One step forward, two steps back

We are all familiar with this expression – and it just about sums up our world at the moment. And certainly the events industry, which has been on a rollercoaster since early March.

This month started really positively with two hybrid industry events gearing us all up for our anticipated “return to work.” Or at least a first step towards our “business as usual” despite us still awaiting clarity on what “usual” would look like.

Various panel discussions reinforced the value and purpose of live events – with the ROI driven by conversations, creativity, human spirit, emotional connection and interaction that just doesn’t happen online.

We also enjoyed a 20 minute live interview with Nigel Huddleston MP (the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism and Heritage at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.) He reassured us that we absolutely did have a voice at government level, and recognised the professionalism of the industry, and the safety procedures that venues have implemented to mitigate risk.  In his words, “The pilot events have shown that you know exactly how many people are coming in, and venues are equipped to deal with new safety measures. The industry has done a great job on developing the guidance for reopening.”

Indeed event planners like us are all super confident that we can operate safely to minimise risk to delegates and staff. We are captains of creating controlled environments which is at the very heart of everything we do – and therefore people would be much safer at an organised event than on an average trip to the supermarket!

So it is fair to say that this positivity was somewhat decimated with Boris’s announcement on 9th September that the current event start date of 1st October was to be reviewed. And further blighted by the announcement on 22nd September, that UK conferences and exhibitions would not be restarting after all – for up to six months.

The frustration for us, both at agency and industry level, is that pretty much every other sector in the UK can now operate and make money. We can go shopping, to the pub, out for food, on holiday… yet despite our deep-rooted skills around planning and safety, we remain paralysed.

Collectively we are an £70bn industry to the UK economy employing 700,000 people. Yet we are invisible to the general public – indeed we are behind the scenes by the very nature of what we do. And there are very few outside this huge industry who do understand what it is we actually do. We still live in an age where on drop-down menus, our industry / associated industries are generally categorised as ‘OTHER’. Or we are categorised as “hospitality services” or “entertainment” which does not encompass half of what we do.

We are currently supporting a crowdfunding PR campaign to demonstrate to the public and national media the essential role meetings and events of all types play in their lives, our lives and the life of our nation. This project unites all of the industry behind one collective voice. The key messages are to reassure through our safety expertise, inspire through the range of experiences we deliver, and educate as a key driver for the UK economy. From celebrations to conferences, meetings to master classes, TED Talks to tradeshows, private weddings to product launches and everything in between, meetings and events are experiences that help us innovate, connect, experience and grow.

The campaign aims to reach decision makers and attendees in order to build their desire and confidence in going back to live events. Virtual and hybrid events serve a purpose to keep people connected, but nothing compares to meeting face to face, and nor can it ever be replaced.

We do appreciate that times are hard across the board. So despite feeling somewhat deflated by this recent announcement, the passion we still feel for the power of live events is what keeps our fire lit.  Knowing that we will once again bring people together and create amazing experiences is what keeps us going. We are in an industry that bends, flexes and adapts. And we NEVER give up.

By Sam Spillane