In his article last weekend in the Irish Times David McWilliams wrote about ‘The myth of government ‘job creation”. His quote that ‘there is no business that opens solely in order to employ other people. Employment is what happens after a product is successful’ resonated with me.
Not just in relation to job creation but in a wider sense of how our creative economic ecosystem is structured and how Covid -19 has caused a huge change in this system.
It led me to question what if your business is already successful but the bookings have just stopped. How can you restart an economy and talk about job creation when the key element from that ecosystem, the client, is missing?
On March 12th a wave of cancellations emptied the diaries of most photographer and videographers as events and shoots were cancelled. A survey carried out by the Irish Professional Photographers and Videographers in May 2020 found that;
62% of businesses closed completely, while another 31% worked in a limited capacity.
90% of the industry have seen a 90% drop in revenue of 75% or more.
Some of the lucky ones kept going with one or two jobs a week, but the majority switched their attentions to gardening and DIY while they waited for a call to send them out on assignment again.
They followed Government guidelines, worked remotely and if they were lucky to get a booking only traveled when necessary. These were already successful, thriving businesses, not new start-ups. Some were sole traders and others employers with staff they needed to support and protect.
As the Government eased restrictions and the conversation began about restarting the economy and job creation, photographers and videographers were already looking at how to work safely in a Covid-19 environment. There was an expectation that bookings would increase, albeit at a slower pace, as clients also found ways to get back to work safely.
Businesses reviewed their processes and identified what they did prior to Covid-19 and what now needed to change. They set in place systems and a business plan that prepared them for work in a Covid -19 environment.
From the beginning of Covid-19 however, the question of working safely in photography and videography was always achievable, what was more complicated was that there just weren’t any bookings being made by clients.
As McWilliams discussed in his Irish Times article, a thriving business needs a successful service or product. Many businesses pre Covid -19 were successful, however the lack of movement by clients to restart bookings has left many photographers and videographers still waiting to hear from their clients.
While large events understandably cannot go ahead and Government guidelines have to be adhered to, there are plenty of smaller and easily controlled shoots that can. However, with many large companies still working remotely, the likes of a relatively simple feature shoot becomes a mountain they don’t want to climb in terms of organisation.
Negotiating company protocols on what can and can’t be done, working out everyone’s schedules remotely and encouraging staff to be photographed or recorded at a time when quite frankly, people may not feel like having their photograph taken or a video recorded of them.
And so they wait for things to change. Waiting for things to go back to normal. Which it won’t, not for a very long time.
Change is difficult and everyone deals with new situations in different ways. In the story ‘Who moved my Cheese’ by Dr Spencer Johnson four characters live in a maze and love cheese, but one day someone moves their cheese and their situation changes.
While two of the characters Scurry and Sniff head off straight away to find new cheese, the remaining two characters Hem and Haw feel betrayed and spend time complaining, wasting time and energy, hoping the old cheese will return.
Eventually Haw sets off to find new cheese, leaving messages about what he learns on the walls of the maze as he goes and realising along the way he had nothing to fear from change.
Trying to restart an economy with the mindset that things will return to normal so we might as well wait, may protect us from having to engage with the change. However, it impacts small micro businesses in the economy who cannot move, cannot thrive, cannot create jobs and become paralysed waiting.
Taking their camera’s on walks around their hometowns, creating imagery of their surroundings or digging into their archives to reminisce of a time pre Covid-19 and just waiting.
Photography and Videography were never named by the Government or health authorities as a high risk group who needed to cease trading due to Covid-19. This decision was made by a necessity to protect vulnerable people in the community, families and colleagues.
Now as the economy reopens there is an opportunity for companies to start putting bookings in the diary, even if this means the shoots will look different and have changed from pre Covid-19.
Some have already embraced the change. A recent shoot Coalesce did for Fingal County Council was a perfect example of just how much is possible once you accept nothing is the same as it was. A council meeting and AGM to elect the new Mayor of Fingal took place in the National Show Centre which involved up to forty councilors plus officials.
One way systems; colour coded entrances and exits; two meter mats marking out the entire floor; tables spaced appropriately; free standing microphones; automatic hand sanitisers and due to the large space the group were spread out in, each participant using Microsoft teams to communicate. Every two hours the space was evacuated for an hour and cleaned and ventilated.
I’m sure it cost more than a normal AGM and took a lot more planning. Maybe it could have been done remotely. Here’s the thing though Coalesce got to work, the AV crew got to work, the security team got to work, the cleaning crew got to work. The vast array of micro businesses that depend on these sorts of events all got to work.
It certainly wasn’t a 'normal' event or shoot, but maybe it was the new normal. Things change and there are those who sit and wait for everything to return to normal and those who just jump in, embrace the change and flow with it.
Photographers and videographers won’t survive if clients don’t stop waiting and instead embrace and engage with the change.
In Coalesce we believe – ‘To go far, we must go together’. Photographers and Videographers create. We don’t just create imagery, we create revenue and jobs and feed the Irish economic ecosystem.
An ecosystem, however, exists in an environment where all the organisms function together as a unit. If our clients don’t embrace change, adapt to the new normal and re start their role in this delicate ecosystem, we the photographer and videographer and many other micro industries will remain waiting.
So let’s get working together again. Start a conversation, explore new ways of doing things and as Hem would say ‘Enjoy Change, savour the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese!