Becoming an Adaptive & Resilient Organization: 3 Lessons from Tyson Villeneuve (Events/Hospitality)

Arpy Dragffy
7 min readJun 1, 2020

This article is part of a series profiling innovative organisations from various industries. Find all of the articles here: Becoming an Adaptive & Resilient Organization: 3 Things We Learned During COVID-19.

This series is part of PH1 Research’s mandate to provide business leaders with free resources to improve their customer and employee strategies during this crisis.

The Social Concierge is an event branding and marketing agency that in addition to producing select client projects, specializes in creating and expanding a signature portfolio of designer events in Canada . Over the past decade they have been creating social gatherings which deliver the spectacular. Some of their signature events include Le Dîner en Blanc, Deighton Cup, and Greenwood Stakes — all of which pay homage to the golden ages of society events.

In an era when socializing has become increasingly digital, The Social Concierge brings thousands together around contemporary concepts that have been innovated and enhanced using digital. Since their model is extremely high-touch they’ve had to put all their events on hold as the world braces for this pandemic by limiting social gatherings.

Tyson accepting Enterprise of the Year 2017 at Prix de la Palme Bleue

Tyson Villeneuve is a Co-Founder of The Social Concierge and he has passion to drive culture forward and create signature memories for guests. That resume includes producing several creating and curating Dinner By Design nationally, TedX events, developing creative fundraising events, and leading experiential programs for Grey Goose and others. Even before the coronavirus shut down the entire hospitality and events sector, Tyson and his Co-Founder Jordan Kallman saw the rise of infections in China as a challenge to define a new model of hybrid — digital and in-person — events.

3 Lessons About Adaptability & Resilience from Tyson Villeneuve (The Social Concierge)

Starting in back in January , The Social Concierge team was tracking cases in Asia and preparing for the potentially catastrophic impact on social gatherings, which unfortunately happened in March 2020:

“Events as an industry effectively flatlined and we were the first to get hit: Large sports events, festivals, gatherings. The entire industry was shut down two weeks before restaurants. We figured we didn’t know how long the shutdown was going to be but we knew that the bulk of our client projects and some of our signature projects would be on hold until 2021.” said Villeneuve.

Over the course of a few weeks the sector went from a labour shortage to one of the biggest contributors to record unemployment levels globally. There is no answer for that challenge, however he does see many opportunities for delivering social gatherings that are engaging and socially-responsible.

#1 Become resilient by abandoning old tactics and pivoting around your guiding philosophy

“Events will likely be closer to coming back in Summer of 2021. It depends on vaccines and contact tracing.” he said. “People will need to get more comfortable with going back to restaurants before they’ll participate in any large scale events.”

Having made the difficult decision to shut down their signature projects his team had to abandon old tactics and pivot to find ways to fulfill on their guiding philosophy of bringing people together using interactive elements of food, beverage, music, connection, and contemporary society. The path forward was found by looking backwards. Candlelight Club was an event series that Villeneuve created and ran for three years as a way of intimately celebrating Earth Day with friends and fine foods. When the event originally ran, the popular series required more time and scale during a busy time of rapid expansion for The Social Concierge and it had to be temporarily shelved — however today its philosophy and ease of technology make an entirely new experience possible.

“From a philosophical standpoint the idea worked well: turn off lights, carbon neutral experiences, stay safely at home and be connected.”

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day his team at The Social Concierge brought together hundreds of people on Zoom for Candlelight Club which was a celebration perfectly-crafted for the challenges we collectively are going through. They were the first event producers to do a large socially-distant event thanks to adaptive sponsors and a hospitality industry that banded together to support each other and figure out new ways of making the industry resilient.

#2 Events must be participatory and involve a shared experience in real life

Zoom fatigue is real. Just like hours of meetings are exhausting, so too is sitting and staring at people online for hours. The events and meeting industry will not survive without interactivity and participants having a shared experience that goes beyond chat and Q&A.

“The future of events will be hybrid at home and virtual. How do you engage guests at home? Give them things to do that come with your ticket.”

Candlelight Club celebrated with custom-crafted dining experiences, at-home cocktail kits, musicians, and special experiences unlocked through donations to select charities. The goal was to have each home act as a satellite venue, where what you did together in-person was as important as what you did online. There’s a sense of pride about your private party that you share with others. And as social distancing restrictions open up this model will be a distributed set of venues all connected to one another. It can set a new standard for events, festivals, business meetings, charitable galas, and entertainment. Partners will be critical in this next evolution of events so that at-home experiences can be crafted and delivered at scale and to a high standard.

#3 This is the perfect time to be experimental and test value propositions

Shifting the way an industry operates does come with opportunities and challenges, something that Tyson learned researching and delivering Candlelight Club. “People aren’t ready to pay until it’s more polished. We need them to become adopters first.”

It’s important to understand what the technology is capable of, “My partner Jordan had to spend over 100 hours learning the different technologies, thought leadership conferences, researching what people were using. Twitch, Zoom, Teams, etc.” This allowed them to see opportunities to experiment. This research allowed them to consider new ways of experimenting with the various technologies to connect live musicians, public rooms, private rooms, and hosts.

Running the event itself was also an experiment of different value propositions and structures. Some of the most important lessons were to shorten sessions to increase engagement, and to include more pre-recorded sections to make the event more polished. They’ll continue this experimentation in the next Candlelight Club event (date TBA) and other events. As the restrictions open they’ll experiment with creating live on-site content with a very limited amount of people. He says this period is an important evolution for the industry, one that will transform brands from one-way communicators into truly hybrid in-person and digital experiences.

Article by Arpy Dragffy, Principal at PH1. He leads customer experience, service design, and journey mapping projects for higher education, charity, health, and technology clients.

Register for the June 17 webinar How Organisations Become Adaptive & Resilient in a Time of Crisis to learn directly from some of the leaders profiled.

More lessons from this series:

This series is part of PH1 Research’s mandate to provide business leaders free resources to improve their customer and employee strategies during the COVID-19 crisis.