This story starts with one of the most significant challenges we have ever faced. It has taught us important lessons and revealed the core strengths of the association. CEO Julia Graham reveals.
As the Covid restrictions appear to be coming towards their end, I want to look at the journey that Airmic as an organisation has travelled in less than two years. By Friday 20 March 2020, we saw the writing on the wall. The government was going to announce severe Covid restrictions. The following Monday, when the measures were announced, Airmic had gone virtual. Our team was set up and working remotely.
The pandemic surged and government restrictions were applied and then partly relaxed. 2020 was a year of responding to a crisis which broke many of the ‘rules’ of crisis management. The pandemic highlighted how long-term planning has been critical, yet the initial responses to the pandemic largely focused on the near term and shorter term.
Throughout the months, we showed an agility and adaptability to changing and uncertain circumstances. When the government announced the first lockdown, we were in the thick of organising our annual conference, which was to take place in Edinburgh. Within days, propelled along by circumstances, we took the plunge and created instead the virtual Airmic Fest in September 2020, with the support of our partners.
A virtual conference might seem the most natural thing to pull off today. Things were not so clear cut in those early days of the pandemic. For instance, there were expectations back then that the whole pandemic could have run its course by the summer of 2020 – who would have thought we would still be in the midst of Covid-19 as of January 2022?
We were very happy with Airmic Fest and with the unprecedented levels of downloads of content that followed the event. Like everyone at this time, we were learning lessons as to what can work well virtually. Equally, we were learning what aspects of a face-to-face conference were simply irreplaceable and still desired by our community of stakeholders. This has informed our plans for a hybrid range of Airmic activities.
By the end of the year with the promise of vaccinations coming shortly, it seemed that life might soon get back to normal, with added digital features. Our biggest concern at the start of 2021 was the planned conference in Manchester. As it became clear that the environment was still too uncertain for big, on-site events, we cancelled the conference.
We realised that although Airmic Fest had been a great initiative in a crisis, we did not want to repeat it. Faced with the possible loss of our flagship event for two years running, we needed to be resilient or risk losing members and momentum.
Then we had the Brighton conference in October 2021! We took measured risks, and we were rewarded – but this would not have been possible without member and partner support. We learned what partnerships are really about, and our trust and mutual respect emerged stronger.
This year, we are already looking forward to the return of the full Airmic conference. It’s taking place from 6-8 June in Liverpool, and registration opens in mid-February.
Resting on your laurels is an uncomfortable position – Airmic is not going to do that. During the past two years, we have found agility and adaptability, two pillars of resilience, and we are ready to fully reconnect. The theme of the 2022 Airmic conference is Moving Forward Together, and we are going to do just that.