UK experiential industry reveals multimillion-pound losses due to coronavirus

Glastonbury: 50th-anniversary festival due to take place in June (Getty Images)
Glastonbury: 50th-anniversary festival due to take place in June (Getty Images)

Snap poll by Campaign highlights impact on UK experiential sector.

Leading brand experience agencies in the UK have valued the amount of business that has been scrapped to date due to coronavirus at £15.4m.

A snap poll by Campaign also revealed that more than 200 activations have been cancelled since January, ranging from work planned at large events that had been axed, such as Mobile World Congress, and brand experiences tied to wider advertising campaigns.

The survey asked 15 of the top agencies specialising in experiential marketing to gauge the value of client work that had been scrapped due to coronavirus since 1 January.

The agencies that shared their responses were: Amplify, Cake, CSM, George P Johnson, Haygarth, Hot Pickle, Hyperactive, Jack Morton, Momentum Worldwide, RPM, Sense, Space, Unit9, Wasserman and XYZ.

While the UK government is yet to introduce an outright ban on major events, many companies have already stopped international travel and introduced working from home, while sports and cultural organisations have also taken the decision to close doors or scale back.

Postponing rather than cancelling

Ten of the 15 agencies surveyed reported outright cancellations, but the trend overall is moving towards postponing events, with clients wanting to continue with their live campaigns, albeit later in the year.

"Brands are investing more in experiential marketing than ever before and will continue to do so once the threat to the public health has lifted," Luke D’Arcy, UK president at Momentum, says. "Experiential marketing is not going anywhere. It will continue to grow and evolve – that’s why no-one is talking about cancellation, only postponement."

With the peak of coronavirus in the UK is currently estimated to be in 10 weeks' time, many larger events such as the London Marathon have already decied to shift to the autumn. Lou Garrod, London managing director of Sense, said that brands and events are taking precautionary measures.

Modifying for a digital experience

Agencies are also focusing on modifying, streaming and innovating their events. A number of those surveyed already have content engines designed to amplify their experiences after the main event and are experienced in both augmented-reality and virtual-reality solutions.

Anthony Donaldson, executive planning director at Haygarth, suggested that there will be an "uptick" of people making use of "digital tech to bring brand and audience together in more engaging and human ways". 

He added: "Virtual consultations, personalised and curated social content, together with streamed performances and greater investment in VR or AR experiences, all offer ways to mitigate against any decline in face-to-face experiences."

But as the coming months become increasingly difficult to forecast, innovation is key to retaining business, according to Mike Kunheim, Jack Morton’s executive vice-president, managing director for London. He explained that the business has been building on its broadcast and content heritage. 

"Today, we are driving innovative solutions for our clients through the use of emerging tech, content and data," he said."To be honest, this wasn’t exactly the future we were expecting, but we are ready to win in this new reality for our clients."

Furthermore, in the event of social distancing, understanding how to create engaging digital experiences for consumers and target audiences will be crucial for agencies and brands postponing activations but wanting to maintain interest around an experience.

Rosh Singh, managing director of Unit9, added: "There are a wealth of digital technologies and platforms available to us to help translate and adapt almost any physical activation in the face of the virus, be that live streaming through Twitch, creating new worlds in augmented reality or connecting audiences to sporting events through second-screen mobile experiences. ‘Phygital’ may be the worst word in modern advertising, and while it may not be the future, it almost certainly is the now."

Full impact as yet unknown

The snap poll paints a picture of what the top agencies are currently experiencing, but the figure is set to rise exponentially with the UK peak of Covid-19 forecast towards the end of May and into June. These months are typically saturated months for brand experiences and a key point in the UK festival season, with AEG Live’s All Points East and Glastonbury’s 50th edition among the events set to run.

However, if social distancing becomes a part of UK life for the summer, the desire for shared experiences once the virus abates will only be greater.

Donaldson explained that there has been a "huge" growth in face-to-face marketing of all kind "as consumers seek out experiences over possessions and brands look for ways to achieve greater engagement with audiences". 

Therefore he is staying optimistic and reminding peers of people's ability to overcome anything that prevents group gatherings: "Terrorism, wars and pestilence can temporarily curtail human interaction, but it will never diminish the fundamental desire to spend time together and enjoy a shared experience."

It's a sentiment Hot Pickle co-founder Rupert Pick shared, noting that "this terrible situation will pass" and people will return to their normal lives, including visiting festivals and events. He added: "Our job is to be prepared for when the tide turns, so we'll be using this period to upskill, further fine-tune our clients' projects and connect with the clients of the future."

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