The future of event management after the pandemic – how to prepare and what to expect
LIKE ALL EVENT PROFESSIONALS, EVENT PRODUCER AND HOXBY ASSOCIATE NATASHA RUSSELL HAS SEEN THE INDUSTRY GRIND TO A HALT. SHE DISCUSSES THE CHANGING FACE OF THE EVENTS INDUSTRY FOLLOWING THE PANDEMIC.
September 16, 2020
Having pivoted her event management services to the online world and remote attendees, Natasha has continued to network and collaborate with peers, participating in and winning the first Event Planners Talk Hackathon and starting a sideline as an industry speaker. Here, Natasha shares how she’s prepared herself for a return to the changing industry and discusses what the future holds for events management.
The impact on freelance event management
For the past 15 years, I’ve worked first-hand at every level of events management and production. I’ve now been self-employed since 2012, but last year moved to operate as a limited company, as most agencies and clients prefer this. Now, I work on corporate events, festivals and mass participation.
Before the pandemic hit, I had two big jobs. Initially, extra insurance precautions and additional sanitation measures were sufficient. Since then, most events have been cancelled or a few postponed with budgets likely to be cut. But now, every event is cancelled, or has pivoted to virtual – but the work isn’t comparable to where I should be or would’ve been under normal circumstances. And while there are elements that I welcome, the reality is I’ve had very little in the way of income.
Events management is a freelancer-heavy industry, so the impact has hit us freelancers hard. Every day now, we’re seeing more redundancies and companies going into liquidation. So I was proud to galvanise a crew for the recent #WeMakeEvents campaign to raise awareness of the UK’s 1,000,000 highly skilled industry professionals, all of whom have had no work for the past four months – with little likelihood of restarting until Spring 2021.
There are varying reasons for the cancellations, which may surprise people. It’s not just the government ban on mass gatherings, but also the effect of the pandemic on ticket sales for events later in the year (consumer confidence), and the loss of sponsors and other support as a downturn in companies profits mean no marketing spend.
Preparing for the return to events
Some events are tentatively starting now – such as socially distanced concerts and authorised outdoor gatherings – the government has given the go-ahead for business events and conferences to resume on October 1st. But the reality is that event professionals are losing their jobs and agencies aren’t using freelancers. Events can take a long time to organise, and there are murmurings that bigger events won't come back for another 18 months.
Throughout the pandemic I’ve worked hard to get focused, busy and ready for the return to events, which will no doubt look very different. I’ve divided my approach into three steps:
1. Build a Community
I’ve built a community both inside and outside of Hoxby. Within Hoxby, I’ve focused on getting involved in projects wherever I can, such as writing newsletters for the Futureproofing team. I have joined a couple of teams working on speculative opportunities and been a little more present than I might normally be at this time of year. It’s all exposed me to new ideas and new people.
I’ve looked to get involved in streams of work outside of freelance event management to diversify my skills set and took part in the first ever Hackathon for event professionals, becoming part of the winning team. This was an opportunity I took for networking and peer support from other event professionals, and we were given 48 hours to develop a business plan for an events business or agency affected by Covid-19. Since winning this, I’ve taken part in the Event Planners Talk Digital Festival, in Instagram Live Talks about Covid Safe events and freelancing, and I recently spoke at Event Planner Talk Bern about building a freelance event career. Together with the other participants of these events, we’ve built a community on Slack and from there I am now excited to be supporting the Freelance Business Month in October.
2. Deepen your knowledge
Very few events professionals were familiar with virtual, hybrid, hub or spoke events prior to Covid 19. Health and safety was always a consideration, but of course the pandemic has brought about a whole host of new factors. And like every other event professional, I never had enough hours in the day to do everything I wanted in terms of personal development.
I’ve spent time getting to know some of the hundreds of virtual event platforms and their different functions. The distinction between webinars and events is becoming more prevalent, and there are platforms that can host various formats of networking, host sponsors and exhibition booths and run multiple and single streams of content. There are platforms that cost from a few hundred to many thousands of pounds.
While I don’t believe anyone can be an expert in them all, I do try and familiarise myself with a couple more new ones every few weeks, if only to understand their functionality. I have attended many webinars and free sessions on everything from security to crowd management, event design, CAD, and everything in between. Some are more useful than others, but it’s all good knowledge sharing.
Finally, I had the time to study and even sit my NEBOSH exam, which I signed up for back in 2017 but the timing of the exams and the study time never fell into sync.
3. Diversify your skill set
Being part of Hoxby means I am not ‘pigeon holed’ into being just an event manager and I can use my skills elsewhere and in other ways.
I’m able to offer ‘at home’ packages for events, with virtual swag bags, conference kits delivered to homes, downloadable assets and even team building activities that can be done at home or over a virtual platform. I have partnered with a local company offering online gin tasting experiences and created virtual wedding guest boxes that sit alongside a virtual wedding package to overcome the fact that wedding receptions are currently limited.
I’d never given much thought to the knowledge I have from 15 plus years in the industry, so being able to do speaking engagements now is a real confidence boost and is hopefully useful for those coming into the industry or looking to learn more.
What does all this mean for the future of event management?
We’re an industry already under scrutiny for our sustainability credentials, the travel, the waste – the world of work has changed and remote working is the new norm. We are now in an era where people are proving they can work just as effectively remotely as in an office, and can even hold down their job and homeschool their kids!
So what does this mean for the future of event management? I think we’ll see a shift in the industry and businesses will need to be more open to having a digital offering, regardless of whether we return to ‘normal’. We’re already seeing a shift to hybrid and hub and spoke models, and there’s been a huge rise in remote working, something which Hoxby has championed since its inception in 2015.
We are also seeing innovation in the formatting, and you can log in to Instagram without going live, which offers a huge resource for formal and informal events. One day events are being spread over a week or even a month, arguably making them more accessible. Also, content is much more available on demand – will we see a Netflix style model for content and learning?
If we can effectively deliver the same meaningful content, networking and opportunities for brands to reach their customers online, then will we need to take time away from our families to attend that big conference? Why travel overseas to hear a keynote speaker when you can be in your home office and have a similar experience? We can ask questions, share ideas, run polls, and showcase brands online. We can even go into the side ‘room’ and network with a potential client or collaborator.
Live events will always have a place, but we will have to address the changes this pandemic has enforced and move with customer demand and collective consciousness. That will see an increase in hybrid events and accessibility to event content from home. But, there will always be a desire for experiences, and more than ever companies will have to create unmissable live experiences, with an online side to their event.
In the future, I see virtual or hybrid events becoming mainstream and complementing in-person events. I see them blending and most brands having a virtual presence. I see opportunities. And I see real changes in the vision for and expectations of events.
Good project management is key in getting these events up and running. At Hoxby, our skilled Admin team knows the importance of successfully managing the logistics for an event, whether a sporting event, festival, an AGM or a virtual summit. Find out more about Hoxby Admin to see how we can help bring your event to market.
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