Agency pitch: “Out of every cloud comes a rainbow”

International conference and event manager Faye Alexander shares how Covid-19 turned her world upside down – and what she did about it.

In 2019 Alexander Events had just seen its busiest year yet: events attended by royalty, accommodation bookings for expeditions across the US, dinners, conferences, expos… business was good. And then in March 2020, everything changed.

Agency pitch

Faye Alexander

Alexander Events founder Faye Alexander says, “In the space of a few weeks I went from sitting in a pitch in London in my heels and lipstick for work on an international awards ceremony for 2021 after meetings with my healthcare client who was looking at events in Cardiff, China and America for 2020, to being locked up in the house, taking our baby out of nursery, suffering from anxiety and going through a drive-through farm shop with people in full hazmat suits loading my boot with food for the family as I paid contactless through the window.”

“My events agency suddenly became a dark burden trying to find time with zero childcare to send emails about cancelling and postponing events.”

In 2019 Alexander had taken over academic conference KES International and was looking to organise its 24th annual conference in Croatia in June 2020.

“KES International was our biggest source of income and if we couldn’t make that work we would have faced losing pretty much everything,” she says. KES was now our top priority and we started thinking about the concept of going virtual with our noses firmly turned up. It left us flat, the very thought.

“I would be telling fibs if I said we’d tried every single platform on the market but it was beginning to feel that way. Why should we have to dramatically change our conferences to fit this vast virtual world? How on earth could that work?

“We’d spent time and spoken to all the major players and yet still, nothing quite worked. Weeks of research, endless phone calls, mapping out every option, demos, questions and we hit a brick wall.”

“Sleepless nights, worry, in and out of hospital with our poorly baby, no childcare, grieving our former lives, missing travel, I myself having COVID-19 symptoms, the emotional weekly clap for carers… the lowest moments of my life,” says Alexander.

It was then that Alexander hit on the answer – describe to a designer and developer what she needed and build the platform herself.

“We did not want to amend our events so much it didn’t work, so it was a different conference, missing its vital elements, we wanted the virtual world to fit our events.

“I also knew my other conferences for the Alexander Events could work on what we had in mind as we could make it flexible, scalable, hybrid, brand-able and design something to bring all these elements under one roof.”

And so, KES Online was born.

“We had the skills, event experience and knowledge to create a vision of something really special,” says Alexander. “Something with the customer journey at the core of what we wanted to do. A platform for virtual events created by event professionals.”

A set of wireframes went to some of Alexander’s tech contacts in the BBC research and development team for opinions – and then work started, branding, design and working with a developer. Six weeks later, the platform was ready and the Smart Digital Futures conference took place virtually in June featuring 170 academics from around the world.

“We had an opening ceremony, international keynote speakers, breakout sessions, networking lounges, discussions and much more,” says Alexander. “If that hadn’t worked – I can’t talk about the unthinkable – but we did it!

“Then people started asking us about the platform. Can we have as many breakouts as we want and a keynote theatre webinar-style? Can we ask questions typed/live? Can we network in the live lounge face to face or via type chat?

“Philadelphia, Belgium, the UK and Wisconsin are a few places from where we have had interest from, people asking us for demos and quotes. There have been corporates, government organisations, universities and scientific organisations.”

Alexander Events staged back-to-back events in September from a monthly webinar series to a conference of more than 450 delegates and has had to set up a new business for the platform work, as well as get an office and employ a new member of staff.

“What is also great is having people who attended our first event coming forward, impressed by our platform and asking for demos”, says Alexander. “A new office, a new business, a new employee, a new platform and a new way of life… because out of every black cloud comes a rainbow.”

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