Events businesses are the ‘forgotten’ industry who are eager to return to work

They can sometimes be seen as “small fish” when compared to the live event and entertainment industry, but many mid- to low-level corporate events generate huge amounts of money for local suppliers and subcontractors.
Events businesses are the ‘forgotten’ industry who are eager to return to work

Catherine Larkin, National Event Hire; Niamh Murphy from ETC; Fergal Harte, Kingsley, and Chair of the Irish Hotels Federation Cork branch; Margaret O'Regan, Event Plan; Marie Fleming, Animal Road Show. with her owl, Betsy; Leigh Gillen, Leigh Gillen Events; Jorge Kachamari, musician, and Danny McSweeney, CAVS Cork at The Kingsley Hotel, Cork. Picture: Michael O'Sullivan /OSM PHOTO

Representatives from event businesses are coming together to raise awareness of a sector they believe has been left behind.

The group, including event planners, performers, photographers, videographers, musicians, promoters, catering companies, venue providers and more, say their industry has been “forgotten” and they need support now or they won’t be around when the pandemic is over.

“We were the first to close and will be the last to reopen,” a spokesperson for the group said.

“We are the forgotten industry, hidden in between the Department of Arts and the Department of Tourism. We are not even included in the roadmap for reopening businesses. 

“If the audio-visual companies, the sound engineers, the entertainers, the caterers and so forth have to close, who will be left when it’s all over? When you need us, we want to still be here, so we need to keep the industry alive.”

The Irish events industry employs an estimated 45,000 workers. According to the Events Industry Association of Ireland, the public health measures that have been implemented to date mean that the majority of businesses are simply unable to generate revenue.

Leigh Gillen of Leigh Gillen Events, Cork specialises in corporate events including industry conferences, seminars, award ceremonies, client appreciation events and fundraising events.

She said herself and her peers can sometimes be seen as “small fish” when compared to the live event and entertainment industry, but many mid- to low-level corporate events generate huge amounts of money for local suppliers and subcontractors.

“I could run one event in Cork for 200 to 300 people that could generate literally tens of thousands for local subcontractors," said Leigh Gillen.

Events organiser Leigh Gillen said they are seeking clarity on the existing roadmap and to engage event businesses in future planning. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Events organiser Leigh Gillen said they are seeking clarity on the existing roadmap and to engage event businesses in future planning. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

“You’re talking AV suppliers, lighting, sound, stage builders, designers, photographers, videographers, PR agencies, social media agencies. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

“Say you’re doing goody bags, you’ve got printers, you've got packaging, you've got design and brand. To dress a table you’ve got florists, to entertain guests you’ve got musicians. 

“There are so many people, depending on the event and the scope of your budget. You could have up to 20 suppliers at any one event.” 

She said she got involved in the campaign because she is cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of highly qualified professionals being left behind in the pivot from physical to virtual events. She is also fearful that when physical events do come back, there won’t be suppliers left in the region.

“This is why we have to highlight it now. It’s not just about running events now, the underlying and more sinister message for me is the supply chain is drying up,” said Ms Gillen.

“In six months or a year, or when there is a vaccine and we're all back doing events and I go looking for a microphone or I go looking for somebody to build a stage, and I can't get it in Cork, I can't get it in Limerick, and there's barely enough people doing it in Dublin ... next thing I have to hire a UK company to come over and do it because there's no one left. That's the scary part.” 

“Some of them can pivot and do other things, but there are some that can literally do nothing unless it's a live event. For example, entertainers, which are really going to be the most hit,” she said. 

Ms Gillen said she recognises the need for many of the restrictions in place, “but there have to be ways that we can live alongside this virus.” 

Are we just going to cancel all live events, cancel all corporate events? I think we need to start moving on and taking some calculated risks.

The group are asking the government to provide clarity on the existing roadmap and to engage event businesses in future planning.

“Let us be given the same opportunities that the hairdressers did, that the publicans did, that the restaurateurs did. They all got an opportunity to be safe and to work in a safe and compliant way. We just want the same opportunity to do that” said Ms Gillen.

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