For the first time in months, I feel like the Live Events industry is on the right track. There’s a long way to go. We aren’t all happy about it. But at least our course is starting to feel durable.
I don’t have a crystal ball and there are some big factors outside our control, but here’s why I think we are going to be okay:
We Corralled Our Audiences
Until recently, my biggest fear (after COVID-19 itself) was losing our position in delivering effective audience experiences. There was a lot at stake when in-person meetings began canceling or postponing. Without a solid alternative, we risked losing our customers.
The need wasn’t to simply replace the in-person meeting with the remote meeting. Organizations weren’t flying thousands of people to destinations because they liked burning through cash. There was ROI in these events. We needed to speak the language of the stakeholders — not the event planners.
Stakeholders could have easily bypassed the technology rental space and moved to ERP platforms, television production, or marketing agencies. Those suppliers would have sourced help through their networks and not ours. Production Rental companies would have ended up at the bottom of the food chain, renting light kits and pipe and drape poles.
Of all the things that could have bitten us hard, channel disruption was the most dangerous. Losing revenue is nothing compared to losing relevance.
Thankfully, the alternative channels were no more prepared to deal with virtual meetings than we were, but we had the advantage of understanding the technical challenges and how to solve them. We also had the relationship and didn’t intend to let it go.
We’ve planted our flag in the virtual meeting space. Now we need to own it.
Virtual Meetings Are Finding Their Way
In March 2020 there wasn’t really a virtual meeting industry to speak of. Sure, everyone has streamed an event at one time or another, but that’s different from producing a virtual event. At least 80% of the work in an online experience occurs before the first attendee logs on.
There were some horror stories, and not just the ‘presenter with no pants’ Zoom stories. How about cramming three days of ballroom content into a virtual format? Or worse, a virtual trade show?! If we thought audience retention in Las Vegas was bad, it was worse at home with the kids, the dogs, and Amazon Prime deliveries.
Thankfully, many of you used drive-through high school graduations as a testing ground for virtual production. Once you crank out several thousand 5-second videos of graduates, you pick up a thing or two — for instance, how to price it next time!
Platform, process, and professionalism. We have a lot to offer and more to come.
We are finding our way.
Outsourcing Isn’t All That Bad
This summer was a roller coaster of emotions as we moved through layoffs, furloughs, PPP payroll subsidies, unemployment subsidies, and eventual restructuring.
There were many aha moments as I spoke with business owners who suddenly realized their former employees would be happy to come back on a part-time or per job basis. Companies that rarely hired freelancers were now crewing entire events with seasonal workers.
Sometimes the medicine tastes terrible, but then it makes you feel better. Pretty soon you associate the flavor with the benefit. So goes it with outsourcing. Many of us have traditionally leveraged our full-time staff as a selling point. Now, it makes sense to tout a “team” that includes strategic partners such as freelancers and other service providers.
It will be difficult as we move forward with minimal business to keep our trained work force in the Live Events industry, but there isn’t much of an alternative. Business will come back, but it will have a different shape and need a new set of skills. And not all of our workers want to make that transition, much less wait around for the work to return.
Instead, we will learn how to manage a shared workforce. The upside of minimizing overhead will offset the downside of competing for temporary labor. The math is a bit different, but it’s still just math.
Seeing so many companies embrace a smaller staff and redistributing the workload gives me hope that, as an industry, we can reemerge more scalable and more profitable.
That’s the big question. When will business come back? It wouldn’t be fair to bring you this far and not be honest. I preface the following with, “I don’t know, but…”
I believe that Live Event production companies that embrace the agency model, stay on top of developments in the virtual meeting space, and master selling pre-production will enjoy a more profitable future than they would have had if COVID-19 never happened.
They will need to own less equipment and employ fewer full-time staff to manage larger volumes of business than pre-COVID times.
The question most people are really asking is, “When will things get back to normal?” When will the warehouse full of equipment start generating income again? When will we do shows in ballrooms and convention centers like before?
Sadly, it might be another year before the live audience is larger than the remote audience. Even then, the remote audience will have shown an ROI and become a permanent part of our regimen.
In the meantime, rental companies that switch to producing events might be able to replace 50-75% of their revenue by end of Q2 in 2021. To project further has a lot of “ifs”.
If we get a vaccine, if people regain the confidence to travel and gather in larger groups, and if all the supporting industries adapt to less dense meetings… only then can we start counting down to once again seeing 2019 levels of business.
But remember, for the same amount of revenue in 2019, you should see double the profit in 2021. If not, we have wasted a golden opportunity.
That’s what I know right now. I will update my outlook as I see circumstances evolve.
Please leave a comment. Agree or disagree. Share an alternative view. After all, we are smarter together.