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January 8, 2009

Anthony Hyde :Change is nigh

The head of corporate sales at London venue the Barbican says diversity and effective change management could well hold the key to surviving the recession.

I have yet to see a paper print the headline “the end is nigh” but it can’t be far off. Each day seems to bring new economic gloom, stories of poor sales and the inevitability of a long dark recession – the latest of which is an inflation drop and Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion fraud. It all makes rather grim reading as we embark on 2009, but is it really that bad?

Yes there will be tough times ahead, yes there will be job losses, bankruptcies, heartache and a long haul back to the “good old times”, but life will go on and the right planning will ensure ongoing businesses and survival. If fact, for many there will be little difference – just a shift in perception.

Time to diversify
What is at the root of my optimism? In a word: diversity!

Some venues are feeling the pinch already, as their specialist sectors start to shrink and tighten belts but not all. Those with cross-sector clients and capabilities will carry on regardless.

I cannot deny the fact that I speak from a rather fortunate position. Our combined role as an art and conference centre allows us to react to almost any situation and provide almost any solution. Quite frankly we have never been busier – weddings, training courses, AGMs and association business in particular are still taking place and we are capitalising on that fact.

Embracing change
As venues, we need to react quickly to an economic situation that is developing at a frighteningly fast pace. Venues cannot be static, bury their heads and hope for the best. If they evolve, add value, develop services and deliver what clients require, they will increase their market share and quite possibly end up better than they might have before the downturn.

Heraclitus said: “Nothing is permanent except change.” We should take this quote to heart and bear it in mind as we plan for the future.

Change must, however, be considered in a professional, practical and commercially sound way. Quick reactions are necessary, but they need to be balanced by a careful eye on income and expenditure.

Creating opportunities
The easiest thing to change is our rates, which could arguably increase sales in the short term. But I believe this is commercially unsound as it will also decrease turnover, and drastic cuts taken at the wrong time could even mean operating at a loss. Above all, though, rate reductions devalue the product, destroy brands and take you down a path you might not return from.

Difficult times create great opportunities if we only have the courage to reach out for them. It may be a time of fear for many, but we should see it as an exciting opportunity to grow and reach new goals.

Anthony Hyde is head of corporate sales at the Barbican.

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