Q&A: How This Industry Coalition Is Fighting for the Future of Live Events

Freeman CEO Bob Priest-Heck, the founder of the month-old Go LIVE Together coalition, chats about government funding, hopes for the future, and more.

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Logo and Headshot: Courtesy of Freeman

On April 22, global event company Freeman teamed up with 80 other industry leaders to form Go LIVE Together as a response to COVID-19's impact on live events. The new coalition's main goal is to support legislative actions—on the local, state, and federal level—that will aid the event industry's recovery from COVID-19.

As Go LIVE Together celebrates its one-month anniversary this week, BizBash caught up with Freeman CEO Bob Priest-Heck to discuss the importance of raising awareness, the status of government funding, his hopes for the future of live events, and more. 

To start, can you share how Freeman has been affected by the pandemic, and any ways your team has shifted its business?  
The coronavirus outbreak has created a world event that has brought travel, business, and global commerce to a halt like few times in our history. Our priority as a company and industry is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our people, our customers, and our communities. Business continuity and risk mitigation have also been critical as we navigate the impacts we are all experiencing from COVID-19.

Like many companies, [Freeman has] had to make difficult decisions in the short-term to preserve the success of our business in the long-term. These necessary actions have allowed us to focus on the top priorities of our clients as they re-evaluate their short-term event plans, move programs online, and build their event strategies for the future.

Go LIVE Together started with 80 founding partners, and now has more than 2,000 less than a month later. What has that process of very fast growth been like? 
As an industry leader, we know how important events are to the economy and to the very fabric of our America. We wanted to do what we could to help our industry through this difficult time and set it up for recovery.

Go LIVE Together gained momentum quickly because our message resonated with the needs of our industry. This has been amplified via social media, and we have seen an outpouring of support from individuals, associations, companies, and media outlets communicating why events matter. Our voice is louder when we are sharing a united message, and if only a fraction of the 6.6 million people in the events industry work together, we will be a mighty force. 

Now, teams of people representing diverse disciplines—from logistics to digital experiences to microbial-pathogenic threat analysis—are coming together to solve issues relating to safety, impact awareness, and legislation for our industry. It’s the start of something big. 

Your website notes that you’re in phases 2 and 3 right now—"awareness and growth," and "planning and mobilization." What does your day-to-day work for Go LIVE Together look like right now, as certain countries begin to cautiously open back up? 
We are actively working toward our coalition goals, focusing on safety, impact, sharing tools, and legislation. Right now, awareness is absolutely essential. We are joining forces to educate people about the impact events can have across industries and their ability to drive economic recovery. We are talking to lobbyists, getting input and alignment on what’s needed for the future, and monitoring trends and breakthroughs. Looking at the long term, legislative action and continued safety measures are key. As plans continue to evolve, these efforts will accelerate. 

Phase 4 is "momentum and advocacy." Have there been any productive conversations with legislators that you can give us details on? 
We know that legislators are going to put a bill together focusing on recovery soon, and it may be ready before the Fourth of July. Our goal is to ensure our industry's needs and business incentives to accelerate recovery are in that bill. We are currently working on language, and when the time is right will unleash our coalition to advocate for it.

What does the lift of the Go LIVE Together coalition look like long-term, as we move past COVID-19 and conduct business in the future? 
Right now our focus is on safety, impact awareness, and recovery supported by legislation. Beyond that, we have no plans. 

On a personal note, what has surprised you the most about the event industry amid the COVID-19 outbreak? 
I am so gratified and humbled by the growing response to Go LIVE Together, and I know the other members of our coalition are as well. It validates our purpose, goals, and course of action. We never could have imagined this disaster—but also never imagined the genuine collaboration between competitors, industry associations, unions, and many others towards a common goal. It’s powerful, and why we believe our industry will come back even better than it was.

What's your biggest hope for the future of the industry? 
We know events are not going away, but they will change. We’ve seen the integration of live and virtual interactions into hybrid events that take advantage of technology to connect more people, and we can never stop designing, creating, and building new ways to connect people in meaningful ways.

We are a unique industry in that what we do is an under-reported driver for our economy. But the industry hasn’t changed much over the years, and for the most part has limited itself to face-to-face connections. Our hope for the industry is that we will be able to continue to help people connect more deeply and more inclusively through multiple mediums. The COVID experience has helped us to imagine new possibilities that will become real in a post-COVID world.

Editor's Note: BizBash is a Go LIVE Together partner. To learn how you can get involved, go to golivetogether.com.

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