Is £60k a year really “living on the edge”?

Michael Eavis has been reported as taking only £60,000 in salary which is less than his top dairyman. He also said that he takes no funds forwards into the next year, preferring to ‘live on the edge’.

Whilst I don’t doubt that his top dairyman is worth than kind of money, it is not something to really be applauded as a comparator. For the majority of the population, a salary of £40,000 is a massive achievement so why are we celebrating Eavis as some kind of martyr for taking such a ‘low’ salary?  Don’t forget he has the farm income too….

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying he shouldn’t earn that kind of money or that he isn’t worth it because I firmly believe that he is but rather I am frustrated that the news has made it into a story.

Now the not carrying any funds forward concerns me more. It is simply an unsustainable model to always be working on a zero base budget and perhaps indicates a complacency within the senior leadership team that they will always sell out. I am sure that their Finance Director ensures that they have sufficient funds to meet the 150-strong payroll throughout the year so really they do carry forward.

Again, the majority of festival and event projects are only working on a zero base budget because, as growing projects, they have to. Most have to employ all kinds of strategies to make ends meet and certainly don’t pay their CEO £60k! It is brilliant that Glastonbury gives £2m per year to charity but remember that the charities also support them with volunteers and staffing.

So yes great that Glastonbury and Michael Eavis are doing good things and that they have the financial wear withal to do so but let’s not make it into something it isn’t. Their situation is not indicative of the industry and as market leaders they should be encouraging good practice, not profligacy.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky


Come on the Foos!

CaptureWe are delighted to be part of the team behind the incredible Crowdfunder campaign to bring the Foo Fighters to Cornwall.  This campaign has grown exponentially from just an idea to achieving its target of £150,000 within 53 hours!  Now the Foos are an awesome band but we never expected that kind of response!

What’s particularly interesting in all of this is that it’s so unpredictable.  There are many things we can do to improve the prospects for crowdfunding campaigns with a structured, strategic social media campaign in advance to build up interest and engagement; you can run a press campaign alongside the fundraising; you can get as many interested parties as possible to post on their websites and link into it…..but ultimately, we don’t know how the general public will respond.  It’s the same with marketing campaigns in general terms.  We don’t know what the next market trend will be but we can keep our eyes and ears open, we can develop the ability to respond to opportunities quickly, we can develop our own ideas and take risks but there are no guarantees.


There are agencies and thinktanks out there who work on telling the future for businesses of all kinds and there are those out there who are making it happen like artists, directors, choreographers, producers. But even all of these people can’t tell what the next big thing will be.  We also need to recognise that usually, the Foos excluded, these kind of campaigns do not work overnight. So it is a long, drawn out, unspecific, unknown process that involves a lot of risk and strategic guessing and heartbreak if ideas don’t work.


So why do we take these risks with new event concepts, new business ideas, new funding campaigns etc etc?


A couple of weeks ago, I heard from one of the Directors of LEGO where he was talking about how they innovate and it resonated with a conversation I had with Martin Crump from Evolution Development – it’s a change or die world.  We, both individually and corporately, need to keep on changing.  Our human nature means that we continuously learn and develop so our preferences and interests also evolve and change.  We are like sharks – we have to keep on (mentally) moving to stay alive. When we stop coming up with new ideas or when we stop seeking to understand the world a little more, we lose that spark that makes us human.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

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

Congratulations and Commiserations

TangleLast week, Arts Council England made the long-awaited announcement of their National Portfolio Organisations funding for the next 3 years.  It was a moment of significant stress for arts organisations across the UK as they waited to hear whether they had any funding and if so, whether it was cut and by how much.

To get to this point, these organisations invested weeks and weeks of time and effort to develop and write their funding bids, trying to demonstrate their value to the cultural sector (to the Arts Council) and articulate their impact on the local, regional and national communities.  Numerous versions of the core documents, consultations, development plans, detailed budgets and strategies for everything have been created as part of making their case for public funding.  The Arts Council are very clear about what they want and need and which objectives they need to be fulfilled and rightly so.  For many of the NPO’s, we are talking about thousands and thousands of pounds of public money so it is right and proper that there is a rigorous process in allocating it.

I don’t envy those in the Arts Council who were making those decisions either.  All of the blood, sweat and tears that go into those funding bids make an emotive argument for support but there is never enough money to fund everyone. So they have to make choices and not everyone gets through.  It is utterly tragic for those organisations who don’t make it (although there are other options with the increase in the grants for the arts fund) and euphoric for those who do!  There have been many organisations celebrating over the last week including some new National Portfolio companies such as Tangle (run by my friend, Anna Coombes) who successfully demonstrate that it’s not just funding for the same old same old but rather strategic investment in innovative, challenging, high quality cultural activity.

Aside from my background working for a number of Arts Council funded organisations (and for the Arts Council itself for a little while), this whole process is of interest because it highlights the power that many of those organisations have given to their funding sources.  With this dependency, they run the risk of that large funder changing their minds or priorities and whilst they can be comfortable for the next 3 years, what about beyond then?  This stress of having to prove one’s value doesn’t go away after the funding bid is granted; if anything it increases.  The same is true in the private sector when a company is dependent on one major client – what happens if that client decides to go to a competitor or changes their mind? Or if they still want to work with you but want you to work in a different way – do you change according to their demands?

So whatever area we might work in, we need to manage that risk of being too dependent on single activities, funding sources, people, income streams etc.   The risk beyond the financial is that of funder drift where organisations just follow the money, leaving their creativity, ambition, values and integrity by the wayside.  There are times when it is good to say no or what might feel like a disaster (such as funding being cut) really opens up new opportunities to the benefit of the organisation and leads to greater success and happiness.

Congratulations then to all those who have been granted NPO funding – well done!  And commiserations to those who haven’t but let’s look at this as a massive opportunity to change and develop or simply to retain our integrity and follow the path that we want to.  If this is you, then I wish you good luck!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Is Art Something That Can Ever Be Owned?

monumentsmenI watched The Monuments Men on Saturday evening and I was struck by the dichotomy that the film presents.  That is, art (and culture) being very highly valued as a currency and identity in times of conflict and equally being worthless in comparison to the reality of life and death.  Each of the artefacts that the Monuments Men were seeking and protecting were representative of our collective human cultural expression, of our identity as human beings.  As such they were prized by Hitler as providing him with ownership of that identity. That identity that he also crushed in the gas chambers.

We saw the same when Baghdad was liberated and Saddam Hussein deposed – artefacts from the Iraqi National Museums were stolen, broken and destroyed (with few exceptions) because they were ‘representative’ of Hussein’s regime and yet also had an increasing cash value.  Again, culture being used as a means to communicate with the masses and demonstrate control and ownership.

So this led me to think about who owns our culture then? Is it the artist or owner or observer or ticket purchaser or writer or politician or dictator? Perhaps this principle of cultural ownership is dependent on our individual perceptions of engagement or the context in which we are operating at the time?

For me, watching a film or seeing art works does not make me feel an ownership of them.  I may well relate to them, even resonate with the content or it may move me to tears but I do not feel that they are mine.  I should point out here that I am talking about this relationship, this resonance rather than the ownership of copyright or intellectual property.  Ownership in this sense is a collective experience, not exclusive.  By my viewing a painting, I do not take away the opportunity from someone else.  My engagement does not prohibit anyone else from experiencing the same kind of ownership and this becomes a collective responsibility.

Later this week, I am speaking at the Association for Event Management Education about engaging a community’s heart and using City of Lights as an example of how this develops over time.  On an emotional level, there is a very high level of engagement from the community and particularly from those children who have been part of it both now and in the past.  There is an intuitive recognition of the value of the creative and collective experiences in the planning, development and delivery of the event across stakeholder groups.  The images of the event are used throughout publications, online and social media  BUT when it comes to asking these collective owners to contribute financially, we find it much harder to get them on board.

It seems that we need to reconnect the ownership and the value of the art in order to have a sustainable future.  Do we need to have our cultural identity threatened or even stolen before we will take on the responsibility of that ownership to enjoy and appreciate our culture, including those works saved by the Monuments Men?

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

The Only Answer is to Keep it Fresh


Given that we are in an increasingly competitive environment, where can we find innovation in events? Well, according to the innovation matrix, it’s in both process and product and of varying scales from the incremental change to radical shifts but that’s true of any sector. Events are such a broad spectrum that there is little consistency in process and almost none in product and so both functions provide great opportunities for new ideas and improvement.

From the product innovation point of view, Glastonbury this year has created yet another creative programme that includes the usual headliners matched with a bit of madness but they have also chosen to include performances by English National Ballet. Not the most obvious of choices but certainly an innovative one on both sides. ENB don’t usually perform at festivals and the physical environment at a festival is not the easiest for dancers to work in. The Glastonbury audience is also not made up of their usual attendees – great audience development opportunity but could go wrong quite easily! It’s perhaps a sign of increasing economic confidence that both Glastonbury and ENB are willing to take this kind of risk.

Similarly (in innovation terms), Rambert have announced their live digital event where they will be streaming a live discussion later this week with Christopher Bruce and a number of the other greats of British dance from their brand new studios on the south bank. Rambert are Britain’s oldest dance company so not known for their digital events and this project represents that departure from their norm to generate wider and new audiences.

Technological developments are often the driver for change and, as above, open opportunities for innovation.  The danger is that innovation is based on ideas and possibilities without a grounding in market and customer needs and wants. The trick with creating new products and services is to balance all of the stakeholder requirements and desires with the financial and operational viability and then match in with the organisational strategy. Not always easy but it’s vital to keep evolving and taking risks to stay in business. When we are in that competitive environment and there are significant economic pressures, we have to keep improving, listening to our customers and changing (or our business will die….).

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

It seemed like a good idea at the time …


… 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