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

Positivity Can Be Infectious!

Photo from theguardian.co.uk

Photo from theguardian.co.uk

Firstly, a huge congratulations and well done to all those who took part in the London Marathon this weekend. I truly respect your determination, spirit and fitness to make it round and raise so much more for your causes.

Passion is a vital part of success in any field and sometimes it really takes all we have to make it work, to make every wish, dream, ambition come true.  There are always set backs but we learn by overcoming them and our passion keeps us going, believing that what we are trying to achieve is creating a positive impact.

At our recent Company Gathering, we talked about many things but the over-riding theme was our intent to enable positive impact in all we do. Whether that is through training or event management, through consultancy or project management, everything we do it about enabling positive impact on people, places and projects.  This enabling purpose is something that engages the passion in all of us. To help, to make stuff happen, to achieve, to make a difference.

On Tuesday, Claire is speaking at the Institute of Fundraising Conference in Bristol on the theme of making money from events. The focus here is not just on making the cash though, but rather about creating positive impact and in terms of charity and fundraising events, generating both money and social impact.  Imagine what the positive impact is of all the money raised at the London Marathon – around £50m for a huge range of charities! So, again, well done, congratulations and thank you to all those who have raised money by being passionate and putting themselves through physical challenge to make the world a better place.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

Is £60k a year really “living on the edge”?

Michael Eavis has been reported as taking only £60,000 in salary which is less than his top dairyman. He also said that he takes no funds forwards into the next year, preferring to ‘live on the edge’.

Whilst I don’t doubt that his top dairyman is worth than kind of money, it is not something to really be applauded as a comparator. For the majority of the population, a salary of £40,000 is a massive achievement so why are we celebrating Eavis as some kind of martyr for taking such a ‘low’ salary?  Don’t forget he has the farm income too….

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying he shouldn’t earn that kind of money or that he isn’t worth it because I firmly believe that he is but rather I am frustrated that the news has made it into a story.

Now the not carrying any funds forward concerns me more. It is simply an unsustainable model to always be working on a zero base budget and perhaps indicates a complacency within the senior leadership team that they will always sell out. I am sure that their Finance Director ensures that they have sufficient funds to meet the 150-strong payroll throughout the year so really they do carry forward.

Again, the majority of festival and event projects are only working on a zero base budget because, as growing projects, they have to. Most have to employ all kinds of strategies to make ends meet and certainly don’t pay their CEO £60k! It is brilliant that Glastonbury gives £2m per year to charity but remember that the charities also support them with volunteers and staffing.

So yes great that Glastonbury and Michael Eavis are doing good things and that they have the financial wear withal to do so but let’s not make it into something it isn’t. Their situation is not indicative of the industry and as market leaders they should be encouraging good practice, not profligacy.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Stretching Ourselves Beyond the UK .. and it’s exciting!

yoga-stretchingWe have just won a contract with Cornwall Council to project manage the Cornish representation at the Lorient Interceltic, a festival in August in France. This is great news and we are really looking forward to getting started but it also poses a challenge to how we work.  This will be the first project that we as a team will deliver outside the UK so our capacity to work over distance and communicate in another language will be tested.

We are of course planning now to ensure that we have the right resources in place (and it’s compulsory French lessons across the team) but this project will stretch us a bit. All within our capability but it’s new and interesting and a different way of working that we are learning to accommodate. This learning is to the benefit of all of us – not just the staff team but also our wider clients and strategic partners as we are developing even more skill and expertise.

It’s a fine balance between taking on new challenges and stretching too far. Perhaps we know how to balance this from our own perspective, knowing our own capacity and ability, but when we consider an organisation it can be more difficult to gauge exactly where that balance is. It means that we won’t necessarily get the balance right all the time for all of the team; some of us may have to learn something completely new, some may find time or resources are stretched and this may take us out of our comfort zone.

But going beyond our comfort zone is what makes us continuously improve what we do and how we do it and that’s where the benefit is for the organisation, for us individually and for our clients. We increase our skills and capabilities means that we increase our capacity, which means that we can improve our development and delivery of projects and take on new contracts that stretch us even further. And there is the virtuous circle but it only works if we learn from every project, continue to stretch ourselves and apply it across our portfolio, sharing practice across our team.

We use Agile management practice to ensure that we gather this learning at every stage, reflect throughout the project as well as at the end, and engage everyone in developing what we do and how we do it. Using these Agile techniques enables us to increase capability and grow as a company of learning experts!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Come on the Foos!

CaptureWe are delighted to be part of the team behind the incredible Crowdfunder campaign to bring the Foo Fighters to Cornwall.  This campaign has grown exponentially from just an idea to achieving its target of £150,000 within 53 hours!  Now the Foos are an awesome band but we never expected that kind of response!

What’s particularly interesting in all of this is that it’s so unpredictable.  There are many things we can do to improve the prospects for crowdfunding campaigns with a structured, strategic social media campaign in advance to build up interest and engagement; you can run a press campaign alongside the fundraising; you can get as many interested parties as possible to post on their websites and link into it…..but ultimately, we don’t know how the general public will respond.  It’s the same with marketing campaigns in general terms.  We don’t know what the next market trend will be but we can keep our eyes and ears open, we can develop the ability to respond to opportunities quickly, we can develop our own ideas and take risks but there are no guarantees.

 

There are agencies and thinktanks out there who work on telling the future for businesses of all kinds and there are those out there who are making it happen like artists, directors, choreographers, producers. But even all of these people can’t tell what the next big thing will be.  We also need to recognise that usually, the Foos excluded, these kind of campaigns do not work overnight. So it is a long, drawn out, unspecific, unknown process that involves a lot of risk and strategic guessing and heartbreak if ideas don’t work.

 

So why do we take these risks with new event concepts, new business ideas, new funding campaigns etc etc?

 

A couple of weeks ago, I heard from one of the Directors of LEGO where he was talking about how they innovate and it resonated with a conversation I had with Martin Crump from Evolution Development – it’s a change or die world.  We, both individually and corporately, need to keep on changing.  Our human nature means that we continuously learn and develop so our preferences and interests also evolve and change.  We are like sharks – we have to keep on (mentally) moving to stay alive. When we stop coming up with new ideas or when we stop seeking to understand the world a little more, we lose that spark that makes us human.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Every Day’s a School Day!

BoyGeorgeLast year I was lucky enough to be in the position of leaving my 9 to 5 job and go freelance. One of the reasons I made this big change was that my career learning curve had become, well….flat! With lack of challenges and lessons to learn one runs the risk of becoming complacent and jaded, so one of the joys of being a freelancer is the variety of projects, both in genre, scale and complexity.

With this in mind I was excited to be offered a role stage managing two projects for the Liverpool International Music Festival. Although I used to be a stage manager I hadn’t branched into live music events. The first event was a set with Boy George, which was recorded live by Steve Levine, the audience of 400 could then download the recording by the time they got home. Cue steep learning curve! New jargon to learn, processes to get my head around, job titles to comprehend all whilst coming across as knowledgeable and experienced. I then moved on to supporting the running of the main stage for the large outdoor festival in Sefton Park. All the lessons learnt from the day before enabled me to work effectively and professionally, all in front of 35,000 people- phew!

So, all in all I feel boosted; I have made important new contacts, broadened my experience, get to add something different to my CV all having learned a vast amount. It goes without saying that we should all try to ensure that “every day is a school day”, no matter what our career choice. Whether that’s in a small way or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone I feel it plays a key role in ensuring we are at the top of our game, keeps us interesting to clients and genuinely happy in our jobs!

Laura Carus, Associate Event Manager, 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