In-person events to return in 2021 after PM gives industry confidence boost

Agencies polled by Campaign unanimously agreed that roadmap outlined by Boris Johnson makes in-person events a viable possbility this year.

Events: legal limits on social contact could be lifted on 21 June
Events: legal limits on social contact could be lifted on 21 June

Following Boris Johnson's announcement of the government's plan for lifting restrictions on social contact, the UK's top brand experience agencies are in agreement: in-person experiences are viable in 2021.

A four-step plan was unveiled by the Prime Minister yesterday detailing a roadmap back to a more normal way of life. The easing of lockdown restrictions will happen in stages, with the final restrictions on social contact potentially set to be lifted on 21 June. In most cases, stages of reopening have been scheduled for "no earlier than" a given date, allowing them to be pushed back if the situation requires it.

Campaign polled 24 of the leading experience agencies and, of the 17 that responded, all agreed that in-person events could now take place this year. All but one reported that brands are showing interest in developing in-person events for 2021.

Thirty five per cent of the agencies, meanwhile, said they had moved away from work on brand experiences and experiential during the pandemic but now envisaged returning to the sector. 

Mike Kunheim, executive vice-president and managing director of Jack Morton, said: "The roadmap provides a clear and detailed guidance, which is exactly what we've been waiting for. The timing and steps are important, but what's even more critical is that it will affect people psychologically – shifting them from feeling insecure to optimistic.

"And, if they are anything like us, brands will dive back into live experiences with energy, confidence, and excitement knowing that a recognisable normal will return sooner rather than later."

Some key points for the brand experience sector are that, provisionally:

  • All retail, outdoor hospitality, event pilots and outdoor attractions, including drive-in cinemas, are allowed to open from 12 April
  • Indoor entertainment and attractions, some large events and outdoor entertainment, including performances, can begin on 17 May

Leading up to at least 21 June, rules on social contact will apply. From 21 June (provisionally) there will be no legal limits on social contacts, with nightclubs and larger events allowed to resume.

"The experience economy that is centred around pubs and outdoor leisure will face an initial scramble for bookings, which gives brands who can act with agility a tremendous opportunity to capitalise on this national surge of positivity that comes from aligning with consumers riding a wave of optimism," Jim Carless, head of brand experience at Space, said.

There will be a minimum of five weeks between each step in the government's plan, with seven days' notice given before restrictions are eased. It is hoped that the increased protection offered by vaccines will gradually replace the restrictions but there will be close monitoring of infection levels.

"While it will be a relief to welcome back some normality, it would be a shame if we were to rush back to the way things were," Rosh Singh, managing director of Unit9, said.

"The hybrid event era of the last 12 months has unlocked so much innovation and creativity, which we may still have to lean on for some time to come, as brands and consumers slowly build back their confidence."

Since March 2020 all the agencies surveyed had been actively working on and delivering projects, with digital innovations often at the core of the campaigns.

Although Lou Garrod, managing director at Sense is ready for a return to in-person events, she appreciates the possibility that not all groups in society will be. It is a view echoed by Jonathan Emmins, founder of Amplify, who said it was important to read the room and understand what consumers are ready for.

Taking into consideration the Prime Minister's announcement, 59% of the responding agencies felt they now had a clear picture of what the next 12 months will look like for their agency.

Lucy Hodgson, director for events at Bearded Kitten, said: "It's time to really feel that light at the end of the tunnel. We know our clients are all really keen to have their experiences finally be created and we feel that a new wave of amazing creativity and captivating events are just around the corner.

"Whilst the hybrid world is here to stay and has many plus points to having this incorporated into a campaign, we all know nothing truly compares to an event being In Real Life."

The agencies who responded to Campaign's questions were: Amplify, Bearded Kitten, Brandfuel, Haygarth, Hyperactive, Hot Pickle, Imagination, Jack Morton, Momentum Worldwide, RPM, Sense, Space, The Producers, The Park, TRO, Unit9 and XYZ.

(Picture: Getty Images)