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How can event businesses pivot and grow in the face of COVID-19?

In this blog, Account Manager, Nicola Staley looks at the impact that COVID-19 has had on the events industry, a sector employing over 700,000 people in the UK, and considers the growth opportunities in the face of the pandemic.

Businesses seeking information for the Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure sector can access a range of resources on Marketing Manchester's Tourism and Hospitality Support Hub. 

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The live events industry has been one of the sectors most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its significant reliance on mass gatherings and social contact has led to early restrictions on business travel and event delivery, much of which is yet to be relaxed.

In an industry that is estimated to be worth £70 billion in direct spend, accounting for over 50% of the UK visitor economy and employing over 700,000 people (Business Visits and Events Partnership: UK Event report; May 2020) these restrictions have led to significant financial losses. Similarly to other sectors, event professionals are being required to adapt to the loss of the “physical” element of their projects and in some cases pivot significantly in order to gain new sales.

In the face of these challenges, I’m considering some of the ways that event businesses can reimagine their offering to build a viable sales pipeline.

Embracing digital technology and shifting events online

Events have always served as a platform to enable businesses and the public to connect. This need for engagement was still relevant when COVID-19 hit, driving much of the sector to establish a virtual delivery model to serve its customers. With most events now being delivered online, and the public being able to access these from anywhere across the world, event professionals are now able to target a much larger audience.

However, the volume of events being organised in conjunction with the emerging webinar fatigue can make getting noticed a challenge.

To stand out from the competition, businesses will have to ensure they:

  • have the technology in place to offer a seamless event experience;
  • accelerate networking opportunities in their sessions, helping to create meaningful connections in this new context;
  • enhance attendee engagement through the use of Q&A, polls, audience interaction and social media;
  • aim to replicate the look and feel of live events. 

This could be achieved through the strategic development
of event gift boxes which can be delivered to participants to heighten the experience and help bridge the gap between virtual and physical.

This was the case for the organisers of Transform, a recruitment marketing conference in Boston. The company developed a carefully curated box of premium products including a bag of coffee beans, a coffee cup, a candle, cookies and others sourced from charitable and small local businesses which were designed to be opened session by session. Rather than sending these to all registered delegates, the company decided to use these to create a new “Insider Experience” ticket establishing a tiered pricing model.

 

Identifying transferable skills to develop new service offerings

The events industry is home to individuals with a wealth of expertise from event managers and conference producers,  programme developers, designers, sales and marketing teams to operations and safety specialists, delivery, construction and building tradespeople. In many cases, event businesses will be comprised of several of the jobs and roles above or will have established partnerships with external suppliers of these services.

Even in smaller-scale businesses that may only have event managers, there is a noticeable breadth of skills present. A significant part of event management is the leadership and management of human resources with event planners demonstrating strong project, budget and operation management skills as well as experience in contract negotiation, logistics, customer service and sales and marketing.

Commending the industry’s multiskilled workforce, Michael Hirst, OBE – Immediate Past Chair, Business Visits and Events Partnership said:

“The UK’s service suppliers and event organising professionals offer comprehensive provision of the most up-to-date technology and equipment for staging events. Their talent for first class creative production, marketing and logistical organisation is envied world-wide.”

Building on the sector’s extraordinary talent, businesses currently unable to stage events because of the imposed restrictions should take an innovative approach to their bank of skills to establish new sources of income.

Examples of this include: 

  • Leveraging marketing skills and knowledge within your workforce to shift to an integrated marketing agency. This could include offering digital marketing, market research and copywriting services, and would be particularly desirable for those firms with a reputation within sectors like healthcare, where there is a demand for knowledgeable technical writers.
  • Use internal technical know-how to develop and offer new technological solutions. A prime example of this is the Bristol-based events company Pytch. During the pandemic, the business has launched a virtual event platform for the educational sector as well as developed a sustainable, solar-powered system to provide clean energy at events.
  • Combining project management and logistics know-how with the construction sector (either internal or external through trusted suppliers and partners) to offer engineering and support service solutions. This was the case for many US-based event production companies that managed to gain business during the pandemic by building emergency hospital extensions. A fantastic local example of this was also the launch of the Retrofit Get-in Project enabling events workers in Greater Manchester to use their transferable skills to make homes more energy efficient.

Developing new products

Event professionals may be known for delivering experiences but during this time they can also utilise their skillset and resources to develop a physical product. Examples of this could include:

  • Repurposing materials and resources used in event production to create products addressing new customer needs that have emerged during the pandemic. For example, Flying Elephant Productions, an Irish based developer and supplier of event set ups started producing desks for home working using excess timber stock.
  • Developing bespoke event gift packs to supply virtual event organisers (enhancing the virtual experience bringing elements of the live event to the attendees) or businesses interested in connecting with clients or rewarding employees. 
  • Creating an event experience which can also be delivered in a box and enjoyed by consumers at home. This “event-in-a-box” concept would provide consumers with all the props and resources required to host experiences such as mystery game nights, wine tastings, pamper days, arts and crafts workshops and others.

  • Collaborating with your usual local suppliers to create a gift box (this could be based on a one-off purchase model or on a monthly subscription one). The content could vary to target different audiences and different consumer needs ranging from fresh food boxes to wellness baskets and gardening sets.

    Due to the nature of the sector, event businesses will most likely already have connections with local food businesses, florists and other suppliers which can fast track the set-up process.

Reviewing and restructuring your value proposition could create a new income stream for your business. This could be a temporary measure to balance the decrease in sales triggered by the event restrictions or could be developed into a fixed new offering for the business. A useful tool for businesses wanting to identify potential additional sales opportunities is the Ansoff matrix. This visual resource could help you explore the possible growth strategies for your business including market penetration, market development, product development, and diversification.

 

If you are a Greater Manchester digital, creative and tech (DCT) business you can access high-impact support and specialist guidance from one of our expert advisors. Enquire now.

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Nicola Staley

Nicola Staley, Account Manager

As a fervent ambassador for Greater Manchester, Nikki has over 20 years of experience with some of the world’s leading brands within the hospitality sector. Her experience includes account management, new openings, rebranding and relaunching hotels, restaurants and their aligned services. As a specialist in her field, she has been involved in various projects across the UKMEA region, supporting underperforming hotels to increase productivity and save costs. As a seasoned mentor, she is passionate about making a difference and supporting others to achieve their goals.

 

More information is available on the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Support website. For more personalised advice call us on: 0161 237 4128 or email us at: BGH@growthco.uk

 

The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site. 

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