Plan to Evaluate .. but is numbers or opinion that counts?

AbacusIt’s always important to know who is coming to your event(s). Not least because you want to know how successful you have been and whether you have achieved that target but also because we want to know who they are, why they attended and how they heard about it (and often lots more too!).

We often design events with a target market in mind and with a motive of influencing behaviour or encouraging people to buy or addressing a particular issue in society but how do we know that we have done it?
Evaluation is key and this needs planning in from the start in order to understand what the return on the investment is both numerically and socially and how you are going to measure it.  Both quantitative and qualitative methods need to be used to provide a balanced picture of the impact of the project so the usual surveys or attendee counting or cost per head come into play. is a great site with a well structured, multi-level event evaluation tool that has been developed over many test and live events and really works as a solid basis for assessing impact across the triple bottom line (economic, environmental, social).  There are other (more interesting) ways to evaluate but they are subjective or can be incomplete and their value is often questioned in comparison to a financial analysis.
For example, photography and film are part of a rich picture describing the event and providing evidence of what happened – smiling faces, action shots, crowd images etc.  You could use vox pops to gain immediate feedback on the event and the experience that attendees are having.  You could ask for post it note feedback as people leave. And there are hundreds of approaches that could be useful.  But the sad fact is that we (as society) put most value on the numbers in terms of ascertaining whether it was successful or not.
So it’s particularly challenging then when the quantitative measure that was supposed to be used (and is held in great regard by the client) was inaccurately used so tickets given out at a free event weren’t counted.  This has meant that we have no accurate means to assess unique visitors to the event.  We did head counts throughout but that can mean duplication over time as people stick around for more than the 15 minute interval between counts and there is no way to know how many people actually came.  Sometimes, and particularly for free events, this ambiguity can be acceptable and a ballpark figure worked out that the key stakeholders agree to, but in other cases, the organiser gets paid on the basis of how many came and can easily lose out if the client decides that their estimate is much lower.
Whatever the situation, it’s complex and it needs planning in advance matched with effective delivery on the day so that we can truly understand our target market, who comes to our events and what they are looking for in the future.
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.

Time to take stock …

We know that usually everyone blogs about market trends at the new year but we’ve been talking about what’s hot in events and the cultural sector over the last few weeks so thought we would share our thoughts….

1. Collaboration

Audiences expect more for their money and so collaborations and partnerships are increasing.  Whether it’s multiple art forms working together or a diverse collection of suppliers, events inevitably require different people and approaches to collaborate.  There are some suppliers we work with who are absolutely engaged in this and there are others for whom event projects are just a transaction. We’re finding that projects where we are working with the former work better, achieve their objectives and are more enjoyable.

2. Spectacle

That elusive WOW factor that we want to generate is getting harder to achieve. The expectations of our audiences are continuing to increase.  We all expect high quality, bespoke experiences that are delivered safely and effectively and that’s great but it’s difficult to create the surprise, particularly when working with ever tighter budgets. So we think that spectacle is the way forwards, that is, creating collective creative experiences that include different artforms to create a whole. Then there isn’t a focus on one single solution to the wow factor but rather that people can create their own experiences.

3. Interaction

Use of technology is increasing of course so our expectations of technology at events is increasing.  Not just in terms of the audio visual but in terms of wifi, apps, registration as well as production itself including 3D mapping, augmented reality and RFID/NFR. There are thousands of options for engaging technology whatever our event but it’s important to remember that it must be appropriate for the event content and audience.

4. In-kind

The barter economy is alive and well! We are finding that a number of projects are using in-kind support as a means to get supplies or services and engage sponsors to gain greater market presence. Not only does this provide a means to balance the budget but also builds collaboration and goodwill. The note of caution here is that you can’t reach a level where in-kind jeopardises the business function itself – we still need cash!

5. Buy Local, Think Global

This isn’t just about local produce but about engaging with the local economy, using local suppliers as much as possible whilst still creating output that is globally aware. For us, part of this is about recognising our responsibility to try to create positive impacts in everything we do. This translates in choosing our venues and suppliers, in our travel planning, in our marketing and  in our event design.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky


Does an MBA Mean Success?

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Do you need to have an MBA to be a successful businessperson?

It is perhaps an out-dated idea that an MBA opens doors and shoots you up the corporate ladder, and maybe it’s simply not true any more….

This week I graduate with an MBA and I think I started on the course because I had an aspiration then to develop my business capabilities and, being completely honest, I liked the sound of having more letters after my name.  Now I have those letters and it doesn’t really make a fig of difference. What does make a difference is the incredible amount I have learned and how the course has made me a better leader and manager.  It certainly hasn’t taught me everything nor do I get things right all the time but I make better decisions, I am more aware of my limitations and liabilities and I have a greater ability to overcome those limitations.

My course was with the Open University and their flexible learning approach backed up with solid academic staff and content has enabled me to complete this postgraduate qualification whilst constantly applying it to my work environment.

I started when I was at Rambert and it changed me from someone who did admin to someone who managed. I continued when I worked for the Arts Council and the course enabled me to start to see the strategic context and apply it to public sector activity. When I moved back home to Cornwall, it was a vital connection with my old (successful) life in London which I missed hugely initially. And when I started the business, the course gave me external perspectives which I would not otherwise have had and these gave me an overview that I couldn’t see on my own.

One of the most valuable things has been bouncing ideas and challenges off others studying for the same objectives, people who have no agenda, no interest other than academic and no personal involvement in the outcome.  In reverse, this sharing of challenges and issues in a completely confidential environment has enabled me to recognise that I am not alone, that my brain adds value and perspective to situations, and that there is always value in exploring difficult problems with others.

So the value of an MBA today is not about getting further up that corporate ladder (in my opinion) but rather about continuing the learning and development of myself as a business person, as a leader and as a human being. And yes, that sentence would feature in my speech were I ever to win Miss World…..

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events


Welcome to the blog home of Mackerel Sky Events!


Welcome to the first of our blogs from Mackerel Sky Events and Event Cornwall!

As a professional creative event management agency with a wealth of experience across a hugely diverse range of events, we love to live, breathe and talk events. So we’re hoping that you’ll enjoy reading and following our comments and thoughts on the wonderful world of events and, of course, letting us know your own views. So let’s get started ….