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


There Should Be Space for Arts and Science

TZ_Weight_and_Height_ScaleEarlier this week, Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, said that studying the arts holds people back, that it doesn’t give them options and doesn’t offer any long term job prospects. I couldn’t disagree more!

As a lecturer in a non-science subject, Creative Events Management, I passionately believe in the value of what we teach and the skills and abilities of our students. More importantly I believe that the greatest value of all is about how we teach it. That is, we teach from a basis of active business practice so that we are supporting students to become useful contributors to our economy and our culture.

The arts and the skills that are needed and used within the creative sectors are not only a critical part of our culture but are also a significant proportion of the UK economy. The skills of creativity, production (making ideas a reality), high performance teamwork, collaboration, problem solving, research, critical appreciation, reflection and social engagement are developed to a high level when one studies an arts field. To a level that is significantly higher than that supported in STEM subjects. I say this as a maths graduate and a STEM ambassador.

The point is that we need STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) to create balanced, engaged students and ultimately productive citizens. In fact, I would be more satisfied with a model that included business, humanities and languages as part of a rounded education. None of these should be excluded as each engages different capacities of the brain and the soul.

And this is where the argument for the English Baccalaureate begins….and I have a problem with that too as it doesn’t necessarily give room for specialisation and depth of learning.

Even in the most scientific of classrooms I would suggest that creativity should be one of the primary skills in the pursuit of scientific endeavour. As Ken Robinson argues, creativity (a core artistic skill) is part of what makes us human and is a skill that enables us to develop and invent and innovate in any sector of work.

So Nicky Morgan, how can you say that the arts hold you back when they are actually the key to success?


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

Events … All Work and Lots of Play!

PLAY DAY 2013 2 - chris bahnThe Event Manager Blog recently posted about events being grown up play and to a certain extent I agree.  We get to create activity and experiences that are all about enjoyment and often learning too, exploring our environment, trying new things, stimulating our brains…

This week, we are managing Bristol Playday – a 3 hour event with attendance of over 3,000 children and families on College Green.  This is an event that is definitely all about play in all its forms! We have circus, music, dance, Ping!, libraries, arts & crafts, space hopper racing, canoes, cardboard city, parkour, playbus, kite making, hula hooping… The event is being delivered on behalf of Bristol Youth Links, part of Bristol City Council, and so this event is also a manifestation of their play policy and practice.
Designing Playday is not just about putting on a heap of activity that is related to play in someway but rather is a considered plan working with providers and partners to create activity that engages all in play but also demonstrates for example the practical implementation of the risk benefit policy.  This idea of risk benefit is that undertaking risky activities can be beneficial in terms of play and learning and that such activities are entirely valid on the basis that the risks are considered effectively.  We know this from corporate team building activity where collective risk taking is a valuable learning experience in terms of team cohesion, decision making, personal challenge and skill development but it is rarely considered in this way in public sector/council contexts.
Playday could be an event that was ‘enforced fun’ and become play without any fun at all!  But it really isn’t – it is a space where all are welcome and all can enjoy, where play is free in every sense, and where the formality of Council meets the chaos of play!  We could all do with a bit more play in our lives so we can suspend our formality, our stress and all the grown up stuff to let ourselves be creative and feel that freedom.  Bring on Playday!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

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

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