Define ‘event organiser’

onemanbandOne of the things that we love about what we do is that it’s a very broad sector with fuzzy definitions and this is one of the problems with trying to professionalise the industry.  We also have a large section of the events industry that is voluntary and it’s almost impossible to engage that audience in ‘professional’ networking or discussion as it’s not what they are in it for.

Anyway, it’s vast so how can we define ‘event organiser’? Are we logistics? Planning? Strategists? Creatives? This term alone covers a myriad of realities – from the voluntary organiser of the town carnival to the manager of a large scale conference, from a music festival director to sports event co-ordinators. We have a problem with our terminology.  Add to that that most of us are working far beyond our job descriptions, then we really don’t know where we stand and we have no means to compare and contrast where individuals are within the sector.

After this week’s success with the Invictus Games Prince Harry can claim to be an event organiser and happy for him to join us! But it highlights that our definitions such as they exist are insufficient. This also means that our clients and potential clients have little to help them comprehend the quality or capability of an events organiser. So what can we do?

Together with a number of other agencies and suppliers, we are working with EVCOM to promote quality event management services and to gain some shared understanding of what professional means in this sector.

Students start back at university this week (at Falmouth anyway) and our first session with the third years is ‘what does it mean to be professional?’. I am hoping that the discussion with give us some further insight into how we might define our role and sector!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events


Lessons from the stage for all event managers

theatre-seats-featuredIn over 15 years in the sector, I have noticed that those who get it are mainly those who have been part of theatre production in some way. It is fundamentally the same process – we are producing a show – but with different contexts. In events, we are usually producing one off shows, shows that don’t repeat and so we don’t get to reap the benefit of the second, third, fourth etc nights where we get into a pattern of delivery.

Even so, the process of creating the show, whatever kind of event it might be, is the same as that for creating a theatre piece. We bring together players to collaborate to create a whole experience that engages an audience in some way. It might be a traditional fourth wall narrative or an immersive piece like Punchdrunk‘s latest offering, or landscape based like WildWorks. In every case we bring together technicians, performers/creatives, partners, suppliers and content to make the show happen in order that it achieves the project objectives.

It’s difficult to define which bit of theatre practice is what makes events work but I know that the training definitely makes people more effective in the planning and delivery of events.  Making theatre appears to be a dark art. A mysterious, but known process. The reality is that the ability to make events work is borne out of practice and challenge and not always knowing the answer but being prepared to find the answer. To whittle an answer out of thin air if necessary. To use everything we have available to us, every contact, every favour, every bit of experience to make the show work. So it’s not known at all, but rather a shared approach.

And we can’t teach that. We can but set an example and share our experiences and knowledge as much as possible. And be generous in sharing our approach with those entering the industry. As Kevin Spacey said “if you are going up to the top in the lift, don’t forget to send it back to the ground floor to bring somebody else up too“.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Limber up and get agile!

AOTBOne of our most successful projects is Agile on the Beach and we are very proud to be part of it but more importantly, it has had a profound impact on how we work.

Having grown out of the IT/software development sector, Agile is more of a way of life than a simple process. It’s about focusing on actual needs and wants and evolving one’s product or service throughout the development and delivery processes rather than a more transactional approach.

To us, this is second nature. We always focus on what our client wants and what the project needs and we make sure that the conversation happens throughout the development and delivery processes. It’s just how we roll….but Agile gives us a structure for ensuring that this flexible and engaging approach is effective and profitable.

Agile, and particularly value stream mapping, gives us a means to understand the reality of the processes involved in what we do and identify where there is waste in terms of time, money and effort. Beyond the operational, Agile also has models that we can apply strategically to understand where we are adding value in our business, and where there is weakness or waste. We used it to frame both current and future business models when we shifted from a traditional employment hierarchy to a more flexible network structure.

It is increasing in popularity beyond the software and IT sectors with applications in team management, business strategy and work planning that are applicable to any sector. The team at MPAD are doing it within PR and having explored process driven structures with value stream mapping, they are now focusing more on the people rather than the processes. The great thing about Agile is that the application of the principles adapts with us too. Yesterday, I learnt that an American events and communications agency, Struck, is using Agile and multi-modal learning styles to develop communications across their teams and manage workload, all with a focus on what the customer needs and wants.

So it’s not just for software developers, it’s for anyone. There’s loads of information out there but all the presentations from this year’s Agile on the Beach are uploaded to the AOTB site now so a perfect opportunity to hear what it’s all about from the experts….

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

The cat’s out of the bag … lifting the lid on Event Essentials!!

firstaidkitLast week I was asked what goes into our standard event kit box….we take at least one or many boxes of stuff and the components of those boxes remain a closely guarded secret!  Well not really but to some it seems like magic when, for almost any situation, we have the materials to deal with it.  There are of course the usual things of gaffa tape and cable ties and extension leads and black sharpies but also a few surprises:

Bar tool – let’s avoid that moment when the client wants to open a bottle of beer or a bottle of wine and we have nothing to help and have to attempt to do it with our teeth…..aside from the damage to one’s teeth, it’s also inelegant and gives an impression of being unprepared.

Universal phone charger – it’s always your number that is on the supplier’s contracts or the event plan so being without it is an epic fail. And there is almost always someone else who needs to charge their phone, often the client!

Lip balm – when I am standing at the reception desk or on the radio or outside a lot, my lips get really sore and it not only looks horrible, it hurts quite a bit too! It’s really important to look after yourself on event, especially when you are working a lot of days back to back.

Personal hotspot – in today’s technological world, we need to be contactable via email, twitter, facebook and phone when we are onsite and not being able to get to emails can be incredibly frustrating when you need to print off the guest list or the parking permits or a sign that has been emailed over. So having a personal hotspot on your phone can be a lifesaver. Warning: it does hit your data allowance quite a bit!

Correx – this is corregated plastic board in case you didn’t know and it is invaluable for creating signs that look a bit more substantial than laminated paper which is then vital for getting the audience to where they need to be.

Dog – I wasn’t going to include our dog in the list but then I did an event last weekend where he was an essential part and I realised that his chilled out attitude keeps the rest us calm and he is great for barking at people you don’t want around!  Our dog is a Labrador and when it gets stressful in the office, he does something silly and the tension disappears or simply having him around means you need to get outside and get some fresh air.

Rigging kit – knife, pliers, marlin spike….a standard boat rigging kit that sits on your belt so it’s to hand.  It may not be top of the list but it’s surprising how often I use mine. It might be moving a bit of heras fencing or opening an exhibition delivery or taking signage down but definitely a useful bit of kit.

The reality is that it’s not just about the tangible resources to fix or solve problems, it’s about having the nouse to know how to use it or who to call in to help or actually when the obvious is not the solution at all and there is a more effective and elegant way to address the situation. So the last and final essential bit of my event kit is my brain.  No kit box will be sufficient if you are not present and engaged in what you are doing.  You need to be on it to make it all work so don’t leave your brain behind.  A perfect example is last weekend when an artist had left his contact lenses behind in London and needed replacements in order to perform. This is a nightmare – you can’t get contact lenses without a prescription; it was 5pm on a Saturday; his last eye appointment was March last year….but I know someone who knows someone who could call in a favour or two and he got us those contact lenses.  He even brought them to site and handed them over with 20 minutes to go before the artist went on.  Result!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Happy Mondays and Happy Sundays!

happymondaysThis weekend I will be spending Sunday night watching Downton Abbey (well, of course!). Last Sunday night, however, I was at the far other end of the spectrum of entertainment as I was stood at the foot of the Live at Heartlands stage watching Shaun Ryder, the Happy Mondays and the inimitable Bez royally do their thing. And what a night.

It was the culmination of a 3-day festival featuring amongst many many others, the Happy Mondays, Boomtown Rats and UB40 at what was once the core of Cornwall’s mining industry, then an abandoned derelict wasteland. Now, having undergone extensive regeneration, the tin mines and Cornwall’s heritage are preserved and provide a truly unique backdrop for live music.

As is often the way with live music, it’s the crowd and the atmosphere that makes or breaks a gig. And the overwhelming feeling I got from the gig was how refreshing everyone thought it was to find such big names in music right here, on our doorstep and in an area that’s seen better times but most definitely looking ahead.

Mackerel Sky were at the heart of the team behind this event and it was such a brilliant feeling to know that your very clever colleagues delivered it so smoothly and in such a polished way. From having been there and looking through only a small amount of the social media buzz that was created I have a feeling that last weekend will be a highlight for many at the end of their summer. Go team Mackerel Sky!

Helen Rowe, Marketing Manager, Mackerel Sky

Every Day’s a School Day!

BoyGeorgeLast year I was lucky enough to be in the position of leaving my 9 to 5 job and go freelance. One of the reasons I made this big change was that my career learning curve had become, well….flat! With lack of challenges and lessons to learn one runs the risk of becoming complacent and jaded, so one of the joys of being a freelancer is the variety of projects, both in genre, scale and complexity.

With this in mind I was excited to be offered a role stage managing two projects for the Liverpool International Music Festival. Although I used to be a stage manager I hadn’t branched into live music events. The first event was a set with Boy George, which was recorded live by Steve Levine, the audience of 400 could then download the recording by the time they got home. Cue steep learning curve! New jargon to learn, processes to get my head around, job titles to comprehend all whilst coming across as knowledgeable and experienced. I then moved on to supporting the running of the main stage for the large outdoor festival in Sefton Park. All the lessons learnt from the day before enabled me to work effectively and professionally, all in front of 35,000 people- phew!

So, all in all I feel boosted; I have made important new contacts, broadened my experience, get to add something different to my CV all having learned a vast amount. It goes without saying that we should all try to ensure that “every day is a school day”, no matter what our career choice. Whether that’s in a small way or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone I feel it plays a key role in ensuring we are at the top of our game, keeps us interesting to clients and genuinely happy in our jobs!

Laura Carus, Associate Event Manager, Mackerel Sky