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Compassion, collaboration and creative thinking in a crisis

I have worked in the events industry for 16 years.

In March 2020, as the Covid-19 crisis unfolded, my sector was hit harder and faster than any other. Don’t get me wrong, everyone else quickly followed suit, but for a good few days we seemed to be dealing with a disaster that no other businesses we knew and worked with were yet caught up in.

Our back-to-back month of events in March went from 12 events to just 2, and those 2 had already taken place in the early part of the month, a time when Coronavirus seemed to be a problem for other parts of the world and not us.

It was scary, heartbreaking and completely out of anybody’s control.

It was a situation that no amount of planning could have prepared us for. Yet here we were, right in the midst of it.

Compassion

In those first few days of salvaging work and income, it struck me that the most important thing for Clear, and for our future, was the strength of our relationships.  Not just those with colleagues, but with our clients, suppliers and venues. All of which were about to be tested to the limits and all of which required the highest possible level of compassion.

Over the first few days of the crisis, we had difficult conversations with clients about cancellation policies, transferring deposits, moving dates… all whilst we had absolutely no idea for how long we needed to postpone events, no idea what the future would look like, and with no lockdown yet enforced by the Government we were completely blind as to who would be obliged to foot the bill.

We cancelled suppliers with short notice, knowing the effect it would have on their businesses. We transferred dates where possible, but sadly we just weren’t in a position to do this for all.

We took calls from worried freelancers, who were already having their work for the next 3 months cancelled with immediate effect. We could offer them little in terms of security and optimism, as we were in the same boat.  Everything was unclear and unknown and all we could offer was empathy, a listening ear and a guarantee of loyalty to them as soon as were in a better position.

Calling venues to re-negotiate was tough. We were trying to do the best by our clients but at the same time retaining our valued venue relationships. We understood completely how these venues were facing the exact same crisis we were – empty diaries.

Calls were a mix of honest, empathetic conversations and straight-talking, flexible negotiations. We found ourselves being more open with each other about revenue, cash flow, job security worries and general survival – more than I would ever have imagined being possible or appropriate.

Collaboration

This new level of honesty was essential to help us collaborate in a way we have never had to before.

All classic negotiation tricks went out of the window. The normal rules of play just weren’t right. We weren’t just in this for a quick business win; we were all in this together, for the long haul.

There was an overwhelming feeling of people wanting to support each other and ensure the best possible outcome for everyone involved – clients, venues, suppliers, freelancers and agencies.  We re-negotiated contracts on a completely new and level playing field. And whilst this was not always comfortable, I honestly believe this will strengthen our existing relationships and build trust significantly in the future.

We have a saying in Clear about the circle of trust. It is a bit of a long running joke but in essence it means that events are delivered successfully through a circle of people, all working hand-in-hand to deliver their part: venues, catering, bar staff, entertainment, lighting, audio, live camera… it is an extensive list.

Covid-19 has demonstrated how this circle of people, collaborating and pulling together, is key to the success of our events and our business, and also the wider industry. It will be fundamental to the way we navigate through to the other side.

 The lessons

The lessons we will learn from this pandemic will be tough ones and the changes we see across the sector will be long lasting.

There will be shifts in patterns of behaviour. Clients will book differently and cautiously. Freelancers will tighten up terms. Event insurance policies will be scrutinised in finer detail. There will be further uncomfortable conversations to be had. Negotiations will be focused on more than just pricing.

And whilst this doesn’t paint a pretty picture of us all snapping back to normality once the lockdown is lifted, I remain hugely optimistic that as an industry we will bounce back better than ever.

We will remember the compassion that has proved so vital and we will strive to retain this. We now understand each other’s businesses better than ever before and this will prove to be incredibly valuable insight as we continue to pull together and rebuild the industry.

We will have a resilience that we have never had before.  A newfound strength of character making us even more determined, passionate and innovative.

Collaborative and creative thinking has shone through during the crisis. We have seen a swarm of events move to online platforms, the launch of new webinars and people sharing ideas, best practice and innovation has exploded across all channels of social media. This will continue to evolve, develop and grow, bringing with it a wealth of new opportunities, tools and talent.

People are now engaging with others more confidently online and via video, something they may have been negative about only a matter of weeks ago. This fast-paced adoption of new technology and live streaming will positively influence the future of events.

We will see the need for more collaboration, as we see businesses come back to life in different forms and sizes perhaps to how they were before.

There will be a large talent pool readily available and hungry to work, full of new ideas.

We, like many other industries, may not have been prepared for Covid-19 when it hit us, but I know that by working together, we will be more than prepared and ready for life after it.