If you have been in the event industry long enough, you may remember striking similarities between the lead up to the financial crisis in 2008 and the Coronavirus emergency. Will the industry react in the same way or will things change for good?
It is fair to say that we share a common need to talk about something else in our industry that is not the Coronavirus and the devastating effect it is having on people’s lives as well as entire business sectors.
One of the most crucial exercises if you are laid off or on furlough, are cancelling your events, or are simply staying home is to start thinking about what will happen once this crisis is over.
While in fact things look extremely awful everywhere right now, China and South Korea are giving us certainty that the emergency will peak and then end.
This is not a post on the future of events and the short- or long-term outlook. Instead, it is about a striking resemblance between the lead-up to the Coronavirus emergency and the pre-financial crisis period of 2008. It’s about how the industry will react.
If you keep an eye on what we talk about in the industry, you would know that, in 2008, the obsession of the event industry was sustainability. Technology was also on top of the list, especially virtual events, seen as a great opportunity to change the event business model for good.
The attention that the industry was giving to these topics was unprecedented. An imminent change was on the way.
Then the financial crisis hit over 2008 and 2009. Entire event departments got wiped out. Events were the first layer of fat to trim from corporate budgets. Seen as a ‘nice to have’ industry, we faced one of the most unprecedented crises of the former 50 years.
The results were devastating, and it took several years to get back on track. What happened in the meanwhile was a complete aberration of topics like event sustainability, which only started to gain steam again in the past two to three years — a cycle that peaked in 2019, when the industry was undeniably living one of the most exciting times of its existence.
How can we not see the similarities to the lead up to the current crisis?
Sustainability was my top trend of the year, linked to the use of virtual tools. I anticipated a switch to virtual tools as means of inclusion, but also as a way to minimize the impact on the environment and avoid unnecessary travel.
It is legitimate to ask ourselves where the conversation will go once business as usual resumes. As for 2008, the industry was very close to making never-before-seen changes that would reshape events forever.
So what will happen now?
We have two scenarios ahead of us:
We will be in recovery mode.
The industry will try to go back to where it was. Businesses will lick their wounds and try to re-ignite growth, following the same model that brought them to success until 2019.
This essentially means that getting back to business will entail doing everything in our force to use marketing and sales to build wealth.
There is no space for change in this perspective; change will be at the bottom of the list.
This is exactly what happened in 2008 and may well happen following the crisis.
We will change priorities.
The impact that COVID-19 is having on the world is unprecedented. Many like to refer to it as uncharted territory. Some countries are facing 1,000 deaths a day.
The world will not be the same. The scar of this vile virus, obliterating entire generations, would be too deep for us to go back to the way things used to be.
I am thinking about a pre- and post-coronavirus age. The aftermath will be one where issues like climate change or equality (just to mention a few) will not be treated with the same superficiality with which they have been treated before — as marketing tactics more than vital elements of our industry that need undisputed attention.
This scenario advocates a stronger, united front of vocal event professionals that want to plan and produce differently. Change will be inevitable.
It seems that the industry is at a crossroads.
Take the blue pill and things will go back to normal. We will be back living our previous life, full of incredible personal satisfaction and not particularly concerned with change.
Take the red pill and embrace the emergency we are experiencing, which may be far greater in its effects than the devastation we are currently experiencing with the virus.
Matrix references aside, it is clear that, with the incredible suffering that COVID-19 is bringing to humanity, it is also forcing many sectors, including the event industry, to make key decisions that could reshape business as usual.
Where will the industry go? Will we react in the same way we did in the past? Will the way we plan events change for good?
That’s one for you to answer.