As our society continues to face health, economic and social crises throughout the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the events industry lies in wait for relief and grapples with a path toward survival. With the events industry being the invisible fabric that ties our U.S. business and entertainment cultures together, if it is not able to recover quickly, then all industries will be delayed in their recovery efforts as well.
Amidst a time of seemingly impossible turmoil, the need for prudent business decisions by those who support the livelihoods of event professionals is paramount. I have always recognized the need for sound strategy, even while being anything but risk-averse. However, for the event industry in particular, the stakes are higher at the moment.
Entrepreneurs and small businesses, which fuel the event planning and production industry, face down an impossible dilemma of whether to maintain employees until funds run dry before any help arrives, or enforce layoffs and exist in limbo for another day. In such a scenario, every decision is amplified. And innovative, creative thinking may seem like the antithesis to keeping the lights on—but the two are not mutually exclusive.
I’ve been known to work on the philosophy of saying “yes” to most concepts until there is a reason to say “no” and move on. I have found great success with this explorative mind-set. It does not mean that we launch every new subsidiary, project or event, but it does mean that I am receptive and willing to evaluate. My team is also renowned for typically sharing that same curious and positive outlook.
But this is anything but a typical point in history. My caution for any revenue-starved business, and in particular the sole proprietors and small businesses of the event world, is to put extra consideration into each decision. I’ve heard greatly creative solutions to generating revenue, maintaining brand awareness and solving other organizational challenges. Conversely, I have heard ideas that fully take the business’s eye off the ball. For every successful and bold venture in times of impossible strife, there is an example of where bold decision-making veers off course, into reckless and off the mark.
In the events and entertainment world in particular, people are turning to an increased digital presence--more specifically, virtual programming.
While virtual programming is a great opportunity, it is not an instant fix. Some may believe that it is a new frontier with a fast route to monetization. But the reality is, without exceptional notoriety, generating significant revenue will be further off. That does not mean that it is a bad idea--it is still an exceptional way to maintain brand presence as well as increase engagement with your audience. Whether your focus is in the B2B or B2C events business, you can still curate virtual programming that is effective.
With the internet being flooded with virtual programs right now, it is imperative that you find a way to customize yours to be distinguishable and appealing. The more interactive, the better.
However, it still won’t likely lead to a new revenue stream right away, which is something that needs to be weighed by each individual business. If you need cash in the door tomorrow, you are probably better off focusing on ways in inject capital through increasing a line of credit, a bank loan or any of the (hopefully additional) federal relief options. However, if you are able to play the long game, then virtual programming and other similar concepts, whether they be online or in the physical world, are worth exploring.
The caveat: Know your individual business circumstances extraordinarily well. Be very diligent with managing your resources. Yet find the balance to take those shots at creating new revenue streams. Just know that they are not all instantaneous. Measure and take calculated risks. Balance your new concepts against your immediate needs. Don’t freeze and do nothing, but be methodical in your approach. Get what you need today, which may be generated from your new concept, or it could come in the form of cost reduction or more traditional financial products--and build what you need in the future.
The prospect of new revenue can tantalize any businessperson to jump at any prospective opportunity. When there is no cash inflow, businesses can make desperate moves. Sometimes that dire challenge forces the right decisions that enable survival.
But you do not want to waste time and limited resources on slow- or low-return projects when time and whatever resources remain are so important.
That is not to say that innovation ceases. In fact, history tells us that innovation and spontaneity thrive during times of crisis—from the courageous improvisation required to save the Apollo 13 crew, to the Italian engineering start-up that pivoted to creating ventilator valves using 3-D printers.
Now is the time for everyone to be entrepreneurial, even if they never have before. The key is to recognize and weigh the balance of chasing opportunities that may take too long to develop, versus ideas that can provide much needed and immediate relief.
In essence, it is absolutely the right time to innovate, create and be revolutionary. But keeping your eye on the ball is equally as important to ensure that you prioritize and solve the immediate challenge. In the end, you may emerge stronger from this crisis in the long run with new and inventive skills and ideas.
Chris Sinclair is the founder and president of the Anthem Group. The Boston-based company is the parent organization of all Anthem related properties, including Anthem Production, Anthem Strategy, Anthem Innovation and the Anthem International Music Festival.