Meeting Spotlight recently spoke with Mike Ferreira, owner and founder of Meetings Made Easy, a global site selection and meeting/virtual event services company. We discussed what business has been like during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and how it will change going forward for the company that celebrates its fourth anniversary in January 2021.
How has your segment of the industry changed since March?
Our clients' events and meetings changed drastically when the pandemic started in March in the United States. We went from booking clients RFPs at hotels around the globe to almost immediately assisting them with virtual meeting services all around the world. I have never seen anything like this in my 20-year career. We assisted all 300 of our clients with their cancellation calls with hotels to ensure their financial liability was eliminated or we worked with the hotel to rebook the event at no cost to our client.
What are some trends you have seen in recent months? Do you think these trends will last? How are you adjusting to those trends?
We went from seeing all our clients' putting on virtual events from March to the present day but now we're seeing an increase in RFP activity ever since Labor Day Weekend in September. As society learns about the virus, I feel that hotels and event planners are starting to understand that we can put on safe events. I just recently had a client put on a 75-person event in Cancun. The attendees were very happy, safe and my client's organization is moving forward with live, in-person events throughout all of 2021.
As a company, we know that virtual meetings will take place in Q4 2020, but we believe that hybrid events will be the "new normal" in 2021. We see a large amount of the clients we represent moving in this direction. There's a consensus that virtual events can reach a broader audience but there's nothing like in-person events. We are very excited about the future at MME.
How has your businesses adapted to the new normals?
We have a Digital Marketing & Social Media Division, which quickly transformed into our Virtual Event Services Division. We were able to quickly assist our clients with taking their live events virtual, which has been a huge success. As we go into the new year, we understand that flexibility in this "new normal" environment is key and we can assist our clients with all their event needs which is our primary goal. We know that some clients will not be able to have live in-person events until there's a vaccine or they're allowed to travel and that's OK. Our primary goal is to always exceed our clients' expectations anywhere around the globe, in-person or virtually.
Have you used this time to develop new strategies for the future? If so, what have you developed?
Yes, we have learned a lot and developed great strategies when it comes to our clients' events now. We built an entire Virtual Event Services Division just for virtual events. We understand that virtual events are more than just picking the perfect technology platform—there's a whole process event planners have to go through now to put on virtual events. You need an event producer, moderator, a technology solution and a digital event strategy plan in place just to ensure a successful event.
We understand that to be able to contract any hotel anywhere in the world when it comes to live events that flexibility is invaluable when it comes to attrition, force majeure and cancellation clause. If a hotel isn't flexible with their contracting terms, it will most likely lose out on booking business during these times. We understand that our event planner clients have different needs now. They are being tasked with putting on virtual, hybrid and socially distanced events all while we are in a pandemic. I would also recommend that any event professional get certified by PCMA in Digital Event Strategy (DES). It has greatly helped our organization with strategizing virtual services in the future.
How are you structuring your meeting strategy moving forward in terms of virtual events vs. in-person events?
We expect around half of our clients to move forward with virtual events in 2021. We know that not everyone feels that it's safe to put on live in-person events, so we have to be prepared for any situation. The hotels must ensure the safety of their guests by having their safety guidelines and procedures in place. This is a very serious situation to be in because we are talking about people's lives. If we want to move forward as an industry, we need to ensure all precautions are taken and the best resources/services are available to our clients. We must ensure our clients' hotel contacts have limited financial liability, that their virtual events produce a valuable ROI, and that their overall organizational goals are met through their events. It is a challenging time for third-party companies, but evolution is part of life and it's a fun time to learn and grow.
Is there is anything more you wish to add that you feel would enhance our audience’s understanding of the situation?
The best advice I could give any event planner out there is to understand the goals of your event and what direction you want to it in.