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SISO Virtual Town Hall: Small Business Perspectives

ATLANTA – Three event organizers shared perspectives on how their business models are changing and what’s ahead for fall 2020 and beyond in an April 28 webinar presented by the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO). Moderated by SISO Executive Director David Audrain, the webinar focused on the experiences and concerns of the society’s Small Business Special Interest Group.
In addition to the show organizers, there were four other panelists, each offering perspectives on different topics, including event cancellation insurance and legal issues such as force majeure. Key points from these panelists will be highlighted in a separate news article. Here’s a recap of what the show organizers had to say.
Experimenting with new approaches to face-to-face events: Directors of food and beverage and sommeliers are key attendees for a September wine event organized by Fast Forward Events. However, given this community’s economic pain — part of the widespread layoffs in the hospitality industry — Fast Forward Events has come up with a hybrid-type gathering instead, said the company’s Owner and Partner, Michelle Metter. There will be a virtual meeting, as well as 10 connected sites around the country, where small groups (practicing appropriate social distancing) will be able to sample and learn about brand products. Attendees will be asked to pay what they can, Metter said. “By focusing on community first, we’ve created a lot of good will,” she said. “Sponsors are really coming onboard.”
Rethinking staff roles: With the ban on large gatherings, MAD Event Management had to furlough employees “until we can turn it back on for live events,” said the company’s President, Martha Donato. When her team is back on board, Donato said she’s looking to collaborate with other small event firms to help each other out with event staffing needs. “This might end up being a silver lining of this pandemic,” she said.
Fast Forward Events was able to enroll in the Paycheck Protection Program (part of the Small Business Administration’s emergency loan program), and as a result has retained a staff of 14 on its payroll. “Event production is our DNA, but during this time when we can’t do live events, we’re looking at other ways our team can generate revenue, including consulting and content marketing,” Metter said.
Q3 and Q4 Events: Phil McKay, President and CEO of nGage Events, LLC, which produces invitation-only, hosted business summits, said that only one sponsor wanted money back for an event that was cancelled in the spring and moved to the fall. Others agreed to push the money forward to the next event, he said. “We’re still getting attendance and signing sponsors contracts [for fall events]. We can’t push September events further — they are our fall events. I think if we open up correctly, we will be OK, but [with all the uncertainty] it’s anybody’s guess.”
Fast Forward Events produces a major festival in November in California. “Right now it’s a challenging and complicated scenario. We are locked into a contract with our hotel partner and our attrition clause is pretty significant. The event is typically a large tourism draw, and we receive sponsorship dollars from the city. That has gone away. So we’re really facing down the barrel of not being able to meet our performance expectations — if the event can even go through. Right now we’re unpacking the situation, as many event organizers are, and delaying a bit to make sure we see this play out to our potential best advantage for possible cancellation.”
To view this SISO Town Hall webinar, click here. The next SISO webinar will be on May 7, featuring Stephen Carter, Group CEO of Informa plc. The SISO Summer Conference is still scheduled for August 11-13 at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas. SISO is offering expanded programming at the conference and complimentary registration for SISO members.
Reach David Audrain at (404) 334-4585 or; Martha Donato at (845) 545-0638 or; Michelle Metter at (619) 312-1212 or; and Phil McKay at (603) 785-5510 or

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