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It’s been an interesting few weeks as the impact of Coronavirus is starting to hit home and become a reality for organisations in the Events space. I’ve been working with businesses and peers as they try and second guess the virus. Do they persist with ‘business as usual’ for events booked in between now and May; do they look to reschedule until later in the year – and if so when?

Work this month has moved from live event planning to round after round of checking new availability, negotiating potential cancellation and postponement charges and preparing endless budget versions to try and create a meaningful picture from which client organisations can make a decision. So far, most venues, here and overseas, are demonstrating a pragmatic approach. It’s a different matter with airlines but then, given the landscape of the aviation industry right now, I guess that’s not a surprise.

What has really struck me during this process is how different agencies are approaching this totally bizarre space we are in right now. That shouldn’t be surprising right? After all every company is different and has a different service offering. Well yes and no. I’m not comparing venue finding companies with marcomms agencies or production houses to logistics firms. I’m comparing the many supposed ‘full service’ event agencies that purport to be able to offer the full breadth of services that sit in and around events. And I wonder whether, as an industry, we are being disingenuous to ourselves as well as our clients if we suggest we can deliver something that is actually out of our reach.

From what I am witnessing, very few organisations are fully servicing their clients and focussing on the message or outcome rather than the event. Most, it appears, have only the event in mind and, once the cancellation or postponement has been arranged, conversations with clients are concluding. And yet, an event (in the business to business arena within which I operate) is just one tool in the marketers tool box and it is a tool designed to provide maximum effect for an outcome the business is trying to achieve. Butit isn’t the only tool. Whether the event is being staged to communicate, teach, motivate, reward, promote/launch or celebrate there are other mechanisms that can be adopted and I would expect a full service agency to understand this and to be able to support clients in still achieving their desired outcomes – even if they can’t provide the originally planned event.

Now I’ve been in the industry for long enough to know that there is a lot of poetic licence used in what we say we deliver. What many organisations mean when they list the services, they provide on their websites is that they ‘know a man who can’ for all these services, and they’ll bring them in for the event and manage them. But few declare this is the case to clients. But this is where the difficulty comes, because by not being transparent about what we deliver internally and where our specialisms lie, it makes it more difficult to then introduce business partners, associates or affiliates that are specialists in providing effective alternatives when the time comes to put the desired outcome before the event.

The trouble is, it’s a highly competitive industry and I know first hand that agencies are reluctant to ‘share’ their clients with other specialists in case the specialists then diversify and steal the client. This is a reason that some agencies wont even use DMC’s or introduce DMC’s to their clients. The problem is, unless we go back to the proliferation of very large agencies that have different disciplines in house we will have to start openly collaborating as an industry or we risk destroying the value that the industry should be offering clients.

No-one knows right now where we are heading and what the consequences of this virus will be. But I honestly believe that the only agencies that will survive this disruption in business are those that truly can switch their service offering on a pinhead (whether to virtual or using other marcomms techniques) even if this means collaborating with others to ensure their service is outcome rather than just event focussed.

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