One more thing... new ground to break: why events are back

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2Heads believes the industry will return bigger and more stable than ever before

After the pandemic disrupted the events industry, 2Heads’ managing director James Simpkins urges the industry to believe in events again. And he makes a pretty convincing case...

Being the managing director of an experiential agency during these times feels much like being Indiana Jones. Crossing the quicksands of shifting events, under the scrutinizing heat of Covid, while trying to find the grail of stability.

And, like Indy, I’ve learned that standing still is not an option. Where once I stuck to tried-and-tested growth strategies that tended to serve me well in the agency world, I now have to venture into lands unknown and treacherous.

Building a business plan for success used to be fairly straightforward; stretch your legs around a set position and invest where you think there might be opportunities. Knowing that bread-and-butter work would be, well, bread and butter.

But what used to be the stalwart income streams, the set pieces and revenue fallbacks have crumbled into uncertainty, and new stable positions need to be carved into stone.

The recent change in briefs means I must be so many more steps ahead of the status quo. Planning for the next step is just not an option. The whole leadership team need to be almost hyper-agile with its thinking – so far ahead of the safe bet as to be fortune-reading – which as everyone knows is difficult and carries more than a margin of risk.

If I just review the last six months, winning and delivering work has felt hand to mouth, going through the agency in a reactive manner, which is not sustainable. Information and decision making into investment came late and hindsight has proved to be, indeed, a wonderful thing.

And yet I have learned a huge amount. The pandemic and ensuing uncertainty created a huge amount of challenge around infrastructure and put a lot of pressure on teams who had to conjure quality experiences in a world restricted in almost every sense. And for things to get better, myself, the team and the rest of the industry needs to believe in the power of events again.

Events and experiential marketing work. Brands need them. Customers miss them. I now see how big a gap they leave in a company’s sale strategy. Events will come back, and industry leaders need to be willing to make investment in their people and their agency structures to build this new future. In turn we need to push brands to a more robust commitment on developing work so agencies can commit to resource levels.

Everyone wants to take baby steps back into live events, but this in turn creates its own pressure. The balance between on and off – much akin to a light switch – is always there, and we need to move toward a cranking up and down system, levelling out reactions so that we all, as an industry, can re-carve that infrastructure.

For me, I want to gain some control back, to be surefooted with investment decisions made inter-agency, and make sure I can plan the long-term benefits for employees and everyone else. Crystal-ball gazing is only going to get me so far. And I know my team will walk the shifting sands for their clients... if they know where they are heading.

We need to help people fall back in love with the industry. Before the pandemic, event professionals loved the rewards of creativity, the collaborative environment, the adrenaline of delivering. The excitement and fulfilment of making something happen. Surely that’s at the heart still? But why are less people willing to join the industry?

Maybe it’s because there’s a reasonable limit to what people can achieve, and though we can deliver a minor miracle every now and again, it can’t be expected all the time. Teams need that grail of structure and good times to come to believe in as well. They need to know that things will get easier.

As an industry, we need to bridge the skills gap that is coming. Job migration is going to be the buzzword of 2022, so we need to provide a great journey for new people joining the industry. I believe it’s more than the work-life balance – we need to put collaborative structures in place that provide autonomy and flex, creating a collective where resources can be scaled up.

Moving beyond survival mindset to a growth mindset is something we all should be ahead of the curve on – a psychological shift in both agency and brand, and a return to the belief in what this industry can do. Then we will cross the desert safe, all of us, and find that grail of well-deserved stability.