Crazy. Simply crazy times. Craziest time I have seen in our industry since Prairie opened our doors in June of 1994, or even earlier when I started in the trade show and event world in 1983.
Let me first say to anyone reading this, if you are affiliated with the trade show and event industries in any capacity, I hope you are healthy, staying safe and doing whatever it takes to keep your family and friends the same. The virus that shut the door on face-to-face marketing events in March continues to change the way we live, work, eat and play.
When Illinois started to quarantine on March 21, we all figured it would last just a month or two, cause a few delayed events and then be up and running again by Fall. Here we are in September and the only things up and running are online meetings and professional sports without spectators. I am tired of both.
Who would have imagined? Time for Plan B.
Wait, this is the trade show and event industry, joined at the hip by the travel and hospitality worlds. Way too big to have, or even need, a Plan B. Everything just keeps moving along at such a rapid pace, there isn’t even time have another plan, yet alone think about one.
The Plan B for many in our industry that have manufacturing and fabrication facilities, was to “pivot” their efforts from creating displays and environments to making PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies. This includes everything from masks to face shields, various forms of safety partitions and hand sanitizing stations.
We have helped a number of clients with these products. We have also continued to make banner stands and other safety-focused graphics for the safe return of restaurants, retail, banks, schools and other institutions.
The good news is that trade shows/fairs are making a comeback in Europe. In Berlin a few weeks ago, IFA, the biggest consumer electronics show outside the U.S., opened with a much smaller pool of exhibitors along with an online, hybrid component. Hopefully, this is a dress rehearsal for what will be a broader resumption of shows in the not too distant future.
In July, a U.S. group, led by Alliance Nationwide Exposition, held the Together Again Expo in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center. The expo featured a live show floor as well as a virtual component. According to the show organizers, there were over 1500 in-person attendees and several thousand who visited via web. The event offered an example of what could be accomplished and a glimpse of how future events might look. Also, according to show organizers, because of best practices for social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions, including taking temperatures, there have been no reports of virus spread because of the event. Sounds like the start of a good Plan B. Another expo is planned for October in Dallas.
In other industry updates, a recent webinar, hosted by the Exhibitor Appointed Contractors Association (EACA) quoted facility managers from McCormick Place in Chicago, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando and the Las Vegas Convention Center indicating traditional trade shows will not return until after the first of the year. This is more a reflection of IL and NV restrictions on gatherings (less than 50 people), than of convention center preparedness. The Orange County Convention Center reported they still have 12 smaller, mostly consumer based events scheduled for 2020.
The webinar was informative and demonstrated that the industry as a whole, is ready, willing and able to return to live meetings and events, once we get a handle on the spread of the disease, and individual states begin to ease restrictions on gatherings.
So, after all these months, what is your Plan B? Here is mine: while still maintaining our regular office hours, production of new projects and updates slowed considerably. So I’ve found more time to visit with friends and family (while social distancing), experience some different bike trails, learn new skills (like how to install a metal roof - that’s a whole other blog) and volunteer more. Much of our population was struggling before the pandemic and now are finding it even more of a challenge. If you are able and have the time, you are needed now more than ever. Pitching in to help where you can is always a good Plan B.
The rest of my Plan B involves social distancing, wearing a mask in public and making sure I wash my hands. If it helps us all get back to Plan A, I’ll do whatever it takes.
Speaking of Plan A, some clients have indicated they may be planning smaller, private events and starting to update existing properties in anticipation of 2021 shows. All good news and we are here to help. As I mentioned, Prairie is maintaining regular office hours and is here to handle your requests. Hope to hear from you soon!