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November 18, 2020 Shownotes:

The figurative faucet for lead generation and networking at in-person events was in danger of running dry this year. With the events space far from returning to “normal” in the foreseeable future, Clarity Experiences CEO Brian Lagestee and his leadership team asked two questions many entrepreneurs are facing: How can we avoid layoffs? And, what can we do for our industry, right now? Listen to our latest podcast to find out how a people-first mentality can help you ask the right questions and allow your clients to take the (virtual) center stage.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:00:04] This is the 19. In 19 minutes or less game-changing insights from Orange Level, the leading response marketing agency for established brands that are driven by a fearless entrepreneurial mindset.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:00:23] Hello and welcome to the 19 Entrepreneur Edition. I’m Rochelle Reiter, President of Orange Label. We’ve seen a lot of changes this year, to say the least.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:00:32] Brands and marketers have had to adapt and pivot to remain relevant to their audiences. One industry that has been hit really hard is the world of live events. Any brand that relied on attending trade shows for leads and networking was immediately faced with the figurative faucet running dry. If you know people in the live event industry, many have been laid off or furloughed. However, 60 percent of people in the event planning industry have actually transitioned to virtual events. One of these companies that has not only weathered the storm but has also thrived in this environment is clarity experiences. Today we have Brian Lagestee, CEO of Clarity Experiences. Welcome to The 19. We’re so excited to have you here.

Brian Lagestee: [00:01:14] Thanks, Rochelle! So great to be with you today and we’re looking forward to really talking about the business and how everything’s been going for us. So, thanks for having me.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:01:25] Well, tell me a little bit about Clarity Experiences and what you do.

Brian Lagestee: [00:01:29] Yeah so Clarity Experiences is a live event production company, and we’ve been doing events for many, many years all over North America, some overseas as well. Our primary customer is really live events where we do events and convention centers, hotels and different venues across all the major cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:01:47] As a leader in your organization, describe how Clarity Experiences has tangibly and emotionally adjusted to your business model in 2020.

Brian Lagestee: [00:01:55] Well, that’s an amazing situation that happened across the world in a lot of ways. You know, very difficult to get through. However, we had an amazing beginning of the year. January and February were just record months for us and our teams were doing such a fantastic job. And everything literally stopped for us on one day where we shut everything down.

Rochelle Reiter : Sure.

Brian Lagestee: And we had teams in all different cities doing all different kinds of work. And we just stopped. And it was it was a big challenge for us emotionally and everyone was like, “What’s going on?”

Rochelle Reiter : Right.

Brian Lagestee: Most of our, you know, executives and our team members felt like, OK, this is you know, we can do this a couple of weeks, couple months and no problem. We’re going to be good.

Rochelle Reiter : Right.

Brian Lagestee: So that was our general attitude in the beginning. And then when we realized it was going to be a more of a major hit to our industry and to our company, you know, we really had to go through some emotional changes and actually structural changes and we had to change our entire business model pretty much overnight. And it was a big struggle for us. But we learned a lot about ourselves, you know, in that process and what we did to come out of that.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:02:58] So what did you do internally with your team to adjust?

Brian Lagestee: [00:03:00] Yeah so in the beginning, you know, we just told everybody that we cared about them. And that what was most important to us was the people within our company and that whatever the world dealt us, we will figure it out and so we gave everybody some time. We were kind of just waiting it out. There was a lot of anxiety within the team. There was a lot of uncertainty within the team. And so, the leadership group we met every single day to figure out what we could do. And we decided from the beginning that we were going to put our people first. So, we redid our business plan. We looked at our financial stability that we had. And luckily, we are in a good shape financially as a company. And we were able to say, OK, we’re going to really take care of our people. So, we didn’t lay anybody off. We didn’t make any changes financially to our team members. That was the first several weeks where we just, you know, we stuck it out.

Rochelle Reiter : Right.

Brian Lagestee: So that was the thing that we did. And then when we realized it was going to be a much longer-term challenge, then we began to innovate and say, “We have so many great people, what can we do for the industry?” It was really about giving back. How can we help people communicate their message that couldn’t have their events anymore, that couldn’t really reach their audience anymore? Sometimes companies that held events in-person for their own employees didn’t know how to reach out to their own employees.

Rochelle Reiter : Sure.

Brian Lagestee: Because they had hundreds of thousands of employees and they didn’t have a platform to do that. Our first effort was how can we help? And then we had to figure out how can we make money?

Rochelle Reiter : [00:04:18] Yeah.

Brian Lagestee: [00:04:18] While we’re helping.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:04:19] For sure.

Brian Lagestee: [00:04:20] So those are some of the questions that we tried to answer, you know, really in the early days of the pandemic and in the first probably four to six weeks, you know where we found ourselves in an uncertain territory.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:04:30] And how were your services adjusted to react to what was happening in the market?

Brian Lagestee: [00:04:36] Yeah, so our normal products are live events where we’re setting up equipment where, you know, we have people traveling all over and all of that wasn’t possible anymore. So, what we did was we changed to a virtual environment where we reached out to our customers and we told them we can help you communicate your message. And so, we put together some different software platforms. We put together some different engineering, you know, talent. And we were able to create a way for people to use our studio, but also to do things remotely from their homes and be able to communicate out to their attendees or their audiences. So, we switched from a live event to a virtual event company inside of probably 30 days.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:05:14] Oh, my gosh. What was the biggest challenge you faced in doing that?

Brian Lagestee: [00:05:16] The biggest challenge was the fact that our team members couldn’t really be all together. And so, we had to find a way for them to solve these problems, buy some of the equipment we needed and get all of that set up and tested during a time in which you really couldn’t bring people together very easily. So, the biggest challenge was shifting the service and putting together a really good product that was, you know, that could be used by massive major companies and that they were confident in. So, that was a challenge. And we learned a lot. I mean, every single day, every single week, we were learning how to really improve the product that we had. So luckily, there were some of us that have been in the industry a long time and had done a lot of virtual type elements of our life events. So, we had the components. We just had to shift them to be more 100 percent of the show rather than a smaller portion of the show.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:06:05] So you had virtual capabilities before?

Brian Lagestee: [00:06:07] Yes.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:06:08] And then they just became fully realized in literally a matter of 30 days.

Brian Lagestee: [00:06:13] Yes.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:06:13] Your website states that you aim to create the best possible experiences for your clients with their audience. What two or three adjustments were required to be able to actually deliver on that promise as in-person events were canceled?

Brian Lagestee: [00:06:26] Yeah, what we love to do at Clarity. We kind of call it our Clarity sauce. And it’s we love to help the presenters and the executives feel spectacular, feel remarkable when they go on stage. And in person you can do that. You can talk to them. You can help them with their slides or their presentation. Give them some tips and kind of just the overall tone of our team members allows for that to happen. Now if you’re talking with somebody virtually, you know, over a computer screen, helping them be successful is much harder to do. So, that’s one thing we really had to step back and everyone was asking us, all of our customers, I should say, were asking us what platform to use and what software to use. And that’s really not the question. So, we would shift the discussion to what kind of production value do you want for your audience? What do you want them to feel? And so, we started talking to them about that and it made a really big difference. And so, some clients wanted it to be in their home environment, just natural. Other ones wanted to be more like on the stage or they wanted their branding to be in the background. And so, we started to really create that confidence again by shifting the discussion from software to the experience of the virtual event.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:07:31] I love that. What are the types of challenges your clients typically face and you look to solve? Are they different now than they were prior to March 2020?

Brian Lagestee: [00:07:40] Yeah. So, the clients in the past, they had a live event and they would know exactly what it is because they’ve been doing it for 20 or 30 years. Right? So, they knew exactly what they needed and we would come in and be a partner and it was a celebration. We’d have fun. It was great. Now, they didn’t know what they needed. They didn’t know how to take an event and get their hundreds or thousands of attendees to really be able to see, hear, collaborate. So that’s been a challenge. So not really knowing what they’re asking for and not really knowing how you can provide that was a real challenge. Just as a funny example, the budgets when the pandemic happened, you know, they were you know, they would typically be for us an average event of 80,000 or 100,000 dollars would kind of be a normal event size. And they were coming back and saying, we only have 5,000 dollars, we only have 10,000 dollars to spend. And so, they were really trying to figure out how to make the business model work. And now what’s happened over the last six months is the pricing model in the industry has changed. The customers and clients realized they need to spend a little bit of money to have a great experience for their guests or their attendees, you know, or for the people who are trying to make connections by using their particular event. That’s been interesting to see take place. But I’m encouraged by the fact that, you know, the overall economy in the U.S. understands the value of meetings and they understand that even if they can’t do them in person, they need to do them virtually to move business forward. And so, the budgets are improving. You know, the overall way in which virtual events are happening are becoming, you know, much better. So, it’s been a good progression, a remarkable pace that has happened in the U.S. in the last four or five months to see the shift so.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:09:16] For sure, for brands that typically rely on producing in-person events, what advice would you give them?

Brian Lagestee: [00:09:21] Yeah, so that’s a big struggle. Oftentimes they would have one large event and they would go and they would get a lot of value out of that. What we’ve seen right now is attendees aren’t sitting through long events. So even if you sign up for a conference, you know, you typically in the past you’d go to it all day or several days. Now people sign up for a conference, they’re not attending it for six hours or eight hours a day. They’re dropping in and dropping out. They’re there for an hour or there for two hours. And so our advice as we look at planning these events is to segment them out to really impactful content and spread them over a longer period of time so that your normal attendee can drop in for that hour today, maybe an hour tomorrow, and they can begin to get what they need out of that event, but they don’t have to commit their entire day to it because you’re not going to keep their attention at home, anyways for that length of time. So, we’re seeing a major transformation in the timing and how these events are laid out to really keep that attention from the audience and also create those engagements so that they can find their customers, they can find ways to network. So, it’s definitely changing significantly in how events are laid out.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:10:24] What changes have you seen brand leaders or leaders of particular industries make in regard to their events other than the scheduling of it?

Brian Lagestee: [00:10:33] The struggle has been how do you entertain? A lot of people would go to events for the connection to their friends, to, you know, to network. It’s what happened outside of the meeting that had the most value share. And so that’s why, you know, we believe and I think the industry believes that live events will come back as soon as it’s safe and healthy to do so because virtual events are a good tool and they’re a good way to get some of your message across. But they don’t accomplish the same entire picture as a as a live event. And the human nature needs that connection. They need to be able to, you know, stand side by side in a room with somebody and they need to be able to feel that energy and connect with people they didn’t expect to. So, we feel really strongly that live events will come back. However, virtual events have given a tool to the industry to be able to do something a little different. So, we don’t see that leaving, we see that being a part of it. But we definitely see a combination of different types of events going forward.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:11:30] That’s awesome. What elements of live events are you not able to accomplish during the virtual events you mentioned the connection, entertainment, anything else?

Brian Lagestee: [00:11:39] Yeah, so the struggle, a lot of it is the parties.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:11:42] Yeah, okay!

Brian Lagestee: [00:11:42] So, a lot of events are successful because they create a desire for people to attend and attendees like the parties, they like the dinner functions, they like the interactions or the social networking pieces. And there are some software tools and some things we’ve done to try to help that. You know, you can have a cocktail party and we can, you know, have somebody mix – the mixologist – but it’s still not the same as live. So that’s one of the big challenges that the whole events industry is: how do you bring that fun back into an event? How do you bring the entertainment value back in? We’ve done a couple events. We’ve had some musicians and celebrities that will, you know, participate to help bring some of that excitement, you know, virtually. But that is a huge gap. You can get the knowledge across, the training across, but the enthusiasm and kind of that social side is just not going that well.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:12:37] Yeah. How do you coach and prepare a client for a virtual engagement that’s different than a live engagement?

Brian Lagestee: [00:12:44] Our clients were very slow to make a decision on how to do their virtual event, mainly because they were just uncertain.

Rochelle Reiter : Sure.

Brian Lagestee : The time extended way too long. So, before they finally made their commitment on who to use and how to do it, their event was only a few weeks away and that created really a lot of potential for risk. So, what we’ve done is we’ve given advice around a minimum of a four-month planning process and we’ve detailed out kind of the things that happen each segment of those months, the first month, second or third month, and then right before your event happens. What we’ve learned also in the live event world, the hospitality world, you can almost make anything happen and you can allow last-minute changes and things like that to occur. So, we’re very accommodating. In the virtual space, we can’t be. We have to be more like a software company. We have to be more rigid. We have to really kind of create much more definitive barriers and milestones for our customers so that they can be successful. And so that’s something that’s been a huge learning curve for them and for our team who always wants to please and always wants to support. We’ve said you have to have your prerecords in by this date or the editing just isn’t going to happen.

Rochelle Reiter : Right.

Brian Lagestee : And so, we’ve had to be much more strict with our clients in order to be successful and that’s been a huge learning curve for them and for us.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:14:00] Oh, yeah. Yeah. Now, as entrepreneurs, we want to accommodate and we want to make sure the clients are happy. What about contingency planning? Like, I’m just thinking about that four-month time period and all of this restriction can change in the blink of an eye. Do you guys develop backup plans, plan A, plan B, plan C, or do you kind of just go with the flow and if something comes up, you address it at the time?

Brian Lagestee: [00:14:24] There’s two ways. I mean, one is our teams. We build studios in our client’s offices in different cities. They can’t go to hotels or whatever, but they want their executives to kind of be together, to be able to communicate a message. So, we’ll go to Kansas City. We’ll go to New Jersey, any of our normal cities, and we’ll build out a studio in that client’s office. However, sometimes our guys get stopped on the planes where you have to have your Covid test, you can’t go to a city, you have to quarantine. So, we’ve had to put contingencies in place as to how can we support that event if, for example, we can’t get into New York or wherever. So that’s been interesting. And then there’s also single points of failure with virtual events where the Internet is a massive factor.

Rochelle Reiter : Yeah.

Brian Lagestee: And whether or not the event is going to go well and you don’t control the Internet in individual people’s homes. And so, if they’re the one that is presenting from their home, there’s a risk there. And so, we’ve had to really work with our clients on accepting more risk and understanding like, hey, something may not be perfect. And we have to understand if that happens, how do we handle it? How do you react as a client? What’s your overall messaging to your attendees when you might have a little bit of a challenge due to technology issues or things that are out of the control of really anybody, so.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:15:34] So managing expectations up front and contingency plans?

Brian Lagestee: [00:15:38] Happening every day.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:15:39] I’m sure. I’m sure. So, what has been your biggest learning or take away from 2020 so far?

Brian Lagestee: [00:15:46] What we really learned right away was that the value in the company is more than the financial results you create. The value you have in your company is the product that you’ve built, the culture that you’ve built. And we had to shift really quickly to understand what were we going to invest in: were we going to try to preserve every penny or were we going to try to preserve the culture and preserve the products and the values that we have? And I couldn’t be more proud and thankful for all of the people that clarity and what they’ve done to give us the future that we have right now. And I would say, you know, we put aside the financial side. Right now, the value of our company is not whether we make a dollar or lose a dollar. Right now, the value of the company is do we keep the great people together and do we use them to create something, you know, different that can help us and the world in this situation? And that’s what we did. And I couldn’t be more proud of that.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:16:39] What an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing that. How about 2021? What are you looking forward to in 2021?

Brian Lagestee: [00:16:45] We can’t wait to get back to live events, so it’s not going to be the same as it was in 2019. However, we do look forward to doing more events on the road, being in the major cities, doing hybrid events. We’re seeing a lot of quotes and requests right now for come to this city, we’re going to have a small amount of people and then we’re going to broadcast a show to others that can’t attend. So, we’re just excited to be back in the game and doing that type of work. It will probably be midsummer and fall before that stuff happens, you know, on a regular basis. But 2021, we’re just looking to kind of climb out of this with a forward-looking perspective that we’re going to be successful no matter what gets thrown at us.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:17:28] That’s great. Thank you so much for sharing today. Inspiring story about your company, your culture, your team, what you’re doing for brands to help them stay connected with their marketplace. So, thank you so much.

Brian Lagestee: [00:17:39] I appreciate it. It’s been great to be a part of it. I always love working with you and your team. And thanks so much for having me.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:17:49] Thank you for listening to The 19: Entrepreneur Edition with Brian Legestee of Clarity Experiences. To learn more about Clarity Experiences, check out our show notes or visit ClarityExperiences.com. If you have additional thoughts on this topic, send us an email. You can send questions, comments and more to info@orangelabeladvertising.com.

Rochelle Reiter : [00:18:17] A special thank you goes out to our contributors, Studio Manager Kelsey Phillips, Micah Panzich, who edits our show, and Ashley Ruiz, Content Writer. Be sure to subscribe to The 19 on iTunes and Google Play. And if you like what you heard today, leave us a review.

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