The trade fair is dead. Discuss.

tradestandsI have attended a lot of trade fairs, and run a few, and they generally consist of exhibition stands, ranging from 2x1m to 20x20m in one or many spaces, often with shellscheme to clearly divide each space. Businesses or traders pay for the space as a means to sell products and/or promote their brand. There are often networking or seminar sessions as well to add more value.  There is a complex balance between space available, number of traders/exhibitors and the price per stand to make it financially viable.

There are two main problems:

– it’s not just the cost of the stand but also the materials, the giveaways and the staff time that means making the most of the opportunity racks up a significant budget requirement

– competitors can attend and gain all the same benefits of networking and promoting their brand for the cost of a ticket which is often free.

So it seems that increased cost and free entry for all presents a case that the trade fair is no longer viable….

Or is it?

Exhibiting means greater brand presence and an opportunity to demonstrate your products or services. It often means access to exhibitor only networking too and potentially presenting a seminar to demonstrate one’s knowledge and experience.

But to make the most of your stand and really activate the brand does take a bit more effort and potentially cost. You might need to design the space you have very carefully, create new promotional material and exhibition/information boards and you might need to train your team in promoting the brand.

The challenge is that for small businesses the cost in terms of time and money and the ease of access by competitors often means that exhibiting is simply not affordable. So for rural areas a trade fair potentially excludes up to 95% of local businesses meaning that the content of the event is focused on larger enterprises.

That could be exactly what is wanted but perhaps this conundrum lays down a gauntlet to trade fair organisers (ourselves included) to craft and curate trade fair experiences that are affordable, viable and most importantly, enjoyable, creating positive impact for all involved. This is where a ‘corporate’ event becomes a creative challenge and whilst the traditional model is perhaps dead and buried, we have a great opportunity to evolve something new!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

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Can You Help?

Our friends at Climate Vision need your help with a Crowdfunder campaign … over to them to give some more details on what’s involved and what it’s for …

“In 2009, the Footsteps Project took place where networks of climate activists and scientists in Truro delivered a behavioural change campaign to support local and national delegates involved in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15). We asked individuals and communities to think about the carbon cost of their lifestyle and to pledge easy and realistic carbon cutting actions. In only four months, the campaign enabled 4488 individuals and organisations to adopt low-carbon and sustainable behaviours such as buying local, saving energy or researching climate change.
We are now looking to calculate the carbon cost of our campaign in order to show to COP21 delegates that behavioural strategy solutions can be effective to achieve carbon reduction targets. We also want to show that they can compete with risky and more expensive technology such as carbon storage and capture. Finally the carbon cutting pledges added value to the local economy, building resilience and enabled communities to engage with climate change.
To make this happen we need your help. We aim to raise £5k through a Crowd funder that started May 1st, half will go on data analysis to provide a Cost Per Tonne, half on publicity and getting the story from Cornwall to Paris.
We would also like to invite you to visit our Crowd Funder page to pledge to help and be a part of this solution.


If you want to hear Sundays BBC Radio Cornwall interview, listen in at 2hr 28 mins in http://bbc.in/1KUXn8Q Many thanks”

Shoulders back, clear the throat ….

lecternI have just been at the Association of Event Management Education conference where I presented a paper (for the first time in my life and it went well – phew!) and one of the keynotes by Professor Colin Beard talked about the human experience, particularly of learning.  In his keynote, Professor Beard went beyond the usual Maslow hierarchy or Kolb learning cycle and talked about engaging all the senses in the teaching and learning process.

So, we all have our inner and outer worlds and there is, quite rightly, a barrier between the two although they overlap at times.  In order for us to learn, there are five stages of progression into that inner world –

  1. Belonging – being part of something more than us, perhaps a social group or a university class
  2. Doing – active learning by undertaking something practical
  3. Sensing – engaging all the senses and thereby engaging more of the potential of the human brain
  4. Feeling – engaging our emotions and thereby our commitment and support
  5. Knowing – developing a body of knowledge held within us and the confidence that goes with it

Past the knowledge stage, we reach becoming and being which is a state of confidence and capability where we are able to apply knowledge to move forwards.  It’s probably better explained with an example.  So consider a university student on an events course (and here I am just thinking of the academic process):

  1. They already ‘belong’ to their course cohort.
  2. We (tutors) engage them in practical activity perhaps volunteering or running their own events.
  3. We support reflection on that experience in terms of what they saw, heard, felt, smelt etc. (and maybe even create sensory experiences in our teaching but that’s another subject)
  4. The student begins to attribute emotional responses e.g. I enjoyed it, or didn’t and self evaluate in considering their strengths and weaknesses
  5. With academic content, they start to build a body of knowledge supported by experience
  6. The student builds their capability, becoming more confident and the learning becomes embedded in their practice (and subsequently increases their sense of belonging to that group and we come full circle)

Well that’s what’s supposed to happen!  I can see that it does in many ways and I think that this model presents some significant challenges in terms of how we engage and support students and also how we create and design events that engage our target markets.  Considering my portfolio, this is particularly relevant for the Bridgwater Way project where we are trying to change behaviour and encourage more to cycle and walk to school, work and for leisure. The events programme is part of creating stages 2 – 4 from which the specialists can pick up, share knowledge and build a local community of cyclists.   So the design of the events needs to offer something to do, something that engages all the senses and then engages their emotions (positively) for the Summer Festival (19th July, Blake Gardens 1 – 4pm), we have taken this on board so we have a wide range of activities including cycle obstacle course, fastest tyre change challenge, Bike Build-Off etc; we have passive engagement including music and  circus entertainment; we have food & drink including the Smoothie Bike; All of which is designed to create smiles on faces, engaging those positive feelings about the project and about cycling and walking from which the information stands and specialists can share knowledge……and after all that we are keeping our fingers crossed that this model really works and enables attendees to become confident cyclists or walkers, to undertake active travel more frequently and to become an advocate for it.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

To tech or not to tech

telephoneWe are told that technology usage continues to increase and there are constantly new apps or devices on the market and that’s true but as I type, I am sat on a train to go to a meeting with a client because they want a face-to-face conversation.  Now, bear in mind that not all clients are the same (thankfully!) and all have different needs but in the last week, I have had one client say they want more meetings and another say not to worry about face-to-face and we can do all of our meetings via Facetime.

So technology may be on the rise and useful in some cases but it doesn’t take away the need to meet entirely.  Similarly, within Mackerel Sky we find that we all need to get together every so often as part of our team connectivity despite the power and capacity of our cloud-based software.  It simply is no substitute for getting to know someone, see the whites of their eyes and find the points of shared interest.  And this is what’s so important about face to face meetings with clients.  We are not just providing a service you see; we are making their ideas a reality and it is vitally important that they trust us.  We can’t (yet) build that trust singly via the phone, skype, facetime, email or any other technological connection.  Despite all of the technology available to us, we (humans) have that need to connect in person.

We are the project managers for Agile on the Beach (AOTB) which is a business conference exploring agile methodologies (which have grown out of the software development industry).  Given that agile grew out of the IT sector, it is fair to assume that the target market for AOTB is highly technologically capable, has a high level of tech awareness and is virtually connected already but this year we have already seen an increase in ticket sales yet again and it’s because AOTB not only fulfils that need to physically meet but that there is a value in the whole experience in terms of learning and engagement.  What I mean is that delegates and sponsors for AOTB get more than just a face to face from the event.  The experience of the conference provides a common ground for developing business relationships, going beyond email or LinkedIn or a phone call, even for these highly technically capable delegates!

That’s not to say that the tech isn’t important at all – far from it!  These delegates expect superfast broadband and easy, reliable wifi access and immediate engagement on Twitter and a parallel online conversation alongside the actual conference activity….it’s this development of the ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’.  And this presents a different kind of challenge for running this kind of event with increased logistics and more complex event design whilst still meeting the basic human needs of food, drink, safety etc. I suppose Maslow had it right all along in his hierarchy of needs and technology has yet to make it into being a basic human requirement of life.

On a personal note, I am fascinated by how Facebook and Twitter are evolving and more particularly how we use them is evolving.  I find that I using Facebook more as a medium to set up face to face conversations and social engagements than as a status updating/news sharing mechanism.  Perhaps this demonstrates that technology whilst increasing can only take us so far and there will always be a human need to actually connect.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

(Given the content of this blog it seems appropriate to do a shameless plug to our social media channels …. Facebook & Twitter – thanks!)

About to be out of my comfort zone … and excited to be so

pennine-smlI confess I am a little scared. In fact, a lot scared. At the beginning of July, I am presenting an academic paper at the Association of Event Management Education conference in Sheffield and I have never done this before.  I have never had to present my academic research before and certainly not to this kind of audience!  I am speaking on the same stage as some of the greats of event management academia – Glenn Bowdin, Joe Goldblatt, Dr Elling Hamso…. – and I am a little scared!

If I think about it rationally, I know that my research is good, that the subject is interesting and that I am a confident presenter so it will all be fine.  I also recognise that it is good to push the boundaries sometimes and push myself to be better and aim higher. But then the imposter syndrome looms….I fear that one day they will find out that it’s just me and inside, I am about 14 years old, not a grown up at all, and certainly not anyone who has answers.

I think this is because I have never thought of myself being on that stage, being up there with those academics and event managers, but I am arrogant enough to believe that I am good enough to be there and that they are actually my peers.  Sometimes, we are so focussed on our work, that we don’t step away from it to see how much we have achieved.  So, I am using my presentation at the AEME conference to take that step away, recognise that actually I am a grown up now and have every right to be proud of what I have achieved.

I am not sharing this for a pat on the back and an ego boost. I am sharing this because I know I am not alone in feeling like this, torn between being chuffed to bits and a little petrified of taking that step onto that stage to be seen in that light. I am sharing this because it is good to be a little scared and to push one’s own boundaries. So wish me luck!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Events for Events Managers

It’s one of those difficult circumstances of cobblers’ shoes. Organising events for event managers to attend often feels like we are putting our heads over the parapet for our work to be shot down in flames!  Your activity for your industry means that you have the most critical client and audience you could imagine.

We are organising Event Horizons with Falmouth University (6 & 7 February 2014) and we teach on the BA(Hons) Creative Events Management course there. Whilst we regularly stand up and teach students about best practice for event management and we take almost all of them on some kind of work experience during their university careers, so we invite them to evaluate and critically reflect on our event projects and us as an organisation, it is rare that we are in the position of creating and delivering an event specifically for our sector.  We have created a programme of speakers who we
believe to bring valuable and insightful perspectives on the industry. Rather selfishly, they are people who we want to hear from ourselves and who we know have something to share with our peers.  Having said that, I am rather nervous that our peers won’t like it or won’t see the value in what we have put together.

It’s not just in terms of the programme either, the delegates for Event Horizons will be the most critical we have ever had of our operations, materials, facilities and staff.  I know this because it’s what’s going through my head when I go to sector events like International Confex, the UK Event Awards or Summer Eventia.  I am actually a horrible person to go to
events with – I am pretty good at keeping my thoughts to myself (unless I am really impressed in which case I am happily vocal about it!) but then someone will ask “what do you think of it?”.

So, definitely a difficult audience to satisfy. However, complex projects are what we are best at so this is no different to the rest of our portfolio in terms of the standards that we are working to and the simple fact that is vitally important to us of walking the talk, keeping the promises that we make to our clients, auidience and partners.  We will of course make
mistakes – this is the first time that Event Horizons has been run – and there will be a range of perspectives on success or failure, but we will learn from them and make it better next time.

I think this is all we can promise actually.  That we will do our absolute best, work to the highest possible standards, but recognise that we can’t please everyone all the time so we promise that we will take responsibility, articulate problems, work to mitigate them and above all, learn from the whole experience.  Given that we are all learning all the time, there is then nothing to fear about running events for event managers, about putting
our heads above the parapet.  In fact, I want to go a step further and invite our delegates for Event Horizons to be as critical as possible and tell us what you want in terms of programme and how we can improve.  I want to tap into your experience to make sure that this is one of the best event management conferences in the world and of maximum value to individuals, organisations and the industry as a whole.

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events