The events industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic as face-to-face events were cancelled overnight back in March 2020. Large scale and generalist technical production businesses, along with event logistics agencies, were among those most impacted.
We spoke to James Walton, director and founder of Live Recruitment - a specialist events recruitment agency - to find out more about how the events industry is holding up and what he thinks may lie ahead for events recruitment and careers.
James, tell me about some of the biggest changes in event careers and recruitment you’ve witnessed during the pandemic.
Initially, people with streaming or virtual experience were highly sought after as businesses tried to pivot in a very short period of time. Many roles that were not needed in great numbers, or not easily transferred to virtual, were typically furloughed or made redundant. Freelancers who had little prior experience in streaming or virtual events, and were unable to gain this exposure within the first two or three months of the pandemic, found that they were almost ‘left behind’ and found it hard to find work.
How has the industry managed the transition to virtual?
Once businesses learned how to deliver virtual events, they rapidly trained people internally, redeployed team members and recruited specialists into their teams. Many roles have now been broadened to include virtual skill sets. Video (editing and producing) and digital (developers) have been recruited into agencies to allow them to deliver.
Will virtual event skills continue to be in demand?
As virtual has become more normalised, the level, scale and complexity of virtual events has grown exponentially. Specialist digital and technical candidates who understand AR / VR and other more unusual technologies have recently seen greater demand and are likely to continue to do so.
What kind of event businesses have adapted the most successfully?
Whilst there hasn't been any absolute correlation, it is primarily the content-orientated agencies with a strong creative, video and digital offering, that have been best placed to move their clients to virtual where possible. Technical suppliers that were heavily orientated (or able to orientate) toward streaming and studio setups have also been able to secure some revenue.
Some businesses have invested in their own event platforms, while others have remained platform agnostic. Neither seem to have made more head way than the other at the moment, although this may change as the market develops and clearer distinctions become apparent.
Do you think the events industry will thrive again?
Whilst almost all agencies are saying that the future of events will be different to pre-COVID, there is consensus that live face-to-face events will return with some vigour, and these events are likely to retain a significant virtual or streamed element.
Agencies are reporting outdoor work (experiential) being confirmed for the beginning of the summer, with people in corporate events, such as conferences and product launches, starting to talk about September as seeing the return of live events.
What skills are in highest demand in events and how might this change in future?
Currently we are still seeing a high demand for all virtual and streaming skill sets. The future is likely to see sustained demand for dual skill sets with roles being less narrow. We have already started to see pure live events roles starting to be recruited.
Why is events still a great industry to work in?
Although the industry has faced huge challenges in the past 12 months, the innovation and creativity deployed has never been higher. As live events return, the mix between live and digital innovation is likely to accelerate further, which in turn gives more role scope and opportunity to diversify.
Many organisations are still reluctant to invest in talent - what advice would you give them?
There has been huge upheaval in the industry, and only a relatively small upturn in face-to-face events will create delivery pressures across the entire supply chain. Whilst there is understandably still hesitancy to financially commit to increased wage costs, it is highly likely that agency pipelines will firm up at almost exactly the same time. Whilst the usual freelance model is attractive, the reality is that the freelance market is likely to be extremely busy and access to talent will be tighter than at any previous time.
The race to scale up is already starting as confidence builds, and is set to become even more pronounced. The next six months could be seen as an opportunity, so businesses could take bold decisions now to gain competitive advantage down the road.