Proudly Taking Our Cornish Roots Nationwide!

MS_FBCoverPic_2It is fantastic that the Government have recognised the Cornish as an ethnic minority in the same way as the Welsh (and many others) and the support unveiled for Cornish language is very much needed and wanted. However, is this simply playing to the outdated traditional perceptions of the Cornish as pasty-eating introverted dullards?

Don’t get me wrong here.  I count myself as Cornish having grown up here and I know that we are a race of outward looking, ambitious, creative, resourceful people who are proud of our heritage and our place.  I also know that key people involved in getting this recognition share this belief – thank you Kernow King and Bert Biscoe and others – and I hope that this recognition goes some way in enabling the wider world to shed those outdated perceptions.

You may recall that we changed our name earlier this year from Event Cornwall to Mackerel Sky and we did this for a very good reason. Cornwall is brilliant and we are proud of being based here but way back in 2009, we started being asked to work beyond the Tamar.  The projects were great and we delivered as always but our clearly Cornish brand was raising eyebrows and questions.  Why was Event Cornwall delivering activity in Plymouth/Newport/Exeter/ Bristol/London..etc?  So we started to think about a name that would help address this challenge and we developed Event Devon and Event Scilly as an interim measure.

As it turns out, running 3 brands parallel to each other is quite hard work! We simply didn’t know how to answer the phone!  But the need remained to have a non-geographic name for the company.  We were keen to retain the Cornish spirit in there somehow though and we spent a long time bashing around ideas.  As with many things, it wasn’t about spending time trying to find a name it was about letting the name find us and it was one day outside our office looking up at the clouds that we thought of Mackerel Sky.

A mackerel sky is a cloud formation that indicates a (usually positive) change in the weather.  We are an outward looking, aspirational company who create positive impacts and the fishy  connotations of our new name are a nod to our Cornish home.  So we continue to be proud of our corporate background and we are delighted to share our Cornish way of doing things with our clients, partners and customers throughout the UK and beyond.  Being Cornish is not about being backwards, but quite the opposite – onwards and upwards!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

 

 

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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

A New Horizon

AmyWeeks

This will be my first and last post for Mackerel Sky Events. After 5 fantastic years with the company, over 150 individual events (give or take), and countless rolls of gaffa tape, I’m hanging up my clipboard and hi-vis jacket and moving on to pastures new. 

It was perhaps very appropriate that the last event I delivered was called Event Horizons: a conference designed especially for current and aspiring event managers to explore new developments in the industry and to share their best practice. The range of speakers and topics covered showcased everything that is fantastic about the industry, and its ability to continue to adapt to reach audiences and markets in ever changing ways.

Taking time to reflect on the event, I realised what inspired me most were the students that attended from the Creative Events Management degree at Falmouth University. These individuals have made the decision to study an emerging craft and develop the skills to become successful professionals in the industry, and as a Visiting Lecturer on this course, I fully recognise the importance of getting to grips with the building blocks of event knowledge and how they can be put into practice. I’m also a firm believer that getting work experience, building your network of contacts and establishing your personal brand are key to getting your foot in the door of a highly competitive industry, by finding ways to set yourself apart from the crowd.

For my first project with Event Cornwall, I sat in a drafty foyer to man the promotional stand for a local music festival. It was far from the glamorous image of the industry that I had in my head – there were no celebrities, no champagne passed my lips, and there was definitely no sign of a VIP section – but looking back that was my opportunity to get my foot in the door and I seized that opportunity with both hands. I believe that success in the industry is born out of commitment and drive, and the ability to throw yourself into a new challenge with unwavering passion and enthusiasm, and that’s what I hope I’ve done over the last 5 years of incredible projects.

So what advice would I have given to my younger self, a fledging projects co-ordinator starting out in the world of event management, or to those students who are about to graduate into such a competitive industry? I think I’d have to say the following:

1. Seize every opportunity with both hands as you never know where it may lead you – the most rewarding projects and experiences I’ve had have been from unexpected opportunities, and it’s a fantastic way to continue to develop your skills in areas you hadn’t considered before.

2. Network – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but networking is far and above the best way to make valuable connections. It’s been said many times, but people buy from people, and some of the most productive working relationships I’ve developed started with a 5 minute conversation at a networking event. Be brave and start that conversation.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s the best way to learn from those around you, and find out how things are really done in the industry. But it’s a two way street and be prepared to share your knowledge. Conversations to discuss best practice and share advice on ‘how best to…’ in the industry are a invaluable part of the learning process, and have taught me far more than I could ever have learnt on my own.

Take time out to stand back and view your work – you invest incredible amounts of time and energy in bringing an event idea to life, so take the time to stand back and admire the concept that you’ve made into a reality. Irrespective of scale and budget, whether large or small, you’ve poured sweat and tears into the event, and you should take an opportunity to reflect on this. Admire your hard work and the success of your project, but also take the time to be critical: what did you learn from this and how could it be better next time?

Enjoy every second – I make no secret of the fact that events can be a stressful and tiring industry, but it’s rewarding, exciting and exhilarating in equal measure: make sure you enjoy every bit of it.

My new role will see a departure from events into the world of Digital Marketing, and as I throw myself into my new challenge, I’d like to think I take some of my own advice on board. The last 5 years have been an incredible journey, in which I’ve learnt so much. Thank you to Mackerel Sky Events, the team, our clients and our suppliers – it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with you all.

 

Amy Weeks, Senior Event Co-ordinator, Mackerel Sky Events

 

Professional is as professional does

One of the qualities that is most important to me is integrity.  It includes honesty and consistency; doing the right thing and doing it right.   This is a core part of professionalism and particularly in our industry, where it is vocational and anyone could claim to be a “professional”.  To an extent, that’s true in that it’s not rocket science or medicine or law where a qualification is imperative.  Event management isn’t in itself difficult. It’s the complexity and scale that makes events challenging and it’s in these circumstances where one is reliant on professionalism throughout the project (including from volunteers.).

From the client to contractors and from staff to strategic partners a professional approach promotes a fair, open, communicative way of working
where conflict is resolved with due process and a recognition of roles and responsibilities.  Thankfully, in my experience, it is rare that this is really tested but when this professional integrity is challenged, it really makes me think hard about my behaviour, the advice I have given, the decisions I have made and the actions I have taken.  In resolving these issues, our own experience and understanding of fairness comes in to play and therefore the point at which we can accept and absorb responsibility for not managing or fulfilling expectations flexes.

What this means is that professional is as professional does.  It takes years to develop that professional approach but only a moment of fear, panic, anger or frustration to destroy it.  So the perceptions of what we do are dependent on our professionalism which is subsequently dependent on our personal state and emotional well being.  We might think that we are behaving with great integrity, walking the talk, fulfilling our promises but we only understand it from our own perspective.  I’m not saying that anyone questioning professionalism is right, not at all, but that sometimes there is a grain of truth there and maybe I have missed something that I should have picked up, or let my personal viewpoint get in the way.  It’s all feedback and it’s all valuable.  It makes me better at what I do and
challenge means that I have to really think it all through.  Having integrity means going a step further though and not only recognising responsibility but taking action to resolve or redress the balance without losing sense of self or going against what’s important to us personally.

 

Claire Eason Bassett – Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Agile – Not Just Talking the Talk

agile004

One of the events I enjoy most in our portfolio is Agile on the Beach.  We are entering our 4th year of working on this project and about 2 years ago, we decided that we should walk the talk and adopt Agile practices ourselves.

Agile has grown out of the software development industry and not all of it works as well for service based industries like event management but there are some aspects that are really making a difference to how we work.

At a strategic level, following an agile approach means that we focus on our customers’ and clients’ needs, engaging them at every part of the project development and delivery process, listening and balancing viewpoints.  This wasn’t a big shift for us as event management is inherently conversational and rarely follows a standardised process (in our experience anyway!) but it made us recognise that the value of our service is in the relationships we have with our clients.

We also apply Agile principles in how we organise ourselves and our projects.  We have thrown out the traditional gantt chart!  We of course still plot out what we think is going to be needed but we start with the cost and timeframe and work within this to create an event which is of high quality and achieves the aims and objectives.  It means we are advisors and guides for clients who perhaps have a thought of what they want but don’t realise it is unachievable or inconsistent and Agile resonates with our responsibilities, as per the Eventia code of conduct, to ensure that we advise appropriately using our experience and knowledge to create events that are of the highest possible quality.

Agile practice means that we are constantly working to eliminate waste in our processes and product, evaluating our supply chain and service every step of the way with internal and external feedback mechanisms built in.  We always evaluate but it used to be at the end of the project and now it’s more like every day!  We have a project board in our meeting room which is populated with projects on post-it notes that move according to the stage of the process that they are in and how far they have progressed.  Agile on the Beach has just finished ‘Evaluation’ and ‘Proposal’ and is now in ‘Design’ for the 2014 conference (www.agileonthebeach.co.uk).

We have had the pleasure of working with the Agile on the Beach team to develop our approach (particularly Mike, Toby, Allan and Belinda) and it is great to really learn from our clients, to understand why they are so passionate about this way of working and to develop a way of working that is impacting on our productivity and profitability.

 

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events

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

The Work-Life Balance is a Myth

Fireworks

Just before the Christmas break, we finished our last two events for the year, and Amy (our Senior Event Manager) and I spent a day at the wonderful Scarlet Hotel and spa. It’s a reward for a tough year with many projects and many changes and challenges. This juxtaposition brings the need for balance into sharp focus. I know that I rarely achieve that balance – I miss too many bedtimes for my boy, I don’t spend enough time sailing, I don’t spend enough time with my friends and family. But that’s not the balance I am talking about.

 

I know that every minute I spend on the business is moving us forward, getting things done, enabling the team to succeed and whilst I do of course have a responsibility to my family and friends, I also have a responsibility to my team. And I have a responsibility to myself. The balance that I try to find and maintain is about what is right and possible for me. Not anyone else’s view, just what I feel is right.

 

The work-life balance is a myth. It’s actually an ebb and flow process like the tide coming in and out on the beach. There are times when it’s right to prioritise work, and times when family and friends come first. It’s all about the context, individual responsibilities and what is important to you. I know that I would be a terrible mum if I didn’t work or didn’t spend time going to the theatre. Similarly, I would be a terrible leader without time and space to let my brain be creative. So we have to find the balance that is right for each of us, right now, in our own contexts.

 

So sorry, this just means continuing to juggle all those balls but rather than feeling that someone else is running the show, that it’s run by you. And up you have the choice about how you handle it. I don’t know about you but I choose to find my own balance, to run my own show!

 

A very happy 2014 to you and yours.

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events & Event Cornwall