A Big Ol’ Brazen Thank You For Another Fantastic Fashion Show!

MSE_FashionShow2014One of the best things about what we do is the people we get to work with. I am so fortunate to work with some of the best in the business and the most wonderful quality in these people is that they are prepared to muck in and help out to make the project happen to the best level possible.

Last week, we worked in the NCP multi-storey car park in Truro for the Falmouth University Fashion Show and the site team there were flexible, accommodating and very tolerant of the madness that events include – we brought so much kit onto site including over 1,000 blocks and 200 planks to make rudimentary seating, tech kit, catering, heras fencing and the fashion collections themselves, and we could only get low-top transits into the car park so nothing is easy!

It is not only that access was difficult but that this kind of event can’t be rehearsed in advance. There is only so much planning one can do with so many unknowns and, as shown in our experience over the last few days, suppliers don’t always read the rig schedule and most have arrived late by several hours. 

This is inherently a stressful project with high risk, logistical challenges and high stakeholder investment and suppliers running late and access issues have only raised the stakes further. At this point, we are completely reliant on the team and by this I mean us at Mackerel Sky, the work experience and volunteer team, NCP Truro and JH-AV (our tech providers). Not one of the team stood back but rather all stepped in to help and get the event to a stage where it is ready to go for the students arriving to rehearse and run the shows.

This team spirit and support is one of the best elements of working in this industry and the value of it to us individually as well as the project as a whole is immense. Events that are as complex and challenging as this one simply would not happen without it. It is one of those unspoken elements of the industry and yet is vital.  So a huge thank you to each and every individual who was been part of getting the Fashion Show ready to go and sorry for the stress but it wouldn’t happen without you!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky


The Buck Has to Stop with Event Managers – but let’s stay creative risk-takers

It is always sad to hear of the cancellation of an event.  Even when it’s 
for the most essential of reasons, like weather, or health & safety, or poor ticket sales, it means that someone’s hard work and commitment has been wasted. This week the final day of the Devon County Show was cancelled because of a major traffic accident in the show car park involving at least 5 vehicles and requiring two people to be transported to hospital for treatment.  To be honest, it’s an epic fail on the part of the organisers and it means that the hard work and effort of all those farmers, producers and businesses who were exhibiting has gone to waste through no fault of their own.

I don’t mean to pile on the guilt to the show organisers here and I am sure that they are devastated at the accident and the subsequent closure. However, car parking and site access is always a problem for county shows and large expos so it should be an area which draws a high level of attention from the organisers.  It is also an area where there is a lot of legislation and guidance including health & safety and traffic management

In the UK, we have the most stringent of health & safety legislation and the Health & Safety Executive have just released a revised version of the Purple Book (Events H&S guidance).  So there is no excuse for mistakes like those that led to the cancellation of the Devon County Show. The whole incident raises the challenge of corporate responsibility (even for voluntary and non-profit organisations) where the organisation is responsible for the actions of its staff and representatives.  It is therefore the organisation that is at fault for not fulfilling its legal obligations in mis-managing the car park.

This responsibility is one of the things that is particularly challenging for events.  Our market is continuously pushing us to develop new and exciting event ideas that create new experiences and engage us heart and soul and our government require us to work within specific boundaries.  The challenge is that we (event managers) become scared of doing new things and taking risks in order to avoid the scale of responsibility required of us.
This is not to say that we should relax the rules but rather that we need to maintain the balance to take considered risks, preserving safety but maximising our creative problem solving. This balance is not easy to find and maintain, often even more difficult when working with committees, but if we run scared of all risk, we will end up with no creative sector, boring event experiences and limited innovation. Ultimately, no business. So
finding the balance is not on the wishlist – it’s on the essential list.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Is Imitation the Sincerest Form of Flattery?

Following on from my last post about having ideas, I have recently learnt that a former client has taken an idea that I developed and is now promoting and running it themselves.  This is not the first time that this has happened and it certainly won’t be the last. You see, they aren’t doing anything illegal. Our view on whether it is morally acceptable is a different thing!

The issue I have is that the event is clearly exactly the same as we did but with a minor change to the name and a large part of me is a bit narked that my brilliant idea has been swiped. The other part of me is somewhat chuffed that the idea has been nicked and is being repeated and it’s credit to the idea itself and how we previously successfully implemented it that it is being run again.

When we are brought in as consultants, this is exactly what we do – come up with ideas to meet a need, whether it’s market need or a practical problem. So, if we are doing our job properly, we should hope that our clients do take our ideas on for themselves.

And now I find myself in a quandary because when I come up with ideas, I believe in them. Admittedly, they are often ambitious and complex and a little bit challenging, but I know we can make it happen and how, which means that our hearts and souls are invested in meeting and exceeding expectations.  So when a client decides that they don’t need us anymore, there’s a little bit of hurt mixed with the pride that they have developed the skills and capacity, with our help, to make their ambitions a reality.

The implication of this is that we have to keep on developing those ideas and increasing our value, not to the same clients so that they keep using us (although that is lovely and we enjoy working with them), but so that we evolve and develop our market on an ongoing basis. The challenge is therefore to me and all of our team to fuel our creativity and keep pushing our boundaries to continue to come up with brilliant ideas.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

The Only Answer is to Keep it Fresh


Given that we are in an increasingly competitive environment, where can we find innovation in events? Well, according to the innovation matrix, it’s in both process and product and of varying scales from the incremental change to radical shifts but that’s true of any sector. Events are such a broad spectrum that there is little consistency in process and almost none in product and so both functions provide great opportunities for new ideas and improvement.

From the product innovation point of view, Glastonbury this year has created yet another creative programme that includes the usual headliners matched with a bit of madness but they have also chosen to include performances by English National Ballet. Not the most obvious of choices but certainly an innovative one on both sides. ENB don’t usually perform at festivals and the physical environment at a festival is not the easiest for dancers to work in. The Glastonbury audience is also not made up of their usual attendees – great audience development opportunity but could go wrong quite easily! It’s perhaps a sign of increasing economic confidence that both Glastonbury and ENB are willing to take this kind of risk.

Similarly (in innovation terms), Rambert have announced their live digital event where they will be streaming a live discussion later this week with Christopher Bruce and a number of the other greats of British dance from their brand new studios on the south bank. Rambert are Britain’s oldest dance company so not known for their digital events and this project represents that departure from their norm to generate wider and new audiences.

Technological developments are often the driver for change and, as above, open opportunities for innovation.  The danger is that innovation is based on ideas and possibilities without a grounding in market and customer needs and wants. The trick with creating new products and services is to balance all of the stakeholder requirements and desires with the financial and operational viability and then match in with the organisational strategy. Not always easy but it’s vital to keep evolving and taking risks to stay in business. When we are in that competitive environment and there are significant economic pressures, we have to keep improving, listening to our customers and changing (or our business will die….).

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

It seemed like a good idea at the time …


… Because it was! Sometimes I come up with brilliant ideas. Sometimes I come up with brilliantly impossible ideas. Sometimes I haven’t any ideas at all. About 7 months ago, I had what was at the time a brilliant idea of holding the Falmouth University Final Year Fashion Show in the upper floors of a multi-storey car park. Amazingly, the rest of the team bought into this whole idea and it’s snowballed!

You see after the team at the University got it, NCP got it, then the suppliers, particularly JH-AV, got it and now we are but two weeks away with this brilliantly impossible idea actually becoming a reality. The impossible part of this is that the multi-storey car park venue means that we can’t get any vehicle bigger than a low-top transit up to the floors where we are holding the event. So all the seating, screens, power supply, signage, bar, clothes, tables, make up, toilets, fire extinguishers, catering, programmes, lighting, sound and projection all has to be carried or ferried back and forth from the ground floor.

Not an insurmountable problem but combine this logistical challenge with a very tight budget and it’s an even more ambitious concept to pull off.  I have to say here that it is only viable because the Fashion team at Falmouth get why this venue will not only give us the increased capacity that we need for this event but also will showcase the 3rd year collections, the Fashion courses and the university as a whole. It is not only Fashion students who are being promoted here – we have high quality input from Graphic Design, Creative Events Management, Fashion Photography, Fashion Marketing, Film and Press & PR Photography – and it is this collaboration of professional suppliers and service providers matched with the growing skills and abilities of these Falmouth students that provides a melting pot of positive impacts for all involved.

Because this event is so challenging, the core values of the University are never more prevalent – Creative, Connected, Courageous. We are proud to be creating and delivering event ideas that hold to these values and proud to work with and for an institution that is, in this event, genuinely walking the talk.

Claire Eason Bassett. Managing Director, Mackerel Sky


Fail to Succeed

Am I a failure? Yes in some areas. No in others. It depends on your perspective and it depends on circumstances.

Chris Evans was interviewing a number of guests on his Radio 2 morning show just recently – two actors and a sportsman – and all had business interests alongside their profession.  For one it was a restaurant, for another it was an art gallery, for another it was a training company.and they opened a conversation about the value of failure.  Three of the four had been in businesses previously which had failed and the general feeling was that you need to fail in order to be a good businessperson.

I think this valuing of failure comes from the recognition of how much you learn by making mistakes and failing (according to any criteria). But it only has value if you do learn and improve for the next project or business opportunity.  I have a low tolerance for people who make the same mistake more than once as does the current economic climate.  Failing to fully achieve objectives is a normal part of day to day business but again, this only has value if we learn from it so we can aim higher next time and continue to push ourselves and our teams.  However, there is an impact of this failure on the team, particularly in small businesses so whilst it’s useful to fail (and a great example to set to your team), the team may struggle with appreciating you as a leader if there are too many failures. Too much failure makes questions appear in people’s brains – staff, press, clients.. – so must be balanced with appreciable successes or a clear strategy that accommodates testing, risk and ambition.

Similarly, the discussion raised the need to fail fast before too much damage is done to the brand, team or company.  The Harvard Business Review blog also picks up this need and the authors articulate the danger of failing too frequently or simply hanging on in there past the point of no return.  No-one can teach you this point but one needs to develop a business intuition understanding where that point is for you and keep pushing at it. Without the risk of failure, there is no innovation, no creativity and no ambition.  Without failure, we would have a standardised business environment that was conservative, majority driven, traditional and boring!

Without some kind of failure, we would not see any of the inventions and innovations that are part of the British business culture. So, Chris and co are right – we need to experience failure in order to grow businesses and ideas and challenge and motivate ourselves.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

It’s all got a bit real for these students …

It’s approaching the end of year for the students that we work with at Falmouth University and both the 2nd and 3rd year cohorts are creating and planning events for delivery over the next 3 weeks.  The events range from charity balls to old school sports days, from skate and music events to training and skills development.

Here’s a post from one of those students shouting about her project and approach! Over to Isabelle …

“The inaugural Cornish Charity Ball will take place on Friday 16th May at the Greenbank Hotel here in Falmouth. The aim of the event is to raise both awareness of the valuable work of the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust whilst also, of course, raising money for them. This unique evening has an elegant 1910 theme and will include exquisite catering, an incredible raffle and dazzling jazz entertainment for a truly memorable night. 

This event promises to be unique in another way as this isn’t the work of experienced, professional event managers. Instead this is the work of students. But we’re not talking about your stereotypical sleep-in-until-midday, live off takeaways and avoid the washing up at all costs breed of student. Rather, these are committed students who attend the Falmouth Business Club breakfast meetings and speak on local radio, Source FM, about their causes and concerns.

As 2nd year BA Hons Creative Events Management students at Falmouth University, the Cornish Charity Ball team are making great strides into the professional world and taking the leap from academia. The first Cornish Charity Ball will not only be a chance for local businesses and members of the community to network and understand more about the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust, but will also demonstrate the talent and excellence of Falmouth University students.

To find out more about the Cornish Charity Ball, please contact cornishcharityball@gmail.com

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CornishBall
Like us on Facebook: https://facebook.com/CornishCharityBall

Isabelle Compton

Isabelle Compton, team member

Isabelle Compton, team member

Hannah Williams, team member

Hannah Williams, team member







Well done to Isabelle and team – we’re wishing you all the best for a highly successful evening!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky