New is Good For You

Steve JobsI attended the AEME conference hosted By Mackerel Sky’s Claire this week and had the privilege of sitting in on a key note speech by Dr Jen Otter Bickerdike. The conference, and Jen’s talk, was themed ‘Creative Risk’.

I really liked the sound of those two words together despite the fact they could be seen as polar opposites; one suggesting innovation and excitement whilst the other, well, scares the living hell out of most of us.

Google tells me that ‘risk’ literally means “a situation involving exposure to danger”. This alone is terrifying – why on earth would anyone willingly expose themselves to danger?! ‘Creative’ means ‘To use imagination or form new ideas’. So for me, the two words together are a perfect union and bring about a whole new meaning, that is; Embark on the new. New thinking. New action.

It is not a revelation that new is what drives business forward. New is what makes sales happen, connections form, careers develop, businesses start and grow. Every new step is arguably a risk, moving from the comfort of where you currently are to where you haven’t been before with absolutely no guarantee that things will work out (oh hi danger part!) But what Jen outlined in her speech is what is key here – Things don’t work out… ‘as you planned’ but they always, always work out. The risk becomes then a challenge to trust that the new will leads you to places you simply can’t imagine… and that’s ok. What’s the worst that can happen?

There is a youtube clip that made a real impression on me a few years ago and inspired me to take a significant risk in my career and personal life. It’s a fifteen minute video of the late Steve Jobs addressing Stanford University at their graduation ceremony. He speaks of, amongst other wonderful things, how the worst things that happened to him in in his career (*getting fired by apple) led to his greatest achievements (*starting Pixar… and then being re-employed by Apple!) He talks of how you can’t connect the dots between events in life looking forward, only looking back – and I love that. I bet there are situations or experiences you can look back on now and say ‘wow that was painful/risky at the time but my god I’m glad it happened because it lead me here’. Maybe you met someone, started something, did something amazing as a result of that experience.

Taking a risk is scary. Risk is putting yourself, your ideas, your business out there. The danger is fear of the world rejecting or criticising you, or it all going wrong. But what if we viewed risk creativity and realised that staying the same could actually be more dangerous to us either personally or to our businesses. What if we take away the concept of fear (the danger) and see risk as a creative action to invite new experiences and opportunities into our lives and trust that it will lead us to places we simply can’t imagine.

Taking a risk doesn’t have to be as grand as starting Pixar but it can be something that puts you out of your comfort zone. Writing this, my first ever blog post to go up on my new employers website, is utterly terrifying but this is my new, my risk. SO, here’s the challenge for you today – do something that scares you and put yourself out there; pick up the phone to your dream client, send that press release, go to that networking event you’ve been putting off. Take a risk. Be creative. Somewhere along the line we may realise, when we look back to connect the dots in our lives and careers, that the ‘dots’ are in fact when we’ve taken creative risks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc

 

Joey Hulin, Business Development Manager

 

So … You Want To Start A Business?

open-roadThis week I am developing a programme for a creative business boot camp style training programme that will help start-up creative sector businesses to understand and be able to deal with the challenges of being your own boss, running a business and producing the work. In the process of thinking about this, I was reminded of the five lessons that were shared with me when I first started:

– if you never say no, what value is your yes?
So simply people (clients) will assume that of course you will do it because you have never said no. Even when it would cost you time, money and impact on your relationships, if you always say yes, your input and ideas will never be appreciated as a scarce resource. Obviously, that’s not to say you should refuse work all the time out of some misguided arrogance but rather that you need to balance your workload and choose the right projects for you. This can be incredibly difficult when you need the work but keep your eye on your vision and take on work that helps you get there.

– plan and then adapt
We can only plan so far. For me, anything beyond 6 months is guessing so we keep our detailed planning to this limit.  If we try and go too much further (in detail), we are potentially wasting time and effort (and therefore money). So plan in overview, in general, for 3 – 5 years but don’t create plans that are then a millstone and drag the business down. You definitely need a vision and a direction of travel but be prepared to adapt to whatever life throws at you! There may be great opportunities; people may change; market conditions certainly will change and will require your business to adapt in order to maintain and build market position.

– get support
Starting up completely on your own is very hard. We all need support and someone to talk to and bounce ideas off. It could simply be a family member or friend, or it could be a more structured relationship with a business mentor, or even your bank manager. Be aware that they will have their own bias and perspective on your business and on your role in it but now is the time to be a magpie and collect people who will, between them, give you a balanced and constructive view of the situation. You may not like what they have to say but those difficult conversations are some of the most supportive and productive development discussions for you and your business.

– what’s the worst that can happen?
Now if you are starting a business that requires a high level of financial investment to get going then this may be a very challenging question. I would argue that we need to allow for the emotional risk of setting up a business as well, particularly those that are based on our personal skills and approach. It can be too easy to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the risks and responsibilities that we have as businesses, whatever our structure, so we need to face up to it and find ways to mitigate the risks involved. If it’s financial, emotional, practical, whatever the risk, by recognising it, we can start to identify how we can deal with it so that the worst doesn’t happen.

– stop every so often
You are not a machine. We are human and every so often we need a break. Even if we love what we do and we are successful, we still need to stop occasionally. If for no other reason than to appreciate how far we have travelled. When you are working in and on your business, it can be all consuming and it can feel like a constant uphill fight to make it work. So we need to stop and look back and appreciate that all of that work has got us somewhere – Hopefully towards achieving the vision that we set out in our plans.

And aside from appreciating the view, our bodies and brains can only cope with so much and they need some down time so indulge in a guilty pleasure occasionally – for me, it’s reading in front of the fire with a cat on my lap in the middle of the afternoon on a work day with a small vat of tea and a slice (or two) of cake….or it’s watching trashy TV with my family….or cooking, making chutney, cakes, bread, stews, soup…..what would yours be?

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Reality Hits

Feet-GoingUpStairs
Earlier this week, I invited three (utterly brilliant) professional contacts – one a client, one a supplier and one an Associate to come into a session with the third year Creative Events Management students at Falmouth University. The module is Professional Practice and I have been running it for the last three years.

The panel discussion was going well with a range of questions asked and areas discussed and I suddenly realised that two of the spheres in which I operate were crossing over. These brilliant professionals were seeing my work in a completely different but mutually supportive context. I have always held that my work as an event manager and MD supports my teaching practice and that the teaching informs and supports my event management and business activity but it is rare that they cross over in this way.  We often have students working with us on placements or internships but it is unusual for a client, Associate and supplier to all come into the education world, even just for an afternoon.

So there I was, seeing myself (and my dual careers) through their eyes and it made me realise that I adapt my communication style and approach significantly across the spectrum from lecturer to event manager to business person. I also realised that this kind of stretch is not an automatic function for many people and so coming into the academic world can seem like a huge challenge or a no-go area.

It can seem daunting to speak to or with students, especially en masse, but we have something that they don’t – experience and knowledge. We might not know all the answers or have published research but we do know our stuff and we are making businesses work and making events happen. So, as vocational professionals, we all have our contribution to make to the academic world, our contribution to make to enabling others to understand the reality of work, of an industry, of life beyond university.

So who’s coming in next?

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.

Events student to professional … is it easier said than done?

_53664977_graduates_640Another key point that I gained from the Association of Event Management Education conference this week was that employers are looking for live experience of the events sector above any other skill, training or experience.  Pretty much all of the event management courses in the UK offer this in some way shape or form.  Most of us offer running their own events, volunteering, placements, industry qualifications like personal license or first aid, as well as the higher education qualification.  And several of the presentations raised the need to go further.  We are all offering these opportunities to students but even some of the best are struggling to settle in employment in the sector and are being beaten to the best jobs.

I have observed this struggle from both the University and employer perspective where I have employed people I have taught and who I have believed to be brilliant but they have struggled to  get their heads around this transition into employment.  Maybe it’s the simple fact of moving from part-time attendance to full time work.  Maybe it’s the increased workload and the multiple projects.  Maybe they struggle to change our relationship from tutor/student to employer/employee.

Whatever the reason, it’s happening all over the place and brilliant students are leaving the sector and not fulfilling their potential.  Similarly, we as an industry are not making best use of the talent that is out there.  So what can universities do to ensure that students are really truly ready for employment, that they have the skills and confidence needed?

Well it comes back to that previous blog post about engaging the senses to reach that state of becoming and being.  Employers need graduates to be and become before they start work.  We need them to have taken risks and responsibility and pushed themselves and worked really hard across both practical and theoretical approaches.  We need the universities to enable students to connect that belonging with being so that their commitment and ability might be interconnected.  This is not because we (employers) are shirking our responsibilities but rather because our industry is fast paced and hard work and high pressure and we just don’t have the time to coax people into work.  We need them alert, engaged, ready to go and ready to make their contribution to making great events happen, to making a difference and to fulfilling their potential.  We can’t do it for them.

So it’s not just about providing more live events experience for students (although that might be part of it) or necessarily about grades or qualifications.  I think it’s about finding the aptitude and engaging the motivation to learn and develop and deliver.  And I believe that it’s going to take a different approach to achieve it; one that is more bespoke, supportive, engaging and definitely not via powerpoint!  It’s not an efficient way to get students ready for work, but I believe it is effective.  I’d best go and work on my planning of sessions for September then!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

 

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

Step back and look up

swissarmyknifeWhen you are running a business, it goes through a number of phases from the initial idea to the research to the implementation to selling and then to worrying about the next sale and the next new product or service to keep growing.  It’s easy in the first few years to be so busy doing business that you simply don’t have time to think about strategy or direction, let alone research & development. That’s normal but it’s also the downfall of many start ups.  For some, the idea just isn’t robust enough, for others it’s so successful you can’t manage it, for yet more it’s just really hard work.  And that’s why it’s so hard to look up and beyond next week into what your next product might be.

One of the modules that I lead at Falmouth University on the BA(Hons) Creative Events Management course, is Innovation in Events.  It’s a second year module and in which we build on standard management theory and content to develop creative problem solving skills, innovative practice and feasibility evaluation.  The students have to write a business plan for a new (or evolved) product or service related to the events sector in some way and then they have to evaluate each other’s plans.  The business ideas vary from apps to festival vending machines to new events to start up organisations to not for profit projects to inflatable chairs to custom made cocktail carts to waste management solutions and the list goes on and on and on.  The ideas are often founded in personal experience or identification of some gap or problem that needs solving.  Some students love this module and others hate it – I think because it is challenging and it requires a different way of thinking.  And therein lies the crux of the problem for business owners, leaders and managers.

It’s not just about doing more of the same, it’s about thinking completely differently and we all need time to change our mindset and frame of reference to get our heads into thinking R&D.  So we could make excuses about the urgency and quantity of workload, the pressures of our lifestyle, personal challenges, the ‘I just can’t do it’ or more likely, ‘what? I need to think about another new idea?’, but the simple fact is that we can’t afford not to generate new ideas and to keep moving our businesses and ourselves forwards.  This is why it’s included in the course at Falmouth – it’s a core part of doing business and therefore a valuable skill to develop as far as employers of our graduates is concerned.

But for those of us who aren’t studying a degree course, help is at hand!  Future Skills has just been launched – a skill development and support programme led by Cornwall College Business and Unlocking Potential.  It’s designed to engage businesses and individuals at start up, management and director levels and it is entirely tailored to individual needs and wants.  It’s all about having a positive impact on your business through increasing ability and capacity.  It leads to a qualification and it’s funded by Europe so there are some hoops to jump through but the team have designed the programme so that it’s relevant and appropriate yet not too arduous or complex.  The training is free too.  It’s a means to creating that space to look up and get a chance to change that mindset to find out what the next big thing is for your business, what the next development is as well as building on what you already have.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

It seemed like a good idea at the time …

Olivia_Bossert8

… 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

 

Why Would Anyone Volunteer?

323Don’t believe anyone who says that they can guarantee you volunteers for a project.

Getting volunteers is possibly one of the most difficult tasks that event managers have on our lists. How can we get people to give their time (and sometimes money in travel etc) for no charge to us? The reality is that this is an imaginary saving, oft most suggested by people who haven’t had the pleasure of managing a volunteer workforce.
There is always a cost to getting people involved whether it’s wages, training, travel expenses, coaching or simply time. You can of course have great expectations of people in whatever capacity but they will always need to be managed, supported and trained in order for everyone to get the best possible experience and the best value out of what they are giving (on both sides of the relationship).  In fact, to not train and support people and if you don’t trust your volunteers and give them responsibility, may be to the detriment of that relationship making the volunteer feel that their work isn’t valuable anyway so why should they bother.
We have just recently finished the first round of training for iOrchestra volunteers and staff and this is doubly challenging in that we are training everyone up in the ways of the orchestra as well as introducing them to the project in all it’s forms – MusicLab, RE-RITE and the live concert. Given that the first day of any of this is pretty much immediate, we are all working on plans and discussions rather than reality and experience. What I find most interesting is that every person attending today had a different reason to be involved and different elements of the project appealed to them and from this,I have a yet deeper appreciation of why and how people volunteer.
And this is why I say don’t believe a any guarantee for providing volunteers. Every volunteer is different, each has different motivation and different needs; An individual return on their investment of time and effort. If we think of this whole process as generating a suitable return on investment (in both directions), would our projects present a good investment opportunity? This is not to say that we should develop and manage our projects around the wish and whim of each person who could be a volunteer but rather that we create the opportunity that is perceived as valuable by those who are best suited to being involved with the project.
This process is a bit of a dark art and of course has to adapt to the project and the people involved but be assured that we are all in the same position of trying to attract people to work with us and trying to create a return on their investment. Perhaps if we were to volunteer for something, we would be more able to see it from the volunteer perspective and comprehend (for ourselves at least) what makes a viable investment proposition?
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Academia & Industry and How to Bridge The Gap


At Confex just recently, I attended a discussion on the relationship between academia and industry where the gap was obvious.  There are only a relatively small percentage of event management graduates who are ready to take on a management function within the sector when they leave university. For most, they need to start from the ground up and they need to start running straight away but are not necessarily ready to go.

From my perspective as a Lecturer at Falmouth University, we are working hard to create as many opportunities as possible for students to experience the real world of work in the sector through placements, shadowing, mentoring, real-world assessments, case studies, research, site visits and internships.  Lots of other courses do similar things and yet the industry continues to find that graduates are not ready for work.  Why is this?

It seems that there is a perception in some cases that they deserve a job in the events sector, or that they don’t need to do the ‘grunt work’ like taping cables or moving kit or data entry.  From the feedback from industry within that discussion at Confex, it is clear that whatever the degree, new members of staff will always have to do this kind of work whilst they find their feet in the business.  For that matter, whatever one’s position in the sector, an element of ‘grunt work’ will always need to be done.  The best event managers are those who don’t think that this is  beneath them.  There is no place in the industry for that kind of attitude and I believe that it is our role as educators to ensure that our students understand this.

Now, not all event management students actually want to go into event management.  I know this will seem strange but there are many reasons why people might choose event management as a degree – transferable skills, interesting areas of work, exploring options – not necessarily because they want a career in it.  Some start the course and change their minds along the way and this kind of course enables that exploration.  Some are already passionate about particular aspects of the event sector and some think it will be glamourous and exciting.  Some come with an existing professional approach, others with arrogance, others with insecurity, yet more with no idea at all.  As lecturers, we have to support these students in exploring and identifying their path and fit in the sector but there is a limit to our influence.

This is the crux of the matter.  We can design courses and experiences and assessments that develop the right skills and open up opportunities for students but our ability to change their view of the world is entirely dependent on that view.  There are some students I have worked with who look at the world with disdain, who believe that they have all the answers already and that their view is always the right one.   There are some who work fantastically hard, have great ideas, seek collaboration and have a truly professional outlook.  These students absorb information and context like sponges and the best are able to translate this into their work and can understand the why as well as the what and how of event management.

The transition from higher education into full time work is difficult.  It’s tiring and it’s not exciting all the time and the new graduate might feel that they aren’t being pushed or that they are always doing the dull work. This is the reality of the events industry (and is the same for many other sectors as well).  Placements only go so far in enabling students to understand this and prepare for the transition so we as industry professionals also need to pick this up and give new graduates a little space to adjust.

The thing is that there isn’t time for graduates to have that space.  We need them to hit the ground running, to be useful from day 1. To give us value for money for their salary. To recognise the importance of their role in the company and in enabling the business to succeed. And to be humble enough to get as much from the experience as possible, making themselves valuable.  Part of developing this approach in graduates in dependent on industry engaging students in work placements and giving them as real an experience as possible.

So in bridging the gap between industry and academia, both sides need to appreciate the context of the other.  As lecturers, we need to ensure that our students, those who do want to get into the industry, have a real understanding of the sector and an appreciation of their desired and actual place in it.  As an industry, we need to find ways to give graduates a chance for transition, some space to adjust and some stability in making that shift to being a professional.

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events