Crew Call: Event Planning During a Pandemic


Time marches on, but not fast enough.

Our industry has been adept in helping clients transition from live events to virtual events, thereby keeping us all in business to some degree. However, some types of events — training, demos, straightforward business meetings — may never return to the live stage. Videoconferencing offers all the efficiency these types of events need. But, as an industry, we need live shows to survive and reclaim their unique place in the rental and staging ecosystem. Live shows excite and inspire. Their artistry and their scope help launch new ideas and cement professional relationships.

Some show management teams saw the wave coming and canceled or rescheduled for the fall. (Live to fight another day, I think that’s called.) But just as September started to look iffy in May, November is looking wobbly in July. The fallout from the summer holiday celebrations has made it clear that live shows’ return is still a long way off. As long as rubbing shoulders with strangers, even when masked, is risky — and for some reason, this needs to be demonstrated repeatedly — live events are dangerous.

But remember, this isn’t forever. Once again, allow me to remind you: Time marches on.

That leads me to this: I’ve been chatting with event planners in my spare time. They’re rearing to get out there, but are appropriately cautious. It’s worth a browse through our conversation to know what kind of supplies and support they need now, and what they’ll be asking us (rental and staging #AVtweeps) for when it’s finally showtime.

Joel has a virtual beer with his favorite event planners

In many ways, the plight of the event planner is a mirror image of our situation in rental and staging.

This is true. We both want our clients to come back to us when the world opens for live shows again, and for that to happen, we have to support them right now.

How do we support our clients now?

Plenty of ways: First of all, stay close, like you’re doing with us. Since March, plans have been turning on a dime, and they still are. So, keep in touch. You want to know the minute any of these things happen:

  • A live show is canceled.
  • A live show becomes a virtual live show.
  • A live show becomes a series of on-demand presentations.

Meeting planners can find ways to support any of these changes, and we’ll turn to our rental and staging team to equip and stage the event — from a safe distance, of course. This is actually an excellent opportunity for planners and stagers to get extra creative and figure out ways to preserve some of the show elements in a virtual event, rather than letting it devolve into a boring PowerPoint presentation.

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What are you doing now to get ready for the opening of live events?

As you know, planning for trade shows and other events starts at least 12 months out — especially for well-established shows. So, right now, we are paying particular attention to the shows that have already positioned themselves as live in 2021, and we’re being carefully optimistic in planning for these shows as usual.

Of more significant concern are the few shows in the fall that still say they’re going live. We’re afraid that once officials decide that live isn’t safe, they’ll just cancel, rather than invest in something virtual. We’ve developed a template for converting live events to virtual ones, and we share these plans with all the groups we consider “on the edge.” Knowing that our events team can still imbue their show with some of its original spirit may be the shot of confidence they need to go on with the (virtual) show.

What else are event planners doing with their time?

Anything we can do without a crowd! There’s always new software to learn, new decor to try, new themes to develop. There is also inventory repair, maintaining contact, and of course, charitable contributions and activities in the name of the organization. I imagine there are similar maintenance and improvement projects in the rental and staging world.

How has the pandemic fundamentally changed the events industry?

I think that virtual events will become the first choice when the content doesn’t require face-to-face interaction. This is going to happen for two reasons:

  • First, greater acceptance of videoconferencing — it’s not the free-for-all we were afraid it would be. Also, there’s a humanizing aspect to it. We get to witness unexpected visits from children, pets roughhousing somewhere in the distance and blips in the network — yet business goes on.
  • Second, the costs of travel, lodging, and entertainment associated with events will be more carefully evaluated for ROI.

No matter what, there will be a place for event planners and their rental and staging partners in creating and producing meaningful and inspiring virtual events.

What are a few things you can’t wait to get back to in 2021?

Coffee breaks. Contact — even though we’ll be masked and distanced for quite some time. Taking clients on walk-throughs in person. And the true grandeur of a live show.

A note from JR: I was saddened to learn of Kelly Johnson’s recent passing. Rest in peace, my friend.