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Digital Event: The First Events After COVID-19, A One-on-One with Colin Cowie

Event companies and venues are adjusting to the restrictions of COVID-19 and what it means for celebrations at breakneck speed. We’re seeing a renewed interested and increased creativity cropping up around virtual events, and — as cities reopen to varying degrees — people are gathering in person for more intimate celebrations, often while they plan larger soirées for later dates. As part of PartySlate’s Digital Event Series, we’re speaking with industry leaders to gain their opinions, insights, and ideas on what’s next for the short- and long-term future of celebrations.

On Tuesday, June 16, PartySlate CEO and Co-Founder Julie Roth Novack hosted a digital discussion on the topic with lifestyle guru, television personality, and event planner (and too many more labels to mention), Colin Cowie, who also founded event production company, Colin Cowie Lifestyle. With a strong focus on destination celebrations, Colin is perfectly poised to share his insight about the evolution of events in our ever-changing world. A large global audience (from San Francisco to New York, Italy to South Africa) tuned with a strong interest in both the topic and Colin as an industry icon; PartySlate Managing Editor Pamela Rothbard joined the discussion to pose chat questions (and there were many) from the virtual attendees.

To begin, Julie asked Colin how he got his start in the industry. He responded that after growing up in South Africa, he came to Hollywood and felt like a “full-technicolor world of options” were available to him. Within three months, Colin had started his own catering firm and was operating as a “one-man show,” for events. He mentioned how his mentor, Sol Kerzner, a pioneer who founded both of South Africa’s largest hotel groups, helped him grow and learn. Additionally, Colin shared how — before social media — the way to stage an event to get noticed involved a combination of “celebrity, deep press, and creating a spectacle” (citing his Dubai Atlantis opening which featured 19 minutes of fireworks and pyrotechnics). Eventually Colin moved to New York to expand his clientele.

Alas, COVID-19 struck and stalled a rapidly-growing industry. When asked about his experience so far, Colin said, “Seventy-percent of my work has ground to a halt. In fact I have just one event left in 2020 — a smaller celebration that just booked.” He spoke of how he has renegotiated with landlords, credit card companies, and more to get more runway for his company and has utilized furlough to allow his employees to collect unemployment during these unprecedented times. With his team now returning to work, Colin has been developing his new hospitality company, Thrive.

When it comes to the future of the events industry, Colin shared that he believes that weddings will be the first to return. “Love doesn’t stop,” he said. He predicts social events will rebound next followed by social travel with meeting spaces and corporate events likely coming back a little later. He acknowledged the “darkness” that has come with the global pandemic (and noted that there’s likely more ahead) but urges the industry to look for the light — the tremendous opportunity for growth. There will be trial and error and the need for flexibility as we learn and grow together. Colin said, “We need to come together and work together and continue to build long term relationships with each other.” None of us has ever lived through anything like this before and the key will be to learn from each other.

Colin went on to say, “Speaking philosophically for one second, we went through chaos and quarantine and now we’re talking about re-entry, but we need to stop and ask why…I believe we are being taught a lesson…For me the two words that are coming together that are so missing in our lives are ‘gratuity’ and ‘humility.’ I don’t think that we have enough gratitude for this amazing industry we work in; we’re running around at a crazy pace without appreciation for the wonderful things we have. I think that is part of the learning curve and I hope that these qualities will stay with us.” He added, “Each one of us has a responsibility as to how we are going to become better versions ourselves and run better versions of our businesses.”

Watch the full digital event to hear Colin’s insight on how event catering and dance floors will evolve, and even what server dress might look like in the near future. He also offers advice on holding hosts and guests accountable for health and safety in addition the entire event team, and spoke on a variety of helpful, related topics like destination events and more.

You can watch the full digital event recording below, or open the recording on YouTube.

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