Like so many colleagues in Marketing and especially in the Event industry, I was looking forward to a professionally rewarding 2020. Our account teams had secured some major new strategic projects, our design team was rocking, we had announced the formation of NEXT Lab™ – our internal department focused on engagement, media and exploring new technologies to incorporate into experiential environments, and Exhibit Concepts was growing faster than ever before. Wrapping up 2019 and looking forward to 2020, the future looked bright indeed.
The year began with most of us glued to our devices…tracking escalating tensions with Iran, disastrous wildfires ravaging Australia, the first reported coronavirus case in the U.S. and the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others. For my family, the new year brought an unexpected serious health situation for my husband. It was not a good start, to say the least.
And then we barely breached the month of March and every day brought a new unbelievable development. Clients began pulling out of HIMSS 2020 citing corporate travel bans. Then came the cancellation of the Inspired Home Show followed by HIMSS just days before it was set to open when booths had already shipped and many were already set-up. While ConExpo went forward, it was the last major event to take place before the trade show, event and exhibitions industry came to a complete standstill. Schools around the country announced extended Spring breaks and implemented remote learning schedules. And by March 16th, all Disney parks and properties around the world had been shut down.
As the year progressed, each new day brought even more devastating news: an unprecedented hurricane season, racial and social injustice, out of control wildfires and deep political divides.
And despite the upheaval, uncertainty, and sorrow during this period, I also started to learn about, and practice, Gratitude. In the middle of March, I was grateful that our company’s leadership had made infrastructure investments in phone systems and mobility devices making it easier to transition our office employees to work remotely. By March 24th, both our Ohio and Illinois operations were under mandatory state-wide stay-at-home orders. Unfortunately, this meant that most of our production team were temporarily furloughed.
I am grateful that our owner and executive leadership team did their homework, gathered data, consulted with experts and made thoughtful, well-planned decisions throughout this year to protect our team, who continue to provide excellent service to our clients, all while being good neighbors within our industry.
I am grateful to our account teams who maintained strong ties with their clients, provided expert advice on a forward strategy for their brand and transitioned to digital delivery with speed and grace.
I am grateful to our design team and creative strategists whose expertise and reputation meant that we had a steady stream of 3D and graphic design projects in museums, nature centers, commercial interiors, and yes, even some trade show new builds, to carry us through.
I am grateful to our project and account managers who are routinely recognized for delivering on schedule and on budget.
I am grateful for our production team of master carpenters, electricians, prep specialists, and shipping and transportation coordinators for their reputation of delivering a high–quality product which consistently exceeds expectations.
I am grateful that we had already expanded our digital media capabilities and were able to immediately help our clients delve into the uncertain territory of virtual and hybrid events providing value and delivering on objectives.
I am grateful that I work with a talented, nimble, and resilient marketing team that was able to shift gears to produce our own virtual events and webinar series to keep the lead pipeline flowing.
I am grateful that we were able to bring people back into our offices and shop starting in May. And though we haven’t been able to bring everyone back, many former colleagues have found meaningful employment elsewhere.
I am grateful for leaders and media groups in our industry who have worked tirelessly to ensure that politicians at the state and federal levels understand the economic impact that trade shows and events have on the larger economy.
I am grateful to my colleagues and my leadership team for facing each postponement and cancellation with grace and determination to use this time to make ourselves better and provide new services and even better service to our clients.
On a personal level, I am grateful that my husband’s health issues happened early enough in the year that we could be with him in the hospital and that he is now healthy and strong. I am grateful that my son has a flexible job allowing him to work remotely. I am grateful that my college-aged daughters are safe and well and attending classes online from our home. I am grateful that my parents are nearby so that I can take care of them, should the need arise. I am grateful that through text and video conferencing, I’ve become even closer to my brother and sister though we haven’t been together in over a year. I am grateful that I have a comfortable home office from which to work. I am grateful that my 4-year-old Siberian Husky and 6-month-old rescue puppy take me for a walk two or three times each day regardless of the weather. I am grateful that we gather as a family every evening for dinner with no TV and no phones and talk about our day.
Like all of us, I have learned that in life there are no promises nor guarantees. And there is no sense in worrying about tomorrow. 2020 was full of lessons. But if I had to pick one, it was that each day could bring a new round of surreal realities that were unimaginable only the day before, and yet, there were still things for which to be grateful.
And so, most importantly of all, I am grateful for today.