Current Affairs

Chronicles of a Winning Mindset in Times of Crisis

17th August 2020

Elizabeth Niehaus, Executive Officer of the International Exhibition Logistics Association (IELA), argues that never before has the power of adaptation been more important, just as never before has the role of associations leaders been critical.

How can association teams be the winning mindset and motor of change in times of uncertainty and crisis, where former industry business models belong to the past? How can association leaders accompany their communities to prepare for a better future in a volatile world?

Starting point March

Early this year, the event industry started to understand the impact the pandemic was going to have. End of January we had to cancel an event in Bangkok that was supposed to take place mid-February due to the raising COVID-19 cases in Asia. Since then our IELA members have been deeply impacted by the crisis with thousands of events being cancelled and thousands of jobs at risk.

Under this particular situation, the team reaction was instinctive and personal: And we listened to our members. We succeeded in contacting practically every one of them by phone personally. On all five continents in all 56 countries. Very soon we understood we would need to re-create an inspiring, empowering and connecting platform, similar to that provided to our members on the occasion of the annual congress. The main goal was to give the opportunity to our global network to anticipate, rebound and adapt to the new situation.


Within days, our members witnessed a sudden drop to zero activity/business. As uncertainty about the duration of the crisis grew, the tension started to mount. We wanted to strengthen and support the industry we love and cherish and on March 5th we launched a new campaign. 

We felt there was a need for some positive inspiration that would incite renewed confidence to feel stronger and succeed in adapting to the challenge that was changing our lives. The headline “This is our industry, our passion, our world” mirrored our authentic and full inclusiveness approach. The main message “Together we are building the contingency network to cater to the industry’s ultimate needs” became reality.

Two months later, the impact was overwhelming: #togetherstrong became the voice and image of the whole industry, delivering beyond expectations and beyond borders in an industry that represents 3.2 million jobs with a total impact of $325 billion in business sales & $197 billion of GDP.

48.350 minutes bouncing back

Indeed, the exhibition and event industry is made up of resilient, creative and strong people, namely passionate minds who always find new ways to support the industry, supportive institutions in close contact with governments since the beginning of the crisis, problem- solvers offering alternatives and solutions, and, above all global associations joining forces with one common goal.

But how could we bring all this talent together to make a difference in a period of need? As association professionals, it is our passion to deliver content that lift the communities we serve so they can anticipate changes, and not be overwhelmed by them. So, we brought the pieces of the puzzles together – talent & content –  and IELA RELOAD was born. 

In early May, we began a diversified programme of activities implementing successful and effective business measures with the goal of navigating through the shutdown and relaunch periods. 

IELA RELOAD offered e-learning seminars, regional sessions and so-called Recovery Talks. The concept of the programme was not only to accompany members to overcome this global health and economic crisis as a unified association, but also to emerge from the experience even stronger than before and with greater solidarity.

This also included:

+ Preparing IELA members to the new mindset, the ‘New Now’, advocating for a changed culture beyond event and exhibition logistics. Ten RECOVERY TALKS were designed with the sole goal of encouraging members to successfully re-invent themselves.

+ Boosting action in a paralyzed world: for 11 weeks, we stimulated a dialogue and industry discussions with two weekly live sessions and ‘Winning Confidence Back’ as a guiding thread. We also organised ten IELA TALKS on all continents with the participation of top industry leaders, promoting active advocacy work and a unified worldwide communication campaign strengthening the image of the exhibition industry in an adapted environment.

+ Accompanying our members, reassuring them of the continued relevance of our industries, supporting individuals on how to mitigate the loss of revenue and generating new content (like Covid-19 Guidelines); building new bridges between stakeholders.

All sessions have been created as a part of a value chain, each session completes the previous one. To anticipate, adapt and re-invent ourselves was our motto.

What’s next?

IELA RELOAD was a real incubator of ideas for the future, spreading the fighting spirit all over the world to empower IELA members to succeed in the New Now. When we launched the online event end of April, we never imagined the impact the program was going to have, not only to our members but to the whole industry. 

Beyond the initial idea of connecting our members out of isolation, we managed to create new diversified platforms and new networks between industry stakeholders, involving our main members’ customers as active program participants. Case in point: our closing session ‘Winning Confidence Back Africa’, co-hosted by the South African Event Industry Council, was the most successful ever, with 75% of the audience being exhibition & event organisers based on the African continent.

So what’s next? According to post-event surveys, 99% of the participants highlighted the need to repeat the experience and extend the online program for a second season, which is now scheduled for September.

Our approach to the crises – which meant being responsive, members centric and industry supportive – made all the difference. Our sense of leadership changed the way we design events and our content architecture approach gave space for a renewed vision of our industry. 

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