The Main Event

We caught up with one of Australia's premier event companies, Team Event, to chat about party planning and the future of events.

Could you please Introduce yourselves and your role in the company?

MF: I'm Mikey Filler. I'm rounder and Managing Director of Team Event. I started the business 21 years ago, and essentially, I'm responsible for running overall strategy and the general direction of the business.

RB: And I'm Rebel Barty. I’m the General Manager at Team Event. I've been with the business coming on 10 years. I oversee a team of about 16 staff, to help produce and execute all of our events, and then I obviously work with Mikey on the broader management and strategy of the business.

So what can you tell us about the business Itself? What's your bread and butter? What sort of events are you specialists in?

MF: Pre COVID or post COVID?

RB: No, even through COVID, I think we're diverse. I don't think we have a niche style of event or type of client. The one thing I would say that connects all of our work is a creative edge to either the concept, or the problem solving, or the outcome of the event. And also, a super premium level of service and execution.

It goes without saying that COVID has been pretty catastrophic to the events Industry. How have you adapted? How are you getting through this? How are you changing the business?

MF: Look, we approached COVID with a very optimistic perspective. We kept, pretty well, our whole team engaged through this and obviously, through the help of JobKeeper and some amazing support from some very long-term clients, and fortunately some new clients that we’ve managed to pick up along the way, we’ve been able to stay engaged.I guess, to use the cliché of 2020, the ‘pivot’ for us has been into the virtual events space. There’s been more conventional, 'conferencey' style of experiences, but then there’s the more tangible virtual experiences that we’ve really been working to create for our clients, which I guess is probably the main point of difference… We’ve been trying to find a way to break the barrier of the screen and make those much more considered, fuller experiences.

Can you give an example on that? Is there a way that you're bringing the physical world into that digital virtual experience?

MF: We've run a series of virtual experiences for a couple of clients that are all about craftsmanship. Working with celebrity chefs, boutique distilleries, florists, signature winemakers ... We’ve created a platform with one of our production suppliers, and guests will log into that platform and have a one-on-one experience. They're really intimate experiences with that personality, with a pack that allows them to participate, either simultaneously or afterwards, using the instructions, information cards, recipe cards… It’s that idea of really making that experience as if they were doing it in a room together.  We’ve tried to make those experiences as full as possible, giving them a forum to chat, and ask questions, and share images of what they’re working on, so they feel like they’re part of a community as well. It’s not just about them feeling like they’re isolated at home.

We've been doing a lot of staff engagement for a lot of our bigger clients as well. They're trying to reach out to their staff that are stuck at home and stuck in isolation, with things like wellness programs, giving them the tools to cope with the stress and those feelings, and I  guess the mental health issues that can potentially come out of isolation. Often, we're still sending along a hamper. We did a conference back in June where at the end we had a comedian come on. We'd sent everyone a pack and said "Don't open this until the end of the day". They came on, we had little pre-batched cocktails we organised through Shorty's, and lovely olives and mixed nuts. And so she went, "Okay, you've all had a little surprise package. Go there, open it up, get the cocktail, pour it into a shaker, shake it up, pour it out. Now everyone's got their drinks in front of them. Who's got Negroni? Who's got an espresso martini?" And then the comedian did her act. She was getting people to give feedback to her - obviously comedians work off that dynamic of a live audience - but finding ways to still connect with the audience in a virtual platform.

We were lucky to have a larger client who adapted a big event, planned before COVID, to smaller groups, spread out over the course of a week. 20 people or so would come throught the event at a time, and experience a product launch. We had a whiskey ambassador tha was there doing whiskey flightsand whiskey tastings in the evenings. A coffee story in the mornings. Live performances, still having the theatrics of a reveal. And we were essentially bringing groups of twenty through, completely COVID safe, with check-ins, and health declarations, and masks, and gloves, and temperature checks, and all that sort of stuff. And then we would clean clothes and clean the venue for an hour in between. And then we rolled that through. So we're still very much finding ways to be able to do what we do. It looks different, obviously. Everything's going to look different for a while. There's no dancing, but I guess we're finding our way through this.

At this time of the year, a lot of people are planning towards their end of the year party. How that's going to look? Obviously it's a bit of a lucky dip in terms of what the restrictions are going to be in any particular city. What would be your advice for how to plan ahead?

RB: My advice would be to work with an excellent event agency that is well-resourced to adapt to the change as it happens. As a business, we love selling a dream and an event concept. But once we've sold it, what we really do is crisis forethought, and management planning, and thinking about anything that could go wrong. Because in events if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. If you have a good wet weather plan, you won't need it. If you don't, you will. Having a scalable, adaptable COVID-safe plan is the new wet weather plan. You just have to have a couple of different plans that range from a physical event to a digital only event to what we call hybrid events. And you've just got to have a sliding scale, and a good team who understand the deadlines in place to help guide a business through that process, and offer them the best advice we can.

And also working with people, I think, who understand that ultimately we're all crystal ball gazing at the moment. There is no hard and fast answer. There's no black and white. One of our clients, we've been running a 350 person Christmas party for five years for them, we've just come up with a plan with four different concepts. Looking at precinct parties, where we'd take over a bigger precinct and run smaller group parties. Or three parties of a hundred people each that are all distanced in bigger precincts. Or going all the way to having something just digital. Or having departments run and manage their own small parties in smaller venues, but with us arranging touchpoints and packaging and a live stream message from the CEO...

When the dust settles, let's say 12 months, 24 months down the track, how do you think the face of the events industry is going to have changed? Is it going to be what it used to be?

MF: Look, I think in the short term, hybrid is going to win out. I think as long as there is a little bit of uncertainty around, people are going to take that slightly more cautious approach to planning these things and finding a way of, I guess, straddling both the lines.. I think you're going to have events where ultimately you're going to need to be able to adapt to a scenario whereby those that aren't comfortable can potentially stream it, or can experience it from home, or find ways to engage with the event on a safer level.

But I think long-term, certainly what we're hearing from clients is that they cannot wait to get back to where things were and the way things were. I mean the number of clients that have said to us, "When this is over, we are throwing one hell of a party." Even a lot of the Christmas parties, we've got some clients that we do national parties for, and they're saying, "It's not really right to do a party in some cities if others can't have one. So look, let's just postpone it to next year. And when we throw one next year, it's going to be bigger than Ben-Hur."

I mean I think it's human nature. We crave human connection. We crave that experience. I think there's only so long that we can continue to live in the virtual world. There's only so long that people are going to be satisfied with living behind a screen. So I think it's going
to be a slow build back. I don't think we're going to click our fingers and find ourselves back to where we were in any great hurry , but I think inevitably we're going to end up back there.

 

One of the things you touched on is that it's in our human nature to connect and interact. That's something that you guys obviously enable as an events company, and something that Shorty's obviously enable as a liquor supplier - that connection between humans and that ability to come together. People are not socialising in the ways that they usually do. Is that something you're hearing from clients?

RB: I think one thing that's happened is the online or Zoom fatigue has really had lots of peaks and troughs. And at the beginning of this, everyone wanted to go digital and thought digital was going to be easy and a great solution. And there was that period of scramble where the energy was high to adapt and change. But once that dropped off, and everyone started getting burned by terrible connections, or badly formatted digital meetings and things, it really changed…

On the other side, we're doing a big digital webinar conference for a business that would never have previously ever come together in one conference, because they're split over four countries, and it would never have been a priority for the business to get them together. But this crisis has meant that several thousand people are so distanced that bringing them together is really important. And
I think that's a nice thing to come out of this - those businesses realising that they do need to bring staff together. And I would hope that they will continue that after COVID in a way that maintains digital connection for people who can't physically be together, but it's also ramming home the importance of that connection.

And I think that it's a really interesting dichotomy between a lot of the press, about us never going back to the office and how offices aren't needed anymore versus these huge companies that are spending a lot of money just to engage their staff because they're so missing that office interaction, and what everyone calls the 'water cooler' talk, the Friday night drinks. Those little things that, once they're taken away, you realise they're the culture of a workplace and the reason you work there. People are looking for ways to engage their staff and get their staff together. And certainly brands we work with are dying for ways to engage with their customers.