We’re back for another week with another exciting episode of #EventIcons! And we’re excited to be discussing how small event companies can pivot in order to survive the pandemic. Because this has probably been the craziest time ever in our industry. Thousands of event profs saw their projects canceled or postponed within days. But while we’re all still adapting to the new normal, small event companies had to act faster than anyone else.
And no one knows that better than this week’s iconic guest. Tammy Dickerson has been in the industry for 25 years and started her own agency two decades ago. As the Founder and President of The Baker Group, she managed to whether the pandemic storm with grace and effectiveness. Today, she’s sitting down with our incredible host Sarah Christl to teach the industry just how small event companies can find a way to pivot when times get rough. Press play and join us for another iconic episode!
When It Hits…
Tammy and her team of associates were in the process of relaunching the brand three weeks before COVID hit. “That was kind of the beginning of what we were going to do in terms of relaunching our brand”, she recalls. “And who would have known three weeks later that we would be at the place that we are. So it was a tough time. We did have to lay off a couple of associates that worked for us. Because we went from a calendar of over 12 events slated between March and April to zero in less than 30 days”.
Pivoting As A Small Event Company
“I think that after we got past the shock, the first couple of weeks, we very quickly realized that we were going to have to do something different or we weren’t going to survive. So we came together as a team pretty quickly. And we started talking about who were the partners that we know that can still fight through this tough time. Who can we begin to collaborate with? What could we start to do in terms of research?”, Tammy explains.
“So we can make sure that we are one of the partners that are standing when all this is over. So we started reaching out to television producers. We started reaching out to some audio, visual partners, some of which were already doing virtual events, but certainly not at the scale that we are at now. And we started learning everything we could about the marketplace. And about what was going to be coming. Because we knew we would not be back in the live events for a while. So we went through a huge learning curve to figure out what are all these virtual events, how do you do it with the technology behind it? And that was really what helped us sustain our company and our brand. So over the last two and a half months, we produced five virtual events”.
“And we have another three or four for the end of the year. So I would say just getting behind the strategy and figuring out what we can do in terms of technology, big on collaboration, and partners. That was really it for us in finding new partners that help us elevate our brand. And we survived during the recession. So we knew what a hard kind of time it was and what we needed to do in terms of bottling down and managing costs”, she adds.
Making The Jump
Tammy recalls what the first thing they did at The Baker Group was. “One of the very first things we did was just to check on our clients. Just to see how they were doing personally and to make sure that they were okay. And that we knew from a business perspective, we would all survive and we would be okay. But just to check on them personally, let them know that we’re here for them. We want to support, we know we got to change with events, but when we get to that time and space, we will make sure that we’re here as your partner”.
“So again once that kind of passed, we dived right in with some of our key partners that we knew already had events, and saying, look, we’re new. But we think we can help you figure out a way of doing it. We want that same level of trust that you gave us in producing a live event, let us show you how you can do it virtually. We started watching everything that was out there and how people were doing it. And we figured out pretty quickly that we didn’t want to do just your simple zoom call. That was not the marketplace that we wanted to be in. We always wanted to bring and deliver an elevated experience for our guests”, she explains.
The First-Ever Virtual Event
“And we remember our very first virtual event. It was a two and a half hour fundraiser that we did. And after the fundraiser, we literally turned off our computers, we put on our shoes and we walked out the door. And we’re like, I kind of like virtual events now!”, Tammy recalls.
And she is sure that virtual isn’t going away. “I think this is going to be the place that we’re going to be in for quite a while. And I think that even when we do transition back to live events, virtual events will still have a place. I think that we’re going to slowly transition back into hybrid events. And then from hybrid events, we will transition back into live events. So I strongly encourage all planners out there to go for it. You don’t have to produce a three, four, or five-day virtual conference. But you need to at least know and understand the technology”.
“Make sure that you’re working with technology partners that are also in this space and that can push you to the next level. There were some audiovisual partners that we work with that made a choice not to transition into virtual events. And it’s going to be really interesting to see at the top of the year if those companies are still around. So I would say absolutely learn the technology, learn the platforms, and learn what you want to do differently as an agency. What do you want to bring to the clients that sets you apart from other people that are out there? Because if you don’t do that, then you’re not going to have the competitive edge that we all need. You’re not going to be top of your industry and your clients will wonder, wow, what happened? Why didn’t they pivot?”.
The Learning Mindset
For Tammy, learning all of these new things was kind of like going back to college. “So that was a little bit of a tough period for us. And we basically, as a team, just kind of conquered and divided it. We picked like the top 20 platforms that we all wanted to investigate and we just split them up. And we just developed a long list of questions with everything that we wanted to learn about the platforms, all the demos, we watched everything”.
“We really worked with partners who were patient with us and who taught us the technology. But we also just raised our hand and said, look, we don’t know anything about this. We know how to do a live event, but I don’t know where to press the zoom button and I don’t know how to record it. What do you mean by that bug? We were honest and we were open. And I think that people appreciated that. So as opposed to stepping into a space and saying, I think I can do that. We were very transparent. So we were able to soak in a lot of the knowledge and we made some mistakes along the way”, Tammy explains.
“And I think our first couple of shows, we figured out some ways of doing things differently, but that’s what you have to do. You have to make mistakes. But if you don’t jump out there and try then you absolutely never know. And we knew that we were going to be one of those companies that try. “So now they’ll walk away and say, not only did we try, but we did it and we learned, and we still put our little twist on it to make it differently. And that’s what we’re known for”.
A Word For The Skeptics
Tammy and Sarah discuss at length the advantages of virtual events, including how accessible they are for everyone that may not have the financial or physical means to attend traditional events. And Tammy has a few words for those who are still skeptical about virtual experiences. “One, you just have to try it. You really just have to jump out there and try it. Technology has come so far in the last two months. It’s unbelievable. So one, you have to try it. And two, life and the world are moving on and you know, what are our options? We can either say, we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to get the education programs, we’re not going to each other. Or we’re going to jump out there and do it”, she says.
“We just produced a three-day women’s business conference earlier this week. And the clients say that we could just pass on the event and not do it, wait until next year. But we said, no, let’s take the power of what we can do with a virtual event and still impact our members. Still connect with them, still provide them the information, the inspiration, the encouragement, and the knowledge that they still need through a virtual platform. And we would have had 200 or 300 attendees at this national women’s business conference. And we ended up having over 700. Impact people virtually. So to all of those skeptics, I say push through your hesitancy and give it a try. Take on what we can do with virtual events”.
Small Event Companies: You Can Do It!
“Another reason we transitioned into virtual events was that we wanted to prove that as a small minority agency, we can still survive. That given the opportunity we can push through like any other major company and brand”, Tammy adds.
“And that has been important for us. We’ve rallied together as a team of women and we’ve really done some amazing projects. So, you know, to those naysayers that are out there, we say, we are here, we’re alive. And we’re surviving. I think in terms of live events, people are very thirsty for them. But in terms of where we are as a country, I think that we do just have to realize it’s going to be at least another six to 12 months before we’re back in that space. Because we have to make sure that we’re safe first and everything that we do, we have to make sure we’re saying we would much rather put live events off to make sure that we’re safe. So to still follow the guidelines in terms of a lot of micro-events that are happening out there, small gatherings, even if you are doing those, just make sure that you’re keeping people safe”.
Whether you are a small event company or a giant in the industry – you can do it. You can jump on board the virtual boat and keep producing unforgettable experiences that your attendees will adore. Because virtual is here to stay, no matter what happens in the future. All of this wonderful technology will take us further than we ever imagined. So get in touch with the Endless team today and make your craziest dreams a reality!