COVID-19 has wiped the calendars of experiential and live event agencies for the foreseeable future, forcing them to shift their business models. Agencies that have been able to stay afloat are working with clients on digital pivots or contact-free consumer experiences as well as brainstorming ideas for when events potentially return post-pandemic. Simultaneously, some companies are putting their talent and resources into helping those who are fighting the pandemic on the front lines.
In just a matter of weeks, U.S. event agencies, fabrication shops and rental companies have temporarily shifted priorities to make personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and essential businesses, and offer services like triage tents for temporary hospitals. Certain agencies have also launched national networks to connect event industry professionals and companies willing to help, with local hospitals and organizations in need.
As there’s no definitive end date for the crisis, the goal for many agencies launching these COVID-19 response programs is to continue them until their services are no longer needed.
Providing PPE and relief structures
Like many experiential agencies, MAS Event + Design had its remaining Q1 and Q2 client activations canceled due to COVID-19, with question marks hanging over potential in-person projects for the last half of 2020. The Brooklyn-based agency, which produces events for brands such as YouTube and Spotify, is continuing to work with clients to figure out new ways to deliver consumer experiences. But the agency recognized it also had resources and employees that could help hospitals lacking personal protective equipment (PPE) to fight the coronavirus.
“When this crisis began, as much as we needed to focus on our clients and help them through this complicated time, there was also a common thought within the agency,” said Melissa Mahon, svp of production at MAS Event + Design. “We asked ourselves: What can we do here to contribute to the solution to this problem?”
When the outbreak began to escalate in New York in March, BeSide, the fabrication arm of MAS, began researching PPE they could easily construct with in-house tools and equipment. Working with the University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering and medical schools, BeSide developed a prototype for plastic face shields—the clear plastic visors that healthcare workers wear over N95 masks for additional protection.
Once the prototype was approved by medical professionals, MAS set up a call log for everyone at the agency to reach out to different plastic, foam and elastic manufacturers to source and purchase the raw materials needed to make the shields. Mahon said the agency now has a set routine of purchasing materials incrementally from different manufacturers and getting them shipped to their Brooklyn outpost.
Mahon said BeSide is now making between 3,000 to 5,000 face shields per day at their production studio. For two eight-hour shifts daily, teams of five people per shift have dedicated their time to creating the shields. Mahon said the employees wear masks and gloves for extra protection and are respecting social distancing guidelines of staying at least six feet apart.
MAS is now selling and shipping the masks directly to hospitals, doctor groups and community groups on a first-come, first-serve basis through requests to a dedicated email address. Mahon said the pricing of the shields depends on the quantity requested (there’s no minimum on orders) but on average they sell for $5 each.
So far, MAS has mainly shipped face shields locally to hospitals including NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the Brooklyn Hospital Center, Mount Sinai and Elmhurst Hospital. Mahon said as the agency continues to promote initiative on their social media channels, they’re also receiving requests from out-of-state groups, and have already shipped to groups based in Massachusetts and Washington State. Mahon said the agency is beginning to mentor smaller shops across the country on how to replicate their initiative, after they reached out on social media.
“Our goal is to keep this up as long as it’s needed, but I don’t know how long that will be,” Mahon said. “I suspect within a month, larger manufacturers like 3M will be able to produce [PPE] faster and at higher quantities. I will imagine they’ll take over this market. But we’ll be here and keep the lights on to contribute until the need is no longer there.”