Due to the pandemic, over the past few months, a number of industries have been turned on their head. In perhaps one of the most hard-hit sectors, events, business owners have had to get particularly creative, as in-person gatherings essentially ground to a halt with the arrival of COVID-19. Recently, we checked in with a few event planning professionals from around the country to discuss how they are faring. Read on to learn how they—and the creative talents who help bring their events to life—have shifted their services to accommodate today’s climate, and what the communities they serve can do to support them during this crisis.
Note: Every state has different guidelines regarding gatherings, and every individual should carefully consider the risks of hosting and attending an in-person gathering and be aware of recommendations from health professionals. You can find recommendations from the CDC here and here.
Fortunately, problem-solving, improvising, and thinking outside of the box are practically prerequisites for those in the event business. Here are some of the ways the planners we spoke with have evolved their offerings for an age of social distancing.
Shifting to virtual gatherings. “Early on, we realized we’d have to pivot and it would be a longer road than any of us had thought,” shared Therese and Mimi McCann of 5 Star Staffing in Columbus, Ohio. One of their first actions was engaging with Riley Group, Inc., a New York-based strategic brand and experience design firm to discuss how people can meet, celebrate, and interact differently during this time. They then created a team to help them think through the concept of virtual and SafeHome gatherings with their new concept offering, Sage.
Bringing the party home. At the very beginning of the pandemic, Sarah Fairbain of One Fine Day in Tampa, Florida, immediately came up with an alternate revenue stream. She started a “party box” company that has everything you need for a celebration at home, from weddings to birthdays, baby showers, and holidays, complete with helium balloons that pop out of the boxes filled with high-end disposable soiree staples, such as dishes, glassware, and table runners. Next up: Fairbain is working on car-decorating kits for all manner of celebrations.
Throwing micro weddings. Weddings probably top the list of events that have been affected by the pandemic, going from large, 200+ affairs to small family gatherings of 10. While paring down the guest list can be painful for a lot of couples, Jill Gordon of Jill Gordon Celebrate in East Hampton, New York, has discovered that there’s something really special about smaller weddings, which allow for an intimacy that can be absent from a large gathering. “Couples that were planning big weddings are focusing on what’s important, and that’s about their being married and sharing the moment with the most important people in their lives,” she explains. That said, some couples aren’t writing off the idea of a large occasion entirely. “Some of our couples host a smaller ceremony now and will join us next year for a more significant celebration,” says Charlottesville, Virginia-based Lynn Easton, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Easton Porter Group (which includes the winery and event venue Pippin Hill) and Founder of Easton Events.
Rethinking vendors’ services. Even though large-scale weddings aren’t happening, Lynn Easton points out that many vendors, such as florists, pastry chefs, and photographers, are still offering their services and expertise to their local communities. “Here in Charlottesville, for example, Anita of Maliha Creations, who does a ton of cakes for Pippin Hill couples, is offering at-home cake kits and virtual cake camps during this time—the perfect activity to keep the kids entertained for an afternoon,” she explained. Similarly, many photographers have started doing porch portraits to not only bring in money, but to also document this unprecedented time.
Documenting the moment for an at-home audience. With protocols calling for smaller gatherings, a greater emphasis has gone into documenting events such as weddings and graduations. While many people have embraced Zoom is a popular option to stay social, Gordon’s clients have been placing greater emphasis on video and photography to capture special moments that can be safely shared with family and friends.
Providing “Virtual” Planning. As is the case in many other industries right now, some planners are conducting client meetings that used to be held in-person virtually. Currently, Gordon is offering a “Virtual Planning” package for couples who may still be under lockdown this winter, which allows the planning to proceed safely—and lets her provide her services to brides and grooms all over the country.
WAYS TO SUPPORT THE INDUSTRY
This is a time when it’s extremely helpful for anyone who uses event services (or plans to use them in the future) to be extra understanding of the strain these professionals are under. Here are some ways to provide support.
Continue to pay vendors if you can. “We encourage couples to stay on track with their vendors’ original deposit schedule, even though their wedding has moved from 2020,” Easton shares. The event industry is full of small businesses that rely on cash flow to keep their doors open so they can continue to bringing celebrations to life post-pandemic.
Be understanding. If you want them to be there when it’s safe to have large gatherings again, it’s imperative that event planners and their vendors have the funds to function right now. Most event planners are offering deposit money toward a new date in lieu of offering refunds, Fairbain shared, which gives them a cushion to stay in business.
Think about the future. Once we’re past the pandemic, it’s possible that clients will be in a hurry to contact planners to move forward with postponed gatherings. “I’m concerned about being crazy booked when things reopen,” Fairbain said, noting that right now, she’s focusing on trying to keep staff so she’s able to rise to the occasion.
Featured image by Henry Photography. 5 Star Staffing is featured in The Scout Guide Columbus. One Fine Day is featured in The Scout Guide Tampa & St. Petersburg. Jill Gordon Celebrate is featured in The Scout Guide Hamptons. Easton Events is featured in The Scout Guide Charlottesville.