The Future of Events Post-Lockdown

The Drum invited our founder, Selina Donald, to share her insights and forecasts on how the landscape of events and experiential will look post-lockdown.

You can find the article here, or for non-subscribers, the full transcript is below.

Life after Lockdown: What will Events and Experiential Look Like?

To be in the business of events in 2020 is the equivalent of owning shares in Blockbuster back in 2010. In our hyper-connected world, Covid-19 has upended the way we live, work and socialise faster than you can say ‘Netflix and Chill’. And the event industry has been hit. Hard. 

Experience culture contributes $7.3trillion to the global economy, and, until this year, it was growing by 8% annually. Events bring people together. They educate, empower and inspire audiences.  Events can spark social movements.  Not only that, they raise profits and build brand awareness.  But events are also the fifth biggest polluter on the Planet, sending over 4 billion tonnes of waste to landfill and emitting 3 billion tonnes of Co2 every year.  

As a result of the lockdown, we have seen a dramatic global reduction in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, air quality has increased and Instagram feeds are populated with appreciations of nature. Whilst this by no means should undermine the devastating human cost of the virus as well as the repercussions on the global economy, it is often said that out of a crisis comes opportunity for transformation.  With this in mind, could it be time to kick-start a rapid shift towards making our industry more sustainable? If so, what could the landscape of the event industry look like post-lockdown?

Covid-19 and Sustainability 

Covid-19 and sustainability considerations will go hand-in-hand moving forward.  The success of events will be measured in bringing people together in a responsible way.  Minimising risk will be paramount, as will taking into account environmental considerations and the local community.

The companies that prosper will be those that understand sustainability cannot exist in a vacuum and will use this time to invest in training their teams in new working practices that put economic, social, environmental and cultural concerns at the heart of how they deliver events (Note: training is permitted under furlough so this could be a useful way to keep up team morale).

Hybridisation 

Innovative brands have already pivoted their events into virtual experiences, connecting with their customers through webinars and online conferences.  As we come out of the pandemic, we will see the rise of the hybridisation of live events, connecting smaller and localised events to a wider audience through online streaming.  Not only is this cost-effective in a time of economic instability, it’s commercially and environmentally sustainable, providing the opportunity for mass participation and distribution of content on a global scale, alongside a reduced carbon footprint.   

Travel 

Until we have a global vaccine for Coronavirus, it’s unlikely that international events will take place.  Travel bans, varying policies country-to-country and the risk to people is too great.  Moving out of the pandemic, the cost of air travel may increase, meaning the trend for internationally accessible virtual events may continue.  When travel does become practical again, carbon offsetting should be agreed with clients and built into budgets from the outset, investing in projects such as reforestation. 

Materials and Production 

There will most likely be restrictions on what materials can be purchased from overseas and the cost of shipping will almost certainly increase.  Businesses will need to look for suppliers locally whilst rethinking how they obtain the resources required in order to design and deliver their events.  Now is the time to look beyond simply banning plastic straws and bring innovative materials to the table that don’t cause long term damage such as Mycelium Composite, or to look to industry leaders like Ecobooth and Smile Plastics who are turning plastic pollution into production builds.

Social Sustainability 

Social sustainability promotes the wellbeing of people and communities and should be at the heart of every decision that we make and every event we run.  Transparency and clear communication around health and safety will be demanded for every event moving forward, meaning information required from participants is going to stretch the limits of privacy.  Access to live events will be tighter, requests may be made regarding the health and travel information of staff and participants and a system may be put into place to assess risk. With the outcome yet to be known on immunity passports, proof of vaccine certificates or testing on-site, this is a sensitive area that will need to be regulated closely. 

Moving Forward 

The Harvard Business Review recently outlined evidence that companies which make sustainability core to their business strategy are rewarded by loyalty from their employees, customers, investors and the communities in which they operate.  Companies who look ahead to see how Covid-19 and sustainable innovations on climate change can drive innovation and inspire new business models, products and services, will determine the future winners and losers in the marketplace.  Ways of working that previously seemed unattainable, now feel within reach.  Now is the time to reorganise and restructure all that we know.  To reassess our company values and priorities and to remodel our approaches towards producing events.  To drive the industry towards what we truly value.

The Drum – April 2020