Out of the carnage of the Great Recession a decade ago, face-to-face events emerged as an increasingly attractive revenue source for media companies, a lifeline connecting buyers to sellers that seemed largely immune to the migration from print to digital and in many cases poised to benefit from, rather than be threatened by, advancements in data analytics and digital marketing.
As recently as two weeks ago, most organizers were still evaluating whether to forge on with conferences or trade shows scheduled for March and April, fearful of sacrificing sponsor, exhibitor and attendee revenue that had grown to form an indispensable portion of their top lines.
That decision was quickly made for them, and in a matter of days, a $16.4 billion U.S. B2B trade show market was put on ice indefinitely. This week, industry stakeholders are petitioning the federal government for relief.
This week, in separate letters sent to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the majority and minority leaders in both houses of Congress, the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) called for any stimulus benefits provided to the hospitality industry—which itself has been roiled by travel restrictions and event cancellations—to be extended to the events sector as well.
“Events are a critical component of our nation’s economy. They provide opportunities for business partnerships as well as knowledge sharing and educational opportunities that can lead to new innovations,” reads a passage appearing in both letters, signed by SIIA president Jeff Joseph and PCMA president and CEO Sherrif Karamat. “Moreover, events directly and indirectly employ millions of Americans, from event producers and organizers, including in the media space, to local food and technology vendors. The entire industry has been forced to sharply curtail, even eliminate entirely, their activities, thus jeopardizing their ability to stay in business. Such companies should be eligible for whatever relief—e.g. deferring tax payments, payroll tax reductions, tax credits to retain employees, loan guarantees, loan forbearance, and cancellation of debts through executive action—is provided for the hospitality industry.”
On Thursday, the events management firm Freeman, which works with its clients to put on nearly 15,000 live events each year, issued its own statement, calling on Congress to earmark $10 billion in stimulus funding specifically for the events industry and to create new tax credits encouraging travel once the crisis has abated and supporting events businesses that resume operations.
“Ours is a business that is driven by its employees and the relief Congress can offer will directly enable us to put people to work and accelerate the recovery we know will come,” said Freeman CEO Bob Priest-Heck. “In 2019, our industry employed 3 million workers directly, with a total impact of 7 million jobs. We need to know these people will be able to get back to work.”
As it stands now, the current $2 trillion stimulus bill, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security act, earmarks $349 billion for small business loans of up to $10 million each and $500 billion in loans and other funding for state and local governments and corporations, including $25 billion for passenger airlines and $4 billion for cargo carriers, in addition to other provisions benefiting individuals, health systems, student loans and education and safety net programs such as food stamps.
It passed 96-0 in the Senate on Wednesday, then passed in the House of Representatives via voice vote on Friday and was signed into law by the President later that evening. On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested that further Congressional action is likely as the pandemic rages on.