CEO of the ARENA CS event agency Yana Matviychuk – about the impact of the war on the Ukrainian event planning market prospects, and prerequisites for the recovery of the industry.
Endurance tests for the event industry have not been ended. First, we had to adapt to the realities of life in the conditions of a pandemic, and now we have to conduct activities in wartime. Full-scale war and events seem incompatible. Indeed, many agencies are forced to completely or temporarily suspend their activities, and some change their profile or join volunteer activities. Despite everything, it is still too early to put an end to the Ukrainian event sphere.
The market has lost 80% of its potential
After the outbreak of full-scale war, the events market predictably began to shrink rapidly, and by spring it was almost completely suspended. There is currently no accurate statistical estimate of losses in this industry, but according to my observations, the event industry market has fallen by no less than 80%.
Many companies left the market, many event specialists left Ukraine. Those of them who remained turned their organizational skills and ability to find creative solutions into volunteer activities.
These two fields have a lot in common: you need to work under stressful conditions, find anything and anywhere in a short time, and build complex logistics schemes. Constantly solving non-standard problems is precisely the competence of a specialist in the event field. Therefore, many companies and specialists with experience in organizing events joined the evacuation of people, the purchase of goods for the military, and the delivery of humanitarian goods.
The ARENA CS team does not stand aside either. At first, we concentrated on working with people we had contact with before. Through their mediation, we helped individual units of ground defense and the Armed Forces. Later, when the situation began to stabilize, the work acquired a systemic character. Our achievement was the creation of the Women’s Aid International charitable foundation, which specializes in helping vulnerable segments of the population: forced migrants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
We adapt to new realities
With the beginning of the pandemic, the ARENA CS event agency had to abandon established formats of offline work: conferences, seminars, training, etc. Before “COVID” times, 70 managers in the three offices implemented 2,500+ projects annually. We usually planned dozens of events simultaneously.
In 2020, the event industry experienced its first major upheaval. Many young companies could not adapt to quarantine restrictions and left the market. For ARENA CS and other experienced agencies, the main task was to maintain a team of key specialists, it was no longer about profits.
The main areas of work for us during the pandemic have become the organization of online events and volunteer assistance to medical institutions. There was a demand for various online events in the social, educational, and charitable spheres among our clients, so we had to get “digitalized” quickly and continue working in a new format.
With the start of the mass vaccination campaign, the market began to revive. It became possible to organize offline events for vaccinated participants. Already at the beginning of 2022, we learned how to combine live meetings with large-scale broadcasts successfully, and most events were held in a hybrid format. This trend is also observed at the international level: according to research, 76% of event organizers call online events a promising area of work.
Returning to work was undoubtedly gratifying. At the PMHUB Talk 2022 industry conference in February, leading event professionals were full of optimism. Thus, Dmytro Sydorenko (Atlas Agency) aimed to make the ATLAS Weekend festival the largest in Europe and planned to hold it on Muromets Island instead of VDNG. According to Volodymyr Nechiporuk (Ukrainian Fashion Week), the phygital format (online and offline symbiosis) should become another standard tool for fashion shows.
However, the predicted revival of the market did not take place: during the war, the acquired schemes of working in limited conditions became insufficient. The team retention strategy didn’t work either: companies (including ARENA CS) failed to fully retain the team. Some specialists went abroad, and the rest could not find full-time work. All market participants meet the same situation.
War is not a reason to give up
I adhere to the following principle: while waiting for favorable conditions for effective business, one should spend energy and time for the good of society. This allows you to keep your self-efficiency and help the victims.
But the most important thing is to feel that life goes on and people don’t give up. For event organizers who are used to constant working activity, a results-oriented approach, and full control over processes, the worst thing is suspension and complete uncertainty about the future. And providing help to those in need allows preserving your own psycho-emotional state.
In the summer, the market stopped stagnating, and the problem of a lack of qualified specialists even began to emerge. The number of requests from clients has started to increase, but many experienced event organizers have not yet returned from abroad.
Therefore, ARENA CS set itself the task of creating a new “dream team”. We invite ambitious people without work experience in our field. They learn system work, horizontal planning, and other skills from scratch with us. It is the culture of freedom and responsibility that has become the foundation that has allowed our agency to endure and survive the crisis.
Event formats: recovery and transformation
Many obstacles to restoring activity in the event planners’ market will remain actual until the end of the war. We can observe the decline in business activity in almost all of our potential clients. Part of the territories is temporarily occupied. There are not enough shelters for offline events. There is also a lack of human resources.
At the same time, we can say that the demand for organizing social, charitable, educational, and educational events remains at a high level. Considering the security situation, we plan them in an online or offline format. The offline format now has its own specifics: such events are now held either at the venues equipped with shelters or in the shelters themselves. But such sites are scarce even in Kyiv. Our team has already reviewed the event in shelters.
Currently, I can name the following types of events that have become especially popular this year:
- “Thank you” events, where people show gratitude to those who defend us and eliminate the consequences of enemy attacks — units of the Armed Forces, the State Emergency Service, and other services;
- various charitable actions to spread the truth about the war in Ukraine in the international information space;
- fundraising volunteer-initiated events to raise funds to support the army and finance social projects.
In general, in the industry, we are observing a gradual recovery of event formats that were practiced before the crisis. Thus, the SoftServe company organized events in shelters in eight cities in Ukraine, where participants discussed various technical and business topics. More than 500 guests attended this meeting, and 94,000 people watched the online broadcast. More than 60% of the audience was Haitians,
Also, during all the months of the war, the sector of private events showed the smallest decline. We see that despite everything, Ukrainians continue to celebrate weddings, christenings, engagements, birthdays, and anniversaries.
So while corporate parties and concerts are postponed until better times, projects for organizing private, professional, and social events are enough to keep the business afloat.
What awaits the industry: the future is in the development of national culture
I am sure that the market will start to grow rapidly after our Victory. First of all, festive events will be in demand. Among them are Victory parades in all cities of the country, and expressions of gratitude to those who brought this day closer: The Armed Forces, Territorial Defence Forces, DSNS, energy workers, and medical doctors. I can also predict the big number of requests from the corporate sector to hold events for their clients and employees, with whom they have experienced the most difficult times together.
After the end of the grueling war, the question arises: which sources are available for the reconstruction of the country? I believe that if politicians give preference to the principles of democracy, economic freedom, tolerance, and inclusiveness over populism when carrying out radical transformations in Ukraine, we will become a country attractive for international investments. So better times for the event industry are yet to come.
However, completely shifting responsibility for the reconstruction of our country to partners is a losing strategy in advance. It’s the right time to abandon the practice of working “for the tick”. It is worth concentrating on solving strategic and effective tasks and attracting specialists. We don’t need “dog handlers” to manage the cinema industry, we need responsible professionals to do their job.
The image of Ukraine in the world community depends on us. I mean the need to create an authentic cultural space, which will primarily be reflected in mass culture – the cinema, theater, literature, art exhibitions, high art, and multimedia projects. Only in this way, we will be able to show the world the true invincible spirit of our country and lay another brick in building equal relations with other states.
Currently, the question of national identity is emerging among Ukrainians, and interest in the history and culture of Ukraine is growing. Through awareness of our own uniqueness, we will be able to tell the world about ourselves, be interesting to other countries, and take a worthy place among successful democratic states. To achieve this ambitious goal, it is necessary to develop national culture and conduct various activities throughout the country. This niche has great potential already today.
I am convinced that the experience of our team will be useful in this area. Therefore, we do not waste time and work on projects that can be implemented after our Victory.
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