COVID-19 Puts Experiential Careers on Hold For Young Talent

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Ashley Lawrence, a digital marketing professional in the live music and festival space, was slated to start her new job as a marketing project manager for a Live Nation-affiliated festival two weeks ago. That same week, coronavirus cancellations and the world’s move to self isolation caused Live Nation’s stock to drop, dramatically.

“My offer is currently in limbo. It hasn’t been rescinded or pushed through,” said Lawrence. “All my freelance projects are letting my contracts go, too. By the end of this week, I’ll probably have lost every job I had because of this situation.”

Lawrence, who’s 31 and lives in Chicago, has worked in digital marketing for two years, falling into a similar boat as countless millennials and Gen Zers whose careers have been upended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Experiential marketing and live events are in a state of uncertainty, as brands and agencies can’t estimate when they’ll be able to produce physical events again.

For young people in the industry, whose careers were just taking off, the pandemic’s immediate effects have left them weighing their options in a career crisis. While some consider temporary alternative career moves, everyone faces the unanswerable questions of when experiential—which was full of opportunity, until it wasn’t—will return as a job option, and whether it will be the same on the other side of COVID-19.

Those in live events search for outside opportunities—for now

With no opportunities in the live music space, Lawrence said she’ll have to apply for digital marketing jobs in other industries. What’s disheartening, she said, is that it’s taken years of hard work for her to land her dream jobs in the music industry.

“I’m basically starting over from scratch, and it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “And it makes me sad that all the contacts I’ve worked so hard to get in the music industry are losing their jobs themselves. More and more people are losing their jobs every day, and it’s going to be very hard to get a new job right now.”

Kayleigh Starr, a 25-year-old working in live event production, is in a similar situation as Lawrence. In early March, Starr began a full-time role as an account coordinator for a New York-based event production company. After eight days on the job, the company laid off the entire staff as their events calendar was wiped due to coronavirus-related client cancellations.

After she was laid off, Starr managed to land a temporary gig helping a TV network with the load out of a show in Connecticut. But heading into this week, she said she’s unsure of what’s next, as TV production is also seeing major shutdowns due to the coronavirus.

“I’m going to wait 30 days before applying to jobs not in my field. I’m hopeful, but at the same time I don’t want to sugarcoat it. It’s ugly for our industry right now,” she said. “We were one of the first, along with travel and tourism, to have the rug ripped out from under us.”

While Lawrence and Starr consider jobs in other fields during this crisis, both are optimistic that events will be booming once the pandemic is over. Starr got her start in live events at 20 as a tour manager intern for a traveling wellness festival. She said what drew her to event production as a post-grad career were the bonds she formed with teams, which can often put in 18-hour work days.

“It’s a tough industry, but I’m hoping that once this is over I can go back to doing what I love,” Starr said. “It’s going to be booming again. I have no doubt that once this settles down, all people will want to do is go to music festivals, reschedule their wedding and rush to see Billie Eilish on tour. The ugly side of it is waiting it out.”

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