Entering 2020, we had a carefully crafted 5-year growth strategy.
We had thought long and hard about how best to expand, identified the new roles we would be recruiting and thought through how much to invest in what, and more importantly, who would give us the money to realise our business goals.
It was easy to create a plan based on experience and knowledge of our expanding customer base. We congratulated ourselves on how well we knew our customers, our key contacts, and the market we were operating in. More importantly, we genuinely believed we knew best how to turn passive delegates into active participants around the globe. As an audience engagement consultancy, we thought we knew the secret of true customer interactions.
How wrong we were! For us and many of the organisations we collaborate with, Covid-19 has changed our view of the world forever.
Suddenly it felt like the ‘promised land’ that we believed lay just over the horizon was no longer real or achievable.
So, what to do? Compared to the havoc facing the world, and the impact of this dreadful virus on the lives of many, our challenges were insignificant by comparison. Were we healthy as a team? Yes. Were family members and relatives impacted by Covid-19 recovering? Yes. Were our clients and organisations we had spent time with around the world safe and supportive? Yes.
It seems crazy to be thinking about a 1-year plan now, never mind spending May rewriting a 5-year plan for growth. Are we past the worst? Will we have a second wave of Covid-19? Will the world of live, hybrid and virtual events ever be the same? Will the ‘new normal’ transition back to the ‘old normal’ in 18 months’ time? Should we tread water until we see some semblance of order?
We have taken a decision to talk, communicate and share our thinking with our competitors, collaboration partners, clients, customers, and delegates to start to plan for an optimistic and exciting future. We thank them for their insight and wisdom. The ending of lockdown for us means that we are in a positive place. We are safe, healthy and have managed to keep the financial and business lights on through a traumatic and dramatic period.
Everyone we talk to has a different view of what lies over the sea, beyond the horizon of 2021 stretching ahead.
Some of our partners are clear to us that there is no point in planning now; others are more optimistic; others have a view of the future that is very different from ours. Some are sat on the shoreline, watching the sea moving, undulating, with waves crashing and are not yet confident enough to put a toe into the water – let alone jump into a boat with us and sail out into the unknown.
We have decided that we can no longer stand and stare at the water. We can see a direction of travel that weaves together complementary virtual, hybrid and physical events across many sectors. We are beginning to see a way that our partners, clients, and delegates will shift their business plans and allow human nature, personal fears, worries and commercial interests to shape the future.
Getting into the Open Audience boat now and setting sail towards the horizon, feels for us like the right thing to do. We are confident that once we enter the water for real, we are on the way to a new world. Will it be what we expect, will the culture and climate we face be exactly what we plan as a business? Will it be a place we recognise as similar to a land we have visited before? Probably, possibly, maybe!
Covid-19 has taught us a very important lesson: that having a rigid business plan based on what you know of the past and what you see stretching towards the horizon is not the ideal way to plan. You must be prepared to navigate as you go, recognising the hazards and obstacles in your path.
Our new 5-year plan sees us head towards the lighthouse on the horizon. It will keep us safe, and once we get near, its light will guide our business path towards the shoreline beyond.
Leslie Robertson is the Founder of Open Audience, an audience engagement consultancy that specialises in making life sciences meetings more engaging with more positive, successful outcomes – whether in-person or in the virtual space. The Open Audience team helps to strategise and prepare pre- and post-meeting as well as providing real-time support and guidance during the meeting. Open Audience also offers customisable, multilingual engagement platforms that include interactive polling, surveys, and ideas exchange.