Join Manuel Wrobel over a cup of coffee and meet the #machen team
The meeting sector without real meetings? Almost unimaginable. Getting to know a team without meeting them? Not so easy. A new job where suddenly tasks have to be redefined? Exciting!
So says Manuel Wrobel, Head of Business Development at the Berlin Convention Office. He started his new job in Berlin on 2 March 2020 – and then Covid-19 hit and everything changed from one day to the next.
BCO: What was it like starting in Berlin’s meeting sector with the Covid-19 pandemic breaking?
Manuel Wrobel: Even on my first day, nothing was what I’d imagined. With Covid-19, the topics were entirely different from those I’d expected. Suddenly, it was all about emergency planning, daily cancellations and calling off the ITB. Nonetheless, for me personally, it was still a really good start.
What experiences stand out as positive in your first year?
It was a challenge and a phase with a lot happening. I like to think about things and develop new processes. You need to react constantly and be creative. As a team, we had to find new approaches, think outside the box. Everything we – and our sector – had built on before was suddenly no longer there. That was a test of our abilities – but also generated a lot of new things as well.
Due to the situation, we needed to and could develop new forecasts and strategies, set up digital events for customers, and in next to no time created a live event in July under Covid-19 conditions. We’ve managed dozens of small and large projects – and most recently launched our MICE campaign “Plan B. Plan Berlin” with the support of the Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises. Much of this would have been unthinkable before the pandemic. The crisis generated a spirit of change in the team, a real ‘can do’ attitude. That’s also summed up in our new hashtag #machen (laughs).
And how did the team manage with remote working?
It was certainly an unusual start. After my first two weeks, we all had to say goodbye again and go off to work from home. We really got to know each other through streaming services. That was not so easy for any of us since we are ‘live people’, and we all need and believe in the power of personal meetings.
The moment when people gather in a room and can look each other in the eye something magical is created, something intangible ...
And what do you think that is?
Meeting face-to-face, you can build far more trust and work more creatively together than over the screen or telephone. The moment when people gather in a room and can look each other in the eye something magical is created, something intangible – a collective knowledge, an exchange, building just that feeling of trust I need in a sector where much is interchangeable. In the final analysis, I decide for a location or hotel because I trust the person behind it.
What’s the best way of arranging a personal meeting digitally?
By treating it just like a real meeting. In other words, go into your online appointment 100 percent, just as you would with a face-to-face meeting. So don’t do other things while the meeting’s in process, but fetch your coffee beforehand and really listen and engage.
Could this be the future?
I don’t think so. The digital meeting is a technology to bridge a gap, but with clear limits. If I asked you spontaneously about your last digital event, you’d have to think (Editor’s note: We really did have to think!). But if my question were about the last congress you went to, your memory of it is much stronger. That’s exactly the point. We cannot reproduce those kinds of impressions digitally. If we could, we’d be in a world like Spielberg’s science fiction movie ‘Ready Player One’ – and that’s a grim thought.
How much has the situation influenced the meeting sector?
Not meeting personally has left traces – both positively and negatively. We’ve learnt that no one needs to fly to Berlin or Munich for an hour’s meeting. But there will still be events just as before – although the market will look different. Internally, we are calling it the sector’s MP3 moment. In 2001, Steve Jobs predicted we’d all be listening to music in a digital form in future, and he invented the iPod. Now, we are at a similar point. The meetings and event sector is sure to change fundamentally.
How are you and your team dealing with this change?
Our aim is to reach a position where we are not just followers, but can help shape that change. Our path there requires listening to the industry and appreciating the needs of the participants. We are interested in creating relevance and playing a role in this new quality. In future, no one will think twice about attending real and virtual events as well. As a destination and as the BCO, we want to help shape precisely this parameter.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
One major milestone is the new MICE campaign “Plan B. Plan Berlin.”, and we’ll be working on that throughout the year. Our job is to drive forwards the core topics – safety at live events and the power of personal meetings. And we are planning to develop new formats specifically for these times. Of course, that will mean lots of experimenting and also learning to accept some of these things may not work.
In Holland, they have a saying, you can’t hit the target if you don’t shoot the arrow. That’s why my plan with this great team is called #machen – 'do it'!
About the person:
- Manuel Wrobel, 34 years old
- Lived for four years in The Hague as a member of The Hague Convention Bureau, previously worked for Estrel Berlin as well as Tempelhof Airport. In March 2020, he became Head of Business Development at BCO.
- His motto: 'Do it'! And experiment – after all, you can’t hit the target if you don’t shoot the arrow.