On Monday 3rd August, Brittney Levinson, Editor of Spice Magazine & A LIST Guide was joined by an all-star panel of seasoned event professionals including Amy Merriman, Managing Director of EP Agency; Aaron Dart, General Manager of Austage Events Sydney and Darren Taylor, Executive Director and Head Chef of Harvest by Darren Taylor to deliver The Breakout – a virtual internship.

Developed as an additional learning experience for event management students who have had restricted opportunities for event internships this year as a result of the current COVID-19 crisis, The Breakout brought professionals from different sectors of the events industry to share their thoughts and insights on the industry today.

Kicking off the session, Amy Merriman of EP Agency spoke in detail about the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry. As a specialist corporate event management agency, Amy noted that EP Agency felt the impact of COVID-19 immediately and in a significant way. She recalled the immediate response for projects to be delivered in March that were completely dissolved – either postponed or cancelled. For a company that is underpinned by its mantra of bringing ideas to life, the team at EP Agency was in a phase winding projects down. Of all changes, relocating out of the office to work effectively from home was one of the easier aspects as Amy noted ‘given the nature of the business, our staff are often working remotely while delivering events out of the office’.

When asked her opinion on in-person events and their relevance to the corporate sector post COVID-19, Amy strongly believes that there is no substitute for face to face communication. ‘It is clear that clients have an appetite to be in front of their staff or customers in a physical sense…we have to look at how we can deliver impact without the ability to offer scale’.

Reflecting on the changes we will expect to see in events going forward, Amy expects a lot of changes. In the short space of a few months, the industry has gone through 5-10 years’ worth of innovation! A notion echoed by General Manager of Austage Events, Aaron Dart. Sitting in front of the camera was a different experience for him noting that he is normally on the other side of the camera with a set of headphones running the show from a logistics perspective.

With 26 years’ experience delivering live events, the team at Austage Events has experienced a shift from delivering complete technical production in wild and wonderful venues to adapting to the current climate and shooting from a studio built within their own warehouse.

With the changes occurring within the industry, Aaron noted there is a real need for hybrid events, almost as if every event is a live studio audience style experience. Clients are either electing to use Austage’s studio or stream live from their event venue with a reduced audience. Whichever way, hybrid events are clearly here to stay. Aaron predicts the industry will be heavily focused on semi broadcast style event delivery for at least the next 12 months as brands, clients and consumers regain confidence in hosting and attending events. Could this be a permanent option for clients looking to reach a larger audience than their selected venue allows? It is a real possibility!

Students were treated to a back of house tour of the technical production ‘engine room’. This tour showcased the studio set up, who and what is involved in delivering a virtual event – a side of events that few get to experience including audio, vision, show callers and online event platform management.

Darren Taylor, spoke of how his business, Harvest by Darren Taylor, pivoted as a direct result of COVID-19. Overnight, their focus shifted from event and corporate catering to a packaged meal concept.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, Darren’s team of 20 staff would be preparing for and delivering up to 50 events a week, however experienced an immediate cessation of majority of their business, including the Sydney Writers Festival at Carriageworks days before it was scheduled to commence.

With this change, a concept that was coincidentally in the making and originally intended to be a 6 month roll out, their packaged meal concept, Harvest at Home, was brought to life overnight. With urgency, an online retail page was developed where consumers could order via a website, distribution channels were negotiated, marketing and social media strategies were designed and delivery partners engaged. What was once an events catering company transformed into a food manufacturing company and for the foreseeable future, this is where Darren sees the growth of his business. Their focus is to continue to develop Harvest at Home, going into the corporate sector within the CBD, meeting the needs of the limited workforce who have returned to working from the office and found cafes and restaurants closed.

Students were then kept informed of the various industry publications and resources available to event professionals, specifically Spice Magazine and A LIST Guide. As Editor of both publications, Brittney noted that part of her duty is to interview experts and share their knowledge with the readers. Not only do these publications keep event professionals abreast of the latest industry news, they are also share information on venue openings, technology, trends, sustainability, event case studies and destination features. A wealth of information is available at your fingertips and students were encouraged to subscribe as they start their career as event professionals!

To conclude the session, Brittney ran a poll to determine how the students were feeling with the changing nature of the events industry, how they felt about entering the industry in light of the current pandemic and how they felt about their career in the events industry after participating in The Breakout.

The results of the polls speak volumes to the current situation and shows that leaders in our field need to be proactive in encouraging and mentoring up and coming event professionals. Opportunities such as The Breakout are great ways to reach our next generation of event professionals to ensure they feel supported and aware of the realities of the industry.

As Merriman noted, there is no substitute for face to face communication. The events industry will continue and it will rebuild. People will gather once more and we will be ready!

Thank you to our distinguished panel from EP Agency, Austage Events, Harvest by Darren Taylor and Spice News & A LIST Guide.

Thank you also to the supporters of The Breakout; Harry the Hirer, Arvin Prem Kumar and Joyce Design.

If you missed out on The Breakout, you can view the entire recording here.

If you would like to know more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!