Melinda Rebrek

In these challenging times, Kongres Magazine is trying its best to provide meeting planners with the most relevant and useful information regarding the spread of COVID-19. We also want to share opinions from key members of the meetings industry.

We asked key opinion makers from the meetings industry for their thoughts on the situation and how they are coping with COVID-19.

MELINDA REBREK, CEO of Pirana Productions and Executive Producer of Ljubljana Fashion Week

AN EXCITING CHALLENGE AHEAD

Q: How do you feel about the restrictions that European governments have implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19?

Restrictions are necessary. It helps if they are in combination with the right amount of common sense, hard facts and scientific findings, and some realistic plans or at least guidelines for the future. Given the fact that I like travelling and meeting people more than anything, it’s hard for me to stay put but I understand the purpose of it and respect the effort of the governments to slow down the pandemic.

Q: What would you compare this situation to?

Maybe with teen experiences when parents locked us in when we were punished? I am joking, but in a way, it is one of those situations when you don’t have control over decisions of higher authorities, you just have to calm down and wait it out. And in the meantime, try to plan your life after the lockdown.

Q: Economic consequences for the meetings industry have already started to show, what do you expect government institutions to do?

None. Unfortunately, the meetings industry is not considered as one of those you cannot survive without even if it is profitable, the state would take it into consideration only as a part of something bigger, that it has an interest in. Maybe as a part of culture or tourism. But I am a realist, I never count on it.

Q: What is your opinion on virtual meetings, as an alternative to live events?

Virtual meetings are OK to cope with the current situation but will never replace the real thing. People are inclined to touch and feel with all our senses. A pretty picture and virtual friends/partners/clients/guests can be used only as quick fixups to maintain the connections and keep the business flow in some form at least, but they cannot replace live events.

Q: What precautions/measures are you taking in your company?

We are working from home, having online meetings and are probably using all the available online tools to keep the production running. We meet in person only when absolutely necessary, use masks, disinfectants and keep physical distance. It’s a drag and it all takes so much more time and effort it’s ridiculous at times but playing by the rules gives us hope to shorten this lockdown as much as possible. Luckily, our basic team is small, our team is mostly hired per project due to the wide variety of our projects and needed skills. It used to be my non-stop headache but currently, it is a huge plus.

SURVIVAL WILL BE THE MATTER OF QUICK REACTIONS AND ADAPTATIONS AND USING OUR CREATIVITY TO FIND THE WAY AROUND IT

Q: What are your expectations regarding the duration of the crisis and when will the situation go back to normal?

What is normal? This industry was never normal. We always work under some kind of pressure, abnormal deadlines and requests, so when this is over, we will just apply some new rules to the equation and carry on. As always, survival will be the matter of quick reactions and adaptations as well as using our creativity to find the way around it. We always have, this time will be no different.

Q: How are you tackling the event prohibition? What will the next few months look like for you?

We are one of the lucky ones, we still have jobs. I fell into the event business from TV/film productions and turned my knowledge into a skill that is unbeatable when combining the two. In the past 20 years since starting with events, I noticed an interesting trend – when events are down, TV is up and running, and vice versa, but combinations of both are always in trend. Now everything is moving online, people are sitting at home, consequently, more TV and video production is required, and we are able to produce it. With some restrictions, of course, but it is not impossible.

These days we are putting together a studio show for national TV, honouring the Europe Day. It was supposed to be a live concert production in the centre of Ljubljana but when the situation turned sour and the client almost cancelled it, we suggested to use our expertise and do a studio show/concert that will attract the same if not even a larger audience. It will deliver the message of positivity and connection at the largest scale possible, so we are all happy – we landed a great job, the crew is happy to work, the musicians to finally perform and our client is well serviced and content. We are also producing a short film for someone who wants to introduce their new accomplishment to the media – not being allowed to have a press conference it will be done virtually. Another TV show is on production standby, waiting for the lockdown to be lifted, the pilot, that was filmed one day before lockdown, will be aired at the beginning of May. We also started preparing the next edition of Ljubljana Fashion Week that will take place in some form in Autumn, numerous events are moved to ‘after lockdown’ times, we are planning the issue of a recipe/location guide book from the Secret Dinner events etc., so in a way, I am considering this time as an opportunity to ‘stop and smell the flowers’ before real life kicks in again. It won’t be the same or easy, but it never is. Different is fine with me.

Q: What can we do to help our industry get back to its feet as soon as possible?

There is no general remedy, everybody will have to find their own path. By considering all options, looking for solutions in other countries, connecting with unexpected partners, learning new skills, thinking outside the box and continuing to introduce ideas to clients. Communication must never stop. We are here and we must place ourselves in a winning position with new solutions. Everybody is looking for a cure, so be one.

Melinda Rebrek
Photo credit: Marko Ocepek

Q: Are you foreseeing any problems for the meetings industry once the prohibition is lifted?

Well, this will not just go away entirely any time soon. I expect limitations in public gatherings, trust in random crowds will be utterly shaken, travelling will probably be more complicated. Lots of businesses will go under, new ones will emerge. It all seems very unpredictable at this time, but also exciting. I love challenges. I see this as just one more.

Q: What does this mean for events in the future? What will have to change?

It probably means fewer event agencies and more freelance workforce on the market? I don’t know. It’s one of those sink or swim situations, we certainly will have to adapt quickly to whatever comes.

Q: Is marketing (digital marketing) in the duration of the pandemic sensible (and appropriate)?

Marketing is a part of our life that we don’t even notice unless some occasional faux pas of wrong ads at a wrong place at the wrong time.  Success depends very much on the sensitivity of ads, but that can be a whole different debate. At this time, I think it is necessary. Marketing and advertising are a big business that supports a lot of people – agencies, creatives, media, … Even in times like this, I think clients should consider marketing campaigns because marketing budgets are still there. Cut, but don’t disappear. I appreciate a well-placed campaign much more than below-the-line ‘good-hearted’ donations to nurses that must smile into a camera with various products such as branded chocolate bunnies. It’s believable for the first two times, the next ones are just classic cheap situation attention seekers, hidden under a beneficiary coat of donations. On the other hand – with people at home, campaigns and ads get noticed, agencies and creatives get work, with media-buying a lot of newspapers, magazines, TVs and other media are given a financial injection that prolongs their lives, with more media alive people get more information and democracy lives on. So, it is more than just a question of propriety. But handle with care, I say.

Q: What will happen after we’ve beaten the virus? How will you (re)start your marketing activities?

Let’s take it one step at the time. Now I am finally rested and have cleaned the clutter, we are slowly making plans, but are also prepared to adapt quickly if and when needed. It kept my business alive so far and I intend to keep it that way. After all, it has only been 5 weeks since lockdown started, I have had periods without projects longer than this in my life.

Q: Are you in contact with colleagues from around the world? Have you talked about any potential solutions?

Absolutely. We communicate and share information and discuss possible scenarios of future adaptations. But counting on the one universal solution in our line of work is professional suicide. It would take away the originality we are hired for, so I guess we agree on some guidelines but create our own path.