A Personal Story on The Events Industry and COVID-19

A Personal Story on The Events Industry and COVID-19

7 min read
Update: 11:04AM AEST Thursday 23 April

This is our story from the financial frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s our account of what we’re doing as a business to stay positive and, hopefully, afloat. Writing this is a key part of our survival plan.

The Events Industry is suffering. If you can take just one constructive idea from reading our story, it’s been worth writing.


UPDATE: Petition receives 10,188 signatures

Thank you to everyone who signed. Your support of this important initiative has not gone unnoticed. We look forward to the petition being presented to the House of Representatives, and hope the Australian Events Industry is back stronger than ever at the other end of this unprecedented time.

A Personal Story on The Events Industry and COVID-19 Click To Tweet

Background

We’ve been in the Events Industry for 20 years. Since 2000, our industry has had its share of challenges: the GFC, 9/11, tech wrecks, SARS and extreme weather events.

Competitors came and went. Revenues went up and down. We survived and thrived.

Enter COVID-19.The Australian Government ban on events has reduced the $30B Australian Events Industry to zero, practically overnight.

Income for event planners, businesses, suppliers and contractors has disappeared. Thousands do not know how they’ll earn their next dollar.

The Australian Government ban on events has effectively crippled the Events Industry overnight Click To Tweet

Events Industry is First and Hardest Hit

The Events Industry is at the very core of the government ban on gatherings of 100+ people, expected to last at least 6 months. The number of conferences, festivals, meetings and events that occur across Australia every day has effectively gone to zero.

The outlook for professionals, suppliers and talent in the industry is grim. Their income stream has all but ceased, with little to no prospect of income for many months, nor possibility of alternate employment in the meantime.

“… people are encouraged to work from home – however that is not an option for most in our industry. AV technicians, riggers, stand builders, waitstaff, ushers, cleaners, security, photographers, videographers, performers, MCs, event managers, drivers, food preparers, bar staff, etc all work on site. And many of these workers are casuals – they now have no income.”Trevor Connell, Publisher, Australian Special Events
First In, Last Out?

When other sectors start a recovery phase, it could be some time before businesses are confident to invest in face-to-face events. And events of scale have substantial lead times, meaning it could add months to any upturn in this industry.

The Events Industry was first and hardest hit in COVID-19. Could they also be the last out? Click To Tweet

Chronology – Our Story

January 2020

We receive an initial round of cancellations relating to COVID-19 in late January – our first real indication this could be a significant threat to the industry.

(31 January: WHO announces a global health emergency.)

February 2020

New and existing clients are still enquiring about dates, but hesitant to lock anything in due to the uncertainty.

We are hoping for a quick resolution and to get back to business as usual. Within a month, perhaps?

Early-Mid March 2020

Clients in certain sectors (Eg: councils, charities, some corporates) are still planning to proceed with events scheduled from June 2020 onwards.

13 March 2020

The Federal Government announces a ban on indoor events for 500+ people, gutting the Events Industry.

All clients cancel their events. Events go to zero.

One event company's story from the financial frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. Click To Tweet

A Weekend in Shock

14-15 March 2020

The shock hit hard. Both Alison the Managing Director and I are employed in the business we’ve run for two decades. It’s our livelihood, our income; it’s how we house and feed our families.

We discuss the future of our business, and to process the gravity, and absorb the shock. We agree not to give up without a fight. The first step: dedicate Monday to evaluation, then plan for survival on Tuesday.

16 March 2020 – Evaluation

On Monday we determine how long the business could last on $0 revenue, as we still have overheads, business expenses and staff to pay.

The outcomes:
  • An 8-week time frame through which we believe the company can survive comfortably. (UPDATE: now a 6 month timeframe as per Aust Govt announcement of 18 March
  • Keeping staff on board is our top priority, for two simple reasons: productivity and morale
  • Review all operating costs to identify cuts
  • Office rental is on a rolling monthly lease. We’ll fight to stay where we are, and in the worst case we’ll have all staff working on laptops in our home. Certainly not ideal, given the disruption to home life. For now, our office will stay, to be reviewed on a weekly basis, or daily if the broader national circumstances change.
  • Talk to our utility suppliers to negotiate bill payments
  • Pause our bookkeeping service and begin doing the same with SaaS programs that automate a lot of our processes. (Most have been very gracious)
17 March 2020 – Strategy

Tuesday: we meet with our team to create a strategy for the coming weeks and months.

With the phone no longer ringing, we need to stay active and positive. This is important for our client-facing staff who on the fast pace of events .

We create a strategy for these staff to pivot from client-facing to inward-facing activities.

We draw up a checklist on our office whiteboards. It includes:

  • Develop a plan for survival
  • Review all our internal processes, and look for new efficiencies
  • Research new talent, make more connections
  • Review and update our website, make it easier for our clients to navigate and use
  • Communicate our intentions with our talent and clients
  • Discover other means for the company to produce income in the interim, and pivot if necessary


Being on whiteboards, when a task is completed it’s visible, and satisfying. So far, it’s helping us stay focused and positive.

“I understand exactly why the Government’s made the decisions they’ve made in terms of social distancing. But how they didn’t think that the package they put forward needed to deal with people whose entire livelihood is based on people gathering is just beyond me.”Tony Burke, Shadow Minister for the Arts
18 March 2020

Wednesday: We submit a petition to the Australian House of Representatives, demanding they release a substantial and immediate economic stimulus to the Australian Events Industry.

As of 4:03pm (AEST) today 19 March, it is under review. As soon as it is open for signatures, we will post a link to it here. In the meantime, read the petition here.

23 March 2020

We have received advice from the Petitions Committee in relation to our petition lodged to Federal Government (see below, or view the full petition). The petition is scheduled to be reviewed and released to the public for signatures on Wednesday 25 March 2020. We will keep all our talent updated

24 March 2020

This petition is submitted on behalf of the talented event planners, professionals, businesses, performers, musicians, speakers and entertainers across Australia that survive gig-to-gig, event-to-event. Please show your support, sign now.

25 March 2020

In the first 24 hours, the petition:

  • collected 1,000+ signatures, and counting,
  • was shared by Event Professionals and supporters on social media more than 80 times, and
  • has been profiled by industry stalwarts at Australasian Special Events and Spice News

Click To Tweet

Updates

We’ll be posting updates on our progress here.

These are difficult and challenging times. Please take care, stay safe and well.

Is there anything you want to know? Just comment below.

In the meantime, read the petition to release a financial stimulus to the Events Industry here.


About the Author

Gav George

When his school music teacher loaned him a cassette tape (yes, he's that old) of a fusion band, Gav entered the jazz world after years of classical music training. He was lucky enough to play with some of the greatest living jazz musicians and toured key festivals. Then Enhance founder Alison Clarke called on Gav to work on the company's marketing. This led him to his new passion of… marketing! Gav oversees Enhance's marketing initiatives, gets a kick out of connecting with clients and unearthing new talent. Gav still has that cassette tape, so if his music teacher reads this, please get in touch so he can return it.

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