The trade fair is dead. Discuss.

tradestandsI have attended a lot of trade fairs, and run a few, and they generally consist of exhibition stands, ranging from 2x1m to 20x20m in one or many spaces, often with shellscheme to clearly divide each space. Businesses or traders pay for the space as a means to sell products and/or promote their brand. There are often networking or seminar sessions as well to add more value.  There is a complex balance between space available, number of traders/exhibitors and the price per stand to make it financially viable.

There are two main problems:

– it’s not just the cost of the stand but also the materials, the giveaways and the staff time that means making the most of the opportunity racks up a significant budget requirement

– competitors can attend and gain all the same benefits of networking and promoting their brand for the cost of a ticket which is often free.

So it seems that increased cost and free entry for all presents a case that the trade fair is no longer viable….

Or is it?

Exhibiting means greater brand presence and an opportunity to demonstrate your products or services. It often means access to exhibitor only networking too and potentially presenting a seminar to demonstrate one’s knowledge and experience.

But to make the most of your stand and really activate the brand does take a bit more effort and potentially cost. You might need to design the space you have very carefully, create new promotional material and exhibition/information boards and you might need to train your team in promoting the brand.

The challenge is that for small businesses the cost in terms of time and money and the ease of access by competitors often means that exhibiting is simply not affordable. So for rural areas a trade fair potentially excludes up to 95% of local businesses meaning that the content of the event is focused on larger enterprises.

That could be exactly what is wanted but perhaps this conundrum lays down a gauntlet to trade fair organisers (ourselves included) to craft and curate trade fair experiences that are affordable, viable and most importantly, enjoyable, creating positive impact for all involved. This is where a ‘corporate’ event becomes a creative challenge and whilst the traditional model is perhaps dead and buried, we have a great opportunity to evolve something new!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Positivity Can Be Infectious!

Photo from theguardian.co.uk

Photo from theguardian.co.uk

Firstly, a huge congratulations and well done to all those who took part in the London Marathon this weekend. I truly respect your determination, spirit and fitness to make it round and raise so much more for your causes.

Passion is a vital part of success in any field and sometimes it really takes all we have to make it work, to make every wish, dream, ambition come true.  There are always set backs but we learn by overcoming them and our passion keeps us going, believing that what we are trying to achieve is creating a positive impact.

At our recent Company Gathering, we talked about many things but the over-riding theme was our intent to enable positive impact in all we do. Whether that is through training or event management, through consultancy or project management, everything we do it about enabling positive impact on people, places and projects.  This enabling purpose is something that engages the passion in all of us. To help, to make stuff happen, to achieve, to make a difference.

On Tuesday, Claire is speaking at the Institute of Fundraising Conference in Bristol on the theme of making money from events. The focus here is not just on making the cash though, but rather about creating positive impact and in terms of charity and fundraising events, generating both money and social impact.  Imagine what the positive impact is of all the money raised at the London Marathon – around £50m for a huge range of charities! So, again, well done, congratulations and thank you to all those who have raised money by being passionate and putting themselves through physical challenge to make the world a better place.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Roll up roll up! To the Cornwall Variety Show

Variety Show logoAs well as being MD for Mackerel Sky, our very own Claire is often found teaching the BA course in Creative Events Management at Falmouth University. It’s a huge benefit to the course students to have someone take them through the theoretical side to events management but by someone who is actually a highly experienced events practitioner and who bridges the gap between the worlds of academia and industry.

Two great examples of how well this can work is Hannah Williams and Isabelle Compton. Alongside their studies, Hannah and Isabelle are organising and managing another charity event following success with their Cornish Charity Ball last year. Here’s a few words from them on the event itself and how to get tickets – hats off to you girls!

 

“Although Cornwall is bursting with artistic talent there are very few events that showcase the variety and depth of creativity within the county. Abundances of music specific showcases appear throughout the summer months, niche dance performances and comedy gigs, yet there are no inclusive events where all types of artists are shown together. The Cornwall Variety Show will fill this void by bringing real creative diversity. Whether you want to be enthralled by daring circus skills, moved by enchanting dance pieces or brought to tears by comedy gold, The Cornwall Variety Show has something for you. All within the backdrop of an exciting and glamorous royal circus theme, guests will be mesmerized and amazed at the outstanding quality and professionalism of the show. The Cornwall Variety Show promises to be a true night of entertainment and elegance.

The first Cornwall Variety Show will take place on Saturday 30th May, at The Academy of Music and Theatre Arts (previously known as The Performance Centre), Penryn. The event will showcase a variety of performance acts celebrating the quality and diversity of artists within Cornwall. Acts include comedy from renowned Cornish comedian Colin Leggo, a professional circus performance, musical acts including emerging star Patrick Gardiner and local folk band The Saturday Boys, enchanting dance pieces and many more yet to be announced! The show aims to raise awareness and money for the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust, a vital charity to the Cornish community. Through a royal circus themed evening, guests will be immersed within a romantic and daring performance environment; décor, costumes, photo booth, themed bar, concession stands and multiple other engaging elements will enthral and enthuse attendees.”

 

Saturday 30th May, 7pm for a prompt 19:30 start

The Academy of Music and Theatre Arts, Penryn


Tickets £10, Concessions: £8 (students, 65+ and services)
All profits in aid of the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust.

To purchase tickets and to find out more about The Cornwall Variety Show visit the event website, follow on Twitter or email:
http://www.thecornwallvarietyshow.wordpress.com
@CornishVariety
cornwallvarietyshow@gmail.com

 

 

Let Us Eat (and Bake) Cake!

cakeI have always thought that the value of cake in business is underestimated.
Whether it’s celebrating a birthday or celebrating work well done, whether it’s fuel to energise the team or a focus for a productive meeting, cake is a means to bring people together and a means to mark the moment. It may be bought from a shop, or more importantly, possibly made by someone’s fair hands with effort and time invested to create something tasty.  The Great British Bake Off is perhaps the most public of means to showcase this investment and and has drawn thousands of us (including me) back to the kitchen to bake and make.

Inspired by this, a group of third year event management students at Falmouth are running the Cornish Cake Off in May. The event is a combination of baking, produce, cakes and bread with activities, tastings and inspiration from bakers and cake makers from across Cornwall and will be taking place on Events Square as part of the Fal River Festival. They have designed the event as a fundraiser and celebration as their final event within the course and as a means to showcase their event management skills.

As well as yielding great results, the process of baking requires focus and attention which perhaps is a suitable metaphor for project management. If we focus on getting the right ingredients in the right balance, and if we follow the right process that ensures all the elements (including people) are incorporated into the project at the right moment, then we should have a project that rises as it should and definitely doesn’t have a soggy bottom!

To Andie, Liv, Sophie and Jill, our cake inspired students from Falmouth, we suggest that you combine your project management skills with your bake-ability and wish you all the best for the Cornish Cake Off!
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Stretching Ourselves Beyond the UK .. and it’s exciting!

yoga-stretchingWe have just won a contract with Cornwall Council to project manage the Cornish representation at the Lorient Interceltic, a festival in August in France. This is great news and we are really looking forward to getting started but it also poses a challenge to how we work.  This will be the first project that we as a team will deliver outside the UK so our capacity to work over distance and communicate in another language will be tested.

We are of course planning now to ensure that we have the right resources in place (and it’s compulsory French lessons across the team) but this project will stretch us a bit. All within our capability but it’s new and interesting and a different way of working that we are learning to accommodate. This learning is to the benefit of all of us – not just the staff team but also our wider clients and strategic partners as we are developing even more skill and expertise.

It’s a fine balance between taking on new challenges and stretching too far. Perhaps we know how to balance this from our own perspective, knowing our own capacity and ability, but when we consider an organisation it can be more difficult to gauge exactly where that balance is. It means that we won’t necessarily get the balance right all the time for all of the team; some of us may have to learn something completely new, some may find time or resources are stretched and this may take us out of our comfort zone.

But going beyond our comfort zone is what makes us continuously improve what we do and how we do it and that’s where the benefit is for the organisation, for us individually and for our clients. We increase our skills and capabilities means that we increase our capacity, which means that we can improve our development and delivery of projects and take on new contracts that stretch us even further. And there is the virtuous circle but it only works if we learn from every project, continue to stretch ourselves and apply it across our portfolio, sharing practice across our team.

We use Agile management practice to ensure that we gather this learning at every stage, reflect throughout the project as well as at the end, and engage everyone in developing what we do and how we do it. Using these Agile techniques enables us to increase capability and grow as a company of learning experts!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Never mind PR – all feedback is good feedback, even when it’s bad!

sleepingjudgeOne of the hardest things about what we do as event managers is that we create projects and events that are ambitious and creative and when these take place in the public domain, our audience become judge and jury. More often than not, that judge and jury are happy, wowed even by the whole experience but just sometimes we find that in their view, we are wanting. That our work isn’t up to scratch from their perspective and that someone (I.e. You) should be held accountable.

The process of receiving that feedback from our audiences can be incredibly difficult to accept and process. We naturally fixate on the negative comments and our first response can be defensive. We put our hearts and souls into these projects, even more when they are community based events, and when we get negative feedback it can feel like it’s all being thrown back in our faces, so it’s perfectly normal to be defensive.  However, it’s not a particularly productive response.

Considering the opposite extreme, we equally shouldn’t dismiss such feedback as not having any value, especially if we are only saying so to preserve our own ego. All feedback is valuable – someone has taken the time to share their views – so we need to take it on board and as a minimum incorporate it into the evaluation and reflection process post-event.

This is hard work because emotions are involved and they are involved because we are creating experiences and setting expectations in our marketing that sometimes don’t come to fruition in the same way for everyone. So people are disgruntled. They may perceive that something hasn’t been thought through when the opposite is true – the solution that has been found has been thought about in great detail because there isn’t an easy fix and what’s been agreed is a compromise. The more complex the project, the more likely we are to have negative feedback.

We need to be grown up about it, even when they are being hostile and making it personal. We have to swallow our pride and ego and listen to them. This is vitally important. Don’t assume that you know what their complaint is before they have said it. Listening to the complaint is a valuable part of potentially rebuilding the relationship with them and it means that you will get all the detail of the issue which means you can do something about it (potentially).

We can promise to take their feedback on board and include in evaluation; we can promise to adapt the plans for next time; and we can apologise for the offence or disruption or upset caused. An appropriate apology goes a long way in re-engaging that person and the conversation opens an opportunity to explain some of the decisions made, particularly those of a practical nature. This grown up approach is a means to ensure that we get the truth out of the complaint that we can do something about and enables us to bring our audience closer to the project, maybe even bring them into the project, moving them up the relationship ladder (Christopher et al, 1991).

So we can be as grown up as we like, not everyone will reciprocate and sometimes journalists misuse it to create non-existent news stories, so I recommend getting some media training and building a support network who will help to pick you up afterwards and remind you of all the good you have done.  For every complaint I have ever had about an event, there have been tens of not hundreds and thousands more that have been overwhelmingly positive. So my last suggestion is to train your brain to balance the positive and the negative to get a real picture of your success.

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Taking the Digital Leap

jumpingRecently the government confirmed that they are releasing more funds for STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – as these subjects are at the core of our economy. The funding is specifically for development of the creative digital industries….but what does this mean?

We have been discussing this particularly in relation to City of Lights as we have been successful in our application to the Arts Council for a small grant fund to support digital development. But what is digital development?

We can contemplate digital in three main ways:

Production – that is, how we make it. So in a craft context that might be using laser cutters or specific design software

Output – that is, how it is enjoyed/engaged with so it could be projection or film or photography or an interactive soundscape….

Marketing – that is, anything that engages the audience e.g. online streaming, social media or blogging/vlogging

It took us some time to get to this clarity and we spent a lot of time discussing what we were actually expecting from artists who were undertaking a digital commission. We now know that we are looking for a digital output that could use digital production methodologies and will certainly engage digital marketing activity such as crowdfunding, social media activity and increased online traffic.

This is unknown territory for City of Lights and this is the case for many arts and charitable organisations. It can be a huge risk, both financially and organisationally so the funding and support from the government, in our case Arts Council England, makes all the difference in making this innovation happen, not just for charities and arts companies but for businesses of all kinds. Surely enabling businesses and organisations to take risks is a core part of getting the UK economy back up and running so let’s have more of it!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky