Jenna Phillips

COVID-19 Report: Jenna Phillips on Uncertainty in the Event Space

Jenna Phillips

Jenna Phillips

Director of Private Events at 16 on Center, Chicago

Jenna Phillips is the director of Private Events at 16 on Center, a Chicago based collective of venues. Her and her team plan and coordinate hundreds of events across Chicago every year.

The Event industry has never seen anything like this before…

The Event industry has never seen anything like this before, where all the wheels are forced to stop turning completely. It’s in the nature of a good planner to be prepared for anything, but this is a new momentous disruption. I’m afraid it is going to have ripple effects for a very long time. 

Beyond the mess that COVID-19 has made of the Event and Hospitality industry, I’m devastated for my coworkers and friends who depend on our rooms, restaurants, and bars to support themselves and their families. 

With the rug so suddenly ripped from under us, I’m really afraid of what life could look like for some people depending on how long this mandated closure lasts. It’s likely that they could go 6-8 weeks without a paycheck.

This month has been an emotional rollercoaster…

This month has been an emotional rollercoaster. The beginning of March was ‘business as usual’ despite all of the whispers about the virus and its potential spread. Mid-month when our governor made his first press conference and announced the limitation of public and private gatherings, we in the Event world knew that this was just the beginning. 

Sure enough, the limitations began to get tighter and tighter each day, until finally, here we are in a state of ‘Shelter in Place.’ After that, the already constant flow of client and vendor emails seemed to double, as everyone began to request answers, and brides and planners began to panic. We’re now trying to reschedule events instead of canceling them. Still, we’re not even sure when we’ll be able to open our doors again.

I am one of a handful of Directors and Managers working through next week to keep things in motion as much as possible, and “wrap up” as many event-reschedules and cancellations as I can. Before the rest of my team was furloughed, we reached out to each individual client who had events booked with us through May, and we let them know their options for rescheduling and cancellation.

The ultimate hope is that all of these events that we’re having to cancel or reschedule will still happen, and we’ll make up for this lost time with an even busier second, third, and fourth quarter. 

So, I will certainly take some of this time off to re-organize myself and try and make sure that when this mess is all over, I’m as ready as I can be to go at full speed. 

This includes re-thinking our branding and marketing strategies – how are we going to make up for lost sales? It’s also important to re-think certain protocols that we use at our venues and kitchens; what should we change about our practices in a post-Coronavirus world? 

…my fingers crossed that the industry will recover from this and we’ll have something to come back to.

While I’m not working on event planning, I’ll try and fill my time with some of the things that I tend to put on the back burner during the busy season, with all of my fingers crossed that the industry will recover from this and we’ll have something to come back to.

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