Steve Jordan talks to Dominic Tidey, COO or EuRA, about the further postponement of its annual conference and the consequences of the pandemic for the organisation.
EuRA has, once again cancelled its annual conference in Seville. It was originally booked for June 2020, then rolled forward until 2021. But that has also proved to be too early. Dominic Tidey, Chief Operating Officer at EuRA said that as soon as the UK went back into lockdown in November, it was obvious that it would have to be cancelled again. “Eventually the hotel came to us and said they were not going to be able to do it,” he said. “We thought we might be able postpone until the Autumn, but the hotel asked us to postpone it until March 2022.” All members have had their participation fees rolled forward to the new date.
This, of course, has been a problem with which all membership organisations have been wrestling. But, for now, face-to-face meetings are just impossible. So what has EuRA been doing to help keep its members engaged and continue to provide value for its membership fees?
“It's been a challenge,” said Dom. “We really had to be creative. The first thing we did was to open up all our training for free. That created huge interest because companies had the time so wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. We trained thousands of people.”
Back in March EuRA started its series of interviews, hosted by Dom, with industry leaders. “They very quickly caught people’s interest,” he said. “We have also had weekly briefings on a wide range of topics. We are now getting good views on YouTube. And we write to every member every three months to explain what we are doing and see how we can be of help to them.” EuRA has also run two online conferences with another planned for May 2021, all of which have been free to attend for members.
But despite best efforts, it’s never going to be business as usual for any membership organisation. “We did a lot of financial planning to look at different scenarios depending on the level of renewals,” said Dom. “We also decided very early on that we would not monetise things that we had never monetised before. Some other associations seem not to be going down that same route. It’s a risk either way. We just felt the more we could show the members the value that they got from staying part of EuRA, the better we would be.” Both Dom and Tad Zurlinden, the CEO, also cut their own salaries in half to help minimise costs. They have received a stream of letters from members thanking them for the actions they have taken. “We run very lean so we're able to keep costs low,” said Dom.
But the absence of the annual conference is a bitter pill to swallow. “I think it's been really hard for a lot of people because some don't see each other from one year to the next. It’s a bit like cancelling the firm’s Christmas lunch,” said Dom. “There is something quite undefinable about the EuRA conference, people seem very connected to each other. It seems as if they drop their guard and relax more.”
The pandemic effect
In what ways does Dom think that the industry has suffered from the pandemic? He said that there has been a remarkable about of movement and many companies have not seen the drop in numbers they were expecting. “But it’s very regional,” he said. “The members in the USA who are international DSP specialists have really suffered because there have been no visas, so nobody is going in other than diplomats and returning nationals. But most of the US members do a lot of domestic work and that’s continued.”
Dom said it’s a worrying time in the UK with the threat of compulsory hotel quarantine making people even more reluctant to relocate. Similarly, in Germany, several members have said they are close to normal numbers but are now worried about the land borders being closed. “There is great uncertainty, but given what we went through last year moral is surprisingly high.” Many companies have been busy helping British people with residency permits following Brexit.
He is also concerned that countries might become very protectionist, preferring national employment to international mobility. He said he had little to support his fears, but it was highlighted when the Biden administration did not react quickly to reverse the visa restrictions imposed by Trump that prevent overseas nationals working in the USA. “It’s a fine political line for Biden to make it look as if the USA is open for foreign nationals to take jobs. But the USA has been through some huge political shifts in the last few years.”
Another development in the UK, however, looks very interesting. Tad Zurlinden has been very proactive with a new group called the Relocation Survivors Guide Group, set up last April through the ARP (Association of Relocation Professionals). They hired a lobbyist, Lembit Öpik, a former Liberal Democrat politician, to look for opportunities for mobility in the UK and to make sure government understands the massive contribution the industry makes to GDP. “They have been very successful so far,” said Dom.
Anything positive from COVID?
Has the pandemic left a positive legacy? Dom struggles to find something. He wonders whether there will be the need to travel so much in the future as people become more accustomed to meeting on Zoom. But he also acknowledges that people, including himself, enjoy travelling. Nor does he think Working From Anywhere will have a big impact. “Communication within companies is not as good,” he said. “We will go back to a physical office as soon as we can. This experience has made us acutely aware of what our human needs are: relationships, communication and the ability to be social. The situation now is surreal, it’s a half life.” He does admit, however, that one advantage of Zoom meetings is that people seem more relaxed. Maybe it’s because they are dressed more casually or because they are in their own homes.
The EuRA plan for 2021
So what’s the plan for EuRA? Dom is in no doubt about that. “As soon as we can do an in-person conference, we will,” he said. “It might be a hybrid so people who are not able to travel can take part. What our members want more than anything else is to get together. It’s necessary to keep members engaged. We already have an event planned for Heathrow in September.” Meanwhile, EuRA will continue to provide useful information and make sure it’s correctly targeted. “As restrictions are lifted people won’t have the time to watch a 60-min webinar.”
Dom believes that people will start moving again later this year but, until then, the priority is to keep the network together. “Our aim is to get to the end of 2021 with all our members intact. We are doing everything we can to make that happen. Then we can see where we go in 2022.”
Photo: Dominic Tidey