When our industry grounded to a halt.

2019 was my busiest year to date with repeat projects, new projects, a firsthand insight into union labour in San Francisco even.. All was going swimmingly smoothly and 2020 was more or less all mapped out. Then Covid-19 appeared far far away at first, reported on the news but with no major sense of urgency for us in Europe. 

At the end of January social distancing was not a concept that anyone would imagine becoming part of everyday life as I walked around a 15,000+ people event in Barcelona. It was held one last time at the Fira Barcelona, which now hosts a temporary hospital, in a similar way as ExCel London is now one of the Nightingale hospitals. It seems unreal when only a few months back I was navigating through the halls of ExCel with a team of photographers and videographers and thousands of conference attendees.

We started February still fairly oblivious to what was really about to hit us. I picked up a project filming trains and people working with trains – which was so insightful and interesting. During pre-prod we heard of industry peers being told to drop their tools as they were just starting to set up one of Europe’s largest annual event in Barcelona. That was a big deal. And there was no avoiding the feeling that things were about to change. The notion of herd immunity was all over the news here in the UK however, so we continued business as usual. By the end of February we were filming on location around the UK, in busy train stations, on busy trains, at Gatwick airport even. Not yet grasping what was around the corner.

In March, we started editing. Simultaneously I was working with hotels in Düsseldorf for an event in May. By then, the idea of travelling to central London – or anywhere really – had become uncomfortable, so home working had become the norm for all, and it didn’t disturb me much as I do most of my pre and post from my home office. My first May event was cancelled by the organisers and postponed to 2021, so we worked frantically with our fabulous contacts at the Düsseldorf hotels to negotiate new contracts before the city shut down. 10 days later on 23 March, the UK went into confinement. Cancellations started to cascade, another May event, a June one postponed to December. All work stopped. Soon after, August, October and November work disappeared in a puff of smoke as the respective event websites announced the physical events were cancelled and going digital instead. 

0010Photography by Alick Cotterill

By April we had no other choice but to furlough, the future looking bleak. On a personal note, Easter was marked by the death of my grandmother who lost her fight against the virus, she had been planning to celebrate her 100th birthday with us all in the summer. So that month was a dark time both on a human and economic level for so many. But April also showed us the best of humanity: from events teams and army building temporary hospitals in record times, to people at local levels volunteering to help those in need, teachers re-inventing school lessons so that our children could carry on learning while the country had come to a stand still, and all other essential workers making it possible for our society to keep going. We are forever grateful. 

I feel strongly that May will be a better month for everyone and I trust I will be able to adapt to the new – and of a more virtual nature – short term requirements in our industry, until we are in a position to interact face-to-face again in some way, as there are no substitute for in person interaction.

 

2018 highlights

Reporting my daily going-ons online is not something I excel at so I thought I could pick out and share my 2018 highlights instead. I feel so very blessed to work in our industry : I am so often surrounded by the most talented experts in such a variety of fields that there are always opportunities to learn and to share knowledge too. 

2018 started with a favourite..

..my 16th Cisco Live since 2000. We returned to Barcelona after 10 years but to a much larger venue than back then as the event has grown so much. It feels good to still be a trusted member of the production team after all these years, to witness the evolution of this annual customer conference first-hand and play my part, working with clients and teams who push hard to find and implement the most innovative ways to enhance the delegate experience.

New destination coup de coeur..

2018 saw a few firsts. Working in New Orleans was a first, and what a wonderful experience.

The city boasts a formidable and lively French Quarter and contrasting Warehouse District, each with fabulous culinary delights. A personal favourite is The Butcher on Tchoupitoulas Street, check it out if you can.. and if you are not a vegetarian I suppose!

The event was a finance conference at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, conveniently located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Some of the many local staff hired for the occasion shared a little bit of their life story which were dramatically altered by Hurricane Katrina, yet they showed so much positivity, kindness and strength that it was impossible not to be inspired by them all.

The winner of the ‘new’ goes to..

.. Las Vegas! All my ‘new’ boxes got ticked : a new destination, a new venue, a new client, a new agency and a new event. A large digital signage project with a twist as the core team was based mainly in the US West Coast but also on the East Coast and in London. This meant adapting working hours and using online tools more to ensure communication was optimum, content created, reviewed, signed off and scheduled effectively.

Technology has gone a long way in a short amount of time and I doubt this would have been so smooth or even possible when I started in the industry in the late 90s.

Continued involvement with the GDUK community

Photography by Alick Cotterill

Once again we supported the charity with the production of its 4th Leadership Symposium and Champion of Hope Awards evening. Each year, I get a further reality check on the challenges faced by the families of individuals affected by a genetic disorders. I am blown away by the determination and dedication of the many small charity leaders in this community and I have nothing but deep admiration for them all.

Another first for me was a half marathon walk fundraising for Genetic Disorders UK around what turned out to be a rather wet London! This experience was full of positives, as not only did I raise £567.50 thanks to the generosity of my friends, colleagues and ‘gift aid’, but I also shed a few pounds in the process!

For the 2nd time also, we supported the CGD Society with the production of their family conference which takes place every 3 years. It was wonderful to see many returning faces and hear some truly positive updates on bone marrow transplant and gene therapy from the medical experts.

Digital signage

A big chunk of the year was spent on digital signage projects, with different  levels of requirements, both in Europe and the USA, in the IT and finance sectors. Three of these projects involved 180+ screens of various sizes which kept me on my toes for a period of time.

A fabulous year taking different approaches with the designers and animators but also with the technical teams and venues and working with really solid content management systems. I look forward to the next one, which is only a few weeks away now.

Le French package

I don’t get to work on many French-speaking events. The last time had been a few years back, producing a dental health conference at Le Louvre with a group of French-speaking scientists – the photos of tooth decay and gum diseases they included in their PowerPoint is forever embedded in my brain..

When I was offered to use my mother tongue on a French pharma packaging event at Paris Expo, I jumped at the opportunity and braved the snowy weather. It was something quite different, with front line contact with attendees, and I learnt that little bit more about sachet, pouch, stick pack, multi-chamber, laminate, film, foil, pvc, tear open, blister and peel! 

2019..

So here we are, a new year with new adventures on the horizon. I look forward to working with the familiar faces that make our industry so great and with the new ones which will bring in new fun, highbrow raising challenges and innovation.

Brexit is round the corner and our industry could be affected pretty heftily – the word carnet keeps popping up.. However, and like everyone else, I am simply not sure what the impact will be.

Here is to keeping optimistic then, I have no doubt 2019 will be a year to remember!

Bonjour..

Once upon a time in 1997, the seasoned traveler that I was, settled in South West London from my native France and I made my debut in the event industry, client side, on very exciting British hair & beauty exhibitions and award ceremonies. A couple of years on, I seized the opportunity to move agency side where all the magic happens, and broadened my skills and experience on some amazing event management, production and video projects, all over the globe, for leading IT, pharma and FMCG brands and award winning experiential event agencies.

In the past 10 years I have successfully delivered a variety of projects through my own company, with long standing clients and with new clients, large corporate events and small charity events, in London and all over the world, as a freelance team member and with my own team of trusted experts. As one with the client team, always.

2017 marks 20 years of incredible and varied experiences with incredible industry experts, driven thought leaders and people who generally make a difference. An anniversary is a marvelous excuse for a re-brand, so I look fondly back on the past two decades and welcome the next two with open arms!

Esther Williams