HopSkip had the opportunity to sit down with Brittany Street, a meeting planner who safely and successfully planned and held a large meeting for her organization, Beck's Hybrids. Beck's Hybrids is the largest family-owned seed company in the United States, serving farmers in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
Overview of the event: A dealer sales kickoff to the season, with over 600 attendees at the JW Marriott Indy for Beck’s Dealer Summer Camp in July 2020.
What were the top few things that made you feel confident that you were set up for success to have your first live event since the start of COVID-19?
First, was the support from our leadership team here at Beck’s. They were supportive of us having an in-person event if we could hold an event safely for our dealers and staff. Teamwork within all of the departments at Beck’s was invaluable. It was important that everyone was onboard with helping coordinate and making this event safe and successful for our attendees. We also sent out a survey to all of our potential attendees to get a pulse on how they felt about an in-person event. The agriculture industry as a whole is so resilient. Every year they deal with droughts, excess rain, and other circumstances that pop up throughout the year. Because of these situations, our industry is well equipped to problem solve and turn on a dime. Lastly, our relationship with the JW was also beneficial to ensure that our staff and dealers were safe.
What was the deciding factor between virtual or in person?
Virtual was thought of at one time, but our events are so customer/dealer focused. The attendee survey was the key deciding factor with an overwhelming majority wanting to attend a live event.
How did you find out that your attendees would be willing to travel to and attend a live event?
Through a survey we sent to potential attendees.
Did you receive any feedback from your attendees leading up to or following the event regarding if they felt safe?
Our Dealer Summer Camp event is voluntary for our dealers. The verbal feedback our dealers provided before and after the event was full of individuals thanking us for hosting the in-person event.
Did the number of attendees change compared to prior years?
Yes, this year was our first year to also put on a summer camp event in Des Moines, so attendees were split between two event options.
Were hotels’ safety protocols and communication of them a deciding factor in choosing a property?
We have our hotels booked out years in advance, but we conducted several calls with the JW to walk us through all the safety protocols from parking on arrival to getting in their cars to leave the event.What did the hotel do to ensure safety compliance?
Hotel staff at the JW wore masks. They provided sanitizer stations, social distancing set ups, and a contactless check-in process. Beck’s or the JW had to submit and get approval on plans/seating charts and information from hotels air exchange from the local county health department to move forward with the event. Electrostatic sprayers were used throughout the hotel, the rooms were cleaned thoroughly twice and sealed prior to check-in, just to name a few things that were carried out by Beck’s and the hotel.
How was the process of doing social distancing room layouts? Space to rooms ratio?
Normally we have breakouts; rooms that held 100 now held around 40 so we had to revamp our structure. We used bigger rooms and made them regionalized. We had speakers switch rooms and attendees stay in same rooms. For our regional sessions, we had a theatre style set up, while our general session used 72 inch rounds with four people per table and chairs were adjacent not back to back. We always spread six feet apart for set ups.
How did masks and social distancing affect attendee networking?
We eliminated breaks so that we were able to achieve safe social distancing for beverage and bathroom breaks.
Is there anything you wish you did differently when preparing for the event?
Honestly no, we had great open and frequent communication with the JW before and during the event. I think that the coordination and the flexibility to turn on a dime between the Beck’s team and the team at the JW made for a successful event.
As a result of COVID-19, will your target destinations change from traditionally popular markets to regional, drive-to, and less densely populated cities?
It is our plan to continue to stay in our marketing area in the Midwest. Indianapolis, Iowa and adding more destinations in the upcoming years.
As a result of COVID-19, did your sourcing workflow change in any way? More approval gates, contract negotiation, hotel communications?
Yes, we had to receive local county health department approval, watching for changing executive orders, etc. Hotel communication was key, it was far more detailed and frequent, especially when it came to safety protocols and layouts. It was challenging at times, but it was a smooth process that I associate with our relationships with the hotel and working alongside of the local health department.
In summary, Beck's Hybrids is just one example of how planners are expertly pivoting to hosting safe and successful live events in this new normal, while satisfying attendees' thirst for face to face participation in meetings. HopSkip looks forward to bringing you more content showcasing examples of recent safe live events as our community continues to adapt to the current climate and overcome the obstacles Covid-19 has created. Keep an eye out as we release the additional parts to the Planner Success Stories Series as well as new resources posted to the HopSkip Blog. As in person events begin to gain more steam book a demo with HopSkip to learn how you can begin sourcing confidently again!