A reflection on 2020
A year ago almost to the day, the AEO team set out its objectives for the year ahead, which focussed on engagement both internally within the membership and externally with government. We’d built up the team; welcoming our first apprentice, Zahra, and a new role looking at data in Carly. So, we had a new team, new office, and a full programme of working groups and events, supported by research projects, sponsors and partners to look forward to.
Things started well and in January we held another sell out AEO Sales, Marketing & Ops Forum at the BDC, our International CEO Summit, and I even travelled to Rome and shook hands with the Pope at the UFI CEO Summit. Those are distant memories now, as come February our sole focus became supporting the industry as the then unnamed virus started to take hold.
Understanding the impact of Covid-19 on the exhibitions and events sector, representing both members and non-members to government officials, regulators and the media became my full-time role. The team concentrated on delivering the plan, with working groups and research projects, delivering our face to face engagements virtually in the short term.
The support, right from the start, from everyone was outstanding, sharing ideas and resources to help create and implement a plan, to:
- demonstrate the economic impact of the sector
- our ability to create safe environments for our customers
- compare how our international competitors were handling the now pandemic
- push for financial support for our people and our businesses
Our previous asks of government were light touch, however, we had found a home within DCMS, were part of the Events Industry Board and had a ‘Senior Stakeholder Group’ with a number of members across the organiser and venue community. In addition we were formally invited to join the BEIS Senior Stakeholder Group for the Professional Business Services Sector, which provided another useful touchpoint with senior ministers.
We used these platforms to elevate the industry’s role in supporting trading, particularly for SMEs and the role it can play in kickstarting the economy, when it is safe to do so. This was complimented with the support of many members activating a comprehensive communications plan with MPs and other government departments.
Since February I personally have had over one hundred meetings with government officials, across BEIS, DCMS, Treasury, Public Health England, public affairs advisors, and in addition countless phone calls, texts, and emails. The coordinated work from members was incredible to witness; common messages to MPs asking questions in the house, writing letters to the PM, Chancellor and numerous Secretaries of State.
This has brought some success and we have:
- been recognised in statute as a sector
- government approved guidance in the ‘All Secure Standard’
- delivered and passed a government pilot event in ‘All Secure Expo’
Even the Prime Minister and Chancellor reference the sector in their briefings to the nation. Together with members, the industry has been represented across multiple government departments, to numerous committees, backbenchers, the opposition, to the cabinet office, right up to No10 special advisors. In terms of driving engagement within government, through a completely different set of circumstances, the sector’s engagement with government has never been higher.
Looking internally, ‘All Secure’ is a fantastic example of the whole industry coming together, across organisers, venues and suppliers to demonstrate to the authorities our ability to create safe environments. Cross association working groups adapted an international framework, gained approval and demonstrated an event, which was signed off by numerous departments, including Public Health England.
At the time of writing we are under an NDA with the Department of Health and Social Care, on another project, which would benefit the whole sector and help with both customer confidence, but also the easing of capacities and movement between tiers, but more on this when it is permitted.
Customer confidence is a critical area and since the summer we have created content to support your conversations via Project Confidence. Reminding customers of the value and opportunities is one part, but we are also working with both BEIS and DCMS on a Government backed insurance scheme, and are beginning conversations on government support for SMEs.
Turning to the work of the team; we have never seen such engagement within the numerous working groups, who have worked tirelessly to support each other and their teams. They have provided research to demonstrate the impact the pandemic was having on their businesses and their people and numerous outputs that are available to be used industry wide to support us in our restart. All in all our 14 AEO, and 6 Cross Association Groups met 112 times, with 392 individual and 279 company touchpoints. Engagement ranges from 20% of member companies up to 44%, with the biggest lift on AEO International which more than doubled the number of member companies taking part. The common challenge to support everyone through these unprecedented times again drove engagement both within membership, but also across our sister associations AEV & ESSA and other industry associations serving the sector.
Getting the ‘go date’ of the 1st October was a big win in the summer, although as cases rose this was taken away, which made everyone redouble their efforts to show that we can open safely, and we can be front and centre with the much needed economic recovery post pandemic. Through some detailed evidenced based submissions, as we emerged from the second lock down earlier this month, we were allowed to reopen under capacity limits, which was a very big step forward with more to be done.
Protecting our people and our businesses is also another key area; whilst national support measures has provided some support, we continue to push for further help, particularly for our suppliers who have been hit very hard. We continue to support those individuals who have unfortunately lost their roles, via ‘Keep in Touch’, which essentially gives them free access to key webinars, training and information to maintain their knowledge and skills until we are back up and running.
At AEO we have unfortunately had to say goodbye to our Head of Marketing, Kimmie, and Business Development Manager, Krystle as we consolidated the organisation to reflect reduced revenues as we were unable to hold key events such as the AEO Conference and had to deliver the AEO Excellence Awards virtually. I’d like to thank the team for working so hard all year to deliver on our ever changing plans, and I’d like to also thank you all for your immeasurable contributions to both our lobbying efforts and working groups – the association is only as strong as its members, and in my 6 years of being at the helm of AEO I have never witnessed such a strong association.
Looking ahead, there is much to do to help get the industry back up and running safely, to help customers engage in face to face marketing, to continue and develop our engagement with government, and with your support we are confident moving forward to the challenges ahead.
On a brighter note AEO was founded in 1921, so next year marks our centenary. We have survived many global and national disasters in the past, and I feel confident we can survive the global pandemic that is Covid-19. Our drive for engagement will continue into 2021, both to support you and your teams and to build on the government dialogue achieved this year.
For now though, I’d like to personally thank you all; member/non-member, big/medium/small, b2b/b2c/conference/meeting, UK/International; you have provided the support and collaboration to help drive the industry’s agenda through these challenging times. We remain at your service now and in the future, as we work towards reopening, rebuilding, and redefining our wonderful industry.