Right now we are all on the same couch. Most of us will be struggling financially, soon. Countless companies are teetering on the brink of failure and it is impossible to say when – if at all – they will be able to get back on their feet again. We are living in challenging times for changemakers and innovators. The healthcare business is obviously at the center of this crisis, as our goal as a society, right now, is to save as many lives as possible and health is suddenly not an individual concern anymore. This is a pandemic: the outcome will affect us all, one way or the other.
And yet it is true that many businesses are facing massive disruption and have to find ways of coping with it. A very good example is the conference business, particularly in the tech industry, which has grown exponentially over the last few years and now has to reinvent itself from its very foundations.
The conference business is facing perhaps the most obvious and radical transformation. Because despite the availability of live-streaming technologies and the omnipresence of platforms like YouTube, which make content accessible to worldwide audiences, the core of this business, so far, has always been about people coming close and interacting socially, in real life, all through the internet age. The need for social distancing meant the end of the conference business as we know it. A lot of my friends are struggling to deal with canceled speaking opportunities, and conference organizers are in the middle of a financial breakdown, dealing with venue fees that can’t be canceled. We might think James Blunt singing in an empty arena is romantic, an uplifting symbol of hope for those who are locked in their homes and need emotional support, but we fail to see the bigger picture. That empty arena is also the portrait of a crisis.
Yet there are change-makers and visionaries stepping on the stage just now and just in the right moment: virtual conference companies, live stream providers, online tool providers who make sure you can provide a smooth change into a virtual conference world for your audience. It is very important to join forces and to invest in new technologies, formats, and strategies.
I am happy to help with my PR experience, to make sure you have your conference program set up in the best way possible to steer away from the looming crisis. Because there will be a post-corona time. So why don’t you take #staythefuckhome as an opportunity to slow down and take your time to re-think your PR strategy? This is a very proven way to avoid jumping on short term PR opportunities, which might help raise a fast buck, but may cost you precious connections, which will be vital in the near future.
As a PR professional, I don’t think to invite Kevin Spacey as a speaker on “navigate through the current economic challenges and uncertainties” is the best of ideas. My issue with this peculiar choice of the panelist is not what most of you will be thinking right now – that it is tone-deaf to invite a self-confessed predator and present him as a role model. Nor do I think that Kevin Spacey should never be invited to speak anywhere or that he should never work again. In fact, what I think about him and his deeds is neither here nor there. The point is I don’t think he has anything to teach about how to manage a crisis successfully, because… well, he didn’t. He repeatedly managed to put his foot in his mouth, getting himself in deeper every time he appeared in public. Admitting to sexual harassment and child molestation AND coming out as gay in the same breath was not a stroke of promotional genius. Nor was making his public apology in the form of a Christmas video. In character. As a murderer. What PR mastermind came up with that? Where is the proof that Kevin Spacey’s “crisis” (a crisis, incidentally, of his own making) was “successfully managed”? It looks pretty much like a train-wreck from where I’m standing. Why should anyone pay to be taught about successful crisis management by Kevin Spacey? What’s next? “How to stay out of jail, a seminar by Bill Cosby”? “How to win an election, a keynote by Al Gore”? Being worldwide famous and in a crisis does not make anyone a crisis expert. There are plenty of founders who managed to build successful businesses starting with nothing, in countries that were war-torn, within economies that had been disrupted by natural disasters, there are women founders that excelled in their field in countries where their rights were limited.
There are people like Stewart Rogers and Victoria Loskutova, who founded a virtual business summit who actually brought about the kind of innovation that could help many see the other end of this crisis. When do we get to hear and learn from them?