As COVID-19, or coronavirus, continues to spread its tentacles, the advertising industry is looking down the barrel of an uncertain few months.
In terms of work, Little Black Book has received several off-the-record reports of productions being pulled, including work for the 2020 Olympic games. Though the Tokyo Olympic games have not been cancelled yet, marketers are feeling nervous.
The organisers of major industry events are divided about whether or not to proceed with festivals and award shows, and agencies are taking markedly different approaches to international travel and conference attendance.
Over the past month several major festivals announced their decision to postpone or cancel. Dubai Lynx has moved its kick off from March 8th to September 6th. MIPTV, due to take place in late March in Cannes has been cancelled, as has Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and Adobe’s live summit in Las Vegas. Among the earliest to take decisive action was Adfest, the regional APAC creative festival in Thailand. In early February they announced the decision to postpone. Vinit Suraphongchai, chairman, ADFEST says it wasn’t an easy decision, but feels like acting early was the right approach.
“Although the emergence of COVID-19 was first known in December, it was not news until sometime in January. Though the virus was mainly affecting the city of Wuhan, China, by late January it had the characteristics of a highly contagious disease and we felt compelled to act,” he says.
“It was with a heavy heart that the management of ADFEST decided to postpone our event, originally set for March 18-21 2020. It was a hard decision but one we felt was right to announce. We simply could not take the risk on the health (and lives) of delegates, speakers, juries and team on the ground. Many things were not set in stone, but it was a good thing that we decided early.”
The festival, which was founded back in 1998, has many loyal supporters from across the region and Vinit is grateful for the outpouring of encouragement. “In terms of the response Almost immediately, the response from our industry across the globe was swift and overwhelming support for our courage to make the right, if difficult decision,” he says.
“People said they would look forward to coming to ADFEST on a new date. It turned out that the decision was not so difficult after all and we thank everyone for their support. Our theme for this year is “Fired Up!” and we would say to people that a truer word could not be spoken.”
Other festivals are storming ahead. Advertising Week Europe is monitoring the situation but shows no sign of pulling out now, with its opening gala just ten days away. Similarly, SXSW appears to be going ahead despite a petition from Austin locals to cancel it and news that tech platforms like Facebook and Vevo as well as some agency networks have cancelled staff travel to the event.
The team at the One Show have taken an alternative route. Judges were due to fly out to Puerto Rico but judging has been moved online. If this works out, it could prove to be a trailblazer for other award shows in the future the industry seeks to shrink its carbon footprint.
“We could have replaced non-US jury members with creatives based here, but that’s not who we are,” said Kevin Swanepoel, CEO, The One Club. “The One Show and ADC Annual Awards are leading international awards programs, and it’s imperative that we maintain the same global integrity and quality to the judging process.”
Kevin says the team are keeping an eye on the situation ahead of the One Club Creative Week in May – but they’re keeping a level head. “Unlike Cannes, which is a for-profit business that has to answer to shareholders and generates most of its revenue from its festival, The One Club is a non-profit organisation that produces many initiatives throughout the year and does not depend solely on its awards festival,” said Kevin.
“Our top priority is the well-being of the creative community. Should we need to, we have the option of not holding a global gathering of creatives at our festival and putting them potentially at risk because our decision about Creative Week is not based on revenue,” he added.
As yet, there’s been no indication that Cannes Lions will not go ahead.
It’s a difficult decision for any company to make – and one the Little Black Book team agonised over ourselves when it came to our Immortals screening in New York next week. No one wants to add to undue hysteria or to over-react, but it’s difficult to predict how the situation will develop or escalate.
“We are being told by many locals in New York they have been advised to avoid large gatherings and industry events and we certainly don't want to add to any potential situations/stress,” said LBB founder and CEO Matt Cooper. “We've been in close contact with our industry friends and partners in New York and the health, safety and wellbeing of our guests is our number one priority.”