Looking forward to a weekend to remember!

HeartlandsWe are delighted to be part of the Live at Heartlands project which is a long weekend of music performances in September 2014 including UB40, The Boomtown Rats and the Happy Mondays.  Sounds simple….until you realise that this is for up to 6,000 people (hopefully, assuming it is all approved by the powers that be) and it’s at Heartlands which is a regenerated mining site in the conurbation of Camborne, Pool and Redruth.  This is not a small project and neither is it easy.  It’s also the first time that this particular team have worked together and it’s the first time that Heartlands has been used for this scale of event.

We wrote the events strategy for Heartlands and we had the great pleasure of advising on operational considerations for the site in order to accommodate the scope and scale of the proposed events from car shows to big gigs and from community classes to festivals.  It is an absolute pleasure to now be a part of making that initial plan a reality.  We have been working with Heartlands for the last 4 years from the business plan development through relaunch events to the Flame Festival in 2012 and now Live at Heartlands.  It started being a few lines on the plans and now we get to play in the park that we were part of creating!
It’s a brilliant responsibility recommending ideas and now making them happen.  It’s not just running a gig but our role as Event Operations Management is to ensure that the event really works so that there are more events of this scale at Heartlands and that there are more large-scale gigs appealing to the Cornish audiences.  It’s about making it happen safely and being under control in order that we might grow the events landscape in Cornwall and across the South West to be more ambitious and exceed expectations; that we might grow attendance and engagement in large scale events; and that we make a difference to our local economy and community.  No pressure then!
This responsibility is significant but it’s not beyond our capability, capacity or experience.  We get on well with the wider Live at Heartlands team, with the onsite team and with the suppliers and partners but more than that, we have a healthy and hard-earned respect across the team.  Any one of us might not have all of the answers but between us we do and between us we will make what was just an idea written into a plan a real event experience.  A weekend to remember for all the right reasons. I can’t wait!
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Beautiful but a hazard?


sky-lanterns-3There is something quite magical and inspirational about releasing sky lanterns, often at the end of an event, and they look so pretty as they drift up and away….

Fair enough but they are a menace to livestock and fire hazard to buildings and trees.  A couple of weeks ago, the National Outdoor Events Association called for a Ban on Sky Lanterns and they have my vote.  Regardless of how pretty they look, the fact that they are completely out of control presents a significant challenge to the safe delivery of any kind of event activity that includes them.  I am not comfortable taking responsibility for an event where we are deliberately putting lives at risk.  In any other circumstances, we wouldn’t have a fire moving through space without having direct control over where it goes so why are sky lanterns acceptable?
We manage several lantern based events including the wonderful City of Lights in Truro where we have about 1,000 children and young people carrying paper and withy lanterns with lit candles inside.  Every year I ask myself why we combine naked flames, children and combustible materials and my answer is to ensure that the risks are appropriately controlled to give everyone the benefit of the magical experience that is City of Lights.  It’s not easy but we do have control over where that fire source goes, how it’s handled and how we deal with it if it gets out of control (almost every year a small lantern will catch fire….we have a system to deal with it, approved by the Fire Service and it works!).
As an industry, we need to take a lead.  This is an issue that we can do something about so I urge you to join me and vote for a ban on sky lanterns.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky


To tech or not to tech

telephoneWe are told that technology usage continues to increase and there are constantly new apps or devices on the market and that’s true but as I type, I am sat on a train to go to a meeting with a client because they want a face-to-face conversation.  Now, bear in mind that not all clients are the same (thankfully!) and all have different needs but in the last week, I have had one client say they want more meetings and another say not to worry about face-to-face and we can do all of our meetings via Facetime.

So technology may be on the rise and useful in some cases but it doesn’t take away the need to meet entirely.  Similarly, within Mackerel Sky we find that we all need to get together every so often as part of our team connectivity despite the power and capacity of our cloud-based software.  It simply is no substitute for getting to know someone, see the whites of their eyes and find the points of shared interest.  And this is what’s so important about face to face meetings with clients.  We are not just providing a service you see; we are making their ideas a reality and it is vitally important that they trust us.  We can’t (yet) build that trust singly via the phone, skype, facetime, email or any other technological connection.  Despite all of the technology available to us, we (humans) have that need to connect in person.

We are the project managers for Agile on the Beach (AOTB) which is a business conference exploring agile methodologies (which have grown out of the software development industry).  Given that agile grew out of the IT sector, it is fair to assume that the target market for AOTB is highly technologically capable, has a high level of tech awareness and is virtually connected already but this year we have already seen an increase in ticket sales yet again and it’s because AOTB not only fulfils that need to physically meet but that there is a value in the whole experience in terms of learning and engagement.  What I mean is that delegates and sponsors for AOTB get more than just a face to face from the event.  The experience of the conference provides a common ground for developing business relationships, going beyond email or LinkedIn or a phone call, even for these highly technically capable delegates!

That’s not to say that the tech isn’t important at all – far from it!  These delegates expect superfast broadband and easy, reliable wifi access and immediate engagement on Twitter and a parallel online conversation alongside the actual conference activity….it’s this development of the ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’.  And this presents a different kind of challenge for running this kind of event with increased logistics and more complex event design whilst still meeting the basic human needs of food, drink, safety etc. I suppose Maslow had it right all along in his hierarchy of needs and technology has yet to make it into being a basic human requirement of life.

On a personal note, I am fascinated by how Facebook and Twitter are evolving and more particularly how we use them is evolving.  I find that I using Facebook more as a medium to set up face to face conversations and social engagements than as a status updating/news sharing mechanism.  Perhaps this demonstrates that technology whilst increasing can only take us so far and there will always be a human need to actually connect.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

(Given the content of this blog it seems appropriate to do a shameless plug to our social media channels …. Facebook & Twitter – thanks!)

A change is most definitely as good as a rest

officepics_collageWe’ve moved offices! Admittedly only downstairs but the impact it has had on our productivity really shows the truth in the old adage that a change is as good as a rest.  Somehow, the new office is exactly the right amount of space for us, it feels right and we feel right working in it.  It feels easier to communicate and to focus.  And it is making the team work more effectively.

There was very little conscious thought that went into the decision to move downstairs.  It fulfilled a number of specific needs in that it was the right amount of space for the number of people now based at the office; it would mean we didn’t have to do the whole change of address thing; we wouldn’t have to carry all our event kit up the stairs; and it would minimise the disruption to business activity of the move itself.  And on that basis we decided to move.
So we’ve moved and, just like when I was 14 and moving my bedroom around at home, we have happily spent a little time finding places for things and getting things sorted.  Having had a few staff changes over the last 6 months, we now have a complete team and it’s been a really useful process to do this (small) move together so everyone feels that they have their place in the office and in the business.  There is a renewed confidence about us and (she says in a whisper for fear of jinxing it) we might be approaching that elusive feeling of being almost maybe on top of things.
This feeling of being on top of things is the most addictive thing I know.  It is a feeling of being in control, being calm, that everything is planned and there is enough time for it all, that it is ok to take a break and think about something else.  I don’t feel that way very often. I don’t think that any of us do really and certainly those who own and manage their own business very rarely experience this utopia.  Having said that, whenever I do feel that way, it also worries me a little.  The doubts start to creep in and I worry that I have forgotten something vitally important and look at that, I’m back in the mix of it all again.
To be honest, that’s where I am at my happiest.  Not feeling on top of it all but rather being productive and getting on with it and being in the right space is fundamental to that productivity for me and for the wider team.  We need a space where we can work, chat, play, relax, concentrate….and enjoy our work.  As event managers we work hard and play hard and our workspace needs to reflect that too, it needs to enable us to do our thing.  I don’t think I realised how important it was and how much of an impact moving those 10 yards downstairs would have on how we work together.  So all it takes is changing a few small things to make all the difference.  Maybe my grandmother was right and a change is as good as a rest!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

About to be out of my comfort zone … and excited to be so

pennine-smlI confess I am a little scared. In fact, a lot scared. At the beginning of July, I am presenting an academic paper at the Association of Event Management Education conference in Sheffield and I have never done this before.  I have never had to present my academic research before and certainly not to this kind of audience!  I am speaking on the same stage as some of the greats of event management academia – Glenn Bowdin, Joe Goldblatt, Dr Elling Hamso…. – and I am a little scared!

If I think about it rationally, I know that my research is good, that the subject is interesting and that I am a confident presenter so it will all be fine.  I also recognise that it is good to push the boundaries sometimes and push myself to be better and aim higher. But then the imposter syndrome looms….I fear that one day they will find out that it’s just me and inside, I am about 14 years old, not a grown up at all, and certainly not anyone who has answers.

I think this is because I have never thought of myself being on that stage, being up there with those academics and event managers, but I am arrogant enough to believe that I am good enough to be there and that they are actually my peers.  Sometimes, we are so focussed on our work, that we don’t step away from it to see how much we have achieved.  So, I am using my presentation at the AEME conference to take that step away, recognise that actually I am a grown up now and have every right to be proud of what I have achieved.

I am not sharing this for a pat on the back and an ego boost. I am sharing this because I know I am not alone in feeling like this, torn between being chuffed to bits and a little petrified of taking that step onto that stage to be seen in that light. I am sharing this because it is good to be a little scared and to push one’s own boundaries. So wish me luck!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Time to take stock …

We know that usually everyone blogs about market trends at the new year but we’ve been talking about what’s hot in events and the cultural sector over the last few weeks so thought we would share our thoughts….

1. Collaboration

Audiences expect more for their money and so collaborations and partnerships are increasing.  Whether it’s multiple art forms working together or a diverse collection of suppliers, events inevitably require different people and approaches to collaborate.  There are some suppliers we work with who are absolutely engaged in this and there are others for whom event projects are just a transaction. We’re finding that projects where we are working with the former work better, achieve their objectives and are more enjoyable.

2. Spectacle

That elusive WOW factor that we want to generate is getting harder to achieve. The expectations of our audiences are continuing to increase.  We all expect high quality, bespoke experiences that are delivered safely and effectively and that’s great but it’s difficult to create the surprise, particularly when working with ever tighter budgets. So we think that spectacle is the way forwards, that is, creating collective creative experiences that include different artforms to create a whole. Then there isn’t a focus on one single solution to the wow factor but rather that people can create their own experiences.

3. Interaction

Use of technology is increasing of course so our expectations of technology at events is increasing.  Not just in terms of the audio visual but in terms of wifi, apps, registration as well as production itself including 3D mapping, augmented reality and RFID/NFR. There are thousands of options for engaging technology whatever our event but it’s important to remember that it must be appropriate for the event content and audience.

4. In-kind

The barter economy is alive and well! We are finding that a number of projects are using in-kind support as a means to get supplies or services and engage sponsors to gain greater market presence. Not only does this provide a means to balance the budget but also builds collaboration and goodwill. The note of caution here is that you can’t reach a level where in-kind jeopardises the business function itself – we still need cash!

5. Buy Local, Think Global

This isn’t just about local produce but about engaging with the local economy, using local suppliers as much as possible whilst still creating output that is globally aware. For us, part of this is about recognising our responsibility to try to create positive impacts in everything we do. This translates in choosing our venues and suppliers, in our travel planning, in our marketing and  in our event design.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky



D Day70 years ago, thousands of men launched the most significant attack of the Second World War and started the end of one of the world’s most devastating conflicts.  D-Day (and the D-Days that followed 6 June 1944) turned the tide and pushed back the looming invasion of Hitler’s troops. I am not about to describe the detail of those days as this is not a history blog but rather wanted to recognise the importance of this and other events in what we do and how we do it.

Both of my grandfathers were in D-Day and survived and I am immensely proud of them for being prepared to risk their lives for others, something that I would struggle with from my pampered position as a middle-class UK citizen. More than this, I am immensely proud of all those, in D-Day and in all conflicts, who are prepared to put their lives on the line to ensure peace at home.

From a business point of view, the UK being at war can be a significant influence on workload, on funding and on engagement.  When at war (and I appreciate that war is not the same now as it was 70 years ago), activity, news, money, politics is focussed on the conflict.  The events sector changes too (and again, it is important to note that there wasn’t really an events sector as such 70 years ago but there were definitely events!) with market needs shifting to need more engagement, more community cohesion, clearer cultural identity and encouraging the indomitable British Blitz spirit. However, there is no room for wastage or flippancy or vanity projects that are just about ego.  Many of the large events that we see now would now be possible as they would bring too many people together in one place and be too big a target for terrorists or enemy action.

Funding, particularly with a number of our clients who are councils, would be diverted to the war effort.  If we remember back to 2012/13 when the big government cuts hit home, Somerset County Council made a decision to cut all of their arts and events funding so that they could focus their spend on other priorities including fighting flood waters.  Imagine how out local, regional and national councils and government would respond if we had to double or even triple our UK defence budgets!

So I can only thank my grandfathers and all those who were involved in D-Day for their part in making our society what it is now. I thank them for enabling me to have my privileged position as a UK citizen who is employed in a wonderful but non-essential sector, who has the ability to express herself freely, who lives in a society of tolerance, openness and diversity.  Without them being prepared to give our lives, none of this would be possible. Thank you Grandad! Thank you Granf!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Opening the doors on classical music

The Rite of SpringClassical music is often perceived to be elitist, expensive and exclusive and, particularly for the South West, there isn’t enough of it to redress this opinion.  It feels like it’s only for older people and has no place in contemporary youth culture. So are the classical artforms dying?

Perhaps in their traditional form they are because the general public have limited access to these artforms in terms of ticket prices, transportation and interest.  The concert hall can be an intimidating space with unspoken conventions and expectations so our experience of classical music is limited to recordings, radio, film and game soundtracks and adverts.

We are fortunate enough to be working with the Philharmonia Orchestra on the iOrchestra project which is a three strand programme of classical music activity that seeks to redress the balance and bring classical music into the domain of the general public.

The first strand is MusicLab which is an interactive truck that is touring the Torbay area as I type taking classical music into central community locations.  The MusicLab has 5 different activities which enable participants of all ages to engage in making and appreciating classical music and particularly the orchestra.

Secondly, we have RE-RITE which is a digital orchestral installation housed in a gigantic tent located centrally and open to all.  RE-RITE took 37 cameras to film and the installation creates rooms in each section of the orchestra so that when you stand in the low strings room, you experience the orchestra as if you are in the middle of that section – you see what the cellists and double bass players see, you hear what they hear. There are various opportunities to interact with the orchestra, to conduct the piece – The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, and to play along in the percussion room.

Lastly, we have the Big Finish with two concerts – one open to the general public at the conclusion of the 2-week RE-RITE installation and one designed for schools.

This project is a hugely challenging one with significant impacts.  When RE-RITE was in Plymouth we had over 12,000 people come to the installation and we learnt a lot about how it works in a tent (RE-RITE has been done before but in established venues) and in a city centre.  Our role is to look after recruitment and management of freelance staff and volunteers as well as local press activity and it is a pleasure to work with the wider Philharmonia and iOrchestra team to deliver this programme that is already starting to change the perceptions of orchestral music in the South West and introduce people to the wonderful world of classical music.

There is something wonderful about how classical music transports us to other worlds, makes us feel, challenges and engages both our brains and hearts. I hope that iOrchestra opens the door for people to experience this and to seek more of it as this will drive more orchestral music in the region, to inspire and enjoy.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

The county show – can it be all things to all people?

Royal Cornwall Show 2008As I write this, Royal Cornwall Show is but hours away.  Traditionally agricultural shows have been the highlight of the year for many in the community; an opportunity to get away from the farm for a few days, to show off their livestock, and meet up with family and friends who live further away down or up county.  But our society is (and has been for some time) moving away from this and it is being replaced with cultural experiences such as festivals and community events.

The agricultural show itself has changed to become more of a trading event with the showing of livestock as only part of the event and certainly not the reason that most people go.  The show has changed to become a spectacle with people attending because it is huge and there are multiple activities including shopping, music & entertainment, displays, competitions, freebie giveaways from promotional stands, oh and the livestock and equine competitive elements.  There is a split in both activity and attendance as the core activity and audience remains the farmers, livestock showing and agricultural businesses but there is this other world of activity with retail, entertainment and promotions. It seems to have lost its way a little and is trying to be all things to all people, probably because that’s a route to sustaining it for the next year.

The development of this other world is not only part of making the show viable but is also an indicator of its success – businesses looked at the show 50 years ago or more and recognised that the show offered the opportunity to engage a large number of people in one go and the retail and promotional activity was born!  Originally focussed on agriculture-related businesses, this has now grown to include all sectors and all types of organisation.

I think we as a population are moving away from the mixed up bundle that is the county show to want to engage with spectacle that has focus and meaning and is open and accessible to all.  A place where we can be engaged and inspired, where we can meet up with those family and friends who live further away, where we can connect with new relationships, and connect with our sense of place.  This is vitally important from an events perspective in that we can create those spaces and places where this happens.  Working with the creative sector, like City of Lights and WildWorks, we (collectively) can meet that need that started the agricultural shows all those years ago – the need to meet, the need to connect, the need to share.

It is important to note this sense of place idea.  With the dissolving of the focus of the agricultural show, Royal Cornwall Show could be any other county show so where is our sense of place that this is ours or that this represents us as a county or as a region (or as an ethnic minority!!)?  Cultural events, and for Cornwall, particularly City of Lights, fills this gap that is about our cultural identity and the traditions of a place.  Whilst the main event is in Truro, there are hundreds if not thousands of smaller lantern events that have sprung up as a consequence of City of Lights and are used as a means to bring each community together, to create their own sense of place.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky