Caroline Lissaman, Head of Events talks about how the pandemic has changed her role

Date: 18 Feb 2021

With the Covid vaccine roll-out gathering pace and increasing optimism across the nation, there is increased focus on when the events industry can re-open.

While a date has not yet been set, Ricoh Arena’s Head of Event Management, Caroline Lissaman, reveals why she thinks the sector will bounce back strongly.

What the events industry will look like in the future is the million-dollar question that all sector professionals are asking themselves - perhaps even more than when the sector will fully reopen.

From an event organiser’s perspective, my event management team is the face of Ricoh Arena from the moment their event is confirmed, right the way through to delivery, so while I have not had many events to manage, my role has evolved by helping event organisers understand what the next steps are for their event.

In most cases we have had to put events back by a year where possible, which has helped both ourselves and our clients to take stock of a fluid situation.

As a venue we have been working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and other industry bodies to develop an over-arching document that most venues will use, so that when the industry does re-open, all venues will approach event management in a similar way. 

While the document is still being finalised, this industry-wide approach is going to be crucial in strengthening event organisers’ confidence during the re-opening process.

One of the main permanent changes post pandemic, that I think we will see is the requirement for everybody to register when attending events of every type and size, so that they can be contacted if required.

Historically some of our smaller clients didn’t use a comprehensive registering system, but this is likely to become a key compliance measure moving forward for all events to protect the welfare of everyone who enters the building.

From speaking to event organisers during the pandemic, the need for people to be in a room together is going to be as crucial as ever. Although we are currently closed for public events, I am working with a range of large exhibition organisers on their shows in 12 to 18 months’ time. This is the normal amount of time that we allocate to plan for these types of events, as they welcome hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of visitors. 

These exhibition organisers have stated that despite the rise of virtual technology, a lot of the deals that are struck between exhibitors and delegates at their shows are because people are able to touch and feel products, as well as being able to network directly with each other, which can’t ever be replaced.

In the longer-term we may see conferences - where there is less reliance on selling products - integrating a hybrid approach of having a physical event that can be streamed globally, but domestically I think we still see a preference for physical interaction.

The past year has underlined that the relationships with our clients are key. One of the reasons we have maintained such good relationships through the pandemic is because they are repeat customers, and they know from experience that we are always on hand to help them through anything to do with their event. 

Sometimes that does involve having tough conversations when you have to move a date for example due to lockdown, but it’s been brilliant to see everyone pulling together to resolve any problems.

Maintaining relationships with other venues and offering moral support during this tough period has also been important. I speak to other venues regularly, and it’s clear that we’re all experiencing similar challenges. Certain venues haven’t opened since last March, while others have been utilised for TV production sets, makeshift hospitals and vaccination centres.

At Ricoh Arena, we have had to ‘think outside of the box’ to generate revenue, rather than waiting for normality to resume. We’ve worked with the NHS to set up a plasma donation centre on-site, as well as a drive-in Covid test centre, not to mention drive-in pantomimes. We’ve also worked with haulage companies who are using some of our outdoor space as storage to keep up with the demand in online shopping. 

The ability for Ricoh Arena to create its own bubble, where players can stay onsite at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel has also led us to hosting an increasing number of behind-closed-doors events. We’ve hosted darts, bowling and ping pong - all of which have a hardcore following.  It has been strange not to have supporters in the building, we’ve managed to get round this by simulating crowd noise. 

One consolation to come out of the “Ricoh Bubble” is that Ricoh Arena staff have formed a bubble with the players and organisers, and a bond has formed between each other as we get to know each other more. This is an unexpected bonus given the challenging circumstances we are operating under.

The countdown to the events sector is well and truly on - and much of the focus over the coming weeks and months will see venues working with the government and relevant event industry bodies to finalise how events can resume in a safe and efficient manner.