Despite having a Law Degree, Zac FitzRoy decided to join the family business.
Not just the landscape of events and organisers, but the people within the industry – specifically the younger generations. As someone who has come into the industry by virtue of a family business (and I’ll note – against the advice of my parents who suggested I should follow my law degree, as people will always have problems with people), it’s an industry I love.
I love the diversity of the industries we operate in and how broad our weekly activities can be, but mostly I love the transformation of nothing into what is often something incredible. The work of custom stand builders, the passion of the communities to fill an empty concrete hall and the consideration of how best to encourage positive change in industries – all great examples.
But as a young person in the industry – mid-twenties to be precise – I ask what does the future look like?
Like you, I don’t have a crystal ball. But I believe we likely share most of the same perceptions. We can see positive changes in the coming months as general consumer confidence rebuilds and COVID case numbers subside around Australia. We can look globally at the resumption of large events despite ongoing cases (the US for example) as a sign that while we are behind the times, events can run even with COVID cases existing. And we can see that there will undeniably be some ongoing impact likely for several years of the pandemic, be it a requirement to follow a COVID plan, or that some percentage of our attendee base will drop off. And probably, certainly for us, we’re yet to see the full impact of the last two years on some of the events that were so significant in 2019 and understand what it means for our businesses and industry.
Right now, most events can run without restrictions, and yet we’re watching the new wave of cancellations roll through. Events scheduled months away are pulling the pin without any obvious cause (I would argue that as consumer confidence is changing so quickly you couldn’t say that’s the reason so far out), and now they aren’t even postponed – just cancelled.
When you see venues cancelling their own events, you’ve got to look and wonder are independent organisers like us mental for pushing ahead with our own calendar? Many of those that are cancelling events, seem to be predominantly of large international companies, or businesses where the owner has much less skin in the game. So while our company has contracts out worth millions of dollars in venue rental alone over the next six months that we’re expected to sign off and proceed with, again, are we mad?
If the industry isn’t willing to back itself, then there is a major dilemma as to how we could expect our clients to. It would almost be immoral to hold them to some different level of expectation – do as I say, not as I do. But there’s another big issue that flows out of this lack of confidence which I’ll get to shortly.
On the flip side of events cancelling, you’ve got those pushing ahead. Events proceeding into probably the biggest period of uncertainty – and the results we shall wait and see. I remain optimistic that what we will see when they run is similar to what we’ve seen in the past two years when events have resumed – a consolidated number of quality buyers with cash and a desire to spend.
There are really valid reasons being shared as to why events are proceeding; from the likes of AGHA and Get Local around the fact their clients depend on live experiences (retail shops or events for example) so they should be seen to be leading from the front with their events. Are in for an easy run? No, but at some point you’ve got to draw a line and take a stand as we’ve done every time we’ve come out of lockdown with our own events.
So for those of us that want to be in the industry, what does it all mean? What’s the future for both businesses, and the next generation of event professionals looking like?
At present, like many organizations we at Expertise are looking for staff in sales, marketing, management and more. There’s a major shortage in the labour market – there just isn’t the people looking for work to make it an easy search (unemployment is the lowest it’s been in over 10 years). But to top it off, anyone who does apply for an events role, I have to question their quality simply on the basis that they seem to be making a semi-conscious decision to come into an industry that remains under an enormous shadow. An industry with many that when they are faced with uncertainty, are opting to pull the pin rather than push forward, and presumably then need to make staffing changes to suit at some point. We need young fresh thinking but what young person would join a sector that currently seems to have little positive outlook?
What’s the sell of the industry at present to someone coming out of high-school, university or another industry? It’s a major problem. And while I don’t think there’s one perfect solution, it just needs to be recognized that if events continue to be cancelled there is a direct effect on the appeal of the industry, the quality of talent we will retain and entice, and it will be the major explanation for when in however many months or years we all start looking around and asking ‘why don’t we have new people coming in?’
So what can be done to address this? The confidence issues have been highlighted over and over so I won’t go into those, but for those with young staff currently in their business.
1. Lead from the front. Show them there is a direction and a path to follow. Communicate transparently and give them confidence they aren’t on a rudderless ship.
2. Encourage education and take the opportunity from quieter periods to upskill people. Demonstrating your ongoing investment in them even in challenging times will hopefully deliver you a better team at the end, or at the least give your team challenges, goals and growth while the events they signed up to deliver are in limbo.
3. The industry needs to start to act differently. That’s the case with some decisions, but more with collaborations and partnerships with other businesses to minimize risk emerging from the pandemic and find productive new ways of working.
Best of luck to those running events in February – I hope they are major successes. The next month truly could start to change the industry.