Case Study: Raccoon Events on keeping their customers engaged through a pandemic
Jo Tyler - Consultant
As with most organisers, we have had to postpone events, closed our offices, furlough staff and all adapt to working at home (many of us also trying to home-school our children). It has been a stressful and difficult time with a huge amount of uncertainty. As a small business, there have been times when cashflow has been very tight and we have had to work hard as a management team to futureproof the business.
The bits that have gone well
Raccoon Events is a small and strong team and we have been able to adapt very quickly to change. We have always supported flexible working and so working from home was an easy transition for many.
With the National Running Show, we found that there was an uptake on people running, however many of our exhibitors who rely heavily on retail were struggling to survive. Much of the running community, run for the mental health benefits and suddenly found they had to run alone without their usual clubs and park runs.
With this in mind, we launched the National Running Club on Friday 20th March – 3 days before the lockdown was announced. We had developed the idea over 24 hours and launched it within 48 hours to get ahead of the curve.
The club was a daily newsletter to our 70k+ community with news, advice and offers. All exhibitors, speakers and brand ambassadors were offered free content and we immediately switched our focus from our events to a new digital publishing element to the business that had not existed before. Exhibitors and visitors loved it and we soon developed a Strava run group with challenges and social media stories.
This didn’t cost the business that much (we furloughed less staff) and it gave us something to strive towards. We also gained a huge amount of support from the industry as a result. They could see we were willing to adapt to support the industry and weren’t trying to profit from the situation when times were tough for everyone.
Approximately a month later when we had to take the decision to postpone our June event by almost a year, we found the goodwill we had built meant that we only had 6 stand cancellations (which we refunded) and we are confident that if their businesses survive we will see them come back in 2021.
It will be a long time before things are getting back to normal and we can reassess whether the changes we have made have paid off or not. We are ploughing time and resources into trying to secure the business and maintain relationships with our customers as we believe it’s the right thing to do, both ethically and commercially, but only time will tell.
We are also currently creating a Digital Running Show and it’s not been as straight-forward as we initially thought. It’s a huge learning curve for us and again it’s far too early to judge the results or what the reaction from our clients and customers will be.
Surprises along the way
We’ve stayed positive throughout this experience and are looking forward to a time when exhibitions will get back to where they were. What’s been surprising and quite worrying at times is the way a lot of event businesses are talking about a new normal and the future of events. We have to believe that as an industry we are well-positioned to adapt, but let’s not destroy the best bits in the process.
Our visitors come to our shows for an enjoyable and entertaining experience. If we start to look to the future with social distancing in mind and use a lot of language around safety then it doesn’t become fun anymore. Don’t get me wrong, we will always consider health and safety (as we always have) and we will put extra measures in place where we need to; but it’s a balance of making people feel confident that we are doing all of those things, whilst still giving them that great day out.
We will be closely watching how retail outlets, transport/travel providers and entertainment industries like theatres and cinemas continue to operate. We recognise we have a strong advantage over other entertainment and retail offerings as we build our event in days and don’t have the same physical limitations or fixed venue space.
We have learnt a lot from this process on how to communicate and how strong our advocates are in terms of their loyalty for our brand. At the moment our message would be, despite what is going on and the speed you need to adapt, stay strong in your morals, your vision and your team. Don’t be scared to change the way you work, as long as you are doing it for the right reason and keep strong, we will get through this and the wonderful exhibitions we create will survive.