by Kelly McGillivray (@kelly_jozi) Many businesses have ‘pivoted’ during covid-19 but, for event managers, it’s been more of a Bolshoi Ballet pirouette, including having the resilience to spin around on your toes.

Supporting people

What’s become clear is that the most-strategic thinking concerning events is actually to do with supporting people. This “doing good” momentum helps the creative ideas flow and is also where there’s synergy between events and businesses wanting to show employees they’re valued.

“Before you proceed, step back and look at the big picture.” —Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher

Author David Verity explains big picture thinking as taking your vision away from the tree and looking at the forest. Trying to focus on the macro gives us breathing space to look at our current circumstances without being overwhelmed by the dire situation many South Africans are in. If we’re paralyzed by fear, we can’t be innovative and find other ways around the ongoing group-gathering restrictions.

Change our thinking

When our events were cancelled, anxiety was prevalent. There were weeks of trying to figure out a graceful way to pirouette and keep our business going and staff employed, plus find ways to support the crews who were now without work. Event companies are used to making magic for our clients but not for ourselves, so we had to change our thinking.

The first steps taken concerned housekeeping, reducing insurance and cutting down on all the “nice to haves”, such as paying rent in a beautiful building. I converted the space at the entrance of my house into an office and it works. Next was negotiating hard with suppliers so we could still pay them something, and then came the hustle!

“We need an engagement tools reset.” —Julius Solaris, EventMB editor-in-chief

People ask why we can’t just do events online and of course we can, and do. But when you’re in the business of making magic, Zoom conferences (as good as they are) don’t quite cut it. Online events challenge attention spans and are draining. As writer Clare Pooley says, in times of uncertainty, our brains are like phones with lots of apps open and our batteries are drained.

“Don’t find fault. Find a remedy.” Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company founder

Micro events

So, we found ourselves moving into a more micro event space which Ever Gonzalez, OutlierHQ founder, explains is a way to engage a target audience with less setup required. The work has been around doing strategies, video animation, design, marketing (lots of employee gift bags) and we’ve even made branded people and puppy onesies for the Denny Mushrooms’ #addgoodness campaign (there’s that “doing good” momentum again).

Various ways the event industry is reaching out in terms of micro-events are:

  • Mobile DJ booths for streets or outside office buildings
  • Care gift packs with masks, vitamins and chocolate
  • Raking and removing seats in venues to accommodate small, socially distanced groups
  • Food drop-offs using neighbourhood suppliers
  • Large-scale takeovers as mood lifters — including projection-mapping, billboard takeovers and light shows
  • Parking-lot movies — interestingly, even Walmart is converting parking space into a drive-in cinema
  • Mini meets — the amazing Studio H in Cape Town has designed an event landscape for an altered, post-coronavirus  world.

Rise to the challenge

When feeling defeated and deflated (which happens pretty regularly), I remind myself that, last year, Career Cast reported event co-ordinator as the sixth most stressful job in the US, in between broadcaster (no. 5) and newspaper reporter (no. 7). And it’s true — if any industry knows how to hustle, we do.

So, rise to any challenge, accept crazy deadlines and keep flexible while perfecting the perfect pirouette.

See also


Kelly McGillivrayKelly McGillivray (@kelly_jozi) is CEO of theSQUAD Creative Event Management. She has been putting together productions of every shape and size for over 20 years.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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