From high-flying planner to therapist and virtual savior…and back again joy

Joe Martin

Partner, BDI Events

President, 2019-2020 Meeting Professionals International Southern California Chapter

The first days of 2020 dawned bright for Los Angeles-based event management company BDI Events. “I was bonkers,” says partner Joe Martin, looking back from a distance of 15 months. He was a scant few weeks away from his largest leadership event of the year, at Grand Hyatt Denver, and in his role as president of MPI Southern California was planning Weekend Educational Conference (WeCon) back in his hometown directly following.

“I heard rumblings,” he recalls of the succession of events. “We got out just in time.” In fact, he jokes that the Four Seasons buffet meal he consumed to celebrate the successful end of the two programs may have been the last supper of its kind. “At least I went out on a high note,” he says.

Pivot to Virtual Therapist

What Martin didn’t know was that he was about to become a therapist to clients from Berlin to Washington, D.C., and back to Southern California. “They had to process the news of the shutdown emotionally and operationally,” he explains. Some were more resistant than others. “Some of those milestone conferences are never coming back,” he says with a mournful shrug.

Martin was no stranger to virtual and hybrid events. He started producing streaming programming in 2017, so he had experience and a track record to share when nearly everyone else was scrambling. “Our business actually grew,” he says, once he told people he could help them share their content in a new way. “Now our goal is to keep those folks as we go back to in-person.”

That quick shift doesn’t mean he liked it. “I think hybrid is a buzzword,” he says, a little derisively. “My prediction is that it will work for some people, but most people won’t be able to afford the budget to do it correctly.”

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Beyond the technology, the training and a quality presenter to keep everyone engaged requires real dollars. “It is difficult to do it right,” he says. That’s why he advises minimalist agendas. “Look at your event schedule and don’t try to do it all. Decide what makes sense in person and what works online,” he says. That might mean every other year is online or not at all. He also counsels not trying to stream everything live. Simulive, a combination of taped and live offers fewer surprises and higher production values.

Also challenging was keeping the team together. Though the company was already remote, in the “before times” they got together a couple times a week to brainstorm and align operationally. “We had to find ways to keep lists when we didn’t have a whiteboard in front of us,” he says.

As president of an association that was hit hard, watching the fall-out was difficult. He estimates half his members lost their jobs. “I get chills just talking about it now,” he admits. He rallied the board to pick up the phone and call people during the darkest days. “Everyone got vulnerable last year. It was an opportunity to get to know people a little more at a deeper level. That was a positive but also difficult.”

A Happy Ending

Now, in addition to planning his first hybrid meeting for the fall, he is also planning his own wedding for September 2022. The original 2021 date was postponed because the Canadian location isn’t open yet. “I have already had the hotel revise my diagrams three times,” he says. “That makes me so happy.”