If you do what you love …

JessGoodwinThe past couple of months have been a bit of blur, travelling across the South West and UK whilst working at a variety of events – I am writing this sat in my hotel in Manchester having spent the week at Tatton Park Flower show. Earlier this week Joey and I were chatting over dinner and how we came to know about Mackerel Sky, which I thought would be a good intro into my first blog.

I first met Claire 5 years ago; I was an enthusiastic events management student in my 2nd year at Plymouth University. Claire was a guest lecture sharing her knowledge about sustainability in events and talking about her company Mackerel Sky (then known as Event Cornwall). I didn’t speak to Claire after the lecture but I left inspired, thinking what a cool company Mackerel Sky would be to work for.

Wind the clock forward and I now work for Mackerel Sky Events. I have now been an associate for nearly 4 months and I have already had a great (and busy) summer! From day one I got stuck in, spending my first weekend at St Ives Food & Drink festival. Despite it being a long weekend, I enjoyed every minute of it. Meeting lovely traders, eating delicious food and spending 3 days on Porthminster Beach in the sun, who could complain?!? Since then I have worked at Tunes in the Dunes, 2 prestigious flower shows and I am getting ready to pack my bags for France to go to Lorient Festival (I’m a little excited for that!).

I have been welcomed into the Mackerel Sky family with open arms and so far it’s been a blast. As they say ‘if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’.

Jess Goodwin, Event Associate, Mackerel Sky Events homepage

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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

Never mind PR – all feedback is good feedback, even when it’s bad!

sleepingjudgeOne of the hardest things about what we do as event managers is that we create projects and events that are ambitious and creative and when these take place in the public domain, our audience become judge and jury. More often than not, that judge and jury are happy, wowed even by the whole experience but just sometimes we find that in their view, we are wanting. That our work isn’t up to scratch from their perspective and that someone (I.e. You) should be held accountable.

The process of receiving that feedback from our audiences can be incredibly difficult to accept and process. We naturally fixate on the negative comments and our first response can be defensive. We put our hearts and souls into these projects, even more when they are community based events, and when we get negative feedback it can feel like it’s all being thrown back in our faces, so it’s perfectly normal to be defensive.  However, it’s not a particularly productive response.

Considering the opposite extreme, we equally shouldn’t dismiss such feedback as not having any value, especially if we are only saying so to preserve our own ego. All feedback is valuable – someone has taken the time to share their views – so we need to take it on board and as a minimum incorporate it into the evaluation and reflection process post-event.

This is hard work because emotions are involved and they are involved because we are creating experiences and setting expectations in our marketing that sometimes don’t come to fruition in the same way for everyone. So people are disgruntled. They may perceive that something hasn’t been thought through when the opposite is true – the solution that has been found has been thought about in great detail because there isn’t an easy fix and what’s been agreed is a compromise. The more complex the project, the more likely we are to have negative feedback.

We need to be grown up about it, even when they are being hostile and making it personal. We have to swallow our pride and ego and listen to them. This is vitally important. Don’t assume that you know what their complaint is before they have said it. Listening to the complaint is a valuable part of potentially rebuilding the relationship with them and it means that you will get all the detail of the issue which means you can do something about it (potentially).

We can promise to take their feedback on board and include in evaluation; we can promise to adapt the plans for next time; and we can apologise for the offence or disruption or upset caused. An appropriate apology goes a long way in re-engaging that person and the conversation opens an opportunity to explain some of the decisions made, particularly those of a practical nature. This grown up approach is a means to ensure that we get the truth out of the complaint that we can do something about and enables us to bring our audience closer to the project, maybe even bring them into the project, moving them up the relationship ladder (Christopher et al, 1991).

So we can be as grown up as we like, not everyone will reciprocate and sometimes journalists misuse it to create non-existent news stories, so I recommend getting some media training and building a support network who will help to pick you up afterwards and remind you of all the good you have done.  For every complaint I have ever had about an event, there have been tens of not hundreds and thousands more that have been overwhelmingly positive. So my last suggestion is to train your brain to balance the positive and the negative to get a real picture of your success.

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Define ‘event organiser’

onemanbandOne of the things that we love about what we do is that it’s a very broad sector with fuzzy definitions and this is one of the problems with trying to professionalise the industry.  We also have a large section of the events industry that is voluntary and it’s almost impossible to engage that audience in ‘professional’ networking or discussion as it’s not what they are in it for.

Anyway, it’s vast so how can we define ‘event organiser’? Are we logistics? Planning? Strategists? Creatives? This term alone covers a myriad of realities – from the voluntary organiser of the town carnival to the manager of a large scale conference, from a music festival director to sports event co-ordinators. We have a problem with our terminology.  Add to that that most of us are working far beyond our job descriptions, then we really don’t know where we stand and we have no means to compare and contrast where individuals are within the sector.

After this week’s success with the Invictus Games Prince Harry can claim to be an event organiser and happy for him to join us! But it highlights that our definitions such as they exist are insufficient. This also means that our clients and potential clients have little to help them comprehend the quality or capability of an events organiser. So what can we do?

Together with a number of other agencies and suppliers, we are working with EVCOM to promote quality event management services and to gain some shared understanding of what professional means in this sector.

Students start back at university this week (at Falmouth anyway) and our first session with the third years is ‘what does it mean to be professional?’. I am hoping that the discussion with give us some further insight into how we might define our role and sector!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

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

Happy Mondays and Happy Sundays!

happymondaysThis weekend I will be spending Sunday night watching Downton Abbey (well, of course!). Last Sunday night, however, I was at the far other end of the spectrum of entertainment as I was stood at the foot of the Live at Heartlands stage watching Shaun Ryder, the Happy Mondays and the inimitable Bez royally do their thing. And what a night.

It was the culmination of a 3-day festival featuring amongst many many others, the Happy Mondays, Boomtown Rats and UB40 at what was once the core of Cornwall’s mining industry, then an abandoned derelict wasteland. Now, having undergone extensive regeneration, the tin mines and Cornwall’s heritage are preserved and provide a truly unique backdrop for live music.

As is often the way with live music, it’s the crowd and the atmosphere that makes or breaks a gig. And the overwhelming feeling I got from the gig was how refreshing everyone thought it was to find such big names in music right here, on our doorstep and in an area that’s seen better times but most definitely looking ahead.

Mackerel Sky were at the heart of the team behind this event and it was such a brilliant feeling to know that your very clever colleagues delivered it so smoothly and in such a polished way. From having been there and looking through only a small amount of the social media buzz that was created I have a feeling that last weekend will be a highlight for many at the end of their summer. Go team Mackerel Sky!

Helen Rowe, Marketing Manager, Mackerel Sky

And What Do You Do?

mackerel_4So here I am sat at my aunt’s wedding and every so often a family member will ask ‘so what do you do?’.  They mean well and are genuinely interested when I say that I run my own business and I am an event manager. And some then ask ‘so what kind of events?’ And then the polite glaze descends as I explain that we do large-scale and complex projects as well as training programmes…..

None of the tasks we undertake in themselves is difficult and nor do they require high intellectual capacity (although the outcome does improve with experience). However, it is when we increase scale, risk and complexity that these tasks are not as simple as may be first thought. Event management is a kind of intricate magic (at times) that is the product of experience and hard work. Because it often appears simple, this hard work and intricacy can be hidden and this is where we have a dilemma. We want to make it all work, make it slick and effective but not everyone recognises the work and expertise required to make that happen.

Having said that, our clients who are creative and ambitious recognise the value in our support and skill and how we can help them achieve those ambitions to deliver quality, engaging event projects. That’s not to say that things always go brilliantly, but that’s why we’re involved. If there was no risk, then there would be no need for us.

But this is not what people want to hear when they ask ‘what do you do?’. I wonder what they expect in reply? More than ever, our society does not have standard careers (although there remain some exceptions) so why see we using this as a reference point in finding out more about people?

I am really proud of what I do and what we have built up and the projects we have delivered so this discussion also provokes another line of thought for me – are the wider Mackerel Sky team proud of what they (and we collectively) do? And how can we create a business to be proud of? It’s not just about meeting targets, it’s about being valued, about the people we work with, the impacts we achieve and the engagement of self in it all. I believe that the whole person comes to work and therefore the question of ‘what do you do?’ Is irrelevant because we are trying to create a business where we are ourselves – open, honest, skilled, communicative, positive, flexible and adaptable. Some of the best qualities for event management, particularly when we are dealing with large scale and complex projects.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky