From existential crisis to collective growth: how the events industry used the pandemic to reinvent itself

With no in person events possible, the experience industry could have buckled. Instead it came together, uniting in a series of collective initiatives to bring back events that are successful, safer and more sustainable.

The Covid 19 pandemic – and gathering restrictions that came with it – hit the events industry unimaginably hard. The unthinkable happened. No clubbing, theatre going, exhibitions, concerts, festivals, weddings, sporting events or company get togethers. Nothing. For a whole industry. For a whole year. And counting.

For an industry that brings audiences together, in person, to connect, to celebrate, to learn, to shift culture, the events industry teetered on the precipice of total collapse. And while some companies have sadly gone, as well as many jobs being lost in the sector, the crisis has also, thankfully, thrown up a number of positive opportunities .

“As an industry we could have said ‘Okay, that’s it, we’re finished,” says Dominic Thomas-Smith, Managing Director for leading creative agency Smyle. “But the events industry is too brave for that. In the UK alone it supports 1.5 million jobs and – under normal circumstances – contributes £84 billion to the economy. Beyond the business statistics, our work enriches the lives of millions, all across society. So rather than fall divided, we’ve to come together as an industry to stand united.”

The live, in person events hiatus created an opportunity to reimagine how the industry could be made more fit for purpose. To achieve this, businesses which are normally fiercely competitive came together in a spirit of collaboration, with commercial interests put aside in order to ensure the collective come back from the pandemic in good shape. 

One Industry, One Voice – only the start

An early example of this was the One Industry, One Voice coalition (OIOV). OIOV, along with the #WeCreateExperiences campaign, is a collaboration of event industry associations and business leaders who have come together to champion awareness of the power of events and their contribution to both the economy and to communities. Hundreds of organisations from across the seven core sectors of the events industry are supporting the initiative. OIOV aims to get various campaigns working more closely together, aligning their data, asks and timing. By doing so they are delivering consistent and accurate messages and individually amplifying their impact to target audiences. The work of OIOV continues and there are also plans for a post pandemic initiative to build on this unique and innovative platform. 

If you didn’t measure it, did it even happen?

Gathering meaningful and consistent statistics was another heel of the industry pre-pandemic. Now, thanks to the launch of the Experiential Measurement Marketing Coalition, the sector has a body to drive consistent, business-focused measurement across the events industry. Over 30 agencies have joined this initiative, including Havas, Czarnowski, Smyle and Opus. The EMMC’s aim is to standardize experiential marketing metrics and measurement methods, and then share results to create industry benchmarks. With improved and standardized data, the industry can better promote the economic benefits of holding events.

A more sustainable future

Many events are temporary in nature and can use up a lot of resources. On the face of it they look hard to justify from a sustainability perspective. No individual agency or body has the power to solve this challenge, but, together, thanks to the creation of industry body, Isla, the industry is set to improve its sustainability credentials. Isla was founded by events professionals with the aim of delivering more sustainable events. Its focus is on three core areas – zero waste, 100% renewables and radical carbon emission reductions. It hopes to achieve this via peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, practical guidance and training and standardized measurements and methodologies. 

“At Smyle we are proud to have been at the forefront of all these initiatives. But no individual or one agency can solve the magnitude of challenges that are facing our industry at the moment,” concludes Dominic Thomas-Smith. “But by coming together in a spirit of cooperation for the common good we can tackle economic, cultural and sustainability issues in a powerful way – and as an industry make a real difference through innovation and impactful action. I believe that is the appropriate way for us all to behave going forward, creating a positive legacy and progresssive movement out of this massive industry disruption as we move a step closer to all restrictions being lifted and potentially the end of social distancing. Indeed, the future generation of event professionals all across our industry now expect it of us.”

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