Memorable for all the right reasons

Royal-Albert-Hall

Last night was the BRIT Awards and the Radio 2 Folk Awards.  Two massive events with millions of people interested and hundreds involved in making them happen.   Not that I worked on either of these events but I heard Mark Radcliffe on the radio talking about being at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH) and the overwhelming feeling of being on the RAH  stage.  It is huge and you can’t fail to be aware of all of those amazing people who have been there before you and who will come after.

I worked there in my first proper job after leaving university.  I had been through a hideous work placement with a theatre company (who shall remain nameless) straight after leaving York and it goes without saying that this has meant that I take work experience placements very seriously and I work hard to ensure that work placements with us are valuable and supportive. Anyway, I digress!  Following this placement, I got a short term contract working with English National Ballet on their production of Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Albert Hall.

I worked in the production department and spent 4 months working with designers, makers, technicians, dancers, admin and artistic staff to play my part in making this fantastic show a reality.  The reality for me was definitely on the practical side – I measured fabric, I created documents, I bought supplies and I re-discovered my confidence and ability after that very difficult experience previously.  I became a valuable part of the team, someone who could get on and do things, and I had the joy of working with true professionals, experts in their fields, all of whom were working together to make that bigger picture real.   There is something magical about being part of a production team and it wasn’t until Mark Radcliffe mentioned that feeling of awe and wonder at the scale of the RAH that I remembered truly how wonderful that first proper job was.

My work with English National Ballet on that contract meant that I was up until 3am on the night before the opening, with the rest of the team, gluing sequins to hundreds of tutus in the basement of the RAH.  It was a brilliant atmosphere with all of us working for the same end goal.  We got pizza, we chatted, we got on with the job and we built professional relationships that remain now.  It was all part of recognising that we each have our role to play in making those amazing big projects (and organisations) happen and how productive those production teams were.

Just remembering that experience makes me smile.  There are times when it feels like a different lifetime ago and then there are projects that I work on now where I have to remember that actually I am now the leader of that production team, making that project happen, and my focus as that leader must be in creating a similarly fondly-remembered experience for those I work with.  Not always possible but a great objective!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

 

A New Horizon

AmyWeeks

This will be my first and last post for Mackerel Sky Events. After 5 fantastic years with the company, over 150 individual events (give or take), and countless rolls of gaffa tape, I’m hanging up my clipboard and hi-vis jacket and moving on to pastures new. 

It was perhaps very appropriate that the last event I delivered was called Event Horizons: a conference designed especially for current and aspiring event managers to explore new developments in the industry and to share their best practice. The range of speakers and topics covered showcased everything that is fantastic about the industry, and its ability to continue to adapt to reach audiences and markets in ever changing ways.

Taking time to reflect on the event, I realised what inspired me most were the students that attended from the Creative Events Management degree at Falmouth University. These individuals have made the decision to study an emerging craft and develop the skills to become successful professionals in the industry, and as a Visiting Lecturer on this course, I fully recognise the importance of getting to grips with the building blocks of event knowledge and how they can be put into practice. I’m also a firm believer that getting work experience, building your network of contacts and establishing your personal brand are key to getting your foot in the door of a highly competitive industry, by finding ways to set yourself apart from the crowd.

For my first project with Event Cornwall, I sat in a drafty foyer to man the promotional stand for a local music festival. It was far from the glamorous image of the industry that I had in my head – there were no celebrities, no champagne passed my lips, and there was definitely no sign of a VIP section – but looking back that was my opportunity to get my foot in the door and I seized that opportunity with both hands. I believe that success in the industry is born out of commitment and drive, and the ability to throw yourself into a new challenge with unwavering passion and enthusiasm, and that’s what I hope I’ve done over the last 5 years of incredible projects.

So what advice would I have given to my younger self, a fledging projects co-ordinator starting out in the world of event management, or to those students who are about to graduate into such a competitive industry? I think I’d have to say the following:

1. Seize every opportunity with both hands as you never know where it may lead you – the most rewarding projects and experiences I’ve had have been from unexpected opportunities, and it’s a fantastic way to continue to develop your skills in areas you hadn’t considered before.

2. Network – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but networking is far and above the best way to make valuable connections. It’s been said many times, but people buy from people, and some of the most productive working relationships I’ve developed started with a 5 minute conversation at a networking event. Be brave and start that conversation.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s the best way to learn from those around you, and find out how things are really done in the industry. But it’s a two way street and be prepared to share your knowledge. Conversations to discuss best practice and share advice on ‘how best to…’ in the industry are a invaluable part of the learning process, and have taught me far more than I could ever have learnt on my own.

Take time out to stand back and view your work – you invest incredible amounts of time and energy in bringing an event idea to life, so take the time to stand back and admire the concept that you’ve made into a reality. Irrespective of scale and budget, whether large or small, you’ve poured sweat and tears into the event, and you should take an opportunity to reflect on this. Admire your hard work and the success of your project, but also take the time to be critical: what did you learn from this and how could it be better next time?

Enjoy every second – I make no secret of the fact that events can be a stressful and tiring industry, but it’s rewarding, exciting and exhilarating in equal measure: make sure you enjoy every bit of it.

My new role will see a departure from events into the world of Digital Marketing, and as I throw myself into my new challenge, I’d like to think I take some of my own advice on board. The last 5 years have been an incredible journey, in which I’ve learnt so much. Thank you to Mackerel Sky Events, the team, our clients and our suppliers – it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with you all.

 

Amy Weeks, Senior Event Co-ordinator, Mackerel Sky Events

 

A Chance To Reaffirm Professional Ideals

Last week I met someone who thinks like me. Everything he said resonated with my approach to business, my approach to events and my approach to my own work.

He too prioritises the people in everything – the attendee experience, the support for staff, the collaboration with partners.  Without these invaluable contributors, events just don’t happen.  For him, his career and business is built on professional recognition by clients, by peers, by staff and, like me, he holds to the fact that an event manager is only as good as their last event.

It was also reassuring to hear that things go wrong on (almost) all of his events too.  I have been banging on about this for as long as I can remember and I believe that our performance as event managers is entirely based on how we deal with issues and problems.  We can only increase our capacity and ability to deal with those issues and problems if we plan properly to a high level of detail so we are prepared for it.

This person is Mike Richmond from Richmond Event Management and is another role model to add to my collection!

mike_richmond

The most beneficial part of talking to Mike was realising that I am not alone in recognising the personal challenge that managing large scale public events presents.  As he pointed out, everyone is judge and jury and everyone will judge, challenge and question you, your decisions, your ability, your professionalism etc etc. There is no getting away from this so the greatest skill we can develop is to balance taking valuable perspectives on board with letting individual judgments pass by.

But I am all about passion and commitment and working heart and soul in a project so when these judgments come flooding in, I find it so difficult to balance and not take it to heart.  It’s even more difficult to support my team in balancing this too.  I (and we as an industry) ask so much of our teams in getting involved completely in projects and whilst this generates great commitment and motivation for the team, it means that we have to enable those team members to deal with criticism and I believe that this needs to start from within the company with performance management across the whole team, including leaders.  Not an easy ask but I (and I think Mike would agree.) think it’s vital for the ongoing development of our industry and supporting new talent.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Sustainability – say it, do it, mean it

great-exhibition

 

I learnt this week that sustainability has actually been built into the events industry for centuries….the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 was one of the most sustainable and successful mega events ever.  There was no energy requirement because it was all glass so no lighting required. And it was hot so they used cracks in the floorboards to generate convection ventilation! The glass building was in fact designed around a coppice of Elm trees that has to be protected and preserved. Over 6 million people (a third of the UK population at that time) attended and the profits that they made went to fund the V&A Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.

What a fantastic example of triple bottom line sustainability with positive social, economic and environmental impacts. I’m sure there were issues and challenges but the outcomes provide a valuable learning point for us now. If we consider the Olympics and the pseudo-sustainability that they propagated, then perhaps we as an industry are taking a step backwards?

Green events are on the increase and this increase in awareness of sustainability in both the industry and the general public is of course a positive development. I cannot take credit for this insight – James Kennell (University of Greenwich) was speaking at a conference this week and his presentation opened up this line of thought.  He noted that this driver for sustainability is coming from customers, from attendees and particularly those under 25. But their priorities are focused on integrity and doing the right thing right. Not accreditation or certificates.

Events offer a unique opportunity to engage those audiences in making the difference – like Glastonbury’s Green Team. Sustainability offers us the opportunity to take responsibility as Krippendorf (1987) discusses. He postulates that responsibility is about being infectious, creating an experience and offering freedom and events can fulfil all of these aspects. What an opportunity!

 

If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

The Correspondents

The Correspondents

Last weekend I organised a birthday party for my husband and I managed to book The Correspondents – a fantastic duo who completely blew us away. As well as finding the perfect band, we had the perfect venue at the Trengilly Wartha Inn. It wasn’t just about having great component parts for the event, it was about bringing them together in the right way with the right mix of guests and a dash of two of prohibition punch served in vintage teapots!

We all had a great time but numerous people asked how on earth I managed to book this band, who normally play international festivals, to come and perform at a tiny pub in the middle of nowhere? The thing is if you don’t ask, you don’t get and it really was as simple as that. That and a little bit of confidence with a smidgen of ambition.

We all have different attitudes to risk and the most successful events and cultural projects balance risk, ambition and well-founded confidence to push the boundaries every time. Sometimes, when one feels under pressure, it is even more difficult to take risk and be ambitious. All too often, we stick to our comfort zones and this is not good. Not good for ourselves, not good for our events and not good for building a sustainable business.

This Saturday I went to the Kevewi Big Night Out, being organised by a group of fellow Director’s Forum members. A perfect example of thinking big, taking risks and delivering ambition. If you managed to make it, what a great night!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Professional is as professional does

One of the qualities that is most important to me is integrity.  It includes honesty and consistency; doing the right thing and doing it right.   This is a core part of professionalism and particularly in our industry, where it is vocational and anyone could claim to be a “professional”.  To an extent, that’s true in that it’s not rocket science or medicine or law where a qualification is imperative.  Event management isn’t in itself difficult. It’s the complexity and scale that makes events challenging and it’s in these circumstances where one is reliant on professionalism throughout the project (including from volunteers.).

From the client to contractors and from staff to strategic partners a professional approach promotes a fair, open, communicative way of working
where conflict is resolved with due process and a recognition of roles and responsibilities.  Thankfully, in my experience, it is rare that this is really tested but when this professional integrity is challenged, it really makes me think hard about my behaviour, the advice I have given, the decisions I have made and the actions I have taken.  In resolving these issues, our own experience and understanding of fairness comes in to play and therefore the point at which we can accept and absorb responsibility for not managing or fulfilling expectations flexes.

What this means is that professional is as professional does.  It takes years to develop that professional approach but only a moment of fear, panic, anger or frustration to destroy it.  So the perceptions of what we do are dependent on our professionalism which is subsequently dependent on our personal state and emotional well being.  We might think that we are behaving with great integrity, walking the talk, fulfilling our promises but we only understand it from our own perspective.  I’m not saying that anyone questioning professionalism is right, not at all, but that sometimes there is a grain of truth there and maybe I have missed something that I should have picked up, or let my personal viewpoint get in the way.  It’s all feedback and it’s all valuable.  It makes me better at what I do and
challenge means that I have to really think it all through.  Having integrity means going a step further though and not only recognising responsibility but taking action to resolve or redress the balance without losing sense of self or going against what’s important to us personally.

 

Claire Eason Bassett – Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events