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A look at 2020: what we have done, not done, and learned

A look at 2020: what we have done, not done, and learned

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Humans learn from experience... at least if they take the time to integrate this experience and analyze it. So in the face of what has probably been the worst crisis of our professional lives, and in this symbolic moment of the turn of the year, it is time to ask ourselves: what have we lived, what have we learned... and what do we still have to do? Many positive things have come out, some negative to work on, but the most important is in the last point of this article: we have redefined our role, from specialists in events to specialists in moments of more strategic communication. By Eric Mottard

“VUCA” is no joke

These are four letters that we used to remind ourselves that we have to be somewhat more flexible in a world in permanent change. Forget about change, we have experienced a true earthquake, our world sank in a week, and has not really returned yet. A total black swan, a devastating and unpredictable event. Anyone now has to add something to their contingency plans: the possible case of total crash. With many implications in terms of financial prudence and fixed costs. The trend to work with limited structures and outsource or flexibilise as much as possible will only accelerate. Don’t forget what Andy Grove of Intel said: “Only the paranoid survive.” 


Well, yes, we have been lucky in a way: this crisis has arrived after two good years, and an excellent start of 2020, with generally healthy companies. Within the disgrace that fell upon us, this has been a blessing. 

Survival, thanks to the incredible flexibility of companies in this sector

Ten months after the start of this crisis, few companies have died, or at least not as many as we would have feared given the severity of the crisis. The flexibility of companies in this sector, generally small, with temporary unemployment schemes, some income from virtual events, and diversifications (sporting events, filming, cultural activities, etc.) that were done very quickly, have helped. A considerable achievement, which perhaps does not have to be surprising: event professionals are experts in managing unforeseen events, adapting, searching for this famous plan B. Result: perhaps the most affected sector of all, is still active in many cases. 

The virtual event, to the rescue

Yes, they are a partial solution, and we are tired of our screens as a meeting room, and they are not really profitable, but the undoubted hero of this salvation of many companies are the virtual events that have provided some oxygen to agencies and suppliers. I have commented on it many times: they are not a complete alternative (group motivation, public attention, sensory impact, personal attention, informal networking… all come very decaffeinated in their virtual version) but let’s forget the limits of these formats: online actions have been a financial salvation, but they have also maintained a certain connection between the teams, they have maintained a richer communication than sending emails or videos. Both at the level of life of the companies and the financial situation of our sector, thank goodness we have had this alternative. I want to see real events, but if they can’t be done, virtual ones are a plan B that we cannot overlook. 

Associative craze

If there is an industry that has behaved well in the pandemic, it has been MICE associations: the existing ones have been more united than ever in the Foro MICE, but several have also been born or have grown. One for stands (On-Go!), for incentive agencies (I’m+), for venues (ADEPE), a federation of audiovisuals associations (FIAVE), one for catering companies (born shortly before the pandemic but more active than ever), in addition to an increasingly close collaboration in sectors such as teambuilding companies. We can only be happy that there are forums for promoting good practices, vindicating, and training. 

The importance and support of the convention bureaus

Many convention bureaus have taken on a role of animating their members, training, defining health security seals, and promoting their destination. At a time like the present, an entity that helps to unite and support local suppliers makes a lot of sense, and many convention bureaus have been present. As we realize the importance of the State in times of crisis, the mother of local providers, the convention bureau, has been an important supporter. 

The recognition (and support) that we lack

We have improved a bit in the search for recognition, with the Foro MICE establishing communication with the Government. Building a lobby takes a long time and we have to continue and intensify on this. But overall, we have not gotten special attention, financial or legal support, or recognition in any law or regulation. We still do not really exist, this is a pending issue for the next few years. We share this difficulty with several other countries… but the governments of France and the United Kingdom have expressed their conviction of the importance of the events. This kind of recognition still seems far away here, we have to continue. 

The difficulty of convincing of our responsibility, despite it being undeniable

In these ten months, there have been no cases of contagion identified in a professional event. Almost all companies, venues, catering companies, etc. have defined protocols; organizers have proven to be responsible, attendees to a professional event as well. This has been an impressive exercise of responsibility, and a complete success. We are safe. But despite this, we cannot say that our message of responsibility and health security has permeated to decision-makers. It is true that we are in a very sensitive context and that companies are more than prudent by nature… but here we also have work to do. 

The digitization that we needed

“Never waste a good crisis,” they sometimes say. This will have made us update by leaps and bounds on the integration of digital to events. I’m not just talking about knowing how to handle Zoom, but about having a more culture of data capture, giving more importance to pre- and post- with digital activation solutions, having better tools for remote collaboration and telework. We have learned, and we will be more relevant. 

Most importantly: our relevance beyond the physical event

In this crisis, event professionals have moved out of their role as experts in face-to-face events (or experiential marketing): the pandemic has shown this ability of the event manager or event agency to define and execute the important communications that companies have had to perform with its employees, shareholders, large customers, distributors, even without the physical component. We will have to redefine the essence of the event professional: from an expert in a FORMAT (the face-to-face event) to an expert in an OBJECTIVE (strategic, interactive, participatory, exceptional communication… to an important audience). 

They are some learnings. We have many reasons to be proud, we have learned, we have improved… and although we have a lot of work to do, we will be relevant tomorrow, in a new role, beyond the mere event.