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big debate

DRPG's Big Debate reveals collaboration is the key to event recovery

Creative communications group DRPG brought together guests from publications and associations representing events, comms and digital for a roundtable discussion and temperature check of the various sectors. The Big Debate, which was broadcast through the agency’s bespoke portal, included notable names from each sector and addressed issues such as the future of communications, how sectors and industries are persevering, and what support is available amidst the disruption as businesses re-evaluate their strategies and move forward to adapting to the new norm.

The panel represented many of the channels which make up the internal and external communication sector, from PR to live events, film and video to digital solutions. The breadth of expertise on the panel meant a balanced overview of the challenges of the last 10 weeks, and more importantly the opportunities for the future. 

Watch the Big Debate here

The panel included Simon Hughes, chair of the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP), Caroline Clift, editor at Stand Out magazine, Claire Fennelow, executive director at EVCOM, Holly Hall, MD at BIMA, Francis Ingham, director general at PRCA, Andrew Thomas, publishing editor at Communicate magazine and Conference News editor Martin Fullard.

The overriding sentiment from across the board is that the UK creative service industry are particularly good at adapting, changing business models and moving forward in times of crisis. This has been achieved through effective collaboration between sectors, associations, and businesses.

Key takeaways on virtual events

  • Although virtual (digital) events are proving their worth, after lockdown, experience events will be in high demand with people only attending virtual events regularly because they are at home and furloughed.
  • Hybrid events are the ultimate collaboration between the digital and event industries. People have seen the benefits of that kind of working and hopefully we can continue to work that way. 
  • The success of virtual events depends on the event itself and the industry it’s addressing. The quality must be high in order to compete as live events come back in.
  • Some content and messaging are better online. This situation has forced companies to look at the content and evaluate objectives and realise that live events aren’t always the best solution. Hybrid and online events are a viable solution, but new revenue and commercialisation models need to be made around virtual events. 

On live events

  • As live events are pushed from 2020 into 2021, controlling the backlog in terms of venues and suppliers will be a struggle. It is likely to take three to four years before things settle down, with two years of this being survival mode. 
  • Confidence will take a long while to come back and therefore events won’t be needed until 2021. In the meantime, businesses still need to communicate, and this service sits with comms and digital.
  • There needs to be a return of events of all shapes and sizes so that people are aware that events are essential to the fabric of our communities. 
  • Events agencies venues need to work together, and not as competitors, to keep local business going. If you don’t have capacity, pass them on.

On safety measures

  • It is easier to lockdown then it is to start up and getting events back up and running within the guidelines will prove a big challenge. 
  • The key to bouncing back will be providing numbers and more data to demonstrate to the government the value of the events industry for making money, encouraging business relief from local authorities. 
  • With new guidance coming out, events profs need to collaborate to come up with protocols that meet the government guidelines.
  • Each venue is different, so all measures should be considered but not mandatory. 
  • Safety measures are adding cost which could result in paired down experiences to keep within budgets. Extra money will need to be spent on reassuring the public of safety.
  • There is a need for universally accepted measures to make the public feel safe again. 
  • A collaboration between comms and events will be vital. Events will require extensive PR and marketing campaigns to consistently create reassurance within the public, accompanied by some form of certification of safety levels. 
  • Courses and reports from large and experienced event profs can help to share ideas for how to survive. 

 Dale Parmenter, CEO at DRPG commented after the broadcast: “While the outlook may look bleak for certain sectors of our industry, there is most certainly grounds for optimism. Gathering experts from each field including those from both press and associations has been a fantastic chance to share an overview of the challenges faced but most importantly to discuss the learnings that have resulted from this time of crisis.”

Simon Hughes, chair of BVEP, added: “This crisis has shown us it’s easier to lockdown then it is to start up. It will be a big challenge to the events industry to get back to normal within the guidelines. Events somewhat fell through the cracks when this hit as we don’t have a government home. We need more numbers and more data to demonstrate to the government the value of the events industry for bringing in business and revenue to the UK.

“As has been expressed throughout the debate, it is the collaboration within our industry that is paramount to its survival. All parties are equally committed to seeing the industry successfully weather this storm, and the first step to achieving this is open and honest communication. We must continue to work together and support each other to see our industry flourish once again.”