effect. We just need a few to happen to demonstrate what we all already know, that we can create Covid-safe environments that are quite frankly a lot safer than shopping in the supermarket, and that will be hugely positive PR.”
Gentry says that that her first live event is supposed to be taking place in May and hasn’t been postponed yet. “I’m expecting to have a lot more conversations with clients around rapid-testing and Covid-safe environments.
“Lots of clients shelved their activities in 2020, and that behaviour can’t continue. We can’t just keep pressing pause. At the same time clients are bored with virtual. Online fatigue has set in and everyone has had enough of endless zoom meetings. Clients are looking for innovation and want to see how they can do it differently.”
She added that her main concern is whether consumer confidence will return in time to deliver an event in May. “There is a huge sense of fear right now. This new strain of virus is frightening people and the media coverage is not helping. A lot depends on vaccination targets being hit as to how quickly we can come out of lockdown. Is six or eight weeks enough time for people to feel confident enough about attending an event? And how close to the wire are clients prepared to leave it?”
“There is fragile confidence appearing, but I think there will be more bumps along the way depending on how the next few weeks pans out,” said Stainton, adding that Smyle has some live bookings for May and June, but have built in contingency plans to transform to hybrid or virtual.
He believes that a lot is dependent on key calendar events taking place, such as Glastonbury or Mobile World Congress or the Euros, which will be important for building consumer confidence. Also high-profile government events such as the G7 or COP in Glasgow later in the year, which will again build confidence and prove that live events can go ahead safely.
Stainton predicts that the huge pent-up demand for live events will lead to a capacity problem. “There will be less destinations open in the short term, and there will be limited capacities,” he said, adding that there is also huge amount of resource draining out of the industry, which will result in heightened demand and restricted supply for equipment, freelance resource, AV/production/technical and security.
Watch via our voice forum here.