A Perspective To Ponder.
The week’s guest writer is Ben Lewis, a long-time friend and associate. We worked together for many years creating and executing corporate events, from a blank sheet of paper to outstanding and award-winning event marketing programs and environments. The projects we worked on were massive trade show exhibits and customer events, involving many different facets of people and skills, including designers, CAD engineers, carpenters, and on-site install and dismantle teams.
Ben is the Managing Director of MC², a leading experiential marketing company. Experiential marketing is broadly defined as any form of customer-focused marketing activity, at various touch points, that creates a sensory-emotional connection to and with customers, partners, employees and the media. While many of us are aware of the massive layoffs that occurred in many industries, not many are aware of the impact on the corporate event and meeting world. Just as a baseline, here are some facts and figures (pre-pandemic):
- 1.9 million meetings occur annually —more than 5,200 every single day.
- Those 1.9 million meetings resulted in some big spending. If you add up planning, production, travel, and other direct expenditures, meetings and events account for $325 billion of direct spending in the U.S. Of that figure, $120 billion comes from travel alone.
- All that money directly supports 2.5 million jobs. This doesn’t include another 1.5 million indirect jobs and 1.9 million induced jobs , all across a wide cross-section of industries.
A Year in the Life of an Experiential Marketing Professional – Ben Lewis, MC2
Yes folks, it’s been a year now. A year since “live events” came to a screeching halt due to the pandemic. In fact, the last real live tradeshow I attended was one of the country’s largest tradeshows that occurs every three years, called ConExpo. It takes place in Las Vegas and is the American version of BAUMA – a similar show that takes place in Shanghai and Munich. In fact, I left Las Vegas a little early a year ago with what I expect now to have been Covid-19 symptoms in early March, 2020.
Wow. Did things change? More than you can imagine.
As a company that made its bread and butter off of live B2B and B2C events, tradeshows, and Business Theater, etc., we really had to make some major adjustments. I refuse to continue to overuse the word/verb… (Begins with “P”, ends with “T”, and has an “IVO” in there somewhere in the middle). However, we had to do it to stay alive. We went from building physical and architectural environments – often larger than your own office building – to making a nearly gamer-like environment, or ecosystem, that fits on your computer screen. This was nothing new for us really, but it was now more the rule (and the necessity) to the exception. Thankfully, we were already good at it – the “hybrid event” that is. And we were able to… ugh… pivot… rather successfully. The platforms that show organizers were providing just left no way to really stand out from your competition in a virtual tradeshow. That’s why, though they’ve been around for awhile, they’ve never taken off as successful. We had to create an experience beyond that provided platform into something more immersive.
Here’s the toughest part. Our business was, and will soon be again (thankfully), largely built of Operational employees – somewhere around 65-70%. Project Managers, Master Carpenters, Logistics Employees, Traveling Supervision, and Union Labor. All at once, they had nothing to do. Thankfully, our company was strong enough to keep the large percentage of them on furlough, continuing to pay health benefits, and allow for them to draw unemployment – in a sense, they’re all still employed – there’s just very little physical work. It’s been a struggle for so many of our most loyal employees. People that have been with us for 20+ years of full time employment. It can be pretty depressing to be called off furlough several times to accomplish a couple of week’s work, only to have to be furloughed when that trickle of work runs out. Then you’re back home waiting for the next call. Most have had tremendous attitudes about it and are grateful that those of us who are working are doing everything we can to continue to generate revenue, so there’s a job to come back to. A handful have reluctantly moved on to another career path, or are at least considering it.
With the vaccine, and several states taking the steps to reopen more aggressively and despite the piecemeal and sometimes conflicting and confusing information from the press, Dr. Fauci, the CDC, and others, there are brighter days ahead. A recent survey indicated that 78% of potential attendees plan to travel to live events in the late summer and fall. Several large shows, including the “granddaddy of all shows”, CES, seem full speed ahead in early 2022. This show alone generates nearly $300 million in revenue through the approximately 180,000 attendees, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority – in a normalized year, of course. Not to mention the revenue generated for companies like ours, with the lion’s share of creative and production taking place late in 2021 to make it to Las Vegas with the early January 2022 show dates. It will be no simple charge, to go from the skeletal team we have across the country right now – about 110 of us, all sharing resources – to ramp back up quickly when the firehose is turned on for us to drink from again. It’s going to be a welcome challenge. It will still be some time before everyone is back. And unfortunately, some people and smaller companies won’t make it back. But we’ve been through this in some ways before. The stock market in 2008, and of course that fateful day in September of 2001. As traumatic as both of these events were, the pandemic has done more to simply STOP live events, single-handedly, than both of the prior events combined. Crazy right? A simple virus.
If I have to go too much longer without shaking a customer’s hand, and only looking at their living space behind them in their Zoom call, I might just lose it. One more “you’re on mute, Jack” and I’ll begin to slip. What’s interesting is how convinced I am at my increased productivity working from home. I’m out of the bed and in front of the computer with my coffee, by 6:30-7:00. I normally have an hour commute, each way. That’s literally two hours out of my day. On the flip side, working from home will negatively impact your personal life. There’s no clear “start and stop” time. The standard ten-hour day has become the 12-hour day. It’s been a welcome change to get back into the office, officially, three days a week or more.
I think we’re all due a Brave’s game soon – a concert at the Battery before or after the game.
Have you had your vaccine? Do you plan on taking one? Do you think it will be required for travel? If you don’t want to take the vaccine and it becomes a requirement to travel, OR if to visit your customer, can they require you to have it – jeopardizing your career? Can anyone? Lots of questions.
Thanks Ben. A heartfelt take from an industry professional. The impact has been massive – and hopefully the experiential world will be back very soon.