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GSMA axes a fifth of workforce to cover cost of cancelling MWC20 – are alternative events the answer?

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The mobile phone industry body the GSMA is to shed nearly a fifth of its workforce as it seeks to cut costs following the cancellation in February of its cash-cow show Mobile World Congress (MWC).

And the GSMA believes that only in streamlining and cutting costs can it keep the show going over what it says is a “three-year recovery cycle”.

Stephanie Lynch-Habib, the group’s chief marketing officer, confirmed the cuts and workforce size reported by Bloomberg, and said those affected had been informed.

“We think this is at least a three-year recovery scenario,” she said in an interview, and added that the staff reductions were part of a wider cost-cutting plan. The GSMA has also slashed bonus pay-outs to eligible individuals and pared budgets and non-staff spending by about 40% for the current year.

An early victim of the coronavirus pandemic, MWC – which attracts upwards of 140,000 people – was pulled because of fears of spreading the virus.

The GSMA refunded ticket money of €799 to all attendees, but has wanted large exhibitors to shift their 2020 payment to cover 2021..

However, there has been disquiet in the mobile industry around the decision – and many have used the cancellation to openly question the relevance of MWC in its current form.

When the event was cancelled, many smaller alternative events sprung up around Barcelona, attracting in total tens of thousands of people anyway. #unofficialMWC2020 pioneered this approach and it, along with many of the other alternative events that ran in 2020, are planning to go ahead again in 2021 as part of a new look, underground round of pop-up happenings.

One visitor to #unofficialMWC2020, who wished to remain anonymous, told us: “There are already plans for many other unofficial events around MWC 2021 – whether it takes place or not – as a lot of vendors and delegates want smaller, more targeted events that service their side of the business. They also feel that MWC is too big, too costly and poor value.”

The GSMA is likely to be rethinking how it puts on MWC in light of both social distancing and any fears of a second wave of coronavirus. It also has a golden opportunity to hit reset and create an event that is more in tune with the times.

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