Sitting in my home office during lockdown 2.0 I had time to consider the glimmers of optimism surrounding the return of live events this month. The prime minister had just announced that business events will be allowed to resume in Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas when the UK emerges from national lockdown on 2nd December. Oh, the joy! We have been waiting for this green light for months.

As a result of this Winter Plan, large events including business meetings and events, elite sports and live performances may run at the following capacities: Tier 1 will be 50 per cent capacity or 4,000 outdoors and 1,000 indoors, whatever is lower. Tier 2 will be 50 per cent capacity or 2,000 outdoors and 1,000 indoors, whatever is lower. All events are subject to social distancing. 

So let’s get on with the show

This is such welcome news for our industry. I have watched other, arguably riskier, industries ‘unlock’ and have become increasingly frustrated that our professional events sector, with decades of experience in crowd management, contact data management and health and safety planning, hasn’t been allowed to demonstrate that we are best placed to deliver Covid-secure events.

I visited a major theme park with my family over the summer and was astonished by the lack of enforcement of social distancing and indeed hand sanitising – both indoors and outdoors. Why was this venue deemed ‘covid-secure’, while a conference at a well ventilated, professionally organised exhibition centre was not?

There is a great appetite amongst the public to return to well organised, mass gatherings. A recent survey we conducted revealed that almost 80 per cent of those surveyed said they are keen to attend live events in person within the next 12 months. So now that we can restart, even with much-reduced capacity, I have every expectation that public confidence will grow.  The phased return of spectators at outdoor sporting events will, no doubt, help visitors feel they can safely enjoy the events and the experiences they have missed so much.

The additional announcement of three or more vaccines plus the news of rapid testing being more freely available brings further hope for a speedier return to higher footfall numbers than first predicted.

Row back to June 2020 and I cautioned the team at Identity not to expect a return of live events for at least 12 months. Today I am more optimistic than ever that we will see major events return as early as Spring next year – albeit in an altered format and with reduced numbers.

The Revolution  – The Hybrid Event

At the beginning of 2020, before the COVID-19 tidal wave had hit, we created a virtual events programme for the Royal Navy to complement live events. Little did we know at the time just how pivotal this innovation would be in the coming months.

This rapid emergence of virtual and hybrid events is the biggest change in our industry.

With on-going COVID-19 restrictions, hybrid events will likely play a significant role in 2021 – justifying our decision to invest even more capital and creative energy into the latest developments in this area of our industry.

Previously viewed by some as a bit of a cumbersome compromise between virtual and live, now in light of the pandemic, the hybrid solution has clearly demonstrated its rightful place as a top choice.  Even post-COVID-19, this will continue to deliver a myriad of benefits to event planners and attendees.

Hybrid events overcome several challenges; they are agile and adaptable experiences, accessible to all regardless of geographical location, travel restrictions and health concerns, allowing increased capacity and reduced environmental impact.

I am energised about these endless possibilities.  Think for a moment about the unfettered access to the enormous pool of global guest speakers, ‘venues’ with limitless capacity, unsurpassed audience amplification, and the ability to engage not only allowing but compelling audiences to actively participate – regardless of whether they are attending in person or virtually. #newera

Event, user and customer experiences deliver the ultimate human experiences. Our clients’ needs in late 2019 and early 2020 pushed us to put on the ‘hybrid’ life jacket well before the sector hit stormy waters. I can tell you now that we were very thankful to be ready, equipped and poised to deliver virtually when live events were closed down.

Open for Work – Looking for the Next Opportunity

I am a natural optimist – a trait much needed in 2020, however it is difficult to keep buoyant all the time, particularly when an increasing number of my Linkedin contacts have ‘open for work’ on their profiles. These amazingly talented people across all areas of our industry are without work. Jobs in this sector have already been lost and many people will, by necessity, have sought employment in other trades.

But my hopefulness kicks in here. Once our sector fully re-opens I’m certain that the demand for our industry, for the events and experiences that don’t happen without us, will pick up, along with the associated demand for those with experience and skills.

Throughout 2020 Identity has been actively recruiting, and this will continue in 2021. Admittedly our location, on the south coast, has occasionally been a hurdle in attracting key recruits, but now city life seems to have lost some of its charm. We all have a greater appreciation for outside, green spaces, something Eastbourne has in abundance. Working from home and flexible working are the expected rather than the exception and, I’m bold enough to say that a career at Identity has, even more, to recommend itself than ever before.

So I hope it is a comfort to those currently seeking new positions that their roles and skillsets are still viable and in demand. The events industry will need you again. I just sincerely hope that this extraordinary pool of talent won’t have left the sector for good.

Lasting Changes & Positive Take-Aways (yes there are some!) from 2020

As much as we have all longed for a return to normality this year, there are some aspects to 2020 that I hope will stay with us.

Prior to March 2020 I was commuting to London three days a week and travelling abroad at least once a month. I would see my children for a few minutes at the start of the day and sometimes not at all at the end. At the time, I didn’t feel that my working behaviour was anything out of the ordinary and, amongst my peers, it wasn’t. I’d often discuss the importance of a work/life balance with colleagues yet for me I was on the constant treadmill of work.

As a team, it would never have occurred to us to pitch to a potential client via Zoom – why would we? We are in the business of getting people together, of course, we need to meet in person, to convey the experiences we are trying to create.

Then, suddenly there we were doing just that. And most importantly it is totally acceptable!

The Fine Line – Working From Home or Living At Work

I know I am not alone in having meetings, calls and general day to day working life disrupted by a small child, pets or deliveries at the door and, of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wholeheartedly rejoice when my sons’ nursery and school reopened! Yet the radical, overnight reset of working norms and the inevitable merging of family and work time did have its rewards as well as its drawbacks.  

A redundant commute, seeing our families more and simply spending more time at home has been a bonus. For others however, 2020 hasn’t felt like working from home, but rather living at work!

There is no doubt that it has been tough for everyone, in different ways. Ringfencing time off is crucial – and never more so than in 2020 as the lines between home and work blurred significantly.

Scores on the doors

There will be few industry league tables published this year, and rightly so  – it has been a turbulent year. While Identity has been fortunate, filing 125% growth last year and forecasting a further 60% growth this year, it will be revealing to see how much movement there has been generally and the agencies that managed to pivot and successfully adapt their offering to survive and thrive.

I can pin down the reasons for our upward trajectory. Firstly, it is the amazing team at Identity that has worked tirelessly and ingeniously (thank you). Secondly, our clients who all share the same progressive approach and ultimately trusted us wholeheartedly to deliver (thank you).

The future – Together we can achieve anything

2020 changed everything. People either pulled together or pulled apart. The events sector did the former. Witnessing the power of collaborative effort within our industry was truly inspiring. The #WeCreateExperiences campaign has been a rallying call for everyone to maintain a focus on how we, as event professionals, can venture safely back to live events. Together we can achieve anything. Thank you to all the people that have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to rally together this diverse industry.

2020 will fade into the historical context of ‘that dreadful year’ and I remain firmly optimistic about the future.  For us, 2020 will always be a defining year in our company’s history. After all, the show must go on!