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This Event Planner Thought Her Career Was Over When COVID-19 Hit—Here’s What She Did Next

When Hawke Media's offices closed down due to COVID-19, Angel Custodio thought her career was over. ... [+] HAWKE MEDIANearly all businesses and employees have been affected by the spread of COVID-19 and the seismic public health and lifestyle changes it created. Among the most acutely affected are professionals in the travel, hospitality and event industries. When Angel Custodio, Head of Experiential and Event Marketing at Hawke Media, saw a flood of conference cancellations in the first days of COVID-19 panic, she thought her career was over. “The day we were all told to work from home, that was really when I started to think—what does this mean for me, what does this mean for my role? And beyond me, what does this mean for our company?” Custodio said. Custodio could have easily fallen into despair or anger over having her career sidetracked by a generational crisis. Instead she quickly turned her focus toward what she could do and how to create value with innovative new programming. The result was Quarantine Conference, a massive virtual event that drew thousands of attendees and featured speakers such as Daymond John and Anthony Scaramucci. Custodio and her team executed the event less than a month after employees nationwide were mandated to work from home. In the process, the organization created more value for potential customers and improved relationships with existing ones. If you’re worried about your professional options during COVID-19, Custodio’s story provides valuable insights and a playbook for action. Here are three keys to remember.

Spread inspiration, not fear Custodio and Hawke Media planned Quarantine Conference while COVID-19 was rapidly spreading in the United States and everybody was worried about their personal and professional futures. While Quarantine Conference’s content was related to the virus, the sessions were designed to inspire, not foment fear. “We capitalized on motivation instead of fear. That’s what Quarantine Conference was really about: educating our attendees on what they can do during this time for themselves and their businesses,” Custodio explained. In the first weeks of the spread of COVID-19, people and businesses faced a deluge of dangerous warnings and negative news. Custodio knew that if she counter-programmed that fear and anxiety by helping people proactively respond to the virus personally and professionally, Hawke Media could find an enthusiastic audience. Ask yourself—what opportunity do you have to give value to somebody else? Whether it’s leveraging your business to help your community, reaching out to your network to offer your support, or even pitching in to help a colleague on a project, you can build value for others, and yourself, by helping someone else in a crisis.

Learn quickly

Though Custodio had planned virtual events before, Quarantine Conference quickly became the largest she had experienced, and Hawke Media’s entire marketing team focused intently on making the program a success. This included evaluating what skills and technology capabilities they needed to make the program run. Specifically, Custodio had to gain complete confidence with the technology platform to host the conference, manage attendees to ensure everybody could engage with the content, and prepare speakers to present at the virtual event with limited lead time. Because her company had never executed a virtual event on a large scale, there were no prior company experience or resources to draw from, she and her colleagues had to accept a certain level of uncertainty, learn quickly, and adapt whenever necessary. Are you focused on learning new skills and adapting to the current reality, or are you waiting for things to go back to normal? The reality is that the new normal will likely look very different.

Consider the future

Rather than just reveling in her achievement of running a successful virtual conference, Custodio is already focusing on the future, considering what she has learned from the experience and how to apply it going forward. “When things go back to whatever our new normal is, I think there’s room for both live and virtual events. I don’t think a webinar will be as unsexy as it was a month ago,” Custodio predicted. The demand for virtual events under COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented surge in innovation for digital meeting technology. It’s more than likely that COVID-19 will create permanent changes to people’s meeting preferences, and preparing for a future where virtual events are more common should be on every business’ radar. Organizations, and the professionals who operate them, can’t hold onto the past and must focus their attention on what they can control and where the market is headed. Taking the lead with your own role is a certain way to not only survive, but thrive with any unexpected challenge.

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