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It’s Thursday, which means it’s time to get brewing! Since Thuy had to skip today’s episode, it’s only the guys who will keep you company today. And what’s on the menu? Today’s episode is not an event brew, but rather an event stew. Nick, Dustin, and Will share what’s on their minds regarding the events industry in 2021. Everything goes!

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They review some of the biggest summer 2021 events, Nick and Will talk a little bit about the news surrounding virtual event platforms, and Dustin speaks his mind about labor shortages in the events industry (and nearly starts a revolution!). Tune in, it’s an episode that flows even better than a morning cup of coffee!

Events In Summer 2021: Lollapalooza

Nick visited Chicago in the summer about the same time Lollapalooza was in full swing. “Just the amount of space they have for the festival is bonkers,” he says. “The amalgamated reports of COVID-related positives totaled to 200, which is an unmitigated success as far as I’m concerned.” After all, there were 374,000 people in attendance.

The festival took COVID-19 compliance seriously. “They were requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test. That’s the one thing that nobody ever talked about. Instead, it was ‘look at the crowd’. I think that the producers of Lollapalooza did their part to make it happen within the restrictions that were there. They put safeguards in and it’s showing that it worked,” he adds.

Sensationalism In The Time Of COVID-19

“I might pivot completely off of this topic,” Will warns. “What grinds my gears a lot about our industry is social media. People are looking for news like Lollapalooza to post: ‘Do you think this event was a good or a bad thing?’ Then, they debate in their comments, which obviously drives engagement. And we jokingly say that social media is used for all this sort of stuff. But at the same time, we’re causing so much uncertainty with these continued conversations. The reality should be: ‘Oh, nobody got hospitalized because they went to Lollapalooza’. That should be it.”

“The mainstream media want the story to keep going. And they want to talk about 200 people at Barack Obama’s birthday party and how unsafe that is. They need this to keep going. It’s their new Trump,” thinks Dustin.

“It’s sensationalism,” adds Nick. “A boring story and they try to make it into a not-boring one. In the events industry in 2021, we ate a lot of these behaviors, even amongst each other and B2B circles. We just know that that’s how things get traction.”

events industry in 2021The 2021 Event That Fell Through: Tokyo 2020

As Dustin reminds the guys, the Brew Crew had the same conversation about social media before, so they move on to the next topic of conversation: the Olympics. Tokyo 2020 banned in-person spectators. “They limited a lot of things and made a lot of adjustments. It obviously wasn’t the full potential money-making opportunity,” says Nick about the world’s most famous sports event.

“They had to overdo it because of the eyes that were on them. I don’t believe that those stands needed to sit empty to keep people safe. There was a way to do it, but there was no way for them to move forward because of the optics,” says Dustin.

And they really lost out. “Meanwhile, Vancouver still enjoys the Olympics legacy. This event puts you on the world stage and it does such incredible things for your economy. Sadly, Japan didn’t get to do it the way I know they would’ve done it,” adds Dustin.

“I hope they have a legacy that is positive, though,” replies Nick. “Imagine a world where this event is a super-spreader. That would have made Japan this toxic place where you don’t want to go there in 2025 because that place doesn’t care about health and safety. Now that would be the lasting legacy of that event.”

2021: The Year Of Acquisitions

Besides all the COVID-related news, there is also a lot of acquisition and investment news in the events industry. “It’s back in even faster and bigger than it was in 2018,” says Nick.

“We talked about how busy people are, but everybody felt this huge momentum building up last year. Now, it’s stalled out and people are about to see a decline. That’s why you’re seeing a ton of acquisitions happen. We’re primarily talking event tech,” says Will.

“In 2018, acquisitions were happening at all levels. Event design organizations merging. Lots of acquisitions happening in audiovisual, too,” says Nick. “But last year, a lot of tech pivots happened. Primarily event apps bolted on a Zoom-like functionality and called themselves virtual event platforms.”

“Every single event in the world, if it wanted to happen, had to have happened on a virtual platform. All the venues were out of money and all the virtual platforms got all that money. If you had a mediocre, weak proposition and a semi-decent salesperson, you could do pretty well in 2020. People needed immediate solutions. They had short buying cycles and didn’t have a lot of education. I have as many as 300 virtual event platforms on my list of platforms that exist, which is nuts. This category wasn’t even significant before last year,” he adds.

events industry in 2021The Labor Crisis In The Events Industry

After Nick and Will finish nerding out about acquisition news in the event technology world, Dustin wants to talk about a pressing issue in the events industry: labor, an area he thinks is suffering a lot.

People are leaving our industry en masse. They’ve been forced to go find a new job or a new career elsewhere,” he says. “We’re facing a shortage of labor. There is this great opportunity for us to turn this around into a better, stronger community. But I do worry about how we’re acquiring people now. Now we’re having to take anybody that will take a job in our industry.”

“I’m wondering if it will be good for us in some ways though, to get a fresh set of eyes,” replies Will.

“Are we prepared to onboard fresh eyes as an industry, to turn over at the rate? If they’re not coming into a structure, into an industry that is ready for them, we’re going to end up in the same spot we were in before,” says Dustin.

Oh Wait … It’s A Compensation Crisis!

“I tell you what’s going to change. This new workforce is going to hold us to task to a better work-life balance. The days of working like a dog are over. There’s going to be a bigger demand for us to be more responsible in the way we treat our employees and the work that they do. A lot of business owners are in for a rude awakening,” continues Dustin.

“We don’t actually have a labor crisis. There are enough human beings,” replies Nick. “What we have is a compensation crisis and a proposition that is not attractive.”

He summarizes what they’ve been talking about so far. “We’re in this triangle now. You move one thing and the other one pushes. The idea of an in-person event seems too risky of a proposition based on reality or optics. That’s when millions and millions of dollars come in to service the potential of virtual events. Fewer face-to-face events are happening, which means there’s less income, which means there are more displaced workers who are going out and finding better jobs in almost any other industry. It’s all this knock-on effect, but none of it looks good for in-person events,” he says.

events industry in 2021Events Industry In 2021: Dustin’s Experience

Dustin elaborates on his own experience regarding the labor situation from the perspective of a business owner. “We’re trying to rebuild our operations teams for our frontline team. And it’s really rough. We’re used to getting a hundred resumes, now we’re getting two. And for the first time, I’ve taken all of that and handed it over to my marketing company and said that we need to fix the way people are reading about us.”

“We need to get them excited about entering this type of job. It’s about looking at the compensation, looking at why is the benefits package different for our frontline team than it is for our management team. Should that be that way anymore? Is it going to cost the business more at the end of the day? Yes, but it won’t cost us nearly as much as not having the team we need to do the job that needs to be done,” he says.

“We need to make the events industry a more attractive place to work. Our clients need to understand that things are going to get more expensive because we’re going to treat people better and we’re going to do better as employers.”

Conclusion: Passion Alone Is Not Enough!

Listeners of the #EventIcons podcast already know that a lot of event profs end up in the industry by sheer coincidence or because they’re passionate about events. But Dustin thinks there should be a change in that paradigm.

“We want people to work in events because it affords them a good quality of life,” he says. “I think we rely too much on those that are ‘passionate’ about events. And we’ve got to get out of that. That’s not what’s going to help us recover and create a good long-term industry.”

“We need to get out of this sort of like passion project that is events and turn these into real businesses with real careers so people can take care of their families.” Dustin thinks that every business owner can start working on that today. “We don’t need somebody to come and tell us how to do that. Take a look at your business. Start building a better, stronger business for your employees, and you’ll get paid off in the end.”

“As three business owners that are on this podcast every week, I would love to hear from people that work in this industry and work for other people. What is it that needs to change? It’s always going to be a skewed view from the three of us.”

So, what do you think about what the Event Brew guys have to say about the state of the events industry in 2021 and the labor shortages? Shoot them an email! Together, we can make the events industry a better place!

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Dustin Westling

Author Dustin Westling

Managing Partner at Calgary-based OneWest Event Design & Logistics. A self-described ‘Senior Millennial,’ Dustin brings his tongue-in-cheek humour and engaged energy to his role as commander-in-chief where he leads a team of talented and talked-about event profs.

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