Spotlight on Germany with Adam Hall's Alex Pietschmann
Spotlight on Germany with Adam Hall's Alex Pietschmann
Open Mic – our regular Q&A channel for industry insight
Where are you writing this from?
From my home office in Neu-Anspach, near Frankfurt.
How has the lockdown affected you?
To be honest, I didn't get much sleep, especially in March. Not until we had implemented the most important and urgent steps. Now we find ourselves organised and structured in the best possible way.
How has your company reacted to this?
One of our very first steps was to build a crisis team consisting of IT, HR, operations management and communications. We dealt with the official pandemic preparedness plan for Germany and quickly took all necessary safety and hygiene measures, starting with disinfectant dispensers and the cleaning of all contact surfaces several times a day, to access barriers in our warehouse, through to the comprehensive adaptation of our IT to mobile working in the home office. By the end of February, we had already cancelled our attendance at Prolight + Sound 2020 in Frankfurt am Main. We had been part of the fair without interruption for 38 years, but this year the safety of our employees, partners and visitors was more important than ever. Moreover, we could not imagine taking part if the positive feeling of ease that characterises our industry was missing. As it turned out, this was the right decision.
What are you having to do differently, and could any of this be adopted going forward?
Except for our warehouse staff, who need to be on site and now work in two shifts with protective masks to keep contacts to a minimum, we all work from home. Meetings are held exclusively via video conferencing, business trips are reduced to the absolute minimum. For the future, I expect that business trips will be considered more carefully, and video conferencing will gain more acceptance. Nevertheless, we are a people's business. Events are the true social network - not Facebook and Instagram. Direct contact with our partners and customers is extremely important. This applies to major trade fairs as well as the personal dialogue between our sales staff and service providers and integrators.
Any silver linings?
These are tough times. Our entire industry is affected to an enormous degree. We too are suffering an enormous drop in sales and, for the first time in our 45-year history, have had to make use of government financial measures. Nevertheless, it's now all the more important to be present for our customers. We are learning how we can support our customers in a more digital way and also rely more on digital interaction internally. The great thing: it works!
Any useful advice for the industry in these times?
It is crucial to communicate completely honestly. There is a tremendous sense of confusion because no one can predict with certainty what will happen in one, three or 12 months. This makes it all the more important that we act in accordance with our values and communicate decisions transparently.
Are you noticing signs of anything approaching normality?
This question is hard to answer. There are a few (positive) flashlights here and there. You have to follow them and observe them whether they are only flashlights or is it the way back to normality or the “new normal”.
What do you predict the rest of the year will look like for the industry?
Due to the unforeseeable circumstances, it's not possible to make a precise forecast for this year. I assume that the economic development of the event industry will follow a V-shape during and after the crisis. However, this depends largely on the duration of the restrictions. If no events are allowed to take place for a longer period of time, costs will increase dramatically and it will become more and more difficult to return to normality.
Further ahead, what’s the future going to look like?
In addition to the general safety aspects, health aspects in the events business will of course become more important in the future. What once was a simple idea to protect our employees by turning a Gravity stand into a 'disinfection stand' has now become a real product in our range, based on current observations. I suspect that it will be included in our portfolio for a long time. Nevertheless, even before Coronavirus there were distinct trends that will influence the future of events. This includes, for example, the accessibility of events. In this regard the USA is a role model from which we in Europe have yet to learn. Another important trend is the so-called "Silver Society". We see a great opportunity to address these people with high incomes and mature experiences and expectations. Then there is sustainability. Due to the hard shutdowns, there is less production, no tourists and hardly any business trips. This has led to significant reductions in global carbon emissions. In the big cities the air is noticeably better, there is less smog and the rivers have become clearer. As a result, people suddenly see the benefits of a low-emission future clearly and distinctly. This is why our industry must also develop more sustainable solutions and services and contribute to this effect of climate change. As manufacturers, we have to think about products that have a longer service life, are easier to maintain and can also be recycled in a more sustainable way. At the same time, the aspect of sustainability also extends to the way we deal with people, for example with regard to fairer salaries for freelancers and artists in the event sector. It's the people who create a show. It's quite remarkable that it would take a pandemic to make us realise this even more clearly.