On Wednesday 24th November 2021, we welcomed over 450 eventprofs in-person at Central Hall Westminster and digitally on Arena to EventLAB, our annual thought-leadership event, this year focusing on what the events world needs to build back stronger than ever.
The second panel discussion of the day saw planners of some major recent events explain what they learnt, what they wish they’d known, and how they’ll approach it next time. Joining us for this session was Mark Mulligan, Director of Operations at IMEX Group, Sophie Linin, Senior Business Development Manager at Royal Museums Greenwich, Taran O'Doherty, Founder of Yahire, and Martin Fullard, Editorial Director at Mash Media moderating.
Watch the full session below and read on for the key takeaways.
Table of Contents
Watch The Discussion
Communication is crucial
It was essential, as we returned to in-person events, that we maintained constant lines of communication between clients, venues, suppliers and furloughed staff making sure all parties were aligned on new processes and updates when planning for post-pandemic events.
For the Royal Museums Greenwich, the furlough scheme was utilised with a core team staying on and working all the way through the pandemic, which meant the venues could enforce their safer events policies and keep revising them in line with changing guidelines.
Additionally, communication with delegates on safety protocols and expectations was essential. Not only to promote delegate confidence but also to ensure compliance and reduce any potential covid risk posed to event attendees.
Logistics have been challenging
The IMEX Group planning IMEX America were presented with many logistical challenges that came with planning a large scale trade show, in a country with strict travel restrictions. One of the challenges faced was getting the team to the US before the borders opened. The team had to allow time for quarantine and ensure they were adhering to rules and regulations, all while planning a large-scale trade show.
They also had to prepare for the fact that the borders opened the day before the show, and the possibility that the show may need to be purely domestic should the border opening be delayed. This would have affected their attendance numbers, considering the show has a very large international audience.
On the supplier side, contracts needed to be renegotiated and the team had to really work with the suppliers to ensure that everything was aligned, that the work was being done and that it would all be ready even without the IMEX team onsite.
Event safety is key
For Royal Museums Greenwich, Covid protocols were developed on a case by case basis. They came up with plans, looked at what was happening elsewhere in the world, and looked to organisations like Hire Space and BVEP to help gain insight into the protocols that needed to be put in place.
There was a cost challenge in terms of giving the clients more space to allow for social distancing, but not wanting to increase prices during the pandemic, so the venue had to then absorb the extra costs themselves, as well as things like lateral flow kits, hand sanitiser, and masks. They've since reassessed their strategy moving forward, and are now planning to run less events but at a higher quality.
For IMEX America, Covid protocols were even more complicated. There were over 3000 registered international delegates, so there needed to be a system where delegates could prove that they were fully vaccinated within the right timeframe by one of the approved vaccines. Considering there were over 200 countries represented, this was a challenge. They partnered with a platform that could verify international vaccines to help streamline this, but they needed this to be done prior to the show so, again, communication was crucial in terms of asking delegates to provide what was required ahead of time.
Two key skills for event planners
Flexibility and being able to pivot is a hugely important skill to have as an event planner, now more than ever. Having trust in the process and the people around you is also vital, and the ability to believe in yourself and trust that everything will work out through difficult times.
What do you predict for the next year?
SOPHIE: It's going to be busy! There's going to be a real sense of joy of getting back into live events.
IMEX America was a fully vaccinated event. Was that government enforced, and did you have any reaction to that decision?
MARK: It was not enforced, it was our decision. We felt having done the research and spoken to many of the event industry partners that that would be the safest way to go ahead with an event of that size. The reception was on the whole very positive. There were of course a small percentage who didn't agree with the decision, but generally speaking the feedback was great. There were no Covid cases during the show either.
What have you seen with regards to attendance in terms of no shows?
MARK: Attendance was down of course, but it did exceed our expectations. The vaccine policy we enforced gave people the confidence to attend a large gathering for the first time in a long time.
How is the shift to hybrid affecting your budgets?
MARK: Like most organisers, IMEX Group ran various virtual experiences during the pandemic, and we also had a hybrid studio on the show floor in Vegas because we knew there would be a portion of our attendees who couldn't be there in person. People are so desperate for live right now, and you could see that in the way people interacted. Overall, the budget impact wasn't too hurtful, and it's something we'll be looking at again for our Frankfurt show.
How did you deal with the badging process?
MARK: We provided onsite pre-attached lanyards to badge holders, which were all made of sustainable materials. So although attendees needed to pre-print their badge on paper, the lanyards were sustainable and the process was helpful to avoid queuing, and too many people gathering together at once.
About The Speakers
Mark Mulligan, Director of Operations, IMEX Group
Mark’s 18 year career in the events industry started in aviation events under the ‘Routes’ brand, now owned by Informa Markets. In 2011 he moved to the IMEX Group where he leads the Operations team responsible for delivering IMEX in Frankfurt and IMEX America in Las Vegas. These two tradeshows are the premier shows for the global business events community. He is also an active volunteer with the Event Industry Council (EIC).
Sophie Linin, Senior Business Development Manager at Royal Museums Greenwich
Sophie is Senior Business Development Manager at Royal Museums Greenwich where she looks after private and corporate events, filming and other commercial hire of their five museums. With over a decade of experience selling, planning and running events at unique venues across London including the London Eye, Madame Tussauds and BAFTA 195, she has spent the last year responding to the new business challenges thrown her way by the pandemic and working on new business opportunities across the RMG sites.
Taran O'Doherty, Founder, Yahire
Taran co-founded Yahire 10 years ago, after working in a furniture hire company for a month. Starting with no events, managerial or business experience, Taran learnt from the ground up. Fast forward to today and Yahire provides event goods to 250 events a week in London and the South East. Taran is also a director at Scoff Meals, who deliver thousands of healthy meals weekly UK wide.
Martin Fullard, Editorial Director, Mash Media
Martin Fullard is the editor of Conference News and editorial director at Mash Media. Martin is a leading figure in advocating for the UK’ events industry, having appeared on the BBC, LBC, CNN and in other national titles. He was also a central figure in the creation of industry coalition One Industry One Voice and its public campaign #WeCreateExperiences.
Make sure to check out the rest of the EventLAB 2021 session writeups over on the Hire Space blog, read our recap of the whole day, and follow us on social to keep up to date with EventLAB news and updates.
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