Business COVID-19 Women Who Lead

The Drawing Board: Luxury Event Planners CANDICE&ALISON on What a Post-COVID Event Will Look Like

Candice Chan and Alison Slight against pink background

The Drawing Board is a new series by Bay Street Bull that surveys industry leaders on topics of transformation, innovation, and the road ahead.

Live entertainment spans a multitude of industries, ranging from sporting events and tech conferences to fundraising galas and the performing arts. But what happens when you take the live experience out of the equation? How do we define these experiences when their most critical component is missing?

Without a doubt, the live entertainment and hospitality industries have been among the hardest hit as a result of COVID-19. But these are industries made of resilience and fortitude. If the pandemic has proven anything, it is our capacity to innovate, adapt, and act quickly.

One of Canada’s pre-eminent event planning companies, CANDICE&ALISON Events Group (helmed by founders Candice Chan and Alison Slight) has been creating jaw-dropping events and experiences for the likes of brands like Valentino, YSL, and Moet-Hennessy. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the events industry to completely rethink its approach to live experiences, Chan and Slight were up for the task. Here’s what they learned in 2020 and envision for the road ahead.

In what ways have opportunities been created as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

CANDICE&ALISON: After the initial shock, quick thinking came in Phase 2. A phenomenal example of this is the execution we did for Pearl Morissette, a vineyard in the Niagara region. Once given the green light, they engaged us to rapidly-produce a high concept tented environment that complimented their existing restaurant and expanded their event space. Named Le Pré, the open-air terrace is nestled next to the iconic black barn that people have come to recognize them for and allowed them to facilitate highly in-demand reservations.

Can you describe an instance of out-of-the-box thinking with your company that has demonstrated a savvy business pivot?

CANDICE&ALISON: When the pandemic was declared in the spring, some of our clients were weeks away from their event date and were faced with the decision to either cancel their event entirely or reinvent to save months’ worth of hard work. The best example of this was what our client The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery did in place of their annual fundraiser Power Ball, a highly-anticipated event on the circuit that has been running for 21 years. The physical event component was replaced by Power Up, a virtual fundraising campaign that invited guests to log on for a curated evening of art experiences. The event was hosted by artist Alex McCloud who designed Zoom backgrounds guests could choose from prior to their participation. Donors also received a hand-delivered basket of ingredients along with wine pairings the day of the event to allow them to engage in a live cooking demo by the culinary team at Eataly.

Floral dining table with flowers draped overtop inside tent created by CANDICE&ALISON
Photo: CANDICE&ALISON

In what ways has the reality of COVID-19 made your business better?

CANDICE&ALISON: The pandemic has allowed us to revaluate our existing practices and become more efficient. It has given us the ability to be nimble and concise as we now have to act quickly and provide our clients with the best-case scenario in today’s landscape. The guidance of event professionals is more important than ever as we hold a proven roster of experts in our rolodex who we can quickly call upon to execute to a high standard. Without the luxury of time, we provide clear plans and executable ideas, taking out the guesswork in an environment with tons of uncertainty. This confidence is more crucial than ever when making big decisions.

Are there any positive changes to your industry and the events landscape that you think will remain once we are out of the woods with the pandemic?

CANDICE&ALISON: I think contingency plans will be more important than ever. We have always reinforced the need for plan B (and C) scenarios that are as valid as the original event plan and will continue to push this as an essential part of the process.  Yes, this approach requires more planning, but the expression “what if” has never been more tangible.

What have you discovered about the human connection and the impact it has on creating community in events?

CANDICE&ALISON: Human connection is irreplaceable in live events. Events are so tactile and are a balance of sight, sound, and feeling. The energy that is created from an event, the memories, and the shared experience is needed more than ever. I am confident there will be a safe return when the world is ready.

Photo of elaborate event set up on a baseball diamond created by CANDICE&ALISON
Photo: CANDICE&ALISON

How has the human connection been redefined for you?

CANDICE&ALISON: I think the emphasis will be on sight and sound rather than touch going forward, which is a really exciting proposition as it allows a more individualistic way for guests to engage with their event environment. It gives us the opportunity to develop highly designed “moments” within the event concept. With a distanced new world, we are anticipating a shift towards micro-events and the “art gallery” experience where people engage with the event design uniquely and within a smaller group. Ultimately, this offers a more concierge-style approach, which is often perceived as more premium.  

Who do you think will be the winners that come out of COVID-19 when it comes to those who have been able to innovate in the events and hospitality industry?

CANDICE&ALISON: The world of print and graphics will gain importance along with anything sensory, like floral design. Custom build-outs and tent structures will continue to see an uptick in popularity as well as pop-up experiential event designs that allow guests to spread out and engage over a longer period of time.

 

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What has surprised you about yourself as a business owner or how your industry has been ably to rally and grow?

CANDICE&ALISON: There has been an overwhelming amount of support amongst our industry as we are truly all in this together. Our vendors have been incredible in their unique ability to pivot, offering their existing inventory in new ways to suit the current need. We have been so fortunate to be part of an amazing event community in Toronto that has always been supportive in the best of times. It is an extended family that we have cherished as we have grown together over the years.

Any concluding remarks?

CANDICE&ALISON: At the start of the year, we were on a trajectory leading us to a higher level of event production that focused on custom-built environments and a heavier emphasis on design. We are no longer solely designing the general concept and are applying all aspects of the design to custom furniture and fixtures, wallpaper, flooring, and modular pieces that can be multi-purpose throughout the event duration. We want to continue this focus and take advantage of new spaces that may become available in non-traditional locations. ‘Surprise and delight’ is always our motto and with the “new normal” we anticipate an even greater ability to do so.

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