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

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No man is an island they say

group-01I think we can all agree that, in business, and specifically in events, people are our greatest asset.  This is true but only really so if we manage and develop that team and wider network to play to our collective and individual strengths.

What I mean is that, like any asset, if they are not used they can never be effective. You snooze, you lose! This gauntlet is laid down to all of us, irrespective of job title. Even if you are the office junior or an events assistant, you still have access to and use of this asset to gain support, to learn, to develop skills and to build your own network of useful people. And for anyone further up the chain of command, we have responsibility for this asset. We spend a lot of money on our people in terms of salary/fees, facilities, incentives, our time, knowledge and effort so we simply cannot afford not to manage our teams well.

In order to get the best value from our investment in our teams, we need to understand and appreciate them, their skills, approach, communication styles, needs, wants…and it can seem that all we do is service other people. In fact, that is exactly what we need to do to get the best from our teams. We need to design teams that have complementary strengths and skills to ensure that the client and wider stakeholder groups get the best possible experience.

At Mackerel Sky, we have a fantastic team of Associates with a vast range of experience and a great body of skill and ability that enables us to take on almost anything! Our business model enables us to draw together an appropriate team for each project that ensures that we will deliver to the highest possible standard within the brief and budget.

Internally, we all have individual growth plans that focus on developing the skills and experiences that each member of the team wants to and that are necessary to expand the reach of the company and individual project teams. Each person in the company is supported to undertake training and we plan our workload so that we have the right balance of confidence, skill and experience with learning and development opportunities.

But is takes time and effort and consideration. It also reflects on the value that I place on our team and on their commitment and involvement with the company. It is vital to take the time to notice each person’s work, to thank them, praise them and equally hold them accountable when stuff happens. Not shout and scream but recognise that it hasn’t gone well or that there were issues, and enable the individual or team concerned to learn from it and move on to the next project.

By investing in our teams and taking the time to be present in all of it, we are doing all we can to engage with the individual to gain collective benefit, to build the business and to deliver the event successfully.

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Who would be in your Top 5 of inspirational people?

As I write this, we are driving down the A30 heading home (I’m not driving!) and someone on the radio asked ‘how did you get here today?’. It made me think not just about the multifarious transportation options available to us in the UK but also about the journey I have been on to get here, to this moment in time. In the words of the immortal CJ ‘I wouldn’t have got to where I am today…’ without the inspiration and input of the following people:1. Sue Wyatt
Sue was Chief Executive of Rambert Dance Company when I was there and she taught me a huge amount about management, decision making and leadership. She is always calm under pressure; she is strategic in everything; and she invests in talent.  I didn’t always agree with her decisions but I truly respect her. She turned the company around from accumulated deficit into surplus and enabled Britain’s oldest dance company to continue and thrive.2. Clare Hearn
Clare and I started Event Cornwall (now Mackerel Sky) together in 2007 and we were friends before that. One of the many qualities that I respect about Clare is her ability to balance personal and professional. She has taught me the benefit of pausing, of creating space in which to think and she has the most extraordinary brain. I love her different perspective on a situation that means together we generate a much more effective solution.3. June Gamble
June is Executive Producer with Plymouth Dance as well as being a life coach. It was June who first enabled me to pick up the pieces after my life changed quite dramatically and she enabled me to craft a future that I have now made a reality. Time with June is incredibly useful and positive and yet she never says what I should do but facilitates my finding my own solution. She has been through all kinds of stuff but she has found a way to channel this into supporting other people and making life changing projects happen.4. Helena White
Helena is one of the best vets in the UK. She has studied hard, developed her surgical skills to be in the top 5% of UK vets and is now the only female Director of Rosemullion Vets. She is also my sister and is the only person in the world who can really tell me to get a grip! She has been and is going through some tough stuff personally and at the same time is figuring out her role as a leader and manager as well as being brilliant! Helena is strong, generous, intelligent, and a natural skipper. I respect her integrity and time spent with her is always a pleasure.5. Allyson Glover
Ally is utterly lovely. To everyone! She is genuinely interested in every business and every individual who she works with in her role as Director of Unlocking Potential.  She is one of my role models, particularly in terms of how she engages with people – clients, team, funders – and I am inspired by her direct impact on the business sector in the South West. She is another strategic leader who motivates and inspires everyone around her. Again, not someone who provides the solution for me but rather connects me with someone who can help. She also gives me honest feedback which I really appreciate.

You will note that this is an exclusively female list but this wasn’t deliberate! It may be that women are inspired by women. Or maybe I have just been incredibly fortunate to meet and work with some amazing people who happen to be women.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Digital treat anyone?

So our first Thrive sessions have started in Bath and, as is often the case, we are learning as much as we are leading the training.  So we have come up with the programme following training needs analysis and we come up with the content for the sessions….we then run the sessions and we always try to tailor the sessions to the people who are there so it’s really applicable and relevant.  However, this agile approach is also a recognition that we don’t have all the answers (and neither should we) but we facilitate that sharing of knowledge and experience within the group to find solutions.

So within this context, I ran the Audience Development session with additional input from Jim Brewster at The Audiences Agency. We covered various areas from strategic relevance to practical how to, from application of data analysis to value propositions and then we started talking digital….and at this point, Jim introduced us to the principle of “digital treats”.

I love this idea that social media and user generated content provides such digital treats that might be photographs taken at an event or comments or films or anything really that connects the digital and the live worlds.  The concept of hybrid events is becoming mainstream and even if it’s just having a social media presence, digital is featuring in almost every event the world over.  And from an audience development perspective, this offers a fantastic opportunity to engage people wherever they are and provide a range of reasons for them to want to be involved.

As a sector, we only get better at what we do by collaborating and sharing practice – I am so looking forward to learning more in this Thrive Bath programme.

Shoulders back, clear the throat ….

lecternI have just been at the Association of Event Management Education conference where I presented a paper (for the first time in my life and it went well – phew!) and one of the keynotes by Professor Colin Beard talked about the human experience, particularly of learning.  In his keynote, Professor Beard went beyond the usual Maslow hierarchy or Kolb learning cycle and talked about engaging all the senses in the teaching and learning process.

So, we all have our inner and outer worlds and there is, quite rightly, a barrier between the two although they overlap at times.  In order for us to learn, there are five stages of progression into that inner world –

  1. Belonging – being part of something more than us, perhaps a social group or a university class
  2. Doing – active learning by undertaking something practical
  3. Sensing – engaging all the senses and thereby engaging more of the potential of the human brain
  4. Feeling – engaging our emotions and thereby our commitment and support
  5. Knowing – developing a body of knowledge held within us and the confidence that goes with it

Past the knowledge stage, we reach becoming and being which is a state of confidence and capability where we are able to apply knowledge to move forwards.  It’s probably better explained with an example.  So consider a university student on an events course (and here I am just thinking of the academic process):

  1. They already ‘belong’ to their course cohort.
  2. We (tutors) engage them in practical activity perhaps volunteering or running their own events.
  3. We support reflection on that experience in terms of what they saw, heard, felt, smelt etc. (and maybe even create sensory experiences in our teaching but that’s another subject)
  4. The student begins to attribute emotional responses e.g. I enjoyed it, or didn’t and self evaluate in considering their strengths and weaknesses
  5. With academic content, they start to build a body of knowledge supported by experience
  6. The student builds their capability, becoming more confident and the learning becomes embedded in their practice (and subsequently increases their sense of belonging to that group and we come full circle)

Well that’s what’s supposed to happen!  I can see that it does in many ways and I think that this model presents some significant challenges in terms of how we engage and support students and also how we create and design events that engage our target markets.  Considering my portfolio, this is particularly relevant for the Bridgwater Way project where we are trying to change behaviour and encourage more to cycle and walk to school, work and for leisure. The events programme is part of creating stages 2 – 4 from which the specialists can pick up, share knowledge and build a local community of cyclists.   So the design of the events needs to offer something to do, something that engages all the senses and then engages their emotions (positively) for the Summer Festival (19th July, Blake Gardens 1 – 4pm), we have taken this on board so we have a wide range of activities including cycle obstacle course, fastest tyre change challenge, Bike Build-Off etc; we have passive engagement including music and  circus entertainment; we have food & drink including the Smoothie Bike; All of which is designed to create smiles on faces, engaging those positive feelings about the project and about cycling and walking from which the information stands and specialists can share knowledge……and after all that we are keeping our fingers crossed that this model really works and enables attendees to become confident cyclists or walkers, to undertake active travel more frequently and to become an advocate for it.

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!)

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