If you do what you love …

JessGoodwinThe past couple of months have been a bit of blur, travelling across the South West and UK whilst working at a variety of events – I am writing this sat in my hotel in Manchester having spent the week at Tatton Park Flower show. Earlier this week Joey and I were chatting over dinner and how we came to know about Mackerel Sky, which I thought would be a good intro into my first blog.

I first met Claire 5 years ago; I was an enthusiastic events management student in my 2nd year at Plymouth University. Claire was a guest lecture sharing her knowledge about sustainability in events and talking about her company Mackerel Sky (then known as Event Cornwall). I didn’t speak to Claire after the lecture but I left inspired, thinking what a cool company Mackerel Sky would be to work for.

Wind the clock forward and I now work for Mackerel Sky Events. I have now been an associate for nearly 4 months and I have already had a great (and busy) summer! From day one I got stuck in, spending my first weekend at St Ives Food & Drink festival. Despite it being a long weekend, I enjoyed every minute of it. Meeting lovely traders, eating delicious food and spending 3 days on Porthminster Beach in the sun, who could complain?!? Since then I have worked at Tunes in the Dunes, 2 prestigious flower shows and I am getting ready to pack my bags for France to go to Lorient Festival (I’m a little excited for that!).

I have been welcomed into the Mackerel Sky family with open arms and so far it’s been a blast. As they say ‘if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’.

Jess Goodwin, Event Associate, Mackerel Sky Events homepage


Planning for Every Eventuality …

riskassessmentIn this business we ask ‘what if….?’ quite a lot – in every risk assessment, every emergency action plan – and we can apply the same thinking to our organisations. The process of strategic risk assessment is a vital health check for a company and can highlight areas where the organisation is dependent on certain factors.

We start by asking ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ and by exploring some potential future scenarios, we start to identify the key risks that could jeopardise the existence and success of the organisation. It can be a challenging process and can uncover issues and challenges that haven’t been considered previously.

One of the major challenges is considering the key people that the organisation is dependent upon for its success.  This group may include clients, suppliers and staff and the organisation needs to understand how manageable that dependency is. If the company is dependent on one client for over 50% of its turnover, then what happens if that client contract ceases? Perhaps the portfolio needs to be revisited and new projects sought to ensure that the pipeline of work keeps moving and dependency is reduced.

It may be that the company is dependent on one or two key members of staff for managing the organisation (and avoiding some of the financial or operational risks) as much as for producing the company output. It may be that the company is built on the skills, ability and personality of the chief executive or other key individual and so there is a risk that the company’s capacity is therefore limited by the individual, meaning that the
company simply cannot grow. Let alone what happens if that key person can’t work for some reason.

For founder managers, it can be particularly difficult to critique how the company works and to plan for their succession. As much as we are taught that business is business, I would argue that it isn’t. It’s personal, particularly for entrepreneurs and small businesses. So in considering these big challenges for an organisation, we must consider the people affected by and involved in them and how we respond to those challenges also influences how we are perceived internally and externally.

There are some brilliant things we can do to mitigate these strategic risks. We can insure our key people in case of injury or similar. We can create delegation structures that share workload, information and responsibility as well as develop skill and capacity across the organisation. We can talk to other people and get support and advice from sources you trust and respect. For me, I do this by having a non-executive Board including a freelance Finance Director, all people who know a lot more than I and who I trust to advise in the best interests of the company. My Board is invaluable in assessing and managing these strategic risks, keeping me on track and enabling me to take all of those mitigating actions, enabling all of us to work to our best and enabling the company to succeed.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

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

What Goes Around …

I would like to say thank you to the two drivers who let me out of the junction onto the A39 this morning.  Your consideration is much appreciated.

That junction is difficult in the mornings with heavy traffic in both directions so you really have to pick your moment and most mornings I am entirely reliant on the consideration of other drivers to my plight.  The theme of consideration came up at our Company Gathering last week as well as one of the qualities that we most appreciate and it made me think about how considerate I am in relation to the various roles I play in life.

It is important to recognise that we are dependent upon the consideration of others in almost everything we do – dependent on team members doing their jobs and supporting beyond the job description; dependent on clients being willing to take risks and be creative; dependent on people considering each other at large scale events such as City of Lights and enabling everyone to enjoy the experience.  Considering the impact that each of us has on other people is core to ensuring that everyone can access, engage or enjoy.  This of course applies to organisations and businesses and there is a role for consideration within our decision making as well.

That bit of consideration for the wider impact, that is, the time spent considering another person’s perspective, can make all the difference in the success of our interactions, marketing, events, HR management, motivation and ultimately profit. If we think about launching a business (and I was leading a session discussing this last week with the School for Social Entrepreneurs so it’s at the forefront of my mind), then we could develop a launch programme that includes PR, branding, events, promotions, social media and sales generation.  We could develop a whole heap of activity but without thinking about how it will be perceived and the impact on other people, specifically our target market.  That launch process is vital in creating the future success of the organisation so if we fail to consider the target market (or target clients, or target partners), we are failing before we have even begun.

Similarly, internally, we will only generate a motivated, engaged team by considering individuals in terms of strengths, approaches, communication capacity and abilities and then dovetailing them in the team, supporting them in their roles and providing a bit of inspiration.  At least, that’s the theory.  In practice, people are people and we are difficult animals.  We are inconsistent and emotional and, sometimes, deeply inconsiderate of other human beings.  So for the leader of such teams, we have to have that consideration by the barrow load to enable the whole team to work together.  It may feel like we are prioritising chatting over task achievement but that bit of care and consideration for another person’s situation or view on life can be the key to unlocking a high performing team.

So a bit more consideration all round might make the world a better place!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

A Happy Band of Professionals

One of the things that is most satisfying to me is meeting and working with people who are truly professional in all that they do.  Whether it’s marketing, construction, accountancy, teaching, event management or any other discipline, a true professional behaves with integrity, working to the highest possible standards, ensuring that the job gets done, enabling the whole team to achieve and with a sense of self that creates confidence (but isn’t at all arrogant).

I have the pleasure and privilege of working with a great number of professionals over the years in a wide range of circumstances and contexts and it is from this experience that I have noted the above qualities.  It doesn’t actually matter what their job title is or how high up they are in an organisation or how much they get paid.  People who are professionals are not only good at their jobs but they understand where they fit in the team, in the project, in the organisation and where they are in relation to that wider world.  They don’t expect others to do it for them or for jobs to be offered on a plate but rather recognise that by hard work, skill development, collaboration and personality, they will create their own opportunities.

In the process of expanding our pool of Associates, I have been delighted to meet yet more of these professionals who bring experience and expertise in further areas of the events sector.  Ian Ley, who runs party planning and private events company 5chip, is a specialist in hospitality and front of house operations.  On meeting him today, I instantly got an impression of someone who knows his stuff and has a direct and clear management approach whether working with volunteers or paid event staff.  We could consider each other to be competitors but actually we both understood how we could add value by working together.  It’s a professional respect thing – I don’t do what he does and similarly he doesn’t do what I do.  And that builds a great team to deliver great results for our clients.

I have always tried to employ people who are better than me in their areas of work so that collectively we achieve that synergy and this is absolutely true of our Associates, and I hope will be true of our Operations Manager who will shortly join us.  I am hoping this person who can look after the ‘today’ and can recognise their absolutely vital role in the success of all of us as individuals and collectively as a business.  I am hoping that this person can bring new perspectives into the business and make sure that we are working as effectively and efficiently as possible.  I have high hopes for this particular new collaboration and, as with all of our Associates, I look forward to raising the bar with them, working professionally and achieving great things!
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Friends as colleagues, colleagues as friends

Working with friends can be fraught with danger for any business and yet we spend a lot of time together, often developing friendships within our professional environment.  These professional friendships can be a fantastic source of support and can also create politics within even the smallest business.

I have been (and still am) fortunate to work with a number of friends who are phenomenally talented and it’s a true privilege to collaborate with them.  Equally, I’ve been in situations where work roles and friendships haven’t helped.  It’s always going to be difficult to be the boss and make hard decisions when it involves your friends (even if you think you’ll be friends forever).  When you are working in a high pressure situation, like delivering a large scale event, there is a high level of strain placed on that relationship and sometimes traits emerge that you didn’t expect which can confront one’s perceptions of the other.  It is very difficult to be friend, supporter, manager, director or any other combination all at the same time with many different things needing your attention!

In the last week, we held a gathering for our UK-wide Associates team and I am proud to count every one of those people around the table as my friends. They are also my peers and I thoroughly enjoy working with them, being challenged by them and bashing around ideas with them.  I didn’t know any of them as friends (except one) before we started working together but in each case we have managed to develop a professional friendship that facilitates an effective way of working, as well as being enjoyable.

I think that this professional friendship has emerged because of mutual respect, shared high standards, recognition of the reality of our relationship and a professional approach.  These combined mean that we are able to separate our work persona from ourselves so even if I have been the most annoying person in the work environment, we can still be friends outside the office.  It also means that we seek to resolve our differences immediately and raise issues, problems and concerns as soon as they arise. It’s the festering of hurt, however superficial, that breeds dissatisfaction and creates chasms within the team which means that we just can’t do our job properly and mistakes get made.

So in order to provide the best possible value to our clients, to ensure that the business has a future and to create brilliant events, we have to maintain those professional friendships with balance, pragmatism and acceptance of each individual, whatever their context.  We have to be able to accept the great times with the difficult circumstances and use a hefty chunk of common sense and exercise a lot of forgiveness to ensure that the balance is retained.  In working with my friends, I also recognise the incredible value of my friends outside work (thank you for all the support – you know who you are!).

Being friends and colleagues is great – fulfilling, positive, supportive – but we have to recognise that we are both!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events