News | Published April 10 2020

Events industry will change after Covid-19, the Creative Engagement Group’s Ben Atherton says

The Creative Engagement Group’s global client engagement director, Ben Atherton, believes that the live events business will inevitably change beyond the outbreak of Covid-19 and has outlined his own five predictions for the “new normal” in the sector.

Penning his thoughts in C&IT Magazine, Atherton discussed how the live events business has gone into “shock” mode.

“Everything from the Olympics to the Great British Beer Festival has been cancelled or postponed in the wake of coronavirus, not to mention numerous branded activations”, Atherton said.

“Yet, given time, all that we hold dear and appreciate about the industry will still be there, we just might not immediately recognise it.”

The first of five changes Atherton envisages for the industry will see the use of virtual and hybrid engagement platforms become mainstream.

“The adaptability of many event agencies to pivot to virtual and hybrid engagement platforms when live events were cancelled or postponed has meant clients could continue to work, drives sales and connect with their audiences”, Atherton explained.

“It’s been very valuable. If you think of the coronavirus period as the beta testing for these types of services, then the full release will see virtual as a genuine complement or alternative to live events.

“Some clients were already there, but many more have been forced to embrace virtual. Corporate planners will increasingly be asking for the service as part of their channel mix and not just as a cost-saver against live events.

“We’ve talked before about how VR can be used in the enterprise and now the whole suite of virtual and hybrid tactics will become properly integrated and uptake will soar.”

Secondly, Atherton believes that the live events industry will return to normality with a renewed focus on sustainability, particularly with regards to the environment.

“As restrictions ease, the temptation will be to jump on a plane and get back to business and I do think the live event industry will return strongly. But the intersection of sustainability and virtual meetings will be irresistible, and that’s the tipping point we’ve needed.

“I foresee a massive rise in genuine debate and action with clients and agencies alike getting serious about live events with sustainability at the core. And that’s not just a debate about air miles, but the whole supply chain and impact of live events from fabrication, design, staging, power usage, waste management, and digital delivery of the content too.”

On this note, Atherton believes that the industry has much to do and the other side of the coronavirus outbreak provides an ideal opportunity.

“It will be time to get our house in order and put the hard lessons of the coronavirus impact and the ecological imperative of climate change to good use”, Atherton said.

Furthermore, Atherton believes that new creativity in the events sector will be crucial, as individuals will have become accustomed to staying at home and that provides opportunity for stellar creative to be used to help persuade people to return to live events.

“Driving all of this,” Atherton explained, “will be the brilliant creative minds that fuel our industry.

“Connecting virtually, engaging differently, driving behavioural change, justifying a return to travelling, supporting inclusivity, keeping events and meetings the most interesting, valuable and dynamic part of the marketing mix will help drive a new wave of creativity.

“There are amusing anecdotes on social media about people wistfully remembering four hours sat next to the finance team at a corporate sales conference, but the reality is people do miss meeting. However, it will need some stellar creative to persuade people to really return to live events.

“Communicating creatively is going to be massively important, whatever the channel.”

Furthermore, Atherton believes that the experience of working through the coronavirus outbreak remotely could pave the way for a positive change in one’s work and life balance.

“The balance between the day job and where you do it has been tricky”, Atherton said.

“The phrase ‘work is something you do, not somewhere you go’ has rarely been a more accurate sentiment. But it has proved possible. People have adapted, managers and clients have developed an understanding of the new timetables of daily life.

“Could this signal a sustainable and positive change in our work and life balance? I think it could, and should, and predict that, as various parts of the world return to a regular working pattern, the best bits of what we have been able to do from home will be kept alive.”

Atherton also sees cause for encouragement by the wider industry response to the crisis, as rival agencies have chipped in to help out staff, and personnel within agencies are also striving to play their part.

“Of course, people will lose jobs and some businesses will go under; it’s an inevitable consequence as the events industry re-balances and this will affect corporate events to sponsorship and all the services like insurance and health and safety that underpin them”, Atherton begins.

“But, from Mash Media’s letter to the PM, through to Glastonbury offering hand-sanitiser and PPE to the government, we have seen genuine care for, and from, those in our sector.

“Agencies that usually compete are helping each other out. Clients that aggressively pitch work are showing some understanding of workflow and resources and are trying to hold onto relationships and help their marketing partners cope. Intra-company, we’re seeing people volunteering to re-skill and move to busier parts of the business or take a temporary reduction in hours to help cashflow.

“All the personal attributes that make people in our industry such diligent and creative individuals are still shining brightly. Long may the collaboration and care continue.”

Despite one of the key measures of the UK lockdown being the need for social distancing, Atherton concluded that separation has, in reality, helped unite the sector.

“Social distancing has possibly helped bring us closer together as a sector”, Atherton said.

“This is something that I think will become more apparent when the ‘new normal’ arrives for live events”.

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