It’s Only When You Understand Perspectives That You Can Really Offer True Value

Value is of course entirely subjective. It entirely depends on what’s going on for you and your circumstances as to whether something, some activity or some experience is of value to you.  This means that whilst value for money remains vitally important in times of economic flux, the is the emergence of a new principle of value assessment – value for time.

We are all busy; we are all involved in multiple social circles and multiple functions; and we are all under financial pressure so our time becomes one of our most precious resources and therefore is the basis on which we make our decisions.  How much of the things that are most important to me will I get for this time or this financial outlay?

When it comes to designing events then, we have to consider what is most important for our audience – is it about making things as easy as possible for them in ticketing, in access to the site, in getting around the venue, in experiencing the event, in leaving and getting home again? Is it about it being affordable or even a great deal (in their view)? Is it about it being an experience that they want and that their friends/social circles want? It’s all of these but the importance varies according to individual circumstances.

For us, it’s about putting ourselves into our customers shoes. If we are creating events for business owners, then the time of day when it happens it a crucial factor in generating the required attendance and that depends on the business sector we are trying to reach. For example, a hospitality networking event is best in the morning between breakfast and lunch service but it’s important to recognise that it will always be at the wrong time for someone. If that person then invests their time in the event, moving their work schedule around to accommodate it, then that event had better give them what they were coming for.

It’s about making promises clearly in our marketing material that we then deliver on the ground. More than this, it’s important for us to listen to our customers and attendees and respond to their perspectives on what is valuable to them so we refine our understanding and our events to be of increasing value to our customers whether in terms of time, money or experience.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events


Proudly Taking Our Cornish Roots Nationwide!

MS_FBCoverPic_2It is fantastic that the Government have recognised the Cornish as an ethnic minority in the same way as the Welsh (and many others) and the support unveiled for Cornish language is very much needed and wanted. However, is this simply playing to the outdated traditional perceptions of the Cornish as pasty-eating introverted dullards?

Don’t get me wrong here.  I count myself as Cornish having grown up here and I know that we are a race of outward looking, ambitious, creative, resourceful people who are proud of our heritage and our place.  I also know that key people involved in getting this recognition share this belief – thank you Kernow King and Bert Biscoe and others – and I hope that this recognition goes some way in enabling the wider world to shed those outdated perceptions.

You may recall that we changed our name earlier this year from Event Cornwall to Mackerel Sky and we did this for a very good reason. Cornwall is brilliant and we are proud of being based here but way back in 2009, we started being asked to work beyond the Tamar.  The projects were great and we delivered as always but our clearly Cornish brand was raising eyebrows and questions.  Why was Event Cornwall delivering activity in Plymouth/Newport/Exeter/ Bristol/London..etc?  So we started to think about a name that would help address this challenge and we developed Event Devon and Event Scilly as an interim measure.

As it turns out, running 3 brands parallel to each other is quite hard work! We simply didn’t know how to answer the phone!  But the need remained to have a non-geographic name for the company.  We were keen to retain the Cornish spirit in there somehow though and we spent a long time bashing around ideas.  As with many things, it wasn’t about spending time trying to find a name it was about letting the name find us and it was one day outside our office looking up at the clouds that we thought of Mackerel Sky.

A mackerel sky is a cloud formation that indicates a (usually positive) change in the weather.  We are an outward looking, aspirational company who create positive impacts and the fishy  connotations of our new name are a nod to our Cornish home.  So we continue to be proud of our corporate background and we are delighted to share our Cornish way of doing things with our clients, partners and customers throughout the UK and beyond.  Being Cornish is not about being backwards, but quite the opposite – onwards and upwards!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events



Why Would Anyone Volunteer?

323Don’t believe anyone who says that they can guarantee you volunteers for a project.

Getting volunteers is possibly one of the most difficult tasks that event managers have on our lists. How can we get people to give their time (and sometimes money in travel etc) for no charge to us? The reality is that this is an imaginary saving, oft most suggested by people who haven’t had the pleasure of managing a volunteer workforce.
There is always a cost to getting people involved whether it’s wages, training, travel expenses, coaching or simply time. You can of course have great expectations of people in whatever capacity but they will always need to be managed, supported and trained in order for everyone to get the best possible experience and the best value out of what they are giving (on both sides of the relationship).  In fact, to not train and support people and if you don’t trust your volunteers and give them responsibility, may be to the detriment of that relationship making the volunteer feel that their work isn’t valuable anyway so why should they bother.
We have just recently finished the first round of training for iOrchestra volunteers and staff and this is doubly challenging in that we are training everyone up in the ways of the orchestra as well as introducing them to the project in all it’s forms – MusicLab, RE-RITE and the live concert. Given that the first day of any of this is pretty much immediate, we are all working on plans and discussions rather than reality and experience. What I find most interesting is that every person attending today had a different reason to be involved and different elements of the project appealed to them and from this,I have a yet deeper appreciation of why and how people volunteer.
And this is why I say don’t believe a any guarantee for providing volunteers. Every volunteer is different, each has different motivation and different needs; An individual return on their investment of time and effort. If we think of this whole process as generating a suitable return on investment (in both directions), would our projects present a good investment opportunity? This is not to say that we should develop and manage our projects around the wish and whim of each person who could be a volunteer but rather that we create the opportunity that is perceived as valuable by those who are best suited to being involved with the project.
This process is a bit of a dark art and of course has to adapt to the project and the people involved but be assured that we are all in the same position of trying to attract people to work with us and trying to create a return on their investment. Perhaps if we were to volunteer for something, we would be more able to see it from the volunteer perspective and comprehend (for ourselves at least) what makes a viable investment proposition?
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

There’ll always be risk … but it’s how you deal with it

new-balance-990-boston-marathon-2014-2Juxtaposed against the saga of the Sheffield Half-Marathon, the Boston Marathon this weekend seems even more poignant.  What happened at the 2013 Boston Marathon is an event manager’s worst nightmare.  There is very little one can do to really control this but there is a huge amount we can do to manage the risk.

Before I go any further, I wish all those who were affected by last year’s bombings hope and happiness and a huge well done and thank you to all those who are running this year, raising thousands of dollars for charitable causes.

So what can we do to protect ourselves against a bomb blast? The big problem is that the most likely targets are those with high attendance and high profile which means that it’s the large scale open events like marathons or celebrity appearances or Christmas lights switch-ons or city-wide festivals that attract the attention of potential threats.  There is very little we can do to directly control where public go and how they interact with the event – or is there?  We can certainly increase stewarding and increase the capability of those stewards so that should the worst happen, you have a means to evacuate and the team works to minimise the impact.

We could consider ticketing those open events but this is a logistical nightmare and presents significant costs which, for most of these events, are untenable.  We could consider screening all those who attend but again, this is costly and not necessarily effective.  We can definitely liaise with local and regional Police to get their input into how to manage the crowds effectively to reduce public order issues and also to gain their feedback on the likelihood of threats and current intelligence.

So we are left in a position where we can really only respond to circumstances but our response is an area that we can control.  We can plan for the worst; we can bring others into that planning process so that there is a broad comprehension of the challenges and responses across the project stakeholders; we can brief our teams and provide training for volunteers so that everyone knows what to do; we can communicate to keep everyone up to speed and highlight any issues, changes or actions required.

All of these mean that we as event organisers and our wider team are prepared and hopefully we’ll never have to use that preparation. Or when something else happens, like water not being delivered, we’ll have a means to respond ensuring that the event goes ahead as smoothly as possible. So, all credit to the organisers of the Boston Marathon who dealt with last year’s bombings with calmness, consideration and humanity, working hard to save as many as possible and who have drawn on all their resource to make it
all happen this year.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Greendale Events …?!

I was watching Postman Pat the other day (not by choice I hasten to add – I have a 2-year old!) and was drawn into a storyline about getting all the right bits in the right places for an outdoor screening. Now this an event that I know quite a bit about and suddenly I found myself critiquing this delightful animation highlighting the lack of accuracy in relation to the reality of organising such an event.

Firstly, it was a traditional projector (which if it had been the original Postman Pat I would have accepted but the new version is full of text and email so where is the digital projector); secondly, it was on film reel rather than DVD; and thirdly there was a policeman staffing the road closures with no support, no signage and no hi-vis! It’s no wonder that the general perception of event management is that it is easy!

I lost count of the legal transgressions in this particular episode and whilst I appreciate that to include them would remove all fun and would extend the 10min episode by about 3 hours, there is part of me that remains frustrated by it. You see we work really hard to ensure that our clients feel that their event is as easy as Postman Pat made it out to be. We write traffic management plans, we procure and manage the supplies and suppliers, we ensure that it is all legally compliant….we deal with the stress of it all and solve the problems on the ground.

So Pat, next time you want to include an event in your storyline, bring us in!

Claire Eason Bassett Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

A Happy Band of Professionals

One of the things that is most satisfying to me is meeting and working with people who are truly professional in all that they do.  Whether it’s marketing, construction, accountancy, teaching, event management or any other discipline, a true professional behaves with integrity, working to the highest possible standards, ensuring that the job gets done, enabling the whole team to achieve and with a sense of self that creates confidence (but isn’t at all arrogant).

I have the pleasure and privilege of working with a great number of professionals over the years in a wide range of circumstances and contexts and it is from this experience that I have noted the above qualities.  It doesn’t actually matter what their job title is or how high up they are in an organisation or how much they get paid.  People who are professionals are not only good at their jobs but they understand where they fit in the team, in the project, in the organisation and where they are in relation to that wider world.  They don’t expect others to do it for them or for jobs to be offered on a plate but rather recognise that by hard work, skill development, collaboration and personality, they will create their own opportunities.

In the process of expanding our pool of Associates, I have been delighted to meet yet more of these professionals who bring experience and expertise in further areas of the events sector.  Ian Ley, who runs party planning and private events company 5chip, is a specialist in hospitality and front of house operations.  On meeting him today, I instantly got an impression of someone who knows his stuff and has a direct and clear management approach whether working with volunteers or paid event staff.  We could consider each other to be competitors but actually we both understood how we could add value by working together.  It’s a professional respect thing – I don’t do what he does and similarly he doesn’t do what I do.  And that builds a great team to deliver great results for our clients.

I have always tried to employ people who are better than me in their areas of work so that collectively we achieve that synergy and this is absolutely true of our Associates, and I hope will be true of our Operations Manager who will shortly join us.  I am hoping this person who can look after the ‘today’ and can recognise their absolutely vital role in the success of all of us as individuals and collectively as a business.  I am hoping that this person can bring new perspectives into the business and make sure that we are working as effectively and efficiently as possible.  I have high hopes for this particular new collaboration and, as with all of our Associates, I look forward to raising the bar with them, working professionally and achieving great things!
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Academia & Industry and How to Bridge The Gap

At Confex just recently, I attended a discussion on the relationship between academia and industry where the gap was obvious.  There are only a relatively small percentage of event management graduates who are ready to take on a management function within the sector when they leave university. For most, they need to start from the ground up and they need to start running straight away but are not necessarily ready to go.

From my perspective as a Lecturer at Falmouth University, we are working hard to create as many opportunities as possible for students to experience the real world of work in the sector through placements, shadowing, mentoring, real-world assessments, case studies, research, site visits and internships.  Lots of other courses do similar things and yet the industry continues to find that graduates are not ready for work.  Why is this?

It seems that there is a perception in some cases that they deserve a job in the events sector, or that they don’t need to do the ‘grunt work’ like taping cables or moving kit or data entry.  From the feedback from industry within that discussion at Confex, it is clear that whatever the degree, new members of staff will always have to do this kind of work whilst they find their feet in the business.  For that matter, whatever one’s position in the sector, an element of ‘grunt work’ will always need to be done.  The best event managers are those who don’t think that this is  beneath them.  There is no place in the industry for that kind of attitude and I believe that it is our role as educators to ensure that our students understand this.

Now, not all event management students actually want to go into event management.  I know this will seem strange but there are many reasons why people might choose event management as a degree – transferable skills, interesting areas of work, exploring options – not necessarily because they want a career in it.  Some start the course and change their minds along the way and this kind of course enables that exploration.  Some are already passionate about particular aspects of the event sector and some think it will be glamourous and exciting.  Some come with an existing professional approach, others with arrogance, others with insecurity, yet more with no idea at all.  As lecturers, we have to support these students in exploring and identifying their path and fit in the sector but there is a limit to our influence.

This is the crux of the matter.  We can design courses and experiences and assessments that develop the right skills and open up opportunities for students but our ability to change their view of the world is entirely dependent on that view.  There are some students I have worked with who look at the world with disdain, who believe that they have all the answers already and that their view is always the right one.   There are some who work fantastically hard, have great ideas, seek collaboration and have a truly professional outlook.  These students absorb information and context like sponges and the best are able to translate this into their work and can understand the why as well as the what and how of event management.

The transition from higher education into full time work is difficult.  It’s tiring and it’s not exciting all the time and the new graduate might feel that they aren’t being pushed or that they are always doing the dull work. This is the reality of the events industry (and is the same for many other sectors as well).  Placements only go so far in enabling students to understand this and prepare for the transition so we as industry professionals also need to pick this up and give new graduates a little space to adjust.

The thing is that there isn’t time for graduates to have that space.  We need them to hit the ground running, to be useful from day 1. To give us value for money for their salary. To recognise the importance of their role in the company and in enabling the business to succeed. And to be humble enough to get as much from the experience as possible, making themselves valuable.  Part of developing this approach in graduates in dependent on industry engaging students in work placements and giving them as real an experience as possible.

So in bridging the gap between industry and academia, both sides need to appreciate the context of the other.  As lecturers, we need to ensure that our students, those who do want to get into the industry, have a real understanding of the sector and an appreciation of their desired and actual place in it.  As an industry, we need to find ways to give graduates a chance for transition, some space to adjust and some stability in making that shift to being a professional.

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events