South Sound business leaders and community members congregated for the third time this week on Wednesday as part of the 2020 South Sound Summit, which has gone virtual this year due to COVID-19 concerns.

The multi-part event is hosted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and will conclude tomorrow with a keynote from Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Morning Session 

The Wednesday morning session put a spotlight on marketing during and after COVID-19, and was emceed by Josh Dunn, CEO of Premier Media Group (of which South Sound Business is a part). The speakers were Stephanie Schramm, marketing director at MadCap Marketing; Doug Burton, owner of VSG Marketing; and Rusty George, the principal of Rusty George Creative. 

In their discussion, the group emphasized what they have been seeing — and what they’re recommending response-wise — concerning COVID-19 and its effect on marketing. 

Schramm said that since actions like media-buying and event production have slowed down amid the pandemic, something that she has seen be beneficial is for businesses to take the “quiet time” to hone their brand digitally — “get the website done, get the social media footprint built out, hopefully get their brand in good shape and maybe up to date for everybody that let it sit since the ‘80s.” 

George noted that certain shifts can vary across the spectrum. Still, something he has worked on with several clients is trying to shift mindsets from prioritizing publicizing the greatness of their work to instead thinking more about the people who are coming to a given business’ website and what their needs might be.

“Instead of always jumping on (your audience) with how wonderful you are, give them solutions, and give them reasons to continue on and start that conversation,” he said.

Burton stressed the importance of communication. “It’s more paramount today than it ever has been before,” he said.

He noted that while a brand might be ultra-cognizant of how it is communicating with its staffers during the pandemic, especially when so many employees are working from home, a first reaction might be to communicate less with an audience so as not to overwhelm — something that might not be an effective strategy.

“One of the things that I’ve seen a lot of people make the mistake of is they [think], ‘it’s a pandemic, it’s crazy, it’s election year,’ and they just start to pull everything — they’re frozen. And it’s not just how they communicate with an external audience…it’s how they communicate internally. And you’ve got to communicate what your plan is — ‘here’s what we’re doing, here’s how we’re going to weather the storm’…that kind of confidence-building with your team and your clients. When you’re paring things back, you’ve got to over-communicate.” 

Following the discussion, the panel answered questions submitted by summit participants.

Afternoon Session 

The afternoon session of today’s South Sound Summit discussed the future of live events and retail in light of COVID-19. The speakers included Aaron Artman, president of Tacoma Rainiers; Anthony Anton, president and CEO of Washington Hospitality Association; and Chelene Potvin-Bird, vice president of sales and servicing of Travel Tacoma — Mt. Rainier Tourism & Sports.

Live events, travel, and retail, among others, were forced to close in March per the state’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order and it’s been an uphill climb for community gathering events to resume. Artman said these types of events are necessary for any community.

“We need this back for our community. I think we all realize that. Granted, we’re watching sports now on TV, but it’s not the same … and there’s a little bit of our soul that gets lost without these things,” he said.

In terms of live sporting events out of Cheney Stadium, among others, Artman said he remains hopeful there will be a late spring season in 2021, but it’s too soon to say definitively. “There’s more questions than answers on when that happens, but what we do know is, for the long haul, we’ll be back and you all will be back and we’ll be celebrating together with thousands of our other community members and I can’t tell you how excited I am personally for that, but I also think it’s so critical to our community,” he said.

Anton shared insight into the current state of the hospitality industry. Industry-wide, about 191,000 workers lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic. Anton expects that a third of the hospitality industry workforce will be permanently lost. In terms of what steps can be taken to help people in the industry survive the pandemic, Anton recommended three things: delivery, space, and faith that “we’re going to make it.” While it’s challenging to change and adapt business models, he said delivery will be a permanent addition even post-pandemic. In terms of space, Anton said that outdoor dining is becoming difficult with the changing weather. However, he recommended restaurants explore different places to host indoor dining, whether it’s moving to a different location or to use space that isn’t being used by a neighboring business. He ended by encouraging people to keep the faith that the challenges of this pandemic will pass as it will assist in dealing with it in the present.

Later, Potvin-Bird reiterated Anton’s point that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on businesses and events. While in-person meetings, conventions, and other events were forced to close this year, Potvin-Bird said restrictions are beginning to lift. She said there still are virtual conferences, which can host live breakout rooms. There also are hybrid options where some are at a physical space but much of the event is virtual. In Pierce County, meetings can host up to 200 people, she said, and some restrictions around weddings have lifted.

“It shows you that larger events will eventually be opening back up in our area. We’re just, you know, down at 200 right now, but this will continue to grow,” she said. “We do have a good base for 2021 with over 14 large conferences, generating more than 7,000 rooms and just over 11,000 attendees, so we definitely still have people coming and that really impacts our local businesses are restaurants, our attractions, (and) everything.”

Following the discussion, the panel answered questions submitted by summit participants.

Tomorrow’s morning agenda will include a community discussion and chamber news featuring Tom Pierson, President & CEO, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce; Linda Womack, director of Minority Business Development Agency; and Grant Twyman, CPSD Equity and Inclusion Program Manager. The second session of the day will discuss diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion with keynote speaker, Robin DiAngelo.