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

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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

Professionalism should never be underrated

Sometimes it is only when one is working with people who are unprofessional that one realises what being professional is all about. I have tried to define this a number of times but fail to find a definition that works completely.

Is it about wearing a suit? Sometimes

Is it about complying with industry standards? Yes but so much more

Is it about being paid to do a job? Not necessarily

Is it about knowing it all? Definitely not!

Is it about paying attention? Yes

Is it about caring about the quality of your work? Yes I think so

Is it about how other people define you? Important perspective but not vital

Perhaps if we look at those we consider to be professional we can get a clearer picture of this. David Cameron? Richard Branson? Karen Brady? We might not like them or agree with them but I think all are professional in their fields. More locally, I look at people like Toby Parkins, Sarah Trethowan, Allyson Glover, Michael Rabone and Simon Tregoning who are consummate professionals in their fields. Successful, yes but also have integrity. They always get back to you when they say they will. They don’t belittle the new emerging talent in their industries, but rather foster it. When you meet with any of them, they pay you full attention. They are honest and believe in what they do wholeheartedly.

And I think most of all, true professionals are those who rise above the challenge of working with those who are difficult, obstreperous, stressed, thwarted and encumbered, to focus on achieving objectives and creating positive impact in all they do. Importantly, they also recognise that sometimes we fail and that this is ok so we learn from it and move on. Professional people find a balance between not taking things personally but taking valid points on board and they are brilliant at managing and developing the people they work with, partly by setting a good example and partly by recognising their own strengths and weaknesses.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events homepage

New is Good For You

Steve JobsI attended the AEME conference hosted By Mackerel Sky’s Claire this week and had the privilege of sitting in on a key note speech by Dr Jen Otter Bickerdike. The conference, and Jen’s talk, was themed ‘Creative Risk’.

I really liked the sound of those two words together despite the fact they could be seen as polar opposites; one suggesting innovation and excitement whilst the other, well, scares the living hell out of most of us.

Google tells me that ‘risk’ literally means “a situation involving exposure to danger”. This alone is terrifying – why on earth would anyone willingly expose themselves to danger?! ‘Creative’ means ‘To use imagination or form new ideas’. So for me, the two words together are a perfect union and bring about a whole new meaning, that is; Embark on the new. New thinking. New action.

It is not a revelation that new is what drives business forward. New is what makes sales happen, connections form, careers develop, businesses start and grow. Every new step is arguably a risk, moving from the comfort of where you currently are to where you haven’t been before with absolutely no guarantee that things will work out (oh hi danger part!) But what Jen outlined in her speech is what is key here – Things don’t work out… ‘as you planned’ but they always, always work out. The risk becomes then a challenge to trust that the new will leads you to places you simply can’t imagine… and that’s ok. What’s the worst that can happen?

There is a youtube clip that made a real impression on me a few years ago and inspired me to take a significant risk in my career and personal life. It’s a fifteen minute video of the late Steve Jobs addressing Stanford University at their graduation ceremony. He speaks of, amongst other wonderful things, how the worst things that happened to him in in his career (*getting fired by apple) led to his greatest achievements (*starting Pixar… and then being re-employed by Apple!) He talks of how you can’t connect the dots between events in life looking forward, only looking back – and I love that. I bet there are situations or experiences you can look back on now and say ‘wow that was painful/risky at the time but my god I’m glad it happened because it lead me here’. Maybe you met someone, started something, did something amazing as a result of that experience.

Taking a risk is scary. Risk is putting yourself, your ideas, your business out there. The danger is fear of the world rejecting or criticising you, or it all going wrong. But what if we viewed risk creativity and realised that staying the same could actually be more dangerous to us either personally or to our businesses. What if we take away the concept of fear (the danger) and see risk as a creative action to invite new experiences and opportunities into our lives and trust that it will lead us to places we simply can’t imagine.

Taking a risk doesn’t have to be as grand as starting Pixar but it can be something that puts you out of your comfort zone. Writing this, my first ever blog post to go up on my new employers website, is utterly terrifying but this is my new, my risk. SO, here’s the challenge for you today – do something that scares you and put yourself out there; pick up the phone to your dream client, send that press release, go to that networking event you’ve been putting off. Take a risk. Be creative. Somewhere along the line we may realise, when we look back to connect the dots in our lives and careers, that the ‘dots’ are in fact when we’ve taken creative risks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc

 

Joey Hulin, Business Development Manager

 

We Tread A Fine Line Between Stress and Pressure

Stressed businessmanFeeling stressed? Epic to do list and no end in sight?

Stress is endemic in our industry with constantly high (and increasing) expectations of clients and attendees as well as the need to be great at everything and deliver amazing experiences on a budget of 20p. Let alone any personal challenges that might come into play.

It is important to recognise the difference between pressure and stress – pressure is what enables to work quickly to meet a deadline or step up to take responsibility whereas stress is a destructive force that is counter-productive. Pressure drives efficiency and effectiveness; stress can make us flap!

More importantly, stress can erode our mental wellbeing and lead to any number of mental health issues including depression and anxiety so we have to face up to how it impacts on us individually and collectively. We as organisations need to support our people in creating a workspace and workflow that is productive, adaptable to individual needs, flexible and can accommodate the challenges and changes within our work. As leaders and managers of teams, we need to flex to accommodate the personal stuff. And individually we need to recognise the symptoms and impacts of stress on ourselves and those around us.

It’s not just our industry either – it’s everywhere. Any job, any context, anybody. And we all need to do something about it. We can start by talking openly about mental health issues and creating a culture where it is ok to struggle and ask for help. Two of our third year Creative Events Management students at Falmouth University are taking the lead on this, particularly in the context of higher education, and they are running a smile appeal followed by a conference for their third year final assessment.

Ben and Hannah both have personal experience of the challenges of mental health and the stigma around it and they want to help fellow students to recognise it and do something about it. The Smile Appeal will run for a week and will engage over 20 other students in running activity and promoting the campaign, which will hopefully in turn generate interest from the 4000+ students at the Penryn and Falmouth campuses. For Ben and Hannah, it’s not about being ‘woe is me’ but rather having fun with it, making it acceptable and opening up conversations.

They are following the Smile Appeal week with a one day conference targeted at health and education organisations and practitioners as well as students. These guys are nothing if not ambitious! The point is that they really want to help others and this is not just a single project. They are crafting this project into a saleable service for other universities and higher education institutions to buy in. It’s all on a social enterprise basis and has the potential to be a truly viable business.

We need more of this to make our world less stressful and more productive, more enjoyable. So good luck Hannah and Ben – let’s make the world a better place!

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Let’s Not Forget … The Customer Is King!

In a meeting recently, a client expressed their frustration with a service provider. In fact, that appears to be a misnomer as there was no concept of service in what this provider was, or more accurately was not, providing.

The provider is a website design company and my point is not to name and shame (however tempting it might be!) but rather to recognise the importance of customer service as part of building effective and profitable relationships.

This provider made 4 key errors:
1. Failed to consider the position of the customer in the network
This particular client is really quite influential but even if they weren’t obviously so, their ability to influence the choices of others is vital in building a strong brand. We all need our customers to recommend us, to recognise the value in what we offer and deliver, because word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. And it works both ways. The client is now actively recommending alternative providers….

2. Not considering the lifetime value
This provider has a short-term focus on profit that will only be beneficial in the immediate future. Every customer has a lifetime value, that is the total that they might spend with a given business in their lifetime. Over that period this could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not more but this provider is sacrificing this lifetime value for £80 now. This means that they will have to find hundreds of £80 customers when they could have had one significant customer so they will end up spending more on their marketing budget and spend more time getting to know each of those new customers.

3. Ignoring comparison to competitor offer
Whilst this provider is focused on pricing, other providers are focusing on quality of offer. It is a competitive marketplace and none of us can afford to simply be transactional. It’s all about the actual provision and the relationship. Our customers can pick and choose where they go and who they use so we should all be working to become the provider of choice. If we ignore what our competitors are doing, we are potentially ignoring our customer’s interests and they will leave us behind…

4. Going out of their way to make it difficult
This provider has locked down the service that was provided so that only they can do anything with it. The client has no access to documentation and can no longer self manage the website because the provider has put blocks in their way, closed down the portal or changed the passwords. A defensive strategy that has served no purpose other than to annoy the client and highlight their lack of confidence in their services.

Being defensive and protectionist gets us nowhere in any context. This provider has also started to try to deflect all responsibility for the escalating costs to the client saying it is her fault! In this case, for the sake of considering it all from the customer perspective, this company has lost credibility and clients. The customer is king after all!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Planning for Every Eventuality …

riskassessmentIn this business we ask ‘what if….?’ quite a lot – in every risk assessment, every emergency action plan – and we can apply the same thinking to our organisations. The process of strategic risk assessment is a vital health check for a company and can highlight areas where the organisation is dependent on certain factors.

We start by asking ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ and by exploring some potential future scenarios, we start to identify the key risks that could jeopardise the existence and success of the organisation. It can be a challenging process and can uncover issues and challenges that haven’t been considered previously.

One of the major challenges is considering the key people that the organisation is dependent upon for its success.  This group may include clients, suppliers and staff and the organisation needs to understand how manageable that dependency is. If the company is dependent on one client for over 50% of its turnover, then what happens if that client contract ceases? Perhaps the portfolio needs to be revisited and new projects sought to ensure that the pipeline of work keeps moving and dependency is reduced.

It may be that the company is dependent on one or two key members of staff for managing the organisation (and avoiding some of the financial or operational risks) as much as for producing the company output. It may be that the company is built on the skills, ability and personality of the chief executive or other key individual and so there is a risk that the company’s capacity is therefore limited by the individual, meaning that the
company simply cannot grow. Let alone what happens if that key person can’t work for some reason.

For founder managers, it can be particularly difficult to critique how the company works and to plan for their succession. As much as we are taught that business is business, I would argue that it isn’t. It’s personal, particularly for entrepreneurs and small businesses. So in considering these big challenges for an organisation, we must consider the people affected by and involved in them and how we respond to those challenges also influences how we are perceived internally and externally.

There are some brilliant things we can do to mitigate these strategic risks. We can insure our key people in case of injury or similar. We can create delegation structures that share workload, information and responsibility as well as develop skill and capacity across the organisation. We can talk to other people and get support and advice from sources you trust and respect. For me, I do this by having a non-executive Board including a freelance Finance Director, all people who know a lot more than I and who I trust to advise in the best interests of the company. My Board is invaluable in assessing and managing these strategic risks, keeping me on track and enabling me to take all of those mitigating actions, enabling all of us to work to our best and enabling the company to succeed.

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky