The pandemic has caused events to go virtual, be cancelled, be downsized or re-imagined.
But what about the people whose job it is to plan these events? The Times & Transcript asked four New Brunswick event planners in different sectors about how their work has changed under COVID-19 protocols:
Rotary Club of Moncton West & Riverview - marketing chair for Ribfest
“It’s tough,” said Mollins, “No events have happened since the pandemic.”
Ribfest, the biggest event she is responsible for as a Rotarian volunteer, usually raises $60,000 to $70,000 for local charities, but was cancelled this year, she said.
Dealing with the feelings of patrons is really difficult, she said. “People think it's an easy fix, but we did everything possible to make it happen and we couldn’t. People don’t realize the breakdowns of how much you will lose doing a different style of event."
The Rotary Club made a lot of their money on features that alternate formats might not be able to include, such as alcohol sales throughout the day, she said. For obvious reasons, a beer garden can't take place in a virtual or drive-thru type event.
When the main objective of the event is fundraising for community organizations, these details really matter, Mollins said.
Her advice? If organizations are holding on to making an event work during the pandemic, imaging something completely new event might open up possibilities, she said.
Éric Cormier: Director of Acadie Rock
On March 9, Acadie Rock got the news their festival had received funding from Heritage Canada, said Cormier. A couple of days later, the country had changed and gone into a near lock-down.
“The key word is re-invent,” said Cormier, who took the festival online this year, realizing their gatherings which in the past have brought in 8,000 to 10,000 people for a single show, would certainly be unrealistic under pandemic protocols. But the importance of teamwork stayed the same, he said.
He said he was surprised by the high levels of participation in the online festival, even though he said it was hard to sit looking at a computer and comments on social media instead of seeing reactions in-person.
Cormier’s advice? “Trust your team, follow the regulations in place and don’t forget who you are,” he said.
Sackville’s manager of recreation programs and events
Pryde began the pandemic by trying to take some events online, while facing the fact that some couldn’t go ahead. “But as summer progressed, we saw how we could offer some events safely in person,” he said.
The town engaged in practices like pre-registration, contact information collection for contact tracing, designated spaced out seating at events like evening concerts or a scavenger hunt, he said. When you attend concerts in the park, an area is roped off, you're asked the COVID questions, and personnel collect contact information before you take a seat, which are grouped in twos or fours and sanitized after each event, for example.
Pryde said he missed seeing reactions from attendees early on as many events went online, and others that would have likely drawn large crowds like Canada Day events, were cancelled. “You get into this business to build community and put smiles on people’s faces. Not being able to see the product of your work is hard, not seeing those reactions....”
As a member of a number of municipal planner groups sharing ideas, what's the biggest thing he’s learned? “It’s still possible to do things, though they might not look like before. We have options.”
Event Planner - Amber Effect Events
For Richards, a lot of her work has dried up, due to the pandemic, which has made for a difficult few months for her business, she said.
Few requests have come through this year for her event planning services, and in some cases in-person events that have continued in a smaller, virtual way have been done "in-house", she said.
“Bigger events are just not possible,” she said, and several of her usual events contracts fit into this category.
Richards also has concerns for other facets of the events industry that virtual events leave behind, everyone from portable toilet suppliers to sound equipment suppliers and crews, she said.
“Not all events work in a virtual format. But we can certainly be creative with anyone who wants to connect with their audience, their community. There are ways we can make events work,” she said.
Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal