By Peter Jones AM

To be honest, as I’m writing this, even I’m not 100 per cent sure as it constantly changes, and is also dependent on which state or territory you live in.

Who would have thought that the AFL Grand Final would ever leave Melbourne? But this is an indication of where we are at in relation to major events. But what I do know is that the industry in general is not in a good place and it will be like this for a long time. There is no point just hoping COVID-19 will go away and we will return to what we were all used to, so in light of this, here are my thoughts on what the critical factors are moving forward for the industry and for Peter Jones Special Events.

First priority is to sort out my business and to ensure it’s sustainable in the long run. This includes having difficult conversations with staff on where we are and what is likely to happen in scenario A, B, C or D. My approach is to be honest and tell them they need to look out for themselves; not to worry about the business as that’s my job. I also know now that my business model will have to change as it is not sustainable in the present and certainly not in the future.

Secondly is to work out what the industry is going to look like for the next six months to two years as that will impact what I do now. I’ve been listening to what venues, clients, suppliers and other event organisers are saying and they are pretty unanimous… live events, both corporate and public, as we know them are a long way off and certainly won’t be back this year.

Virtual events will continue, but not every event can work this way. I also believe people will get tired of constantly being online. Big events will take even longer to come back, and this is ultimately going to impact many companies who unfortunately will not survive. I know this sounds harsh, but it may simply be a matter of who is left standing at the end as to whether they will be around in the long term.

Thirdly, what are our clients going to expect when we can come back? They are already looking at the future and they will be influenced by three key factors:

  1. Creating a COVID-19 safe event
  2. Budget
  3. Relevance

This is going to add a new complexity in terms of our creative approach and the added costs of compliance.

Clients will need to be made aware of what the implications will be and to budget accordingly. I also think there may be a tipping point where a well-established event wouldn’t work as well in a modified format. The best examples of these would be a gala fundraising event, particularly dinners.

If you can’t have 1000 people in a room willing to spend, is it practical to do it for 500 or worst case, online? Also, how on earth do you conduct a large public event such as New Year’s Eve celebrations in this new world?

Finally, the all-important role of technology and how we can use it effectively will change the face of events ongoing. We’re going to rely on it more than ever before, so we all need to upskill and get really good at it.

So where does all of this leave us? In unchartered waters, there is no instant “fix it” solution that we can apply to every scenario. Events of all shapes and sizes including business events will return, but what they will look like is uncertain and each one will need to be designed to meet all the expectations of our clients.

As Winston Churchill said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Well, we’ve got a crisis now, and an opportunity whether we like it or not, as an industry, to work through it together. If we do, we will come out the other side.