The latest UK lockdown announcement has resulted in many live events planned for 2021 being postponed till 2022, while even some virtual events scheduled for Q1 this year have been pushed back, according to agency leaders.
In our first event industry leaders’ virtual forum of the year, directors at agencies including Principal Global Events, First Event, DRPG, Smyle, Yellow Fish, CWT M&E and BCD M&E, discussed their concerns about the latest lockdown and the year ahead.
From a live events perspective, agency leaders agreed 2021 is going to be another tough year, but many have a busy year of virtual events lined up. “We plan to write off 21 for live. We were more optimistic at end of last year but that’s all changed,” said one agency head.
Several agencies said that clients had already been in touch to move live events planned for 2021 back to 2022. “It’s frustrating that Professor Chris Whitty said we might still need restrictions into next winter. Clients have been spooked by that, and as a result don’t feel confident about committing to events. We’ve had few clients asking to move events to 2022,” said one.
Also worrying is that several agencies said that they had clients asking to push virtual events scheduled for January and February back to March and April, because with staff and clients again having to juggle working from home with homeschooling their children, they are concerned this could impact engagement with virtual events.
On a more positive note, many agencies said that their virtual business keeps growing, and they continue to make higher margins out of virtual because it involves more time on services like creative, content and production, which generally have a higher margin anyway.
In addition, others said that clients continue to commit better budgets to virtual and understand that a high-quality virtual event is not cheap to deliver. So from a financial perspective, 2021 is looking positive for many.
But with the virtual boom, there is growing fatigue. “Virtual is tiring because you are always on, there is no downtime. Our team is tired. We have not stopped over Christmas and throughout January, February and March, we are really busy,” said one agency head.
He added that leadership is now refocusing its attention on the team, admitting that efforts on that front slipped a little in 2020. “You can’t underestimate the pressure and impact this is all having on people right now, and it takes more effort and new skill sets on our part as leaders because we are having to do it remotely, but it’s important. We are putting more energy and time into the team than our clients because a happy team, ultimately means happy clients.”
Another agency leader agreed that managing his team is becoming a challenge, with many staff members requesting salary reviews and wanting to know what their career development prospects are, which is harder to do remotely.
And finally, one agency head pointed out that while it was great to hear that many businesses on the are experiencing growth on the virtual side, it’s important to remember that 90-95% of the wider events industry, including the supply chain “are in a very bad place financially and mentally.”
“There are thousands of agencies and suppliers that haven’t had the resources, skillset or support to pivot. The scarring from what this industry has gone through will have a long-term impact on all of our businesses from a motivational perspective and pressure on staff. There will also be a supply problem because of the huge amount of talent and equipment businesses that are gone or about to go, and that is going to cause a huge amount of capacity issues of being able to resource and service clients that suddenly have pent up demand to come back.
“We have to be really sensitive to the wider supply chain and our internal staff and managing clients’ expectations for live and/or hybrid and educate them around the capacity issues. Otherwise we could be the industry that has been gagging to promise live and hybrid back and then suddenly we look very silly when we can’t manage our own internal capacities and that’s when clients are going to become very frustrated.”