Staying Afloat During Corona

Teeg Stouffer | AAEP Co-Founder

We are now hosting "Leadership Livestreams" every other Tuesday at 9AM Pacific / 12PM Eastern on AAEP Facebook Live. What began as a weekly expert panel answering your questions on how to stay afloat during the Corona Crisis has developed into a powerful career development series. See an archive of past livestreams here.

We've also created a free resource, Money Help For Event Professionals, with help on how Event Professionals can reduce expenses and increase income, where we'll curate articles as we find them, so the page will update often.

Toy Boat

[Original Article: March 2020]

I'm from Iowa, and if you've ever been through the Midwest, you have seen seas of corn as far as your eyes can see.

It's just field after field after field of corn  and I can remember growing up, and even in recent years, there are these tough years where those fields of corn are covered with water. Thousands of acres, transformed by floods. The entire crop is lost. How devastating that is for those farmers!

It’s a tough time in the Experiential Marketing industry right now because of COVID-19. Events are canceling like crazy from this Coronavirus thing, and you know, it's sort of like we are experiencing what the farmers experience in those flood years.

I think about what it might have been like if you were a newspaper writer in the 1990s – if writing for a paper is how you made your living – all or part of it – what about now? Over the last 20-some years, people just don't read the newspapers much any more. Hundreds of newspapers have gone out of business, and the ones that are still around don't have near as many writers in the newsroom as they used to.

What we are going through in the Experiential Marketing business right now is much more like what the farmers have gone through and much less like what newspaper writers have gone through.

Here’s why: because people need food. Those farmers  the next year after the flood year – their fields are covered in corn again, because we still need food. In that same way, people are not saying “I'll never go to an event again.” 

SXSW is coming back next year. Coachella and the New York Auto Show and NCAA March Madness  all of these events aren't gone forever.

Our industry has been growing, and it will continue to grow. 

This is just a flood. It's a blip in the radar  and one that has grown significantly in recent days. We are going to bounce back from this! It's not like newspapers. Newspapers aren't going to upswing, and if you lost your job at a paper, now you need to find something else to do.

If you're in the event business, we are more like farmers during a flood, and we just need to stay afloat until these waters recede. This is going to last a short time, but everything will go back to normal.

So the question is – how do you stay afloat? How do you make sure that you're one of the ones who bounces back? During catastrophic flood years, some farmers DO lose their farms, and another farmer buys out that land.

Staying afloat takes three things: faith, hard work, and smart decisions.

Those three things will ensure that you can weather the storm.

The faith thing means staying positive.

It means having faith whatever that looks like for you. It might mean having faith in yourself that you're gonna make it. Speaking for myself, my personal faith is what carries me through pretty much all the hard times I've ever encountered in my life. I wouldn't be where I am without it. 

You know the other thing it takes? It takes hard work.

You know what happens to a farmers field when it floods? If it was a big, flat field covered in nice rich soil that was really good at growing corn, a flood dumps a ton of sand and rock into those fields. Sometimes the currents totally reshape the field, creating gullies and creeks in what was a smooth, flat field. Farmers have to go out there with bulldozers and they have to move that sand off before they can re-plant. Sometimes they have to load that sand into dump trucks and cart away. That's all a lot of work, and if you look at what's happening in the event industry right now, and you're like, “Well, I guess I'll just spend the next few months on the couch,” you might not make it.

To stay afloat, you're gonna have to do work, just like that farmer has to go do all the work of restoring his fields. You might have to do different kinds of work. You might have to do extra work. But definitely don't do nothing. Don't just wait for something to happen. You need to get to work.

The final thing is we need to make smart decisions.

Decisions like: I'm going to go to work today. I'm not just gonna be depressed and sit on my couch and scroll on my phone and post memes.

You need to make smart decisions like – I'm not going to be isolated. During this time like when tragedy strikes, do you want to be out there in the flood all alone, or you wanna be surrounded by the best of the best? Get great people around you, and win together.

The gigs that are out there, they’re going to get more competitive, because we have the same number of staff, and at the moment, fewer opportunities. How are you going to set yourself apart? 

I asked our partners at Fusion Event Staffing about what they're seeing and hearing.

"The virus and event cancellations are certainly important topics of discussion,” said Jane Gentry of Fusion, “Event organizers are doing their best to monitor the situation and manage concerns giving priority to attendee well-being. Thankfully, the risk of contracting the virus continues to remain low as we all adhere to the directives given, such as washing our hands regularly. We're working closely with our client partners to manage plans and communicate with our Ambassadors to navigate their concerns in hopes our event programs continue as planned."

This is going to blow over, but in the meantime, how will you make some money and stay financially afloat?

The COVID-19 scare is making people nervous about being in public places, so delivery services are about to see a big spike in business. Jump on that. Door Dash, UberEats, InstaCart – they’re going to need workers, fast.  It's an election year and a census year, so there are a lot of work opportunities there. 

You might also need to get yourself a part time job. It doesn’t have to be a new career – just a part time job to keep cash rolling in. Across the economy, unemployment is low. There are joe-jobs out there that you can get temporarily to stay afloat.

If you have recurring expenses like loans, contact your lender now and request deferred payment. It's much better to negotiate that now then when your balances come due. Many lenders have payment deferral programs in place already.

And reduce your expenses, immediately. There are seasons where you throw out the heel on a loaf of bread and seasons where you eat the heel. This is a season where you eat the heel. It's a season for drip coffee at home and not fancy coffee shop lattes. You can stretch your money a few months by being thrifty and smart. 

So keep the faith. Make smart decisions. And get to work.

This is a tough moment in our industry, but we are resilient people. We're problem solvers, and we're overcomers. Think about all the insane challenges that we have to overcome in the Experiential Events business! Think of the crazy variety and number and pressure behind all the things that we overcome every day, just doing what we do! We've got this, guys - let's keep the faith, let's keep making smart decisions, and let's get to work.

MEMBER EXCLUSIVE: Access our training resource on staying healthy: 10 Health Hacks for Event Professionals