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Photo Credit: Ana Gregorič

Exclusive interview with Melinda Rebrek, the CEO of Pirana Productions and Executive Producer of Ljubljana Fashion Week. Melinda started as a casting manager at a time when that profession in Slovenia was as common as E.T. She climbed the ranks in TV & film production as a production manager, executive producer, script supervisor, AD, etc. She mastered event management in all its variations while freelancing for marketing and event agencies and finally embraced independence with Pirana Productions.

“If this goes on much longer we will not have any of event professionals left on the market”

Q: How badly has COVID-19 affected the meetings industry in your country?

As badly as it gets. Agencies reducing their manpower or closing down, clients cancelling anything that even smells like a live event, a lot of ‘invisible’ people that make events happen are jobless and I am afraid that if this goes on much longer we will not have any of event professionals left on the market when things start getting back to normal.

Q: How much damage has the epidemic caused for your company?

Event-wise, our company almost doesn’t exist this year, but luckily events are not the only productions we do.

Q: How do measures put in place by regional governments help with exiting the crisis? What do you miss?

I miss some positivity in communication, a tiny bit of understanding of what we actually do in the event industry and some serious planning. What, when, how and why. Everything in our business must be prepared in advance, and it’s very exhausting to plan something in 5 different ways and then be forced to cancel. Recently we have miraculously done Ljubljana Fashion Week, and I can tell you it’s been an event planner’s hell, implementing all the ever-changing measures, and not knowing what might tomorrow bring. Making A, B, C and D plans for every move is not fun nor productive, not to mention the expenses that are consequently almost uncontrollable.

For a lucky outcome, we can only thank the determination of the crew that helped selflessly to pull it through. Being on our toes all the time was everything but creative, not to mention the stress we have all been under the whole time. In a way, I am quite happy I have no events planned for a while because I am not sure how long I could’ve kept my sanity in such an insecure work environment. I feel sorry for everybody who has to plan festivals or anything for next year, with absolutely no certainty or a sensible plan on the horizon.

There is also an infinite bunch of very specific profiles and agencies that are out of work, forced to seek employment elsewhere, and that will backfire immensely, I am afraid. Keeping those profiles alive and kicking would certainly help our industry a lot.

Photo Credit: Ljubljana Fashion Week
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Photo Credit: Ljubljana Fashion Week

Q: Do you think the situation will get worse before it gets better? Have you prepared any preventive measures in case of a second coronavirus wave?

Doesn’t it always? But in dark times obey Churchill’s famous quote about going through hell, and just keep going. It will end eventually, there will be many casualties, but I believe survivors will prosper. Adapting is the most anyone can do at the moment. In the past few months, we have been focusing on video productions since live events are definitely not an option.

Q: What has the epidemic taught us about the current state of the meetings industry? Will the epidemic also bring something positive

I guess we all learned that it’s good to have a bit on the side for rainy days and that we have to adapt to changes quickly. The situation is far from OK, but history teaches us that change is a positive thing, it induces development and new solutions. My mom always says that every crappy situation is probably good for something, and she was often right. So let’s wait and see.

Q: Do you think the quarantine period was beneficial for unwinding and gathering new creative ideas for the future?

I don’t think anybody can really unwind with a prospect of a very uncertain future, do you? One or two weeks is enough to get some sleep and rest, read a book or two, more is stressful if you ask me. I usually unwind and get new ideas on travels around the world. Not being allowed to migrate freely stresses me out more than the quarantine itself, to be frank.

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Photo Credit: Marko Delbello Ocepek

“Live events will never die out – People need people”

Q: What are some alternatives to live events? Are live events a thing of the past or will we continue to meet in person after the coronavirus?

Live events will never die out. People need people, even the biggest introverts now admit that they need to interact. Taking live interactions away made us realise how much we had and how much we took it for granted. Online events are a necessary alternative at the moment, but I think as soon as there will be an opportunity to meet up in person, we will do just that.

Q: Do you think online events can replace the physical experience of live events?

No.

Q: How have you managed to connect the digital and analogue world at your events and in business?

We managed to transform some of our events into TV shows or online events, but there are many that can not be presented as such. And those are the ones we truly would like to bring back to life as soon as possible.

Q: In these turbulent times, what separates your company from the competition?

Besides events we are also in video production, we provide various formats – from TV live events to reality, entertainment and quiz shows, contests and ad campaigns, you name it, we do it. Sometimes it seemed like a lot, and in ‘normal’ times it was sometimes hard to juggle both. I often asked myself why am I doing this to myself, but now it saved us and kept us well above water. With years of experience in both worlds, we can ‘translate’ both of them into one effective blend, and I guess this is a great opportunity to prove ourselves even more in these outstanding circumstances. It’s one of those life/lemon/lemonade situations. 😉

PERSONAL QUESTIONS FOR MELINDA

Q: What will we be discussing over coffee at the same time next year?

Hopefully planning my January trip to somewhere to Asia or answering the classic question “Where will you be for New Year’s Eve “ with “At home, watching TV, I need some rest after all those wild December parties.” 😉

Q: Where do you find inspiration for events in these tough times? Do you have a favourite event agency or role model?

Role models are not my thing, I tend to do what others don’t. Since I am not allowed to travel freely and fill my ideas bank, I use my imagination. There’s plenty more stored there and waiting to be used in practice.

Q: What inspires you in your daily life? (music, books, nature…)

Everything, as long as it’s not my daily routine.