Melbourne based Peter Jones is one of the stalwarts of our industry. This is his assessment of how PJSE has been hit by the Victorian lockdowns and what the future holds for not only his business, but his suppliers as well.
The stress test
After 9 months of watching, learning, and quite frankly just existing in this COVID-19 world, I’m finally at the point where I can say ‘it is what it is,’ and I just have to accept what this means for us as a company, a city and an industry as a whole.
It is now inevitable that 2020 will come to an end without us holding events of any significance in Melbourne, despite the amazing work going on behind the scenes from organisations such as Visit Victoria, City of Melbourne Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and Victorian Tourism Industry Council (VTIC). I take my hat off to them as they have led the charge… and still are in order to make sure our collective voices are being heard and ensuring there will be a plan for all of us to work towards.
So, now I’m turning my attention to the steps that my business needs to take to come back. The ultimate ‘stress test’ in the COVID-19 world. Here are some of the key areas and questions I have looked at and tried to answer:
1. Did our culture serve us well in this crisis?
- Looking after my staff and making sure that they were aware of what the short-term and long-term implications were for them, personally, as well as for the business has been a priority together with reinforcing their value to the organisation.
- Does everyone still feel connected in some way?
Maintaining regular contact with staff, suppliers and clients has been massively important. Holding regular Zoom meetings where we simply check in with each other and discuss the kids, the dogs or what we ordered from Providoor on Saturday night have helped us to stay connected as a group.
2. Did I understand my business well enough?
I thought I did as looking at my business from an internal perspective is something I do regularly, but what I didn’t fully appreciate was the flow on effect that our success has on our suppliers, many of whom are small operators. Without our business, some of these suppliers have no business either. Many are relying on us, and other event companies to come back to support them. This made me think… are we too reliant on a few clients and what would happen if either, we lost them, or they scaled back?
The answer is probably yes, we are. There is going to have to be a discussion about diversity and flexibility moving forward. The old saying ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone’ has really resonated in looking at our business. Gone are the days of accepting the status quo.
3. What can we take from this crisis to improve our business model?
The biggest take out for me from COVID-19 has been how to be flexible enough in size yet still have the resources to be able to deliver for each client.
I can’t see ourselves going back to the size we were, but I can see a new structure that allows us to be 5 people one week and 500 people the next. It’s going to be a matter of adapting to the uncertainty of what the industry is going to look like and having the flexibility to work in the ’new normal’. Other event companies I have spoken to are looking at similar business models, so this may be the way of the future, and not just in the short term.
The other key area is innovation and what we do as a company in the future. This will be our biggest challenge; trying to define the ‘new COVID normal’ and looking outside the box.
4. Does PJSE have a clear direction for the future and the skill set to achieve this?
I can see us all still operating in some form of a ‘meeting hub’ for a while yet, and we need to look at creating new partnerships and new conversations as opposed to just talking to ourselves. This includes collaborating with fellow event organisers and bringing in additional skills such as market research, technical innovation, social media communications and strategic marketing.
As we now all live, more comfortably, in a virtual world we will also be reaching out Australia wide and also globally. Would I have done this pre-COVID? Probably not, but the work bubbles that we all existed in, and were very protective of, will change. In years to come I hope the ‘event hub’ will be considered the norm in how to conduct business locally but also on a global scale.
5. How far out?
There is no doubt that the pandemic has changed the world, and the events industry, forever and our past thinking is not going to get us through. We can survive but that is not enough. Australia needs the events industry to prosper and this means changing our mindset and accepting that it could take another 12 months to 2 years to get close to what we had before. What I do know is that we have to be able to operate within COVID-19 parameters with effective contact tracing procedures in place to ensure that large events can be held safely. Harry the Hirer is leading the way in developing the technology not just for the events industry but worksites and organisations. I believe their COVID Smart Badge and Beacon Software will be the key that opens the door for major events to once again be held with confidence and safety.
6. What’s next?
With every crisis comes opportunity and the businesses that can take this opportunity and reset will come out the other side. This is certainly the conclusion I have come to after quite a bit of internal soul searching. What we do will re-define our future. Yes, there are lots of unanswered questions, but I’m asking myself…
- What do I want my business to look like?
- Am I leading or following?
I’ll let you know how I get on and if you are interested in joining the ‘hub’ let me know.