2020 looks set to be a write-off for live events – that was the general consensus of UK agency leaders that took part in our latest micebook ‘talks’ Covid-19 session on 23 April.
In the two weeks since the last micebook agency leaders’ virtual meeting, agency directors and owners have gone from being hopeful that they might still be able to deliver some live events towards the end of this year, to seeing most if not all business postpone to 2021 or cancel.
“We still have some live projects for November and December, but those clients are starting to get cold feet and are talking about pushing back into 2021,” said one agency head.
The corporate view
This consensus was backed up by Richard Waddington, chair of the Event Marketing Association (EMA) for corporate event planners, who shared some insights from the corporate side.
“Q3 for this year has now disappeared and for Q4 – very few corporates see events happening – it’s all going to be postponed and cancelled. To be honest looking into next year, corporates cannot see a lot of events happening until there is a vaccine out there and people begin to travel again,” he said.
“What is now starting to lead people’s thinking and strategy for this year and going into next year is virtual events. When they can start to introduce a live element to those events, they will do so, and that will be the growth of the hybrid event. There is a massive movement to virtual and online platforms. I think there is a big change coming in our industry and we will see less live events over the next five years. There will be more hybrid when they are allowed to happen, and live events will come back, but there will be more online events even when this is over.”
Some agencies said they are having to adapt their business models and offer clients virtual solutions until they are able to deliver live events, or risk closure.
However, agencies that have only focused on live events and don’t have expertise in delivering virtual events, are facing bigger challenges than those that do. The crisis also presents a dilemma for agencies that don’t want to shift their business model to become a digital or virtual events agency.
The Unicorn Story
Hannah Luffman, founder of Unicorn Events, who recently announced the closure of her agency due to the impact of Covid-19, gave an honest account of her decision. “We were trying to navigate decisions that allowed us to remain true to who we are. We were a live experience agency and we realised that if we were going to battle through this period, we would have to pivot to something virtual. But we didn’t have the experience or credentials to do it and were coming up against lots of agencies that had done it before.
“For us to survive financially, our virtual solution had to be delivered now. If we had the cash capability to weather the next 6-9 months, we could have developed our knowledge of virtual and we could have done it very well.”
M&A and partnerships
The session also covered how M&A or partnerships could potentially help agencies weather the challenges ahead. However, agencies struggling with cashflow were warned not to see potential suitors as a knight in shining armour.
“The Covid crisis shouldn’t be the only reason for selling. You need to think about the value you have to add, and it’s all about relationships. There is a lot of time and energy in chemistry meetings, which is difficult in the current situation, before you even start to think about due diligence. It’s a long process,” said one agency founder.
However, many smaller agencies have said they are looking at partnerships with virtual event specialists to enable them to offer those services to their clients quickly.
“It’s about transparency. As long as you are honest with your clients, there is nothing wrong with saying, that is not our expertise, but we will find the right partner to enable us to do that. I think this will happen a lot more after this crisis – I will certainly look to use more experts in different areas to bolster the services we can offer,” said one small agency founder.
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