The lack of support for event planners over the past 13 months has left many in the lurch over Covid, forcing planners to retool, reskill, and in some cases, restart in other careers. What will this mean for the industry as events begin to resume?
The event industry has had a tough go of it throughout the pandemic, which has had a major impact on eventprofs around the world. When events first shut down, planners lost business left and right, and many were forced to learn how to succeed at virtual or adapt their business models in order to stay afloat. In fact, according to recent EventMB research, 76 percent of eventprofs feel that their tech proficiency has improved since the beginning of the pandemic.
To make matters worse, the event industry has been struggling with a lack of government support since the onset of the pandemic. Last year, planners came together and held demonstrations in different cities around the world to bring attention to the crisis in the industry, but aid in most places has still not been sufficient.
More recently, the UK Meetings Industry Association (mia) reported that business event organizations in the UK will not be viable past September if lack of government support and Covid restrictions continue.
The circumstances of the past year will undoubtedly have far-reaching effects and will take time to recover from. Many planners have left the industry — some permanently — and the job market will likely look different as recovery continues. What can event planners expect moving forward?
Government Support Has Fallen Short
The ongoing impact of the pandemic on the industry is clear — according to a November 2020 EventMB survey, 21 percent of eventprofs had either been laid off or furloughed, while over half (52 percent) reported a loss of income. The numbers remain relatively bleak, as EventMB's newest report shows that in the first quarter of 2021, the amount of planners who reported a loss of income decreased only slightly to 48 percent.
The lack of government support for the event industry is a major reason why so many event planners and businesses have struggled to stay afloat and have looked to other avenues to generate revenue.
We spoke with Andrew Roby, owner of Andrew Roby Events, about how he has been able to pivot his business, as well as the level of support in the US and specifically Washington DC, where his business is based.
Despite the huge economic impact of the event industry, he notes that "there is no support from the local or federal government to keep small businesses going. Not only are we restricted capacity-wise, but we're not getting any type of support from the stimulus packages."
He explains that certain programs designed to help small businesses, such as SBA loans and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), have not been as helpful as many had hoped. The loans may provide short-term relief, but with capacity restrictions in place, eventprofs simply don't have the ability to execute events that will bring in enough revenue to pay them back in time.
The new stimulus bill passed last month under Biden specifically includes $1.25 billion for concert and live event venues, but overall it includes much less support for small businesses than the previous packages.
How Have Eventprofs Been Managing?
Roby is one of many planners who looked to diversify his offerings amid Covid-related shutdowns. He shared that he has been able to successfully diversify his business by moving into interior design and ecommerce.
"It's been interesting to try to find a solid foundation during the pandemic," he says. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be doing anything right now related to interior design or ecommerce." Nevertheless, he views these new ventures as long-term investments that will run alongside his inevitable return to events.
However, not all eventprofs have been so lucky. Like Roby, Magdalena Bonnelly was able to pivot in response to the pandemic, but unlike Roby, the business she’s building only serves to tide her over until events resume. A Texas-based third-party meeting planner and event procurement specialist, Bonnelly saw her regular event business pipeline evaporate last March. As an independent contractor, she was initially unable to qualify for PPP, forcing her to sell some of her own personal assets. She wasn’t able to apply for assistance until this year, when the PPP eligibility requirements expanded to include companies with fewer than 20 employees, but the process has not been easy.
“I sold my own assets earlier in 2020 so I didn’t apply until I absolutely had to — which happened to be around the time when availability was expanded. Unfortunately, I received no match up with any lenders. So far, no lenders returned my inquiries.”
- Magdalena Bonnelly, Founder and CEO, Event Strategies
Bonnelly was able to apply for support through the EIDL program this year, but it only amounted to $2,500 USD — hardly enough to support her business.
In April, she and a business partner successfully started a business selling physical Covid safety infrastructure, like acrylic barriers and personal protection equipment, to venues and restaurants. However, Bonnelly laments that the market was quickly saturated, and because the viability of the business shares its fate with the pandemic, it’s tough to rationalize investing in it as more corporate clients get the green light to plan events for 2022 and her events business is picking back up.
Still, Bonnelly fared comparatively well. Many have left the industry altogether, like Kiera Gilbey, who worked as an account manager at Insynq Events in the UK before the pandemic hit, shared her story on micebook as she was made redundant and eventually found a new job in a different industry.
We asked Robert Kenward, Chief Talent Officer at YOU search & select, about the state of the job market in the UK. He estimates that there are currently around 300,000 redundancies in the MICE sector, out of about 750,000 total professionals. Of those redundancies, he believes that about 10 percent will leave the sector to find alternative sources of income, and less than half will come back once events resume.
In addition, the UK's current furlough scheme has allowed many agencies and other event businesses to keep employees on payroll for now by covering 80 percent of their salaries. However, the scheme ends in September, and "there's no way the industry will be anywhere near a position to resume sustaining that 80 percent in September, so there will be more redundancies," says Kenward.
Looking Forward to a New Job Market
Kenward notes that as events continue to resume and restrictions are lifted, there will be a sudden spike in recruitment for event positions. However, he warns that "there will be a lot of people recruiting to stay afloat rather than to plan for the future," which will likely lead to attrition several months down the line. In order to avoid this, he advises organizations to plan for recruitment before they need it:
"Start looking at your business now. Where do you think growth will come from? Who in your business could flex into other roles, and therefore where would your gaps be? Look at your job descriptions now. Your recruitment strategy should be as important as your marketing and business development strategies."
- Robert Kenward, Chief Talent Officer, YOU search & select and TheHub.jobs
It's also a good idea to focus on the value that candidates can provide instead of only considering their specific experience, especially since expertise in things like virtual events is still relatively new.
His main advice for job seekers is to always find out the salary bracket for a job if it isn't listed in the description. Some companies have been offering lower-than-normal salaries for certain event jobs, so candidates should make sure they have that information before going any further.
The event industry has undergone many rapid changes over the last year, which will have long-lasting impacts. Eventprofs have been forced to get creative to stay afloat, and without adequate government support, many have needed to look outside the industry for other opportunities after being furloughed, laid off, or taking a hit to their business.
While some are planning to return to events as soon as they're able, others have left for good. The full extent of the exodus remains to be seen, but one way or another, the industry is ready to make a comeback in the coming months.