A re-imagined industry – startups, influencers and hits & misses

Well, I didn’t plan on Part 3 to be honest especially as I was alluding to the ‘light’ appearing at the end of the tunnel on the last one. But the world keeps spinning and despite challenges, there is sooo much to talk about – so brew up, sit back for a few minutes and see if we’re in synch with my views on this crazy old world!

My brain has been swirling with so much lately from all the online social activity from my beloved industry, the government and media COVID circus and the sad casualties in the events industry. Seeing the warm response from the industry to my offer on LinkedIn to help start-up businesses, made me think there is more to talk about, share and hopefully encourage some optimism for industry colleagues having to make career choices when the industry is in such turmoil.

So, Blog No.3 will share, for those that care, my personal views and experience of a start-up in difficult times; my usual round-up of the good (and bad) of virtual living since the last blog plus my take on re-imagined events companies and a social media presence.

let’s get digital

The world is going virtually crazy. Whilst live events continue to be on hold with no recovery timelines in sight, agency intermediaries are diving into newly revamped profiles of virtual and digital mastery and expertise. Suppliers are increasing promoting their brands, products online via a heady mix of social interactions and product showcases.

I reached out this week to my ‘supplier’ network for inspiration to include some ideas to my own corporate clients. If honest, a warm but limited response which surprised considering the intensity of online activity looking for opportunities in this digital age. Big thanks to friends at Rosewood, Hotel Republic, Belmond and Global DMC Partners for their prompt virtual and gift card offerings and being great social media responders!

Also, inspired by savvy agency contributors at Top Banana and Strata for sharing their ideas and content in the spirit of industry collaboration. We’re a competitive industry but right now, I support all coming together to stimulate the market and opportunities – and partnering professionals when the time calls.

I am an advocate, ambassador and specialist in live events particularly incentive travel. I remain confident they will return post-COVID (when we’re in safe times). It’s a waiting game. Meanwhile, I’ll actively promote digital, virtual and hybrid events, but as I would with AV production eg. a large awards dinner or conference, I’ll bring in the specialist professionals as trusted collaborators /partners.

DBF Events, Distant Frontiers, Incent India, Mason Rose, GP Associates/7Pines Ibiza and micebook have all kept me connected and virtually alive over the last couple of months since my last blog. A big thank you if you’re reading.

social media and the influencer

Again, if honest, I am struggling with social media right now. Which is not a good position as an industry marketing man who has a strong opinion on what works and what doesn’t. It’s all personal views and what does or doesn’t rock my boat, I’m sure swings for others.

Social media is a necessary evil. I get it, embrace it, use it, loathe it, love it and at times, avoid it. But during COVID and lockdown it has been bitter sweet. I tread cautiously with these comments as I do want to dampen the spirit of Kardashian wannabes, self-proclaimed ‘influencers’, vloggers etc who are all doing their very best in business promotion and being active.

Firstly, I am not a social media expert. I have worked with social media engagement specialists over time. Some better than others. My own activity is limited and since launching eveology five years ago, I have invested little time in the ‘me’ marketing as fortunately, I’ve been busy with client needs as a priority.

However, the lockdown has made me think I need to get into four-digit followers on Instagram if I can hold my head high as an industry marketeer. My 13-year daughter chuckles at her ‘cringe dad’ on his personal social media and repeatedly reminds me she made more followers on her first day of activity than I’ve attained over five years of eveology.

Try explaining to a 13 year about the importance of quality vs quantity, organic growth, a right profile of follower etc. to a generation wholly focussed on as many likes, followers as they can get. Yeah right, Dad.

However, combined with my tech nerdness, I consider myself fairly advanced, connected and up to date with trends and attitudes for someone of my generation.

The uncomfortable reality of marketing a one-man business (where it is often all about you), you are the forefront of all news and happenings, I actually find it quite painful to be front of the camera (despite the frequent silly face selfies on social media) so I am struggling with the latest trends and resisting the urge to share live updates, face to camera monologues which so many are doing at the moment.

Flattered by micebook to be invited as a start-up group of ‘Influencers’ to join a campaign to stimulate ideas, showcase product and undertake some social media activity for brands, I am jumping in as my first big step to crank up my online presence to the benefit of my community. If you value our connection, please tell me if I make a mess or any of the mistakes I mention below.

Increasingly, with the advent of social media, primarily since the trend of ‘influencers’, many have rested their crucial marketing activities to an online presence with varying degrees of hits and misses. So as a buyer, marketer and social media observer, I thought I would share my personal views and tips as follows:

  • Frequency – if you’re in my feed daily, I want you to guarantee you are sharing and talking about something fascinating, innovative, engaging, funny etc. But if it’s just anything to be active and present – and very little creativity, you are likely to be muted in the feed. Plan a realistic schedule, times and content if you’re doing it for business.
  • Personal or Business Connections – I’ve tried to split the camp but we all have a few industry friends that cross over. I do my best to keep personal boring stuff eg. my dinner plate, Joe Wicks work out and everyday family snaps away from the industry – hence why you might be one of 200 connections invites I’ve received and yet to accept on my personal Facebook! I am trying to save you from the tedium. Please follow eveology Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn – where I will do best to make it fun, engaging and relevant.
  • Content – viral ambitions? A spoof video made for the company might be fun for your team and your nearest and dearest clients, but it is called the world wide web for a reason. We all see it. Remember, is it amusing to the outside world or does it impact your brand image negatively? As with frequency, a smart, well-thought content plan perhaps with a theme will resonate, tell a story and ultimately lead to greater engagement, likes etc. For example, a hotel will show they are COVID secure but having an army of masked staff and management grouped at the door. To me, it is the most unappealing invite to lure me back. A simple image of a barman in mask mixing a cocktail can convey the same message but doesn’t look so intimidating!
  • Timing – we’re in a pandemic with a whole host of sensitivities. But using downtime, in preparation for the upturn, it is good to plan ahead as the noise is going to be even more intense as we exit this drama. Meanwhile, linking human stories to your business, promoting meaningful good causes, achievements (no greenwash) with creative and sincere styling can resonate with a social media audience in a positive way. The industry is in a compassionate place right now.
  • Video Star? – undoubtedly live video is a standout, more responsive means to get attention on most of the platforms and with the startling amount of vloggers, it is both commendable and worrying! Some are natural little stars, others need some TLC and home truths. If you want to set the feeds alight, step back, review, share with your honest and trusted industry friends, and get 2nd, 3rd and 4th opinions. Sharpen it, practice and if it isn’t resonating or getting the engagement, let someone else take the limelight on your behalf and get an engaging personality.

redundancy and thinking of a new business start-up?

The following might be useful if you’re in that place. Otherwise, skim over and see my sign off!

I don’t claim to be an extraordinary business visionary or can really predict where this industry is heading. But making big, difficult decisions during tough times, can be supported by sharing and speaking to good people around you and ultimately, make the path so much more productive.

As I shared in a recent post, back in 2009, I launched a company against sound advice. We were in a significant recession; my old events agency had been engulfed by a mergers & acquisitions group which was top-heavy with senior company directors. As one of those non-equity directors, who had offered his resignation a couple of times prior in attempts to escape, I was ripe for the redundancy card! But it did scar me for a while if I am honest. One always envisages leaving on your terms and timeline.

As I was pivotal to some key client relationships, I was put on strict garden leave for six months. It sounded like heaven to be on full pay at home for the summer with no work! My close network was telling me to take time out, chill etc but I was sooo driven knowing I needed to know my next step and income source.

Like a pandemic, if not to the same degree, travel and groups in a severe recession are severely disrupted. Therefore, senior-level jobs scarce. Despite a solid reputation, and a great network and conversations, I had trouble re-imagining myself marketing a new but established events company. As a result, my brain fired into the concept of launching my own business.

Product representation and selling for me was a chosen route. An unchartered territory in the MICE industry which excited me having been a corporate and agency buyer. As a planner, I envisaged I would have the secret ingredients to excite and inspire like-minded eventprofs. With marketing skills, nothing could go wrong?

So, what did I do for six months during paid garden leave?

  • I enrolled on local authority courses on how to run a business! Despite being in business and commerce, working for big agencies, I had zero understanding of VAT, accounting, business legislation, sole vs limited etc etc! You might be sharing a class with a hamburger van startup, but some of the business principals are the same and it saved me from the garden. They were free and easy to source
  • Joined every local networking groups. Not an events specific networking but helped kick in the discussions and thoughts about running a business. Plus I took the view everyone works for a company who might know someone responsible for travel and events.
  • Designed the brand, business plan and proposition deck to sell my new business to the MICE supplier sector.
  • Travelled to IMEX – can’t remember if I was permitted or not under my garden leave restrictions. It was a risk worth taking. Great conversations, great networking and the kick start discussions with resulted in a few contracts with super DMCs.
  • Designed a web site with a designer and pulled in a few favours (which were repaid when business kicked in)
  • Organised some media support to launch and called on support from industry friends to help launch in a trendy London venue.

Launched and only traded for 18 months before being lured back to a senior agency role. So why did I abort my little company so soon? It was working, despite a recession and I had fantastic partners investing in me. Headspace. At the time I believed it was anxieties due to the recession, financial uncertainty and having a young family.

But reflecting now, 11 years later, I realise it was much more straightforward. The business start-up then was ‘forced’ rather than a proper pre-determined choice and plan.

I healed the redundancy scar by securing an agency position but then I had the ‘sense of failure scar’ of not achieving success on my own! But that first taste of freedom was sensational despite the climate at the time. The seed was planted and it took four years to blossom into the current position of doing it on my terms. So 100% no regrets and everything happens for a reason!

I’m sharing all this due to my LinkedIn post offering an ear. It got good attention and I know many are thinking about their next step. If you are in career doldrums and considering redundancy as a chance to launch into your own business, my tips would include:

  • Don’t launch a business as a short-term fix until a job comes along. Creditability, longevity are valuable assets in this industry. Or perhaps due to your confidence in MICE, you might be trying something new?
  • Are you in it for the course? Dig deep into your personal vision, commitment, passion and ensure you are 100% committed to the path chosen and nothing will sway you.
  • Look at your own network – what support and help can you call upon? Designers, web etc. Are there any skills you can develop yourself? I self-taught myself WordPress design which has helped my own marketing as well as event sites. Hugely beneficial.
  • Use online tools and resources to help you sharpen your business proposition, plan and get your vision in a deck to sell your concept within your chosen industry.
  • Your great idea – might be unique and exciting to you. But do some basic networking before you get deep for both your client and supplier network. Find the most honest and trustworthy ones! Market research is essential!

I’m guessing if you’ve reached this far, you’re either inspired or worried I was hinting at your social media activity. And the tea has gone cold.

Hopefully the last of my COVID Chronicals. My next blog may be an inspirational, uplifting product review on behalf of micebook and a hotel to see if I can ‘influence’ the forward planners to think post-COVID and live events possibilities from 2021 onwards!

Good luck and keep well