Are you as cool as a cucumber, or a headless chicken?

FlappersHow do you respond in a crisis? Are you a flapper? How do you prefer to make decisions?

We would probably all like as much time and as much information as possible to be confident of making the right decision about something. Maybe you feel that you are making decisions all the time with none of the time and information that you would like. Maybe having to respond without the information is an uncomfortable experience for you….however you feel, making decisions quickly about important stuff is something that event managers have to do all the time.

We aren’t necessarily comfortable with it but perhaps have developed the ability to make good decisions under pressure through practice and a bit of event intuition. I know that the decisions I make on event are based on a whole heap of activity leading up to it. I can only make good decisions if I have thought through some of the basics first and if I have completed all of the documentation so I know exactly what my parameters are.

It is important to know the legal aspects, safety requirements and production process well enough to be able to draw them all together to find a solution. And build a team around you who can help you do that but make sure you use them. In fact, get people on board who are better than you and can collaborate to create a better-than-plan solution.

With all of these resources at our disposal, we are well equipped when we have to respond to an emergency. We need that team to work to their optimum, to instinctively know what to do in their section so that we can together ensure safety for all but doing so in a professional, friendly and consistent way.  If we can do so in a way that is consistent with the overall event experience as well, then we are definitely working above and beyond the plan!

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

We’re All Perfectly Imperfect!

make-mistakes-e1333154059480We are simply human and we all make mistakes. Last week, talking to a business person I really respect, we shared the pain of making mistakes in business, recognising that this is something we all deal with.  It wasn’t just the mistake; it was the fact that as the MD, one has to take responsibility for those made by your team.  And it’s not just those of paid
members of staff but also volunteers and associated suppliers. That’s a lot of people on whom we rely to deliver our product or service to and for our clients.

This conversation brought into focus for me the risk and challenge of growing a service-based business and the importance of the decisions we make about who we work with.  Given the importance of these appointments, we often go into these relationships with relatively little knowledge about the other parties. Maybe a formal application process, maybe an interview, maybe tasks or presentations but generally no more than 4 hours in their company before offering them a job.  It’s almost always less time when appointing

Of course all of our time is precious and often recruitment feels like a burden and we just want to get on with the job at hand! We are often under pressure which is why we want to appoint someone in the first place but the point I am trying to make is that we cannot afford to make mistakes in this process.  The impact of making mistakes is that we appoint the wrong people to roles where they go on to make mistakes that jeopardise results, that
negatively impact on our relationships with clients, that affect the culture and morale of the team…..and we as the responsible person for the project or business have to take those mistakes on as our own.

It is vitally important that our teams know that we have their backs and that we will take the flak. This certainly applies publically but internally we also have to ensure a degree of accountability within our teams so that individuals know where they stand and that they can be confident in the company, in their position, in their relationships and therefore be as
productive as possible. This kind of accountability for our actions matched with a public taking of responsibility builds commitment and motivation so creating a team that is resilient and agile.  This ultimately makes our businesses more productive, more profitable and more impactful.


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

Do You Have It?

sparkSpark – that bit of magic that makes us us….in our case, it’s about personality and that there is no such thing as standard. It’s the ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances and still create the best possible outcome.

I am stood in the bank today, trying to make some international payments for speakers at a recent conference.  Admittedly, we don’t need to make international payments very often but it has taken over one hour to pay 3 people. The guy behind the counter is constantly sniffing and appears to be a trainee. It’s not his problem and every time there’s something that is different to the system, he has to ask someone. In fact even when the information is all there, he still has to ask. A perfect example of lacking spark.

The thing is that we take that spark for granted. We know when we have it and we expect it in others and when confronted with an individual or organisation who really don’t have it, it can challenge our expectations. It’s frustrating to see lower standards being accepted and it presents a challenge in terms of communicating the value of that spark to our clients, attendees and the wider world.

This blog is part of our work to share our spark and share why this is important. This spark applies both in planning and delivery – in developing ideas as well as solving problems, in working with our clients as well as working with our event teams and volunteers. We want that spark to shine through everything we do, say and deliver so that it is valued and recognised as being an industry standard and thereby increase quality across the sector.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

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