For These Behind Company Occasions, Events Are on Pause

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It’s been a devastating year for those in the events business. Todd Fiscus of Todd Events, based in Dallas, said his company made $ 2.4 million in mostly business holiday gatherings in December 2019 alone. This year, however, its December earnings will drop to just $ 191,000.

Between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, Chris Starkey, co-owner of Imprint Group, a Colorado-based entertainment company with outposts in Florida and Nevada, typically has 15 to 35 corporate events scheduled each week. The revenue from these pre-pandemic gatherings accounted for 25 to 30 percent of its annual revenue of $ 25 million. While his company has organized some digital events to replace face-to-face gatherings, the volume is a fraction of 2019.

With companies canceling their year-end events, the 2020 holiday season has made a terrible year for those in the events business even worse. According to a report from recruitment and coaching firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, Inc., only 23 percent of companies surveyed scheduled holiday gatherings that year, 74 percent of which were virtual. In 2019, 76 percent of businesses had year-end parties.

“It’s a big aha moment for the industry,” said Amy Calvert, executive director of the Events Industry Council, a Washington-based trade organization. “Events affect all industries – so many who work on events are gig workers or companies owned by minorities or women. These people are disproportionately affected by the setting of personal events. “

Mr Fiscus’ company, for example, organizes parties for an average of 300 people. These gatherings often employ up to 58 subcontractors, from florists and cake sellers to lighting specialists. As a result, 150 to 170 people “live off these events,” he said. “With sales falling by 85 to 90 percent, that’s a lot of people without work.”

Some companies have chosen to help these small businesses and the contractors they use by transferring deposits to 2021 or 2022 or working with them to provide alternative entertainment options this year, such as dining out. B. virtual events or passing or smaller gatherings in the open air. But without additional payments, many will effectively work for less in the future.

Seasoned entertainers said that careful budgeting of their businesses and their own lives helped them get through the year, regardless of whether or not they received government loans through the Federal Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, commonly known as PPP – though the duration of a pandemic makes this a sensitive long-term proposition.

“If we can only hold events with 30 to 40 people, many companies cannot survive,” said Fiscus. “And while some customers want us to book for parties in 2023, how can we schedule these if we don’t know if we’ll survive?”

Others, like Darrell Martin, head of Hip Parties based in New York and Philadelphia, could not take out a PPP loan and had to rely on personal savings to get through. Life after September 11th as well as after the 2008 financial crisis has increased its tendency towards conservative spending. But events continued after past crises, albeit to a lesser extent. This year it was of course different and the events were canceled immediately.

“Most of our customers are really good-hearted people. So you understood when we calculated the amount of money we paid our subcontractors – such as dancers, photographers and lighting experts – and returned the difference to our customers, “said Mr. Martin, who still works as a DJ at some parties “But I personally felt that asking our subcontractors for money back was out of the question because many had more problems than we did. “

Lucy Wrubel, a Dallas-based DJ, saw a similar drop in income this year. “I usually do 12 jobs a month. I had booked at least 100 jobs for this year and all clients wanted their deposits back. “Although Ms. Wrubel, a single mother, was devastated when she let go of her assistant – her only employee – she said she had weathered the downturn before and could” handle it again. ” She is confident about the silence. “I finally revised my website and took pictures from 20 years of jobs. I’m working on a book and a podcast. I publish my playlists on Spotify for free to get my name out there. I throw a lot of things on the wall to see what sticks. “

While trying out some virtual events, they were unfulfilled, she said – a feeling that was confirmed by Mr. Martin: “What we offer is a personable interaction.”

The cancellations made the DJs rethink their contracts and get a crash course in legalities. Force majeure clauses – those that essentially excuse obligations under a contract in the face of extraordinary events – suddenly became central to future bookings. “There’s the legal jargon and the personal side of contracts – it’s an intimate relationship,” said Martin. “But the longer the time goes by, the more this personal relationship dissolves and people become less enchanted.”

Some companies have turned to alternative gatherings and generated revenue.

For example, Western Union, based in Denver, hired Mr. Starkey for a so-called incentive trip for employees earlier this year. After the trip was canceled, they booked him for the event, which has now been postponed for 2021, instead of getting the company’s deposit back, said Beth Gangel, the company’s director of global meetings and events.

Even as the pandemic subsides and events re-occur, few expect revenues to match those of “yore” by 2022 or even 2023, Fiscus said. It will be some time before corporate and residential customers feel confident about planning a big event, depending in part on vaccination rates and the ongoing discomfort about large gatherings.

Additionally, corporate clients “realized this year that they can make a lot of profit by not hosting events. So we need to stay diverse and keep innovating, ”said Starkey.

And while many corporate clients and some individuals have paid for it by rescheduling for 2021 or even 2022 forward, future bookings cannot replace the revenue from canceled parties. “There’s a huge waiting game for us in the entertainment industry,” said Fiscus. “And the longer the pandemic lasts, the weaker it gets.”

Meanwhile, while the animators have expressed personal sadness and concern about the contractors they are currently unable to employ, they are trying to remain both engaged and upbeat. Mr. Martin regularly delivers groceries, hires volunteers in companies in needy communities and works “almost free” with a welfare agency to plan parties for older adults. “The good side,” he said, “is that I don’t care about my business, but about others, like seniors, who cannot get out of their homes.”

And Mr. Starkey delivered food to the front lines and went viral. He has posted videos of him dancing with his daughters, one of which has been viewed nearly 14 million times on his Facebook page. He works with co-founders Nicole Marsh and Rikki Mor. Ms. Mor said she checked in regularly with the musicians and DJs they relied on because many had problems, if not financial, then emotional.

For many, the greatest loss is professional and personal fulfillment. “I miss the work,” said Ms. Wrubel. “What I didn’t realize until it was completely gone is how much I enjoyed being with people who laugh and dance.”