The day everything changed

by Mentxu Sendino CMO EventsCase

Will March 2020 become a new 9/11?

I am sure you all remember where you were on 11 September when the two Twin Towers in New York were attacked.

I wonder now if the month of March 2020, the beginning of the global pandemic generated by COVD-19 for most of us, will become a before and after in our lives.

On 10 March 2020 I was on my way to Barcelona to host a super-exclusive event we called “Bizlunch” where 10 people around a table in a hand-picked restaurant would talk about the events industry, share experiences and, in short, network.

Our company, EventsCase, had already started to feel the ripple effects of the postponement of events, with a few cancellations but nothing serious. It seemed that the virus affecting China in a dramatic way was not going to alter our plans for growth and expansion.

When I arrived at Sants station in Barcelona, I began to notice something in the atmosphere that was not normal.

First, I noticed that the city was a bit dull. Barcelona is a bustling city with streets full of people.

Then, I started to notice that there were many people wearing masks. I was surprised, incredulously surprised. I almost thought that these people were overdoing the protective measures. 

I started my way through Barcelona. Besides that event, I had to visit other venues for future events. The professionals I met showed their concern. The taxi driver, the two venue managers I met… they didn’t know what was coming but they didn’t like what they saw on the horizon.

And then the dominoes started to fall.

First: I received a call from one of my marketing team, advising me that one of the people who had confirmed her attendance just a few hours before, could now not guarantee her presence. The company she worked for was issuing an internal communication for employees not to attend any external events.

There were already 9 of us around the table.

A few minutes later, the VP of one of the event organisers associations of which we are partners phoned me to tell me that it would be impossible for her to attend. Her clients and associates needed her.

Mass cancellations had started. No one knew what contractual clauses protected them.

There were still 8 of us.

Then what rang out was the notification of a new message in my LinkedIn inbox. The communications director of a large pharmaceutical company with whom we wanted to start connecting through this event was writing to me cancelling her attendance (in her case two people from the same company were confirmed). She told me that his superiors had asked her at the last minute to coordinate an internal crisis office.

I remember that I was already at the restaurant where the business lunch was to be held and when I met the CEO of EventsCase, who was also attending the event, I told him that we were going to have to cancel it. That I was getting a steady stream of denials, that everyone was panicking and that it didn’t seem to be a false alarm or a temporary thing.

I went down to the private room where the venue staff were working in such detail and seeing all that effort really made me want to cry.

Our logo on a giant screen, the personalised gifts we had chosen for the guests, we had even designed little cards with their names on them.

All the work of months, gone in minutes.

The last cancellations came ten minutes before the scheduled start.

I spoke to the people in charge of the restaurant, a Michelin star restaurant that buys top quality food on a daily basis. We couldn’t cancel, so we took the opportunity to celebrate what we didn’t know at the time would be our last corporate event for a year.

On that 10th March I wasn’t fully aware of the crisis, health, social and economic, that was looming ahead of us. I realised that I had been wrong to minimise its scope and I began to understand that dark, very dark times were ahead.

That weekend, in Spain, total confinement was decreed. And words like social distance, mask or quarantine became commonplace in our daily lives.

Our company, like many others in the events industry, was hit hard. Our sales reduced to zero. I went from desolation to searching for solutions in a matter of days.

The following weekend I wrote an internal email under the subject line: What are we going to do? I simply felt it was essential to communicate with our customers, partners and stakeholders to tell them that we were still alive and that we would be there for them.

We developed a campaign to communicate with all our contacts, started to move, looked for alternatives and started working on our own pivot to virtual.

Since that day last March we have been working from home. We have increased our staff, developed dozens of functionalities. In the summer, we won the backing of our investors with a £3.5 million round of investment.     

We don’t know what 2021 will bring. We don’t know when we will return home. We know we are ready for whatever comes.

As a Spanish song says “I am like the reed that bends but always stands up”. 

Mentxu Sendino CMO EventsCase