It’s been an interesting month in the world of Events. A month where I’ve experienced both the best and the worst of our Industry in equal and yet opposing measures. And the irony is that the dichotomy being experienced (not just by me I hasten to add), is around collaboration; teamwork and cohesion – all elements that we sell ourselves as being experts on to clients.
The argument for collaboration
The Cambridge Dictionary defines teamwork as ‘a group of people working together for a common goal’; collaboration as ‘the act or working together to create or achieve the same thing’; and cohesion as ‘ the act of uniting or sticking together’.
When the chips are down, and boy are they down right now for the Events Industry, theory suggests that we are stronger working together than as isolated bubbles. The Financial Services Industry are proving this to be the case as they work together to combat cybercrime. And George Serafeim from Harvard Business School (HBS) provides numerous examples of different industries working together to overcome environmental and other challenges.
Examining our goals
So, if this is the case, then perhaps it’s simply that we don’t share common goals within our Industry? Let’s look at the evidence. Throughout the last 14 weeks, I’ve been on numerous webinars and forums and read literally hundreds of posts and I would suggest that there are 4 goals that we all appear to have in common.
Guidance is a unanimous theme on every single post; webinar; chat room and press piece. Everyone is looking for guidance – from government; from budget holders; from venues; from organisers; from transport providers.
Common sense aligned with theory would suggest therefore that we come together and review each area in an orderly but coordinated fashion so that not one-party shoulders all the responsibility, but where working parties can ensure collaboration and wider stakeholder input.
And yet we appear to be doing exactly the opposite with various organisations and associations conducting research, preparing guidelines and drafting white papers all independently and with little or no evident collaboration.
So, with all these variations being produced, how do we know which is ‘the’ definitive guide, or the ‘recognised’ accreditation? And, if we don’t belong to one of the many associations within the industry (did you know that there are 28 different associations that sit within the British Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP)?) we are not even necessarily privy to the various findings from each of these organisations – unless we care to pay to join one. But when there are so many to choose from how can we differentiate from each when they are not sharing their expertise is the question? And, because of the confusion and frustration, industry and its associations will continue to get more fragmented with less opportunity for the introduction of the standard regulation needed to give us some form professional status.
On the plus side, we are seeing organisations that are truly coming into their own – connecting previous adversaries, competing associations and different disciplines and which are looking to share best practice and best thinking to help us emerge more swiftly. Organisations such as micebook. have become a central meeting place and a valuable resource for the industry. A platform whose model and approach the associations would do well to mirror because right now this is seen to be a much more effective source for driving and communicating change than any/all the associations put together.
Survival is another theme that unites all parties, large and small, new to the industry as well as old timers.
I have been truly heartened by the response of some of the larger agencies. Despite being relatively protected due to their enhanced resources and inhouse ability to adapt their businesses rapidly to the ‘new norm’, we shouldn’t forget the old adage ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’. And whilst these organisations are busier than ever utilising the staff whose skills they have been able to optimise, they too will not come through this unchanged. And yet, I have seen case after case of these business leaders caring sufficiently about business leaders in a less fortunate position to them that they are taking time out to look at ways they can offer support.
I have seen furloughed individuals offering a friendly ear, as well as mentoring services and free training & CV writing. And I’ve experienced businesses that are under real threat giving up their time to come together and try and find a solution and take back control – not solely for their own organisations, but for the sake of the industry.
And yet I’ve also witnessed a shocking disregard for what is facing us in the coming months, where the reality of clients committing to anything other than a virtual or Hybrid offering for ‘events’ is slim to zero. Which means that we are likely to lose some amazing talent as event professionals are forced to re-invent themselves. And the smaller, ‘messier’, services that the larger organisations are not set up to deliver will fall through cracks – potentially finding homes with those either ill qualified to deliver them to the standards we would expect, or worse still who will look to undercut those professionals still in business just to keep the cash flowing. But there are pockets (and sadly too many to be tasteful) that would prefer to look to the medium and longer term when Live Events will be back. Of course, we must always keep our eye on the longer term – but my question is – what is the cost of only focussing on this, if we don’t protect the short term as best we can?
Innovation and agility are key buzz words, with common agreement that survival will depend on every organisation’s ability to find different solutions to respond to our client’s marketing challenges and as importantly to be able to re-organise the business swiftly to deliver these solutions.
Intellectual Property has always been an issue for creative industries. After all, once someone has seen or experienced a unique event/artifact/piece of music, it is often relatively easy for that person to replicate it – subject to them having the necessary resources. And this arguably nullifies the unique nature and hence value of the original proposition. Understandably, organisations are therefore often nervous to share new innovations and specific solutions, but does this mean that as an industry we need to freeze any sharing – even of concepts?
There are again two sides to the coin. Interestingly it’s the larger organisations along with those with a more traditional marketing background and understanding behind them that appear much happier and are more open to sharing concepts and principles that they are using to support their client needs. I’ve learned about some amazing work that is going on behind the scenes. Not in sufficient detail that I could go away and copy the idea, but with sufficient information to fire my brain up to think about ways I could be more innovative.
And this is where the smaller organisations struggle. Pooling top line concepts and approaches (yes even with competitors) is exactly what will help these firms emerge in once piece. By sharing top line thoughts in forums and webinars fresh ideas will emerge for individual businesses as they use these resources to spark their initial thinking internally with their teams. In the US, most successful business leaders are part of small Mastermind Groups that meet regularly to discuss and share ideas and challenges; to support each other and hold each other accountable. They don’t share their individual, unique ISP – but common challenges are discussed. Here, many of our small businesses prefer the protectionist route. On one Webinar I attended, despite corporate buyers kindly giving their time to enable event organisers to share with them concepts that would help them unlock budgets and kick start the industry – there was deathly silence on the call. The only activity being organisers saying they would direct message the corporate later. Cleary keen to protect their ideas.
Innovation is vital for our survival, but innovation depends upon connections of ideas both internally and externally and protectionism (as the larger organisations are demonstrating) is not the way to survive,
Finally, safety of all stakeholders is of paramount importance to everyone concerned. This is why we are fighting for government guidelines and why so many different organisations and associations are producing best practice white papers.
But my question is, where does our level of care and collaboration on this start and finish? There already exist guidelines for health and safety on events – even prior to Coronavirus. And many organisations take their responsibilities seriously and adopt appropriate risk assessments to mitigate any risks. But there are an awful lot of agencies that don’t. Ask any freelancer and you will likely be shocked by the number of (even top 50!) organisations that fly by the seat of their pants. On the rare occasion nowadays where I do dip my hands back into an operational aspect, I’m often told by DMC’s that no-one ever asks to see end suppliers’ insurances, safety checks and PLI certificates, and few people check that fire escapes are indeed clear so I personally know this to be the case.
How then do we ensure that all organisations will continue to embrace, to the rigour needed, the level of health and safety that the Coronavirus challenge now brings us?
I am not for a second suggesting that anyone would willingly put someone at risk from Coronavirus. But without bringing in some formal regulation for our Industry, what guarantee do we have that organisations are and will comply with the relevant safety regulations – especially those who freely enter the party once we have all settled into our routines, using whichever guidance our organisations have deemed to be the most appropriate?
And this is where we again appear divided. Some suggest that industry regulation will inhibit the arrival of new, boutique organisations entering industry and will stifle creativity. Others state that bureaucracy stifles industry growth. But we now have a proliferation of event management degrees and apprenticeships. Surely now is the time that we do look to professionalise and protect the industry. And by doing so, there is an argument that we can underpin our value in the business world.
I’m not talking about having barriers to entry that are too high to leap across. I’m suggesting basic, minimum standards that have to be demonstrated and even checked periodically to ensure compliance. We are after all, responsible for peoples lives as part of our business.
But to make this happen. We must come together as an Industry and make it happen. And all the time there remains 28 different bodies championing their own separate areas we remain an industry that is disconnected rather united, despite our common goals.