With people meeting people being the heart of the events industry, COVID-related public health guidelines have fundamentally affected how events are planned and executed, be they corporate, cultural, or social.
Deborah Bricks’s Deborah B Event Management works with leading arts and cultural organizations on creative and complex public-facing events, in-person and online. Deborah’s recent projects include a unique classical and jazz music festival, a complex multi-cultural film festival, and philanthropic events for charities and their donors and supporters.
“As event planners,” she says, “we strive to make memorable, enjoyable and effective moments for our clients and those important to them. Ours is that privileged task of managing creativity and complexity, amid constraints, and indeed in expectation of change–be it in real-time at events or during planning, such as COVID introduced. And so, as with constraints and change related to a client’s vision, to vendors and venues, or to cultural or commercial considerations, we make things happen.”
Deborah spoke to us about addressing change and challenges in the events industry.
What services do you typically provide as an event planner?
I thrive where there is creativity and complexity to be managed! My end-to-end event management entails understanding a client’s vision for an event as an extension of their organization’s mission, providing ideas and, chiefly, the logistical and budgeting planning to realize them, contracting vendors and venues, doing media relations, marketing communications, and grant writing, and, of course, directing the events.
How have you helped clients through COVID-related restrictions?
COVID-related restrictions are, to me, just another constraint and source of change to factor into an event planning engagement. As with other constraints and change uncertainties, one has to be responsive and resilient – to ‘pivot,’ as is the current jargon. Over the years, in Toronto and elsewhere, I helped clients quickly pivot to very last-minute changes to venue occupancies, to altered strategic directions by board for fundraising events, and to various timeline clashes beyond our control.
Through the last two years of COVID, though, it has been satisfying to have been entrusted to approach events from different angles: to ‘go virtual’ where it made sense (a novel online film/music/comedy night); to bring people together in new, but culturally-cherished ways (a drive-in movie experience within a film festival); and to augment limited-capacity experiences with extras (pre-show live jazz and curated snack boxes).
The extra planning the COVID-related restrictions required gave time with my clients to further strategize what their stakeholders would and would not respond to – with attendance and donations as outcomes and with marketing and fundraising supports as among what I specifically provided.
What are recent innovations that you’ll continue to advance?
With clients I will continue to advance an ongoing embrace of constant change being here to stay – accepting and being creatively responsive to change, including those affecting in-person gathering sizes. As follows, a hybrid approach, with both ‘in-person’ and ‘virtual’ elements, can maintain a reach into larger audiences, while specially-programmed, right-sized in-person events can continue to enchant and enthuse smaller groupings.
With events generally being central to fundraising strategy, I was also approached to develop a more personal and more cost-effective solution for charity online silent auctions. My auction management service and associated online auction tool continues to help organizations re-engage members and supporters, communicate their strategies, and raise money.
What was the biggest opportunity in the challenges you’ve faced?
When one is wired for creativity and complexity, all challenges are opportunities! Spun differently, the biggest challenge in the opportunities presented to me has been to limit my focus to largely corporate and cultural events. It’s a privilege to be involved with the groups I work with.
What should businesses be thinking about when planning events in a world still affected by the pandemic?
Have a ‘Plan B’ that is well-defined: responsive to emerging constraints and likely changes (and to such requirements as revised occupancy or vaccination checks); aligned to organizational goals; and plausibly budgeted (including likely revenue shortcomings from limited audiences or likely expenses from online tools) so that oversight boards are appropriately informed. But aside from the COVID-related sources of such constraints and change, this is just ‘Event Planning 101’!
How can organizations launch new ways to connect with stakeholders (members, donors, staff, and others)?
As always, put the people first. Know and reflect in the theme and plan for an organization’s events, and other initiatives, just what it is that attracts stakeholder support (e.g., cultural affinities, charitable causes, aesthetic appreciation, and alignments of identity and values)–and what that support ideally looks like. Often, and especially with personal outreach by board members, donors may be more inclined to donate than to come to a donor event, which is fine. Conversely, with stakeholder engagement also being about appealing for attendance at or involvement with an event–and giving back something especially memorable!–focus on providing special experiences. Think broadly, ‘out of the box,’ and be conscious of ‘online fatigue’!
Deborah B Event Management strategizes, communicates and launches innovative events that engage stakeholders, garner donations, and build community. Deborah can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.