Our Founder and Co-CEO, Dan Hirsch, sat down with Startup.info to talk about how OBE, an experiential marketing agency, pivoted during COVID-19. Here is an edited version of that conversation:
Q: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business?
Dan: As an experiential agency, the pandemic was devastating. We watched an entire slate of in-person events get canceled over the course of three weeks. We thought we’d be back within a few months, only to realize that it would be much, much longer. But, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, and I think this is still the case. We were forced to really dig in with our clients and innovate, building virtual skill sets and adding new services quickly. Within two months, we had already gone live on our first virtual events. We then proceeded to shoot over 700 remote pieces of content over six months. Coming out of this, we’ll be well-positioned to not only take back the live experiential marketing business that was once the core of our company, but also enhance our projects through streaming, virtual, and content creation.
Q: How did your business evolve? Do you use any specific new tools to be efficient?
Dan: There are many apps, tools, and software available to virtual event agencies and producers, but the most effective tool while working remotely is clear communication. Your “comms” plan and strategy are vital to the success of the show. This includes ensuring you have a system for communication between your client, talent, and production teams. In some cases, you might want the client to have a direct line to the talent. In other cases, a one-way channel where people can only listen in may be useful. In the end, it’s about finding what works for your team, which brings me to perhaps the most effective tool of all: a committed team that is aligned on your process and works together to accomplish the goal. If you have this, you can do just about anything.
Q: Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Dan: In the past year of uncertainty, we definitely had to make difficult choices. From an HR perspective, we used our core company value of “People First” as our north star. We were able to keep layoffs and furloughs to a minimum; this was due to the willingness, versatility, and sheer grit of our employees to pivot by acquiring new skill sets. Once we gained visibility into upcoming project work, we brought back the majority of our furloughed employees. While our typical employee health and wellness benefits had to be pulled back, we leaned on our competency as an experiential agency and were able to implement monthly opportunities for employees to take advantage of fitness, wellness, and mental health programming, which has been particularly important during this time. In addition, we’ve supported our internal departments with training and development opportunities. This leads to our biggest lesson: no matter what challenges your business is facing, the best investment you can make is in your employees’ growth, both professionally and as human beings.
Q: Your final thoughts?
Dan: Once again, as an entrepreneur, you realize your greatest assets are your people. We have built a culture based on teamwork, grit, and mutual respect. This paid off big time during a time of crisis. Our team bonded and gained strength from each other. Most of the ideas that propelled us forward did not come from myself or my partner Deb but from the team themselves. They dug in, came to us with the ideas, and then executed them flawlessly. I’d say that is what I am most proud of. When the chips were down, everyone came together and raised each other up to succeed.