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Eddie Zaratsian

COVID-19 and Event Industry: Leading Through Difficult Times

Design and event expert Eddie Zaratsian shares tips for event company leaders to manage their teams through the COVID crisis.

When a crisis like COVID-19 strikes, it can feel like everything comes to a standstill--and, in a way, it does.

At our company, we were right in the middle of a soft launch for an online course and made the hard decision to postpone it. As a team, we recognized that we need to prioritize our support for one another and lean into a positive perspective. It was time for us to stop and look at the world, our careers, and whom we want to surround ourselves with in a time of crisis.

We also have to consider the potential impacts the pandemic will have on the future projections for our industry. Do we even need brick-and-mortar stores anymore? Will we end up doing everything online? What new technology will pave the way for event pros? On a related note, people may find more joy in nurturing themselves and spend more time on personal care instead of working 18-hour marathon days.

Until then, many of us are ending up with a lot of spare time on our hands. Our events are (hopefully) being postponed, we’re under orders to stay at home, and we suddenly have all of this space for ourselves--to learn, to create, to grow.

Here are my tips on managing through these difficult times:

Embrace your leadership role.

We could have the greatest team, but if we’re not strong as leaders, we will crumble. Being a leader in title is simple, but being a leader in practice is difficult. Sometimes you have to make decisions that others don’t understand--that’s just part of the job description. At the same time, you need to be mindful of your team’s morale and how your choices impact them. For them, you are their most trusted resource, and you need to act accordingly.

In times of crisis, you may not know all of the answers yourself. Still, it’s your responsibility to remain open and transparent. Communicate with your employees with respect and let them know if you’re still figuring it out. Uncertainty is expected, but you can’t keep them in the dark.

Be clear with your clients.

When a crisis impacts your clients’ events, just as COVID-19 has, there is no sugarcoating it. If an event has to be postponed or cancelled, that’s just what has to happen. It’s a difficult and emotional decision to make, but it’s not something to dance around--especially when it’s impossible, considering stay-at-home orders.

Reassure your team that it’s not about them or your company; it’s a global situation. The event can still be done--just not at this moment. Encourage your team members to spend this time growing their relationships, considering other ideas, and focusing on self-care. This too shall pass, but unfortunately, it’s just not doable right now. If you have to be the bearer of bad news, so be it. The most important thing is to ensure they feel loved and safe with you.

Get your ducks in a row.

If you’re finding extra hours in the day, it’s worth using that time to perform some light housekeeping in your business. Revisit your contracts to make sure everything you want in there is actually stated clearly and effectively. Go back to your insurance policy and confirm that it covers everything you need. Reach out to professionals if you don’t already have those relationships. I like to say the three most important things in life are a doctor, an accountant and an attorney. Of course, in business, the latter two are most critical.

The idea is to set yourself up so that you’re ready to hit the ground running when life turns back to a relative “normal.” Many of these tasks are things that get left on the back burner when our schedules are stretched thin, so turn a positive light on this situation and use this extra time as a way to catch up, refresh and refine your business operations.

Plan ahead.

When we can collectively put this crisis behind us, we are inevitably going to face a major spike in business. Whether it’s late summer or fall, we’re going to have all of the events already booked for that time in addition to all of the postponements from this period of time. We’ll be going from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye. So, this is a really great time to be planning for this influx of events and the expectations that will come with it.

As a creative leader, spend some time developing a vision for how the future will play out for your company. Communicate with your team and bring them in for brainstorming sessions.

The truth of the matter is that we don’t know what the industry landscape will look like after this, but we can still prepare ourselves for the unknown. Plant the seeds that you’ll get to sow down the line.

Feelings of fear and uncertainty about the future are natural, but do remember that we will get through this and end up on the other side. The big question you need to consider is where you want to be when we reach that point. What does recovery look like for you? Will you be scrambling around to make up for months of missed work? Or will you be ready to hit the ground running thanks to months of strategic planning?

In short, the world will continue to move on. When the pandemic is behind us, the industry will pick itself back up and move on. As a leader and business owner, you must also be prepared to rise to the occasion and move forward as well. These are hard times, but they are not permanent.

Eddie Zaratsian is the founder of Eddie Zaratsian Lifestyle and Design, a full-service event design and production studio based in Los Angeles. Named as one of the top five international florists by the London Financial Times, Zaratsian has built a reputation as a visionary artist, and his work has been featured by Martha Stewart Living, Harper's Bazaar, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, E! News and Glamour, among others. Now, through guest lectures and classes as well as private workshops in his design studio, he shares his extensive business, design and floral expertise.

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