The event professional's guide to coping with uncertainty
Planning ahead is what events are all about. With restrictions being imposed and lifted at short notice in a bid to keep the public safe, the event industry has suffered amid the resulting uncertainty.
After more than a year of lockdown, planning ahead has become something of a lost art. When you don't know what rules and restrictions lie in the months ahead, how can you commit the time, energy and budget to an event? At our recent Future Of Events panel, we asked the experts how they'd coped with the ebbs and flows of business in these uncertain times, and the lessons that they'd be taking forward.
Feel the fear and do it anyway
Traffic lights, tier systems, roadmaps... when you're struggling to stay on top of current rules, the future has been anyone's guess. But, as long as we are living with the virus, we must learn to live - and work - with uncertainty too.
James Howitt, client development director at Smyle, Campaign's Creative Experience Agency of the Year 2021, has spotted a pattern. He says: “Throughout the pandemic, whenever a date is set, whenever there's an announcement about an upcoming announcement... without fail, two weeks beforehand, everything stops. Whether that be planning for live events, or planning for digital, everything stops. Clients stop talking. They're so unsure of what's going to happen they just clam up, and everything grinds to a halt.
"But then, when that announcement is made - whether it be good, bad or ugly - everybody picks up again. Because, as long as something has been defined, as long as they have some level of certainty, they feel they have something they can move forward with. I think that's going to keep happening."
But, those brands that have been able to be a little braver, have been rewarded, he says.
"We're very lucky to have a long-established relationship with Samsung," he says. "We told them, we wanted to do something different, we want to make a difference in the industry. And they trusted us. They let us go away and get creative, and we felt very lucky in that."
The result was the Life Unstoppable experience, which used Unreal Engine - known for hosting multiplayer video games Fortnite and Final Fantasy- to create a hyper-realistic 3D world in which to host a product launch.
Bravery, budget and being flexible
"The challenge, to brands and to companies, is about being brave, being the first person to try something," says James. "Budget is going to be a huge issue, especially around hybrid, because we'll end up paying for two events, essentially, the physical and the virtual. We'll all need to have clear and open dialogues with our clients so that they have realistic budget expectations, when it comes to planning two events rather than one."
James also believes that planning events that allow for last minute changes in restrictions will also become key to every event planner's skillset.
"There's a big question around planning and flexibility," he says. "At the moment, we're two simultaneous event timeliness that enable us to dial up the digital if there's a spike in the pandemic. Or, if restrictions lift sooner, we can dial up the physical."
In addition to increased flexibility and agility is an increased need to strong messaging for every event, to ensure that attendees understand the content, the purpose, and how to engage with it, however and wherever they experience it.
Plan B, C, D and E
BBC Studios event producer Georgia Toppin explained that she and her team have benefitted from having set procedures ready. “As long as we keep them in place we can still do it,” she said, “We have had to have plan B,C,D and E ready to go and that’s going to be the case for the next year.” She added that good relationships with suppliers is key for this sort of flexibility – ”having someone you can call at the last minute really helps.” Georgia also mentioned the importance of staying up to date with rules and regulations globally as they affect visitors.
Though Chris Elmitt of Crystal Interactive, agreed the last year has been a roller coaster for the industry, it’s shown events at its innovative best. “They will be better in future, I’m sure,” he said, “Event professionals as a group are resourceful so they will find ways to create a new normal for themselves and there will be more events – and better.”
Check out the video below to watch our digitally scribed summary of the event come to life.