Roll up roll up! To the Cornwall Variety Show

Variety Show logoAs well as being MD for Mackerel Sky, our very own Claire is often found teaching the BA course in Creative Events Management at Falmouth University. It’s a huge benefit to the course students to have someone take them through the theoretical side to events management but by someone who is actually a highly experienced events practitioner and who bridges the gap between the worlds of academia and industry.

Two great examples of how well this can work is Hannah Williams and Isabelle Compton. Alongside their studies, Hannah and Isabelle are organising and managing another charity event following success with their Cornish Charity Ball last year. Here’s a few words from them on the event itself and how to get tickets – hats off to you girls!


“Although Cornwall is bursting with artistic talent there are very few events that showcase the variety and depth of creativity within the county. Abundances of music specific showcases appear throughout the summer months, niche dance performances and comedy gigs, yet there are no inclusive events where all types of artists are shown together. The Cornwall Variety Show will fill this void by bringing real creative diversity. Whether you want to be enthralled by daring circus skills, moved by enchanting dance pieces or brought to tears by comedy gold, The Cornwall Variety Show has something for you. All within the backdrop of an exciting and glamorous royal circus theme, guests will be mesmerized and amazed at the outstanding quality and professionalism of the show. The Cornwall Variety Show promises to be a true night of entertainment and elegance.

The first Cornwall Variety Show will take place on Saturday 30th May, at The Academy of Music and Theatre Arts (previously known as The Performance Centre), Penryn. The event will showcase a variety of performance acts celebrating the quality and diversity of artists within Cornwall. Acts include comedy from renowned Cornish comedian Colin Leggo, a professional circus performance, musical acts including emerging star Patrick Gardiner and local folk band The Saturday Boys, enchanting dance pieces and many more yet to be announced! The show aims to raise awareness and money for the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust, a vital charity to the Cornish community. Through a royal circus themed evening, guests will be immersed within a romantic and daring performance environment; décor, costumes, photo booth, themed bar, concession stands and multiple other engaging elements will enthral and enthuse attendees.”


Saturday 30th May, 7pm for a prompt 19:30 start

The Academy of Music and Theatre Arts, Penryn

Tickets £10, Concessions: £8 (students, 65+ and services)
All profits in aid of the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust.

To purchase tickets and to find out more about The Cornwall Variety Show visit the event website, follow on Twitter or email:



Let Us Eat (and Bake) Cake!

cakeI have always thought that the value of cake in business is underestimated.
Whether it’s celebrating a birthday or celebrating work well done, whether it’s fuel to energise the team or a focus for a productive meeting, cake is a means to bring people together and a means to mark the moment. It may be bought from a shop, or more importantly, possibly made by someone’s fair hands with effort and time invested to create something tasty.  The Great British Bake Off is perhaps the most public of means to showcase this investment and and has drawn thousands of us (including me) back to the kitchen to bake and make.

Inspired by this, a group of third year event management students at Falmouth are running the Cornish Cake Off in May. The event is a combination of baking, produce, cakes and bread with activities, tastings and inspiration from bakers and cake makers from across Cornwall and will be taking place on Events Square as part of the Fal River Festival. They have designed the event as a fundraiser and celebration as their final event within the course and as a means to showcase their event management skills.

As well as yielding great results, the process of baking requires focus and attention which perhaps is a suitable metaphor for project management. If we focus on getting the right ingredients in the right balance, and if we follow the right process that ensures all the elements (including people) are incorporated into the project at the right moment, then we should have a project that rises as it should and definitely doesn’t have a soggy bottom!

To Andie, Liv, Sophie and Jill, our cake inspired students from Falmouth, we suggest that you combine your project management skills with your bake-ability and wish you all the best for the Cornish Cake Off!
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

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

Are you as cool as a cucumber, or a headless chicken?

FlappersHow do you respond in a crisis? Are you a flapper? How do you prefer to make decisions?

We would probably all like as much time and as much information as possible to be confident of making the right decision about something. Maybe you feel that you are making decisions all the time with none of the time and information that you would like. Maybe having to respond without the information is an uncomfortable experience for you….however you feel, making decisions quickly about important stuff is something that event managers have to do all the time.

We aren’t necessarily comfortable with it but perhaps have developed the ability to make good decisions under pressure through practice and a bit of event intuition. I know that the decisions I make on event are based on a whole heap of activity leading up to it. I can only make good decisions if I have thought through some of the basics first and if I have completed all of the documentation so I know exactly what my parameters are.

It is important to know the legal aspects, safety requirements and production process well enough to be able to draw them all together to find a solution. And build a team around you who can help you do that but make sure you use them. In fact, get people on board who are better than you and can collaborate to create a better-than-plan solution.

With all of these resources at our disposal, we are well equipped when we have to respond to an emergency. We need that team to work to their optimum, to instinctively know what to do in their section so that we can together ensure safety for all but doing so in a professional, friendly and consistent way.  If we can do so in a way that is consistent with the overall event experience as well, then we are definitely working above and beyond the plan!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

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

The cat’s out of the bag … lifting the lid on Event Essentials!!

firstaidkitLast week I was asked what goes into our standard event kit box….we take at least one or many boxes of stuff and the components of those boxes remain a closely guarded secret!  Well not really but to some it seems like magic when, for almost any situation, we have the materials to deal with it.  There are of course the usual things of gaffa tape and cable ties and extension leads and black sharpies but also a few surprises:

Bar tool – let’s avoid that moment when the client wants to open a bottle of beer or a bottle of wine and we have nothing to help and have to attempt to do it with our teeth…..aside from the damage to one’s teeth, it’s also inelegant and gives an impression of being unprepared.

Universal phone charger – it’s always your number that is on the supplier’s contracts or the event plan so being without it is an epic fail. And there is almost always someone else who needs to charge their phone, often the client!

Lip balm – when I am standing at the reception desk or on the radio or outside a lot, my lips get really sore and it not only looks horrible, it hurts quite a bit too! It’s really important to look after yourself on event, especially when you are working a lot of days back to back.

Personal hotspot – in today’s technological world, we need to be contactable via email, twitter, facebook and phone when we are onsite and not being able to get to emails can be incredibly frustrating when you need to print off the guest list or the parking permits or a sign that has been emailed over. So having a personal hotspot on your phone can be a lifesaver. Warning: it does hit your data allowance quite a bit!

Correx – this is corregated plastic board in case you didn’t know and it is invaluable for creating signs that look a bit more substantial than laminated paper which is then vital for getting the audience to where they need to be.

Dog – I wasn’t going to include our dog in the list but then I did an event last weekend where he was an essential part and I realised that his chilled out attitude keeps the rest us calm and he is great for barking at people you don’t want around!  Our dog is a Labrador and when it gets stressful in the office, he does something silly and the tension disappears or simply having him around means you need to get outside and get some fresh air.

Rigging kit – knife, pliers, marlin spike….a standard boat rigging kit that sits on your belt so it’s to hand.  It may not be top of the list but it’s surprising how often I use mine. It might be moving a bit of heras fencing or opening an exhibition delivery or taking signage down but definitely a useful bit of kit.

The reality is that it’s not just about the tangible resources to fix or solve problems, it’s about having the nouse to know how to use it or who to call in to help or actually when the obvious is not the solution at all and there is a more effective and elegant way to address the situation. So the last and final essential bit of my event kit is my brain.  No kit box will be sufficient if you are not present and engaged in what you are doing.  You need to be on it to make it all work so don’t leave your brain behind.  A perfect example is last weekend when an artist had left his contact lenses behind in London and needed replacements in order to perform. This is a nightmare – you can’t get contact lenses without a prescription; it was 5pm on a Saturday; his last eye appointment was March last year….but I know someone who knows someone who could call in a favour or two and he got us those contact lenses.  He even brought them to site and handed them over with 20 minutes to go before the artist went on.  Result!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, 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

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

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