Re-building Confidence: Lessons from the Orlando Fashion Events

Dawn Achambault-Perry of Freeman shares lessons from the three fashion events held together in Orlando and what it means for the exhibitions and events industry.

By: Dawn Archambault-Perry, VP, Strategy – Client Success, Freeman

Earlier this month, many of us watched with a mix of excitement, anticipation (and a side of hope) as Informa, Clarion, and Tarsus opened their doors in Orlando. The partnership included the co-location of three separate, branded shows – MAGIC Pop-Up!, OFFPRICE, and Womenswear in Nevada – and were the first events in the U.S. to employ large-scale rapid testing on-site.

As everyone reading this is all too aware, our industry has been in a firmly fixed ‘postpone, postpone, and then cancel’ holding pattern for a year. Orlando’s fashion events were the perfect opportunity to hear directly from leaders who had done what so few had – successfully hosted safe in-person events.

Since the pandemic began, mdg and Freeman have been hosting monthly executive roundtables to bring industry leaders together for candid online conversations as we navigate ‘this mess’ (as an industry friend aptly described it) or ‘this opportunity’ if you have an optimism bias as I do.

As part of this series, I recently facilitated ‘Lessons from The Orlando Fashion Events’ with Nancy Walsh, Informa President North America, Douglas Emslie, Tarsus Group CEO, and Greg Topalian, CEO of Clarion Events.

And they delivered a masterclass – planted firmly in two beliefs:

  1. Collaboration and unity are the paths forward – it’s crucial we come together to rebuild confidence in events.
  2. We need to share our experiences (when we hit the mark and when we miss it) and learn from them as an industry.

In the spirit of that, here are the key learnings from the Orlando Fashion events that Doug, Nancy, and Greg shared with our roundtable:

Start with audience sentiment.

In the fashion shows, there was a huge demand to do business. The organizers conducted pulse surveys and knew their market. Once they felt they could deliver an event safely, they planned to produce realistic, smaller-scale events to meet their customers’ needs.

Communicate early and often.

The organizers thought having mandatory testing would be viewed as a good thing from the onset, but many exhibitors felt this would lead to decreased attendance. When news on mandatory testing made it to social media, misconceptions followed, and the organizers had to clarify the facts. In the end, it was a smooth testing process on-site, but with the benefit of more time, earlier communication would have benefited everyone.

Make smart decisions – and then trust them.

Our speakers said they lost a lot of time second-guessing themselves. There will inevitably be obstacles, so use your market as your north star. It is possible to conduct safe, in-person events if you follow best practices for health and safety.

The game has changed – Part 1: Greater value in the partnership.

Produced as three separate events in different locations over different dates, they would not have been as successful. The co-location made it more attractive to attendees, and the rules of engagement put in place by Tarsus, Informa and Clarion meant they could focus as partners, not as competitors.

The game has changed – Part 2: It’s bigger than just the bottom line.

Greg’s message to his team when asked how they measured success this year, “It’s not about attempting to set an arbitrary number in an impossible time to pick numbers. You just set yourself up to have a better August show. You just proved to the entirety of the fashion industry, tradeshow industry, B2B industry – that this hasn’t been replaced.” Yes. This. More of this.

Is rapid on-site testing a viable solution for our industry?

Orlando’s Fashion events demonstrate that you can be incredibly successful in employing testing to keep anyone who was COVID-19 positive from entering the event. However, they all agreed it is just one part of a holistic health and safety framework. They shared testing was the right approach for the time; yet, advancement in vaccinations and at-home testing may make future on-site testing unnecessary. They shared testing is a significant investment, takes trained medical professionals to administer correctly, and could prove challenging to scale for larger audiences.

Digital for reach/in-person for depth

By adding an online component, MAGIC was able to broaden their reach and introduce a new audience to the brand. The execs were clear that not everything in-person translates to virtual, so it is about designing an optimized experience for both audiences.

If I could pick one theme to summarize the session, it would be emerging confidence and growing optimism. The AllSecure Health and Safety Protocols employed at the events demonstrated that safe events are possible. There was a massive boost of confidence within the fashion industry due to these events, and word quickly spread about multi-million-dollar orders being placed at the show, with larger orders following in the weeks after the event.

For anyone who wants to watch the session, you can watch it here.

A huge thank you to Doug, Nancy, and Greg for sharing their experiences for the industry.

Tools and resources to help you prepare for in-person events:

Health and Safety Approach for the Orlando Events:

Freeman Health & Safety Resources:
New health and safety materials help assess and guide risk mitigation, recommendations for attendee and exhibitor communication, and a glimpse of opportunities for exhibiting as event organizers and meeting planners returning to live events.

  • Communications Template: Framework for what and when to communicate when planning an event.
  • Crisis Management Plan: Preparedness guide to adopt and customize for events as an educational and practical resource. Future of
  • Exhibiting Video: Considerations for creating a comfort zone with health and safety top of mind.

Other resources:

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