March 31 2021

By Bronwen Largier

As Managing Director of the Australian Event Awards Ian Steigrad acknowledges 2021 will be a defining year for the Australian events industry, he and his team are seeking sentiment from across the country to determine how – and whether – the national awards program will proceed this year.

“It’s obviously been a very, very different COVID-19 experience in the different states around the country,” says Steigrad, “so we’re just really trying to get a gauge for what people have done and for two things: (a) whether there’s an appetite to have an Awards at all – to compete with each other for accolades in this current environment – and … whether there’s an appetite to come together as an industry at some point – probably later in the year – just to celebrate the industry, whether it’s with or without awards.

“An awards program has to have a critical mass and be competitive by nature, but there are other things we could do to bring people together that doesn’t necessarily involve awards.”

Steigrad says they are looking to engage with a cross-section of the industry before making a decision about how to move forward with the Awards for 2021.

“And that’s everybody. That’s not just entrants, that’s also the judges and the partners – the whole Event Awards community – to work out how to steer the ship through this awards cycle which is obviously wildly different to anything previously.”

He says that, as a national awards program, they’re actively seeking feedback from all states and territories, rather than taking their cue only from the most populous states. There’s a sense of aiming for a delicate balance in reaching their decision in a year where day-to-day life in different parts of the country varied hugely.

“The reality of it is Victoria has done it extraordinarily hard – they’re still not really producing events now.”

But he says initial feedback since they put a call out last week suggests getting together is what the industry wants.

Ratpack Reloaded perform at the Event Awards ceremony in Sydney in 2020 | Photo: EventPix

An early event feat in 2020

In 2020, the Event Awards was an early mover in the return to live events, staging four face-to-face awards ceremonies simultaneously on October 21.

“I think everyone was delighted to be at something last year,” says Steigrad.

“We got really good feedback about each of the ceremonies. I think at the end of the day we were all a bit disappointed with the fact that the technology let us down…more than I would have liked. I was expecting a bumpy technological ride, but I wasn’t expecting as bumpy as it got.

“I don’t want to take anything away, however, from the feat of staging four things simultaneously – even just the simple task of getting the trophies in the right state was hard enough and we managed to get that done.

“I’m pretty proud of what we managed to do,” he says.

But if there is to be an Awards night in 2021, the plan is for it to be a singular event.

“Certainly, given some of the challenges that a multiple state and technological event creates, we would far prefer to be getting the entire industry from across the country together in one place in 2021. That is our strong preference.”

Australian Event Awards Managing Director Ian Steigrad on stage at the Sydney Event Awards ceremony in 2020 | Photo: EventPix

A defining year ahead

Steigrad believes 2021 will be a tough year for the industry and the evolving circumstances will influence the way any possible Awards program will run.

“It’s been my view for some time now that 2021 was going to be a harder year for the industry than 2020 was,” he says.

“The pain becomes very, very real this year. Last year, it was, ‘hang on and hold your breath’. People are running out of breath.

“If we can take the edge off that or if we can help to improve it or if we can find a way to make it marginally less challenging, then we’ll have a go at that,” Steigrad says.

And as things toughen up, Steigrad says the focus of the Awards will change.

“The focus…becomes less about rewarding excellence and more about keeping the community together. Keeping the community that is the industry together.

“It becomes less about me doing better than you and focussing on the competition – which has its place – but in time like this, it becomes more about collegiality, keeping everyone together and, to the degree that we can, hunting as a pack.”

With the end of JobKeeper last week, Steigrad’s concerns range from whether enough events took place for the field to be meaningfully competitive, to whether they’ll be resources available within the industry to complete the entry process as it currently stands.

“There is part of me that goes, ‘Will anybody be around to write entries?’ And so maybe we have to find a different solution to that problem,” he says.

“We may end up having to change the Awards program and I’m up for that if that’s what it needs to be – it’s got to reflect the realities of the industry anyway. If we have to throw all the balls in the air and start again, well, we do.

“At this stage my mind is completely open as to how we proceed but… we’ll be doing a lot more talking to people and then obviously we’ll engage with the co-chairs [of the judging panel] as well.”

Whatever happens, Steigrad believes 2021 will be a defining year for those who produce all kinds of events across the country.

“2021 is where the industry shakeout from COVID-19 happens. It didn’t happen in 2020. Everyone was just trying to work out what happens next. 2021 is where it happens. When we look back [in] 2022 onwards, the industry will now be shaped by what happens in 2021. That is the reality.”

Those wishing to share their perspective with the Event Awards can contact the organisers at enquiries@eventawards.com.au or by phone on 02 8096 8777.

A 2020 Event Awards ceremony underway in Brisbane | Photo: EventPix
Top image: The winners of Best Cultural Arts or Music Event celebrate in Perth | Photo: EventPix