This week were were joined by Frank Supovitz who wrote the book on “What to do when things go wrong?” While the world around us is changing, Frank shares hope and how we can and will pick up the pieces.
Give us your background.
I started at Radio City Music Hall as an usher and worked my way through the organization. Found myself in the special events department. We did the events outside Radio City: Super Bowl Half times, Olympic ceremonies. I was there for 16 years. Then I was head of events for the National Hockey League for 13 years. Then NFL for 10 seasons. Then started my own company Fast Traffic Events and Entertainment in 2014. I worked on the Indy 500, redevelopment of the South Street seaport, the new rooftop at Pier 17. Continued to work on more and more different things all the time!
You had a lot to planning super bowls!
I did for a decade, it was an incredible experience. The Super Bowl is so much more than the halftime show. It’s a mega event filled with everything from games, THE game, to fan festivals, to big parties and meetings. It takes over an entire city. SB actually take 4 years to plan. At any one time you’re working on 3 or 4 of them at once. You’re just at different stages of development. When I left in 2014 a lot of the plans I had put in place for Super Bowls were still going to be rolling out. When you’re working on an event with many details, and that many venues, that many things you have to worry about: something somewhere is going to go wrong for you at some point. Every single time. Sometimes they are tiny details only you know about them, sometimes a handful of people know about them, if you’re less lucky your audience finds out about them.
I wanted to get your insight into how do you know when to cancel?
Safety is not negotiable. People’s health not negotiable. If you have a situation where safety is compromised, first, second, and third priority is keeping people safe. It doesn’t necessarily even have to be like a situation we are facing now. It could have been anything. Any number of things could get in your way. If safety is an issue, it’s not even a question. You just have to bite the bullet, financial considerations come forth after safety safety safety. It’s a really hard decision to make because there are so many people that are dependent on an event moving forward. It’s not just the audience that gets disappointed. It’s all the people like us who manage the events, the people that work with us to manage and coordinate. If it just gets canceled and not postponed, it can really affect the ability to keep people employed. That’s a tough decision to make.
How should you know if you should cancel or postpone?
It really depends on the event. If you can do it, if the venues are available, it’s so much better to postpone and give people both your business and your fans something to look forward to.
We’re all talking about, “When will people pick events back up.” What is your perspective on this?
I don’t think it will be a switch you turn on and people show up. Once it becomes determined you can do these things again, there’s going to be skittishness in the marketplace. “Do I want to be the early adopter?” It’s going to take a while. I think it’s inside that 8 week period that we have been talking about, it’s a question of when the situation peaks, when it starts to decrease, when it becomes safe again. It’s not going to be something where suddenly you unlock a stadium and 80,000 people show up.
How do I get through this? That’s on everybody’s minds right now.
There’s something going on everywhere. I am doing it to: the first few days you’re unraveling everything you’ve done. That’s hard. The second thing is how do I stage myself to recover? Recovery is going to be slow. It’s not going to be instant. That’s what everybody has to focus on. People are keeping themselves relevant, top of mind, what are you doing how are you doing. It’s a people business. Freelancers should continue keeping contact all the time so when it does come back you’re top of mind. That’s really important.
Be creative, we’re all creative people. Stay on social media, write an article or two about what you’re doing and what you’re going through and what you see the future being. I think social media is the best self publishing opportunity and best PR opportunity for everybody. Just keep in touch with everybody in the industry. We’re all going through it.
People are really dedicated to what they do for a living. They know the meeting and event business is something that brings people together, it’s a way of communicating. It’s a way of entertaining people, those are basic human needs and the people who work in our business, really know what place they play if they are really passionate about what they do. They know how important they are.
I want to talk about your book, talk about who it’s for, what is it about?
It’s funny, I speak to a lot of event people. This book resonates with them, there’s a lot of important lessons told through event stories. The original idea was for project managers. It was all about providing business managers with a framework for how to prepare for a crisis and how to manage it if it happens anyway. Event and meeting people really enjoy the book because so many of the stories and lessons are told through the disciplines they know really well, which is an event planning. Planning is really the second step in thinking about how you’re going to manage a crisis. It’s something I learned along the way: we all know how to get to point a to point b. That’s the plan we create. But if you’re not imagining the things that could possibly go wrong, you can’t create the right contingencies. If it hasn’t happened to you, it just hasn’t happened to you yet.
How do we move forward and give us some hope!
We’re really at a turning point. Respond to what’s happening, don’t react to what’s happening. Reacting you make decisions without reasoning them through. That’s true of any crisis you face. Just take a breath, don’t panic. Panic really paralyzes decision making. Or good decision making. Take a step back and decide what the right course of action is.
We will recover, humans are social animals. We need to hear from other people, need to hear what others think. That’s why social media is such a big part of our lives right now. Just know that it’s going to come back together. We’re going to get people together as a group, we may change our business a bit and find there’s a hybrid of virtual and live that needs to be a little bit more ingrained in our lifestyle but that’s ok. Everyone will want to get back together again, it’s just a matter of time. I’m convinced. It’s just a matter of how long.