July 29, 2021 | By Bronwen Largier
Sometimes it feels like the events industry is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, people seem to think that being an event organiser is this incredibly glamourous occupation where everyone is swanning about organising the next big party. And yet, on the other, our industry is not celebrated or revered like other similarly placed industries – we don’t have the swagger of the live music industry or the devotion of the professional sports industry, and yet we are integral parts of both – the Tokyo Olympics didn’t organise themselves.
I have written before about the invisibility of our industry – a job well done means we are by-and-large not noticed – I suppose you could say we provide the skills and the platform for all other industries to be celebrated, but never our own, in any kind of public sphere.
I think there are a few issues at play here and they tie in with why we can’t seem to get Government attention during the pandemic to get the support we need to ensure we survive it.
I think there is a general perception that events are a nice-to-have. I suppose this is sort of true – but we are also like fingertips and the tip of your nose in extreme cold – expendable when it’s a choice between living and dying, but you’d also rather keep them. And like frostbite and all human connection, really – as the pandemic is demonstrating – we can do without events, for a short time, but it does, in both the short and the long term, have a massive impact on our quality of life. And, I should point out, we are as expendable as sports matches and concerts and Broadway musicals, but the world is going to great lengths to retain these. The Tokyo Olympics is a case in point – while cases continue to escalate to record levels in Tokyo, the giant sporting match of the Games is pushing ahead. The fact that this is also an event seems to be slipping a lot of notice, because, once again, we are the vehicle, not the star.
But the Games also demonstrate the importance of events – the celebration they provide, the sense of unity and community and goodwill, the measurement of which is difficult and tangential – likely to crop in places we wouldn’t necessarily think to look, like productivity and happiness – and hard to tie back precisely to the existence of events.
One of our other issues is we are an industry not massively flush with cash. Ironically, this makes it difficult to prove our worth, through resource-heavy activities like lobbying and research, themselves very intertwined. The lack of research also means we don’t appear in the mainstream media as much as we could, which further hurts our cause.
This lack of cash also impacts our industry associations who don’t have sufficient extra resources to devote to the big picture to drive the outcomes we need to become a stronger industry. And I want to be clear – this is not a comment on the value of the associations themselves or a judgement on their abilities – it is simply a lack of time and money, because first and foremost, they need to exist in order to drive change and that in itself is enough of a feat at the moment.
The lack of a single central industry body also hurts us, and leads into another of our significant issues, which is also one of our biggest strengths – we have such a diverse set of skills, although we all overlap, complement and depend on each other – that it is hard to define us. This in turn perhaps demonstrates the need for multiple associations, but also brings us full circle with the problem.
But it must be said, the siloing of our industry is a problem, especially the general casting off of the entire public event sphere in terms of organised representation, even though many of us work across both business and public events; even though public events are both significant economic drivers and possibly our biggest opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the public, who, despite all being touched by our industry, often remain unaware that we exist.
But what we lack in cash, we can make up for in kind. Maybe it’s time to get creative to save ourselves, to fix our image problems and get some attention, which in itself is a valuable form of lobbying – the most grassroots of all.
Because we might not have cash, but we have everything we need to create the thing that others need cash to do. Let’s go public. Let’s take a leaf out of the Victorian arts industry’s playbook, who recently released an advertising campaign about getting vaccinated that also serves to draw attention to the plight of their community. As an industry, we are experts in creating moments of emotion, we are storytellers and creatives and we also already have the skills and equipment to create our own campaign, from the lights to the cameras and the talent, the show callers and the creative directors. And given we work across all industries, we could also probably find some support to spread our message through those industries and through the general public. And many of public event organisers already have direct lines of communication into large swathes of the critical mass of Australians to spread the message further.
So while it’s quiet, why not take the government support that is available to us and use the time to create a campaign which reminds everyone of how events have shaped their lives, brought joy, brought knowledge, brought connection and belonging, and let’s reveal ourselves as the magicians behind the curtain.
It is time to shed our invisibility and exhibit ourselves.