What’s Your Luxury?

crownOne of the current exhibits at the V&A museum is ‘What Is Luxury?’ And I am fascinated by the concept of what we would each constitute as luxurious.

Maybe it’s about investment of time as much as money. I know that for me, time to myself is an incredible gift. As is spending a small fortune on a dress that I might wear four times. Or it might be the incredible skill and expertise in the creation of a gold pocket watch. We often think of luxury as being expensive and it often is, but it is relative to our earnings, background, ethics etc. What I perceive as luxurious will be different to yours but that doesn’t make it any less or more valuable.

In business particularly, time is also a currency of sorts and can be very expensive! Think about the amount of money that a meeting costs in terms of staff salaries, room hire, catering….let alone the time that could be spent on other aspects of work that directly generate income. So are we getting the maximum benefit from our time? Is wasting time a luxury that we can’t afford?

Perhaps it is but I would argue that what might be perceived as wasting time for one is a productive informal chat with a colleague whilst making a cup of tea. So it becomes about how we value our time and manage it as a resource that has a cash value against it. Think about what is most important to you. And how much time do you spend doing that?

And remember that it is not just about what you spend your time doing but are you the best person to be doing it? Is it your strength? Is it your interest? Perhaps there is someone out there who can enable you to focus on what you are good at by looking after the stuff that you don’t actually need to do. Those tasks where you don’t actually add any value but it costs in time that could be spent on delivering your product or service.

It might even feel a little luxurious to be building a team, or handing over the accounts, or letting someone help you with your admin, but what is the cost of not doing it?

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

So what’s in store for events in 2015 …?

As we’ve gone into a new year, there seems a renewed need to innovate and perhaps a renewed capacity for it too. As we make our New Year’s resolutions and vow to keep them until at least the end of the month, so turning our thoughts to what new challenges and opportunities might lie ahead for our organisations and projects. I know that this is true for me and there are a myriad of ideas, thoughts, plans and opportunities in my mind both personally and professionally. We are developing two brand new event projects this year but where have they come from? In this reflective phase of the year, I realised that they have both come about because of matching an apparent market response with opportunities to build on great existing work.

When we look for new ideas, they can come from a variety of sources. It might be the throwaway comment that someone made at a party; or a strategic analysis of the marketplace to identify potential gaps; an opportunity to collaborate that has arisen; solving a problem that hasn’t yet been sorted; a random idea that struck you whilst in the bath; or the development or evolution of an existing offering. There are many many writers on this topic and every new year there is a plethora of articles forecasting the future for our sector.

There are three trends that I have noticed and I believe will really impact in 2015:

1. Experiential – it is no longer enough to make the logistics work, we have to be creating experiences for our audiences and clients. It’s part of demonstrating our value as creative event managers to create content that engages; to show our understanding and appreciation of our audience by creating an experience that resonates with them. All of our senses come into play and we have high expectations of how those senses will be engaged.

2. Planning technology – there are hundreds of articles on using technology in events and I think that this will continue but what is becoming more prevalent is the use of cloud technology for planning events.  We use Podio (and there are various others available!) to project manage across our team and across distance enabling all of us to stay on track, to plan our time and to communicate effectively, all of which enables us to do our job.

3. Event strategies – no longer are events just a single occurrence. Events are increasingly being built into marketing strategies and programmes for a range of functions and some organisations have an event-specific strategy, particularly if they are focusing on public engagement. Event strategies are about drawing together the overarching aims of the programme of events and creating time and budget appropriate activity to achieve them over a set time frame. We are asked to develop these strategies more and more and it’s great to see them being implemented and achieving their outcomes.

I hope that 2015 is full of more innovations, ideas, challenges, learning, opportunity and success for all of us!

 

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

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

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

Limber up and get agile!

AOTBOne of our most successful projects is Agile on the Beach and we are very proud to be part of it but more importantly, it has had a profound impact on how we work.

Having grown out of the IT/software development sector, Agile is more of a way of life than a simple process. It’s about focusing on actual needs and wants and evolving one’s product or service throughout the development and delivery processes rather than a more transactional approach.

To us, this is second nature. We always focus on what our client wants and what the project needs and we make sure that the conversation happens throughout the development and delivery processes. It’s just how we roll….but Agile gives us a structure for ensuring that this flexible and engaging approach is effective and profitable.

Agile, and particularly value stream mapping, gives us a means to understand the reality of the processes involved in what we do and identify where there is waste in terms of time, money and effort. Beyond the operational, Agile also has models that we can apply strategically to understand where we are adding value in our business, and where there is weakness or waste. We used it to frame both current and future business models when we shifted from a traditional employment hierarchy to a more flexible network structure.

It is increasing in popularity beyond the software and IT sectors with applications in team management, business strategy and work planning that are applicable to any sector. The team at MPAD are doing it within PR and having explored process driven structures with value stream mapping, they are now focusing more on the people rather than the processes. The great thing about Agile is that the application of the principles adapts with us too. Yesterday, I learnt that an American events and communications agency, Struck, is using Agile and multi-modal learning styles to develop communications across their teams and manage workload, all with a focus on what the customer needs and wants.

So it’s not just for software developers, it’s for anyone. There’s loads of information out there but all the presentations from this year’s Agile on the Beach are uploaded to the AOTB site now so a perfect opportunity to hear what it’s all about from the experts….

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Livin’ on the Edge

gas_gaugeI have discovered that I don’t deal with scarce resources very well…. I was driving from Bristol to Cornwall and the fuel light came on 46  miles from my destination.  No problem thought I, there is a fuel station about 30 miles away, should have enough to get there.  And get there I did. But the fuel station was out of diesel. Completely.  Cue sense of humour failure.  Next nearest fuel station is 4.8 miles away but I’m not sure I’ve got enough to get there….

I set off with a sense of trepidation and my brain buzzing with ideas of how I’ll handle it if I run out of fuel.  I am desperately thinking of alternative routes that will lighten the demands of the engine for fuel and avoid waiting in heavy traffic or creating a road block if I do run out.  I think about how I can drive as economically as possible by keeping the car in neutral and turning the air con off….I find a route through and less than a mile from the fuel station, I mean about 500 yards, I have to stop at traffic lights. And the engine stops. My heart sinks and I get out of the car to talk to the vehicle behind (thankfully a considerate taxi).  My voice has become a little high pitched, I am shaking a little and I don’t know what to do.  I can only think of trying to glide it into the fuel station that is just around the corner.

The lights change and I take off the handbrake.  I glide around the corner and just as I can feel the car slowing down to stop, then engine springs back into life with just enough juice to get us through the next set of traffic lights and into the fuel station.  The sense of relief is palpable (I perceive by the car as much as me – or am I anthropomorphising too much?)  as I lift the nozzle and the grateful fuel tank guzzles.

So after this incident of self-induced stress I have learnt two important lessons. 1. I am a very lucky person. 2. Never leave it that late to stop for fuel again.  I suspect I have shortened my life by several years.

One of the projects that we are involved with is about scarce resources, specifically water.  Now I am sat in the office, by the river, and it seems that this is not a scarce resource at all so why should I worry? Much as I was sat driving earlier today with half a tank of fuel and not at all worried about running out.  It seems that it is only when we don’t have it (or access to it) that we are concerned.  The LEAT project (which will taking place in 2017 if the funding bids all come in) is looking at how we value water (or not) and what the consequences might be, how we can use it more effectively and why we should bother.  Irrespective of the resource that we might be needing, we are a complacent society, expecting that our needs will be met and our expectations exceeded on a daily basis.  The LEAT Project will be part of bringing that complacency into focus and maybe changing a few minds about how we use our resources.

Hopefully it won’t take all of us running out of what we need to make us realise how important it is.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky