By Jian Magen.
It’s difficult to know where to begin, as I have yet to understand where and how it will end.
The fact is, that like many (next to the birth of my children) COVID-19 has no doubt been the single most significant event in my world to date. Never before have I seen something completely shift an entire planet like this virus. And while I am well aware that the results have been catastrophic for so many businesses, big and small, I am both humbled and confident when I say that those of us in the event, food, hospitality and fitness industry have taken one of the hardest hits.
The pandemic has forced so many to “pivot.” That’s a word that we never thought we would hear this much and so often. Even on the grandest scale, the athletes formed their bubbles and ended up playing the season; the actors quarantined for two weeks and shot their movies on very restricted sets, and the corporate moguls emptied their offices and sent their employees to work from home. It wasn’t ideal, but nothing about this pandemic has been. The point is that their new normal has been able to become just that… normal. Now, of course, some businesses were hurt more than others and in many cases, “pivoting” was not enough. Many roadblocks have made it a genuine struggle for most and an impossibility for many. For those in the events industry, the obstacles were massive. How do you produce a gathering when we can’t gather? How do you create a party when you’re not allowed to party? It’s been devastating, to say the least, and even after 12 months of “COVID life,” it is challenging to comprehend what has happened to our business.
It is challenging to comprehend what has happened to our business.
With all that said, I am in no way tone-deaf to the reality of those who have both lost and given up the most during this time. The families whose loved ones have been taken due to the coronavirus and the front-line workers who go to work every day, risking their lives and the lives of their families to keep us safe. While I have always had immense respect for the people who work in the health care industry, they have earned a whole new level of respect due to their bravery.
I have been asked to share our story of this pandemic, and I am pleased to do so in the hopes that it can provide comfort or maybe even hope for someone currently struggling. Please know that this is not a “poor me” rant; this is just my story, how it happened, where I am, and where I’m going.
The best way to begin is to take you back to November 2019. Each year, on the 2nd Tuesday of November, we sit down with our staff to wrap up the previous year and project the intended outcome for the next. We identify new and upcoming trends and make decisions with regards to the ones that are fading out. We work towards establishing and nurturing relationships with current clients while we simultaneously search for new ones. Our industry is constantly changing and innovating, but the one constant that drives us is the competitiveness that comes with the business. This is one of the keys to success. So, we attend open houses, industry nights, tech conferences, production demos. Whatever we can do to stay on top of our game. Do we put countless hours into what makes a particular post captivating? Is it the right filter? How can we insert more enthusiasm into our follow-ups? How can we step up our RFP game? We talk logistics on top of logistics on top of logistics and any ways to improve them. This is what has worked for us and what was always on the agenda in this meeting.
This particular year, however, would be different. It was not because we would be prepping for a worldwide pandemic, but because this year, we would be putting a huge focus on the fact that 2020 was an important year for MBE. December 2020, Magen Boys would be celebrating our 20th year in business. Twenty years is a significant milestone. It’s a big deal. This meeting had a different feeling to it. Along with our usual entertainment recon, we also began to discuss some options and ideas for what we would create. “A big party!” Page (my twin brother and business partner) said. A big party was the obvious choice. A star-studded event that would blow the top off anything we had done before. It would be something to celebrate the company, the staff, the clients, the business and all that we have accomplished over the last 20 years. We were going to make a splash, a big one, a tidal wave, a tsunami. We brainstormed and cemented the plan and agreed to revisit and begin execution in Q2 of 2020.
Fast forward to March 15th, 2020. The world shut down, and so did our vision for what was to be.
Fast forward to March 15th, 2020. The world shut down, and so did our vision for what was to be. It was crisis mode from the first moment. Everything was happening so fast while simultaneously felt as though we were experiencing it in slow motion—the decimation of the event industry. The first few weeks were spent moving over 400 clients booked for spring and summer into the fall without a single ounce of knowledge of whether or not there would even be a fall season. We were inundated with questions about deposit protocol as if we had a section that covered a worldwide pandemic in our handbook. As a company, we are a well-oiled machine. Even more so, we thrive under pressure, but this was more than pressure; this was mayhem. A complete no-holds-barred battle royal! It was hard, and it was all happening while learning to wear a mask, wash your hands every seven seconds and stand six feet away from each other. There was the noise that you heard on the radio, and in the streets, the political turmoil and there were the media wars. There was so much happening in our peripheral world, and there was our world. Our business. Our livelihood.
It took a few weeks to adjust to what everyone was calling the “new normal.” And then, as quickly as it started… it slowed. The calls and e-mails became less frantic, and Zoom was the new “way” to communicate. It just got kind of quiet, as if we were emerging from the rubble of a massive collapse. I know that sounds dramatic, but it was dramatic. The industry had been doused in gasoline and set ablaze. We had our families, health, and friends; however, we were covered in ash, and everything was eerily silent. It was devastating. In that silence, though, was a booming realization that was louder than anything. At that moment, I looked at my brother and said, “Wow… this could really be the end of our business”.
If that’s not enough to feel like you have just gotten your ass kicked, then I don’t know what is. But at the very same time, as we have in many scenarios throughout our life, we wondered if it was also the beginning in disguise. Don’t get me wrong; we were terrified. But for the very first time in a very long time, we had been given the space and the opportunity to understand who we are as brothers, as business partners and as people. Page and I are inventors, we are entrepreneurs, and we are survivors. We took a minute and allowed this pandemic to allow us to breathe and reflect. We developed a level of understanding that there was never time for pre-COVID.
As time went on and the uncertainty grew, what didn’t change was the need to survive and thrive. Like many of you, we have families that depend on us. We needed to provide, but exactly how was that possible in such an uncertain climate? Virtual events became our reality. We built a studio and began producing Zoom events with some smaller events that adhered to the provincial guidelines set out to us. We never for a second stopped working; however, for what might have been the very first time in our lives, we didn’t have all that much to do. There was no one to motivate, minimal staff to manage, no massive site visits to attend. It was a complete paradox of what we considered reality.
One day, I was on a walk with my brother. Something that I honestly and for the life of me can’t tell you when the last time was that we did that. We walked and discussed how it could be that this was quite possibly the very first time in 20 years where we hadn’t been on stage, entertaining people, meeting with clients, working seven days a week on a crazy schedule. We were living through this significant turbulence, yet there was this notion of “calm” at the same time. It was a particular brand of calm. It was unfamiliar, charged with reflection and at the same time allowed us to surrender and maintain our grip of the situation.
Believe me when I say that it was most certainly not arrogance, and in no way am I attempting to dramatize the situation because the truth is that nothing humbles you more than watching our livelihood crumble. But it was a “we have each other’s backs no matter what” kind of calm. It forced us to think more rationally; my words and actions had a different meaning, and the vision became clearer. Reflection is the ability to look back so that the view looking forward is clear, and I knew that where we would be a year, five years, even ten years from now would be a reflection of the choices we made at this moment. It was an emotional and encouraging trip down memory lane. We had ignited the realization that the biggest thing we were missing in ourselves was actually what we had been delivering over the past 19 years. Simply put, we missed the joy.
So that was our focus. DO what we can, while we can and constantly be aware of the purpose. Joy. We created a “joy drive” that delivered over thousands of toys to hundreds of organizations and families. We celebrated people where we could. We have made ourselves available in the virtual space and have innovated in all ways possible. We are doing our best. We will always do our best.
If you are in the events industry, I know that you have put in your time to get to where you are. While we do have a version of a thankless business, it is time for us to say THANK YOU to one another. Let’s work smarter together. Let’s find ways to build each other up and stress LESS. Let’s save time and share opportunities and wisdom. Through these challenging times, we have earned this! Let’s give ourselves and each other a pat on the back.
So I leave you with this. To those of you in a hard-hit industry, not just the events industry, but ANY industry that has suffered due to this pandemic,- know this: now more than ever, I feel you. I hear you. I see you working hard. WE are working hard. My hope is that when we do come back (and WE WILL) that the events we produce will not only celebrate the individual but at the same time, every single event will be an incredible triumph… bigger than anything that the human spirit currently allows. We WILL celebrate again… and when we do, know this; we will focus on creating a thriving hospitality industry. We will support and protect our fellow industry peers. We will work together to create a level of social responsibility and human kindness that exceeds the norm. We will see you, we will support you, and we will BE THERE WITH YOU. Until then, I urge you to stay positive and be safe. Hold on just a little longer…the events world will come back in all of its glory.
About the Author: Jian Magen is a lifelong entrepreneur, an industry leader in event production, and an expert on all things entertainment. Having co-founded The Magen Group with his twin brother Page, Jian has overseen the growth of the company into a full-service media powerhouse employing over 100 exceptional team members. While planning and executing thousands of large-scale corporate and private events over the past two decades, Jian has broadened his business portfolio, remaining closely involved in each project he takes on. Jian owns event venues, a music agency, digital activation businesses and much more. His expansion into film production, video game development and Esports channels a young-at-heart mindset that informs all of his professional endeavours. Most vital to Jian is his tireless commitment to humanitarian causes, which has led to the annual Grads Go Global event benefiting a Tanzanian orphanage he and his brother were instrumental in building. No matter the task at hand, Jian’s belief in hard work, integrity, and bringing people together has cemented The Magen Group as the first-class presence in Canada’s entertainment community.