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Are event suppliers being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, and how can the industry resolve this

By Sam Dimond is Director at Spotlight Sound, lighting, video and sound specialists, supporting the events industry, and working with brands such as the BBC, Next and Halifax.

There are very few sectors that haven’t been impacted by the global pandemic, and even fewer that have been as hard hit as the event industry. What began as a couple of large-scale events being pulled for the foreseeable future, fast became an industry in complete standstill. Even those outside the industry speculated on the impact lockdown would have on venues and event planners. However, not everyone spared a thought for suppliers, who have arguably taken a larger financial hit.

In fact, a survey from the Events Industry Forum (EIF), and Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP), revealed that 60% of the UK’s event industry’s supplier base is facing collapse within three months, unless event businesses can get hold of further support from the government.

On top of that, the Events Industry Alliance (EIA), who represent the country’s event organisers, venues and suppliers, has warned that 30,000 jobs are at risk, due to increased uncertainty over when business can resume.

Put simply, it’s looking bleak for event providers, and even more so for suppliers.

Part of the issue comes from the difficulty that suppliers in particular, seem to be having in applying for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Whilst the Chancellor had recently indicated that those in the supply network would be eligible for leisure and hospitality business support grants, in practice this seems to be a rather different situation. According to the same survey, of 1,490 recipients, only 1% of respondents had been successful in applying for the scheme.

More communication is needed between local authorities and the government, to confirm that these suppliers are eligible for these grants. And quickly. It could be a question of staying afloat, or not, for many.

If suppliers are the backbone of the industry though (and after all you can’t have events without sound, lighting, staging, seating, catering, or sanitation facilities for example), why then is it an area that’s suffering so badly?

Part of the problem that suppliers face is that it is harder to pivot your services. B2C facing event providers have managed to find ways to reach their consumers, that are more tricky for suppliers- particularly service suppliers rather than product suppliers. For example, a caterer may be able to provide a temporary takeaway service to see them through this difficult period, but the company providing the waiting service will have very few options available to them.

That’s not to say it’s impossible though. A little creativity goes a long way. For example, at Spotlight Sound, we are sound, video and lighting suppliers, so with all our customers’ events cancelled, we took stock, considered our options, and built a new virtual studio in our warehouse to stream events online.

Technology is the key. It holds the answer to so many logistical questions right now, and the possibilities are endless. Even when things return to “normal”, one thing we do know, is that the world is becoming increasingly digital, and any advancements you make in this area certainly won’t go to waste. As well as a workaround for physical barriers, it can also help extend the lifespan of an event to make it more profitable, as well as increase engagement. It really is worth exploring, and investing in.

In the shorter term, however, it’s clear the industry needs immediate financial support from the government. The EIA is calling on the government to set a date for reopening, but even more crucially, it is raising important issues and questions. With an estimated 60% of the sector’s supply chain not expected to reopen by October, when the furlough scheme comes to an end, what will employees (and employers!) be expected to do then?

Saving the event industry should be a priority for everyone, as it plays a vital role in the overall economy, and as a nation we are proud to offer some of the best companies and contractors in the world. Let’s all hope that can continue.

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