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Working With Live Event Agencies - Pandemic Edition


During this past year we’ve worked with a lot of live event agency leaders to help navigate this incredibly challenging time. We wanted to share a number of observations from our work:

  • Last Spring we suggested that Gumby serve as a role model as flexibility was going to be required for success (http://bit.ly/2OdRkJp). You took it to heart as we saw agencies be far more resilient than they even imagined they could be. Congrats and consider putting a Gumby on your desk as a reminder of what you’re capable of because being flexible in our business is never a bad idea;

  • You moved fast to make difficult cost reduction decisions which provided breathing space early on, resulted in better than expected profitability for 2020 and has made hitting, and maybe even beating, ‘21’s goal achievable. All of this confirms that paying attention to the numbers and the story they tell is a must. Some folks hadn’t been listening or looking before, and we hope this lesson isn’t forgotten as things improve;

  • Agencies who quickly articulated a virtual offering through social media, on their website and in conversations won the day. There may have been some “faking it ‘til we make it,” but they provided the leadership clients needed, and in many cases knocked off incumbent agencies who had stumbled;

  • There was more agency switching than we thought likely: we imagined clients staying with agencies who knew them, but some incumbents gave their clients a reason to look around and the clients liked what they saw;

  • There was a lot of just-in-time learning: about platforms, program structure, audience engagement, changes to work flow, pricing and client education and expectation management. We were impressed with the agency who diligently debriefed after every program in order to adapt their processes quickly to be better for the next one;

  • Agencies had a lot of “kicking-the-tires” discussions with prospects about platforms and how to produce virtual that led nowhere. The key has always been to produce good, effective storytelling. When done right, the platform makes little difference;

  • And during these discussions, agencies often ignored their own qualifying processes, thus spending a lot of time supporting client discovery missions with little to show for it. Getting to a contracting conversation faster, through offering a development phase or something similar, will help you find out who’s serious;

  • For production and creative agencies, virtual provided an opportunity to be profitable doing smaller programs than they usually would produce: projects were people-intensive and the cost of the platform was lower than the 3rd party technology cost for a live event;

  • That said, to do it well, virtual event creative and production budgets weren’t lower than live event budgets – the line item values were just different and the total was usually the same or higher. Effective virtual has proven to be more labor-intensive, requiring more detail and far more content management than most live events. Some of this can be attributed to fully remote teams, but some of it is just the way it is;

  • As always, and even more so now that agencies have down-sized, freelancers are in demand and freelancers who are fluent in virtual are really in high demand, but….

  • …we’ve yet to speak with a live event person – staff or freelance - who now says, “I just want to do virtual.” Everyone misses being in the room;

  • And with a few exceptions, virtual events aren’t followed by wrap parties with margaritas - you’re on your own for cocktails! We need to find a replacement for the sense of team success that we’ve all come to love with live events.


We’re happy to feel an increased optimism that things will improve this year, and to learn that some agencies are already helping their clients plan in-person events for Q3 and Q4. It’s not over yet and the landscape will continue to evolve, but we’re also happy everyone’s been Gumby. It’s good being green.

Tonic Consulting Group works with live event agencies and related companies providing the insights, expertise and direction necessary to create enduring competitive advantage. We work with leaders to build new pathways to growth, create high-performing operations and develop companies people love working for.

©2021 by Tonic Consulting Group, LLC. Chicago / New York