‘Freedom day’ delayed: experience agencies react

Will this change of date cause further damage to the events sector?

Events: the Virgin Money Unity Arena catered for socially distanced crowds
Events: the Virgin Money Unity Arena catered for socially distanced crowds

Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed last night (14 June) in a televised briefing that "Freedom day" would not be going ahead on 21 June. For many, this did not come as a surprise but that has not alleviated feelings of disappointment.

Currently, retail, some areas of hospitality, outdoor events and socially distanced experiences are able to take place but with limits on capacity. So, with the return to normality now currently set for 19 July, it is yet to be seen whether this new date will offer the assurance to brands to invest their marketing budget on the in-person experiences that consumers are eagerly awaiting.

Campaign asked experience agencies: what does the "freedom day" delay mean for the events/experiences industry?

Luke D’Arcy

UK president, Momentum Worldwide

Unfortunately, it was inevitable. Having been soft-sold for weeks on the date being pushed back, we finally have confirmation. While no hospitality or experience is left untouched by the announcement, we do at least have some ray of hope in events. Wimbledon being at full capacity for the finals and events such as Euro 2020 being looked at as tests for larger-scale fan experiences. But for many small to mid-sized festivals, this was a last straw for 2021.

The question isn’t whether the demand will still be there for mass experiences – I firmly believe it will – but whether these latest extensions damage the event, music and hospitality infrastructure so badly that it takes years to recover and repair. We are at an enforced experiential evolution and must once again adapt fast to survive.

Amelia Shepherd

Managing director, Tro

For so many reasons, the announcement yesterday was disappointing but if we’ve learnt anything from the last year, it’s to adapt and move fast.

Our teams have been doing an amazing job of planning for all outcomes and because we have a number of activities scheduled over the next month, we will be working closely with our clients and partners to put these plans into practice.

We’ve been here before and we will get through this again. This industry is strong and will pull together to power through this additional delay, but I’m sure we’re all very much looking forward to the restrictions lifting on 19 July. Then, hopefully, we can all start to find a way to get back to the experiences we love, with the people we love whilst learning to live with Covid.

Will Mould

Co-Founder and managing director, XYZ

The latest delay in the lifting of Covid restrictions is devastating news for the events and experiential industries. However, it’s not surprising, is it? And that’s exactly how the government wants you to feel. It has been leaking this delay via the media for a couple of weeks now in order to dampen the public’s reaction when it eventually confirmed what we already knew. It is exactly this "governing by public opinion" that is so infuriating. Why aren’t they using the data gathered from the test events that shows overwhelmingly that they don’t cause an increase in Covid cases? Why aren’t there additional freedoms for those who’ve had both jabs? And yet they choose the same day to announce that there will be capacity audiences at the Wimbledon finals. Total inconsistency and, quite frankly, ineptness. Our industry is not a tap that can just be turned on and off at will, unlike the government’s decision-making process it would seem.

Lee Avery

Managing partner, Amplify

Many in the events industry weren’t surprised by the announcement. The government has always held the delay card and it was becoming more apparent it would play it. Our hearts go out to the hospitality industry. It must feel like a never-ending nightmare for nightclub and theatre owners and staff, plus the artists, actors, musicians and DJs denied the opportunity to help us rediscover the joys of a good night out.

From an agency and client perspective, there’s still much caution around IRL events. While brands are extremely active again, we're mostly delivering their objectives through other routes. This has a massive impact on our amazing collaborators, partners and specialists, whose light at the end of the tunnel must feel like it's eternally out of their grasp. Our thoughts are with you.

But we must hold hope in Boris saying that with a surge in vaccinations and without a new variant, 19 July will be a more robust freedom date. Until then, hands, face, space.

Charlotte Mair

Managing director, The fitting room

I don’t think last night's announcement was surprising but it was, nevertheless, disappointing. The industry has shown such resilience over the past 15 months, with very little support.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that, once allowed to operate fully, the level of demand from guests and consumers for live experiences is there in abundance, which we’re already seeing with events and festivals selling out in record time.

I think in the post-pandemic world, we’re going to see a rise in even more experiences and epic brand activations because we’ve all had enough of screen time. I think there will also be greater value put on culture and storytelling because it just isn’t the same virtually.

Rick Stainton

Founder and group executive director, Smyle

The government’s announcement last night on the four-week extension of current lockdown restrictions is a massive blow to the events industry – a risk-benefit analysis without many benefits and likely negative impact on the fragile confidence of corporate clients, and a £1bn-plus hit with significant impact on the plans for festivals, weddings and other live events planned and invested in for delivery over the next four weeks.

While the risk of the Delta Covid variant is noted, and there is a general appreciation around the country that a few more weeks would support the vaccine/variant race, the very positive pilot events data demonstrated that events do not spread the virus disproportionately. This seems to have been ignored, and the second phase of pilots is mostly within sports, music and arts, which just prolongs the lack of clarity, as well as consistently ignoring the significant £20bn business and experiential events sector of the £84bn industry.

If these announcements had come with an open understanding of the impact of the further delay on live events, with a dedicated, emergency, short-term support bridge of financial support to venues, event organisers, suppliers and freelancers for the next few months in grants, extending repayment options for loans, cancelling business rates, extending support schemes such as furlough and SEISS (the self-employment income support scheme), that would have at least shown some sort of demonstrable respect and appreciation of the power of events and its multi-layered contribution and importance to many elements of our society, so our thousands of businesses are fit for purpose and ready to support the recovery, rather than remaining in survival mode.