Pivot, plan, prepare, pre-empt: Advice from a Queensland event manager

"It’s not business as usual by any stretch of the imagination."

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease and Queensland gets back to business, one leading event manager says adopting a ‘business as usual’ mindset will be a big mistake.

According to Wendy Lacey from TLC Events Co, while events will play a key role in rebuilding communities, they must be organised with “care and knowledge”.

Queensland event manager Wendy Lacey
Wendy Lacey

“It’s absolutely vital that event managers, and everyone included in staging events, pivot, plan, prepare and pre-empt all possible scenarios to ensure their event is safe in every way,” she says.

TLC Events Co are behind some of the state’s most popular events and activations, including Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, Fish Lane Festival, Paniyiri Greek Festival and Eat Street Markets, which was forced to adapt during COVID-19.

The team developed a successful drive-through concept at Eat Street, which ran over three weekends while the venue remained closed.

“Feedback shows that people found the ability to drive through the venue was part of the excitement, and it generated lots of social media as a unique experience,” said Lacey.

“The operational planning for this concept was equally important, thinking about the consumer and their experience. How can we keep them entertained from the moment they enter? How can we manage queuing and wait times? How many staff at each location to ensure every stage is streamlined?”

Paniyiri Festival 2019

One unsafe event could be the undoing

The Queensland event manager says the industry must remember it only takes one unsafe gathering to threaten a state’s COVID-19 status.

“Everyone is keen to see the industry come back and is hungry for work, but potentially jeopardising the event returning in the future is a big no,” says Lacey.

“Staging events from now on calls for careful consideration of financials, increased resources will be needed, teams will need additional training, attendance levels will most likely be less or spread over more days, investment will be needed in digital technology, programming will need an innovative rethink.

“Every plan, method and protocol used pre-COVID needs resetting. It’s not business as usual by any stretch of the imagination.”

Here, Lacey shares her top tips for planning events in 2020 and beyond:

  1. Stay current and updated with all government information on COVID planning for events in 2021 – it is ever-changing and it’s important during planning that you are developing ideas that are compliant.
  2. Restrictions will continue to change for some time, so it is important to create several scenarios for clients, such as working on different layouts or different entertainment formats for the event.
  3. Integration of digital technology – make cashless payments available at every outlet onsite and introduce options for online ticketing only.
  4. Increased resources may be required to manage the COVID requirements – ensure you understand how this will financially impact the viability of the event, in conjunction with less attendance numbers.
  5. Adequate training of staff, particularly around COVID requirements – most of these procedures are new, so extra time and care needs to be allocated to ensure everyone understands their responsibility.
  6. Patrons need to have a clear idea of what to expect once they arrive. Marketing of what is on offer and how the event will be proceeding is extremely important to manage these expectations.
  7. Developing innovative programming ideas and collectively re-thinking what makes the event unique and why people are attending is crucial. Creating more boutique experiences that draw on those key components will be important in keeping people loyal.
  8. We believe events that will run as ‘digital only’ may struggle unless we go back to a lockdown situation. However, including a digital element for those who cannot attend is an exciting new option. Any digital aspects of an event need to be well rehearsed and engaging to keep people’s attention. Without strong marketing of all concepts, we don’t believe experiences will work – if people don’t know about something, they won’t attend/engage whether it be virtual or in real life!

Looking ahead

Lacey predicts 2021 will be an entirely different year again.

“We believe a number of events will decide to not proceed and others will introduce different offerings,” she says.

“Until we have a COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence starts to rebuild, some people will decide to not to attend larger gatherings, particularly older demographics.

“If that is your target market, then work is needed on creating offerings on a smaller scale where people feel comfortable.”

Christmas Parade 2019

The event manager says regional destinations in Queensland and beyond should take advantage of their unique selling points as an event location.

“People are looking for locations and events to attend without the mass crowds, and those who typically head overseas throughout the year are now on the search for amazing domestic experience,” she says.

“Now is the time for regional Queensland events to shine.”

More reading

Border update: Where you can and can’t travel in Australia right now
Queensland’s first COVID-safe expo hailed a success
Crystalbrook Collection takes over boutique Brisbane hotel

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