After two challenging years for the events industry, Bishop-McCann’s President and Owner, Rob Adams, discusses lessons learned and how our agency was able to make it through those difficult times. Tune in to hear upcoming trends and innovations for events, along with why Rob feels confident in the event industry’s outlook. Topics include:
- Lessons learned in 2020 and 2021
- How Bishop-McCann was able to overcome the pandemic’s obstacles
- Industry trends for 2022
- Overall events industry outlook
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Hi, and welcome to The Events Experience, where we take a deep dive into everything event planning. I work for Bishop-McCann, an agency devoted to creating JOY through meetings, incentives, and events for big name brands. On this podcast, myself and our company's experts will discuss all things events, so keep listening to hear all about the latest tips and trends for virtual, live, and hybrid events.
Hi, everybody! Today, I am joined by our President and Owner, Rob Adams, who has more than 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur and proven leader. Rob sets strategic direction for Bishop-McCann and has a passion for differentiating the company by leading innovation across the meeting and events industry. In this episode, we'll be talking about the future of the events industry and what trends to expect in 2022 and beyond. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, Rob!
Hey, Brenna, it's good to be here!
So while we'll eventually dive into the future of the events industry, I thought that we could start by discussing what we learned in 2020 and 2021. So what are the lessons that stand out in your mind after making it through two challenging years in which so much has changed?
Wow, there are so many, Brenna, but I think about that question, and it really takes me back to when it all started. You know, we were in February of 2020. We had our entire company together. We had our Bishop-McCann staff retreat, and what I remember about that particular staff retreat is that we were celebrating so much, so many things we'd accomplish. We were presenting essentially a recap of the plan that we had been working on over the years. This was like our moment of all that hard work really coming into play. I remember we also had a guest speaker, and they were talking about trends that we're seeing in our industry. And one of them was this thing called COVID. I think about a few weeks after that, what happened was I got, as I call it, "the call." It was the call that started everything. It was one of our clients who was telling me that they were thinking about canceling one of their programs, and it was within weeks of that that almost 80% of our entire business was gone.
It was right after that that I had our finance team get together, and I wanted to understand what the impact was of what we were seeing happening. So they had done some analysis, and without going into all the detail, I'll just tell you that it wasn't good. I remember someone saying in the meeting, "I'm so sorry," and I just remembered the reaction that I had of, "No, let's not be sorry. This isn't acceptable. We've got to figure out a way." I mean, to give you context during this time, we were a 23-year-old company that had been through so much. You know, the last time that we went through something (I can't even say it's similar), but something where it was tough for our industry was during the Great Recession, where a lot of agencies had to let people go. We were hiring. So this was the first time that as a company, we had ever felt something so significant. One of things that I always say is that sometimes crisis can be a gift. Now I will tell you that if you would have told that to me on that day that I saw those numbers, I would have told you, "This is not the right time to be telling me that." But it is true. We had to really think about what were those decisions that we had to make in order to survive. As I look at our business today, it's clear that some of those decisions that we made in order to survive turned out to be some of the best decisions that Bishop-McCann has ever made.
You know, Dan and I talk a lot about this concept of head and heart, if you compare that to the "what" and the "how." You know the "what" is the decisions that you have to make; you know, it's the logical piece. And the "how" is what's the intent of how you're going to do it. It's similar to head and heart. It's one of the things I've always admired about Dan; he has a lot of heart. One of the guiding principles that we really wanted to think about is that no matter what happened, we wanted to make sure that we felt that we were doing it the right way. We were using our head with the information that we had in front of us, but also using heart and making sure that we were doing it the right way. So as I think about the biggest lessons that we've learned, it's really all of that. It's using crisis in a way to create opportunity, but also, as you're doing that, making sure that you're mindful of that head and heart concept.
Right. So due to all of these changes we've had to face, many companies were unable to survive this challenging time in the industry. So what unique features of Bishop-McCann allowed our agency to overcome the obstacles of the pandemic and continue to create JOY during this time?
You know, this is a topic that we just spoke about during our leadership team meeting a few weeks ago, and the one that was unanimous - that was top of mind for everybody - it was our people. If you think about what we do, all we have is our people. Our product is our people. I think from the very beginning, for me, I had such confidence that I knew that we had the right team. that our team had the potential to be able to get through whatever came our way. I think part of what made me so proud is just how our team owned it. You know, they owned all the challenges that were coming their way. I'll always remember a call that I had with one of our people. It was right after a big virtual meeting that we had done, and I was just calling her to say "thank you" and what a great job she and the team had done. And she said, "You know why we're doing this, Rob." And I said, "What do you mean?" "We're doing this to save the company." That was something that I really remember, that everyone who was doing this wanted to make sure they were doing it with excellence. They knew that the stakes were high during this process.
As I think about our people, they just took on that entrepreneurial spirit. Everyone in the company was acting like an entrepreneur, and they all knew that in order for us to be able to make it, they had to be agile. They had to think about things in a very different way. And the reality was and, still is today, that we're constantly learning. We have to be open to change every day because every day things are changing.
I think about our clients. We often talk about our clients as an extension of our family. During some of the darkest moments of the pandemic, just hearing the stories of the clients that were calling us just to ask questions like, "How are you guys doing?" Those things meant a lot to our people, but also hearing our people reaching out to our clients. I just really felt that we were there for each other during a tough time.
You know, focus on health and wellness would be another one that I think about. Many people listening to this podcast may not know, but our industry is one of the five most stressful industries that there are. Here's the ironic part. That's been the case for many years, but we as an industry have failed miserably in really addressing something that is a real issue. You know, we did some things during that time. That's when we rolled out unlimited vacation. We wanted to make sure that people could do what they needed to do. So if they had to take the time off to be with family, friends, or whatever is important to them, I wanted to make sure that they had the opportunity to be able to do that. The second part of that was, "What can we do around mental health?" We've been talking about it as an industry, you know, high level. We talk about it, but what we've never done is really give people the tools. What are those tools that we can provide our people that will help them around mental health? So that's when we started using a platform called Journey. That platform, that tool, helped us do things like learning how to meditate, learning tips on how to handle stress, and there's so many more topics. But that was something that I think helped our people. I haven't seen the latest numbers as of this month, but I know that there were some key peaks during that time when almost 90% of our people were using this platform. So I think it really shows that during those times, people are really looking for resources to help around that area.
Then I think that just incorporating fun in a time that we were all meeting virtually. We are in the business of being together, and we have not been able to be together. So trying to incorporate some things to ensure that we're not losing the "who we are” as we're going through these virtual meetings. So, you know, we did some things. Gosh, a couple of examples, we did a town hall where we all had to wear a wig. I'll tell you that I think if I could vote for who was the absolute worst in a wig, it would be myself. But then also incorporating things like music. You know, our Bishop-McCann song, the Whitney Houston "I Want to Dance with Somebody," was played a lot during that time. So again, I just think that what's important is just making sure that when we are going through a difficult time, making sure that we're continuing to have JOY together.
Right. Knowing that we are the JOY creators. That is our brand. That is who we are. It's important not only to provide that for our clients and their attendees but also internally. I just think we do such a great job of keeping things fun while also doing a fantastic job on our programs, so I totally agree. So now let's discuss what events will look like in the future. What do you believe will be the biggest trends and innovations for 2022?
There's so many of them, but let me give you the top three that we're spending a lot of time talking about. The first one is we're talking a lot about the health and safety of attendees, but also just the concentrated conversations that we are hearing from our clients around the emotional well-being of attendees. Companies are starting to talk about giving people the tools to be happy. I mean, just think about that for a moment. That's something that's a new concept. How can you give attendees the tools to be able to make that happen? And I see Bishop-McCann playing a role in that collaboration with our clients and really thinking about how we can be a conduit of that emotional well-being at events. The second one is just thinking about, "How do we maximize the amount of attendees that can experience a meeting or an event?" And “How do we ensure that more people can participate and engage?” whether it's in the traditional way of live or through video capabilities. Virtual does have a place in the future, not in all cases, but certainly where it makes sense.
I do think that I'm hearing more conversations on how we can leverage technology to be able to maximize those experiences. I think that we are seeing technology explode, and I think that virtual was one of the catalysts. There's been so many staggering stats around technology, but the one that I thought was a "wow" stat was that we are expecting in the next two years, technology will grow by over 1,200%. I mean, just a huge number. The last is the focus around learning and development. There are so many organizations that are getting in front of this. But I think the one that is top of mind (and I do have to say, I might be a bit biased on this because, as you know, I'm on the International Board of MPI) but I have been so incredibly impressed from the MPI Academy and how they are really positioning themselves as an industry thought leader that really is thinking through how we're going to be able to elevate our industry and make a significant impact.
So thinking beyond even 2022, what do you think the overall outlook is for the industry? And are you hopeful that we'll get back to pre-COVID strength?
As you look at January and even into February, there definitely was and is an impact of Omicron. I will tell you that I have incredible confidence for the industry and also for the company. The reason why I'm so confident is what I'm hearing from my peers and from our clients. I just got off a call with one of our clients, and they were talking about their confidence with events coming back around mid-March. Also because of all my colleagues on the MPI board and how they feel. There's so many medical experts that are giving their perspective, but I think what I look at is, "What are the majority of them saying?" And the majority of them are saying that they feel like it will become more like a flu after we get through this current phase. You know, you're already seeing some states that are experiencing this plateau. So all that to say, I believe that we'll see pre-pandemic levels coming back in 2023.
That is so great to hear. Well, it seems to me like there's some really exciting things to come for the meeting and events industry. So thank you again, Rob, for joining me today and providing such great insights, and I can't wait to see what this year has to offer for our industry!
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The Events Experience. Don't forget to subscribe to our podcast, and create JOY wherever you go!