While business events are not expected to return until March, Sydney Showground and the MCEC will be buzzing with costumed fans over the first two weekends of December as consumer events return.
Readers would be aware that regular contributor Gary Fitz-Roy is the owner of Expertise Events who own Oz Comic Con.
ASE asked Gary to share what went on behind the scenes to get this consumer event on as both Sydney and Melbourne come out of lockdown.
When pushed into a corner you either take flight or fight!
We chose fight. Believing in the industry, talking less and doing more is the way to build confidence. This is something I have believe is the fundamental biggest aspect to the sector resuming.
Oz Comic Con in December one of Australia’s best known consumer brands and we have managed to hang in and plan to run a week apart in the two states recently locked down for more than three months.
Just four weeks ago we were closed with little hope of running any events this year. Was it luck, internal optimism, passion or just good communication that has allowed these brands to be a shining light that business and consumer events can and will return? Ultimately it’s a combination, and the key is fighting to the end! We have had to dig deep and be committed to lose some money in order for the long term rebuild of our events quicker than if we didn’t run anything this year, and internally we use the position of “you have to give to get”. We decided to play the long game.
And success was about not just having everyone on the bus but ensuring everyone was in the right seat to maximise the results.
The decision to hang in and try and run Oz Comic Con was easy in the sense that we are passionate about the need and wants of the market and we knew that if the health orders permitted we could give it a real shake.
It has required a different mindset, as we couldn’t simply pick up where it ended in 2019 and roll out the same model. However not has a lot changed. One of the key components to the event was showcasing international movie, TV and cosplay talent. With international borders closed, this was off the table. Other events had gone down the virtual route to bring talent in. I feel strongly that we are a face to face medium and encouraging this element to replace the values of the show would have some kind of brand damage that we needed to avoid. It also opens up to other events. Why should I travel to an event when I can just go online or look at a recording of it? This erodes the event’s long term growth. A number of trade shows recently have done this and I think it will come back to bite them as most virtual events just haven’t worked.
Live events create real conversations and transactions that are three dimensional and personal. They connect on a whole different level; emails, zoom, and teams are one dimensional.
We also evaluated what the event core values were and in essence how could we give it back to the community so they had more ownership.
We added a tag “Homegrown”, which we openly state caters for closed borders and the return of live events being more state based, so the expectations of both exhibitors and visitors is set before the event is even open, part of the bus journey.
The next step has been open, honest and genuine conversation and language that shares the scenarios with clients and details the solutions. Where zoom has been our friend in holding regular Town Hall meetings where we share as close as we can face to face presentation and explanations to our decisions with clients, and where they can all ask questions and by doing so it gets shared to the whole market. The basis of this has been crucial as we in the event industry live and breathe restrictions and the interpretations of covid, most independent business have had little exposure and understanding and how it affects them outside the news on TV, which as we know has sensationalised so many circumstances.
Over this period we built trust and confidence with the market and if we were going to proceed with any event that knew we would deliver – and if for whatever reason we couldn’t, exhibitors would be refunded in 48 hours all monies paid for space – it was and is all about establishing a trust and confidence position.
The next really important aspect was having total transparency with the venues on our go or no go position and ensuring they knew we were not going to give up easily and what would determine this position. We shared our market comms and took them on the journey (the bus) with us and they believed in what we set out to deliver.
Our support partners were and are treated the same, we need to all do it together, and whilst all have been affected by the past 18 months, a dose of passion and belief changes everything.
It is clear just from the retail sales from when things re-opened that there is pent up demand for consumers to resume some normality in spending and the predictions for spending Christmas are good. This was predicted in May via a presentation by KMPG at the Emerge conference. This is where timing can be everything.
And on timing, that’s where luck can play a role. Major movie releases were also delayed during the lockdown and now many are set for release in December. A number of these brands have now taken space in the Sydney and Melbourne events with set activations to connect face to face; this builds a feeling of international connection but delivered by localised teams in Australia. To add to this we have also contracted talent that are either based in each state or shooting here in Australia.
At time of publication, Melbourne’s Saturday numbers, based on the current health orders, have sold out and we are in discussions with the venue about increasing space and doing the numbers again. The importance of the numbers is that we have no need to sell more commercial space; we have enough for that, more space increases the occupancy per square metre and we need to see the numbers allowed per bay. More attendees equals offsets on the rent. I should highlight we have also now increased our space requirements three times in Sydney, so both states are exceeding demand which bodes well for the return of live events. This may become a major consideration in 2022 for all events.
You will know I have regularly commented on and raised the issues affecting the industry and while many may not may agree with my position every time, at least I had one! This also links back to what we incorporate into exhibitor training around having a position and standing by it. It will draw a lot closer to you, and the ones who don’t will either respect you have a position or were never going to be a client. Having an opinion has been about creating discussion and providing hope that by raising issues we can find solutions.
We chose to fight as a way of surviving and we have had our down days along with the ups. Over the last 18 months I have done numerous TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews and have been consistent in one the constant – the need to ensure we address the key word that affects the sector, confidence.
The confirmation and roll out of OCC hasn’t taken long for the media to once again pick up and on Saturday I was again able to do an interview around the return of events and OCC specifically, that interview has now been distributed through numerous media outlets with a reach of 26 million!
We need to not give up, but will talk up the power of business events and that they do deliver, as with the right mindset and never give up attitude we can rebuild.
See you on the floor.