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.


Joey Hulin, Business Development Manager


We Can Be Heroes


We all need a hero….and we can all be heroes…

In creative problem solving methodology, there is a technique called superheroes. A technique that I introduced to the second year event management students at Falmouth University this week.

Think of a superhero. It could be a cartoon figure, a real person, a celebrity, an Imagined character.

What are the characteristics that you admire about them? Perhaps think of superheroes who complement your own skill set or bring new abilities.

Think about the problem you are facing. How would your superhero deal with it? What would they think about it? What would they do?

Perhaps view the problem through their eyes. What insight or fresh ideas does that give you?

In Mackerel Sky, we have a whole team of superheroes that everyone in the team has been involved in selecting. We use them as additional collaborators in our strategising, problem solving, performance management and evaluation. It might seem a bit bonkers to have this imaginary squad of heroes but it is just a creative (and enjoyable) way of gaining perspective and extending our thinking,

Bear Grylls is one of my superheroes and he is a member of this unique cohort because I value how he approaches life.  That is, the idea of being comfortable in your own perspective but being able to appreciate others by having confidence by being in your own natural habitat. When Bear is out on a mission of some form, he is in his natural habitat and he is confident. That confidence enables others to be comfortable with the challenge and to feel the fear and achieve.

The process of enabling one’s team to thrive and achieve is a fundamental aspect of leadership in any context so I utilise Bear’s perspective to help me see how I can be comfortable and confident in my natural habitat in order to support and enable the team.  I also keep Bear’s voice in my head supporting me and enabling me to take on the next challenge, feel the fear and achieve.

Helping someone else is a pretty heroic thing to do so I think this definitely qualifies Bear as a superhero. Who would your superheroes be?


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

When Events Get Politically Loaded

churchill-382089I recently watched the Paxman documentary about Winston Churchill’s funeral and I was drawn to the fact that this was event planning on a grand scale which started 7 years before it happened. In 1958, Lady Churchill and the various other members of the project team had their first planning meeting and the project was entitled ‘Project Hope Not’.

Winston Churchill remains one of very few commoners to be given a state funeral. When he died in 1965, hundreds of thousands of people came to pay their respects at his lying-in-state at Westminster Hall. Yet more came out onto the streets to line the route to St Paul’s for his funeral. The procession could be seen as one of the greatest mass engagement events of the 20th century. The Project Hope Not team were not just planning a funeral, but the equivalent of the largest UK festival. The whole population wanted to be a part of this remembrance, celebration and gratitude to a man who had become the symbol of hope and determination through the most turbulent and traumatic of times.

As I was watching the documentary, I was struck by the challenge of the guest list. Highly politically sensitive, limited capacity, high demand….not a task I would want! It must have seemed an impossible task and one that I think Winston Churchill would have hated if he had had to do it himself. I wonder if the Project Hope Not team were aware of their event management practice in planning all this – the logistics, media liaison, security, scheduling, stakeholder liaison, volunteer co-ordination, budgeting and everything else that comes into the event manager’s job description.

I was at the Churchill rooms at Bletchley Park last year and I met the man who had collected all of the various pieces in the collections there. He worked with Churchill towards the end of the Second World War and he spoke eloquently about the humanity of this man who recognised that he had made mistakes but would not let that draw him from his focus on winning the war and leading Britain, simply doing his very best.

I think we as event managers owe Churchill, and all those who serve in our armed forces, and the related support services, a debt of gratitude for enabling the freedoms we have today. Without him, without the collective work and sacrifice of all during 1939-1945 (and beyond), we would not have the pleasure of working in this amazing industry, doing what we love.

Thank you Winnie!

“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” Winston Churchill


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Who would be in your Top 5 of inspirational people?

As I write this, we are driving down the A30 heading home (I’m not driving!) and someone on the radio asked ‘how did you get here today?’. It made me think not just about the multifarious transportation options available to us in the UK but also about the journey I have been on to get here, to this moment in time. In the words of the immortal CJ ‘I wouldn’t have got to where I am today…’ without the inspiration and input of the following people:1. Sue Wyatt
Sue was Chief Executive of Rambert Dance Company when I was there and she taught me a huge amount about management, decision making and leadership. She is always calm under pressure; she is strategic in everything; and she invests in talent.  I didn’t always agree with her decisions but I truly respect her. She turned the company around from accumulated deficit into surplus and enabled Britain’s oldest dance company to continue and thrive.2. Clare Hearn
Clare and I started Event Cornwall (now Mackerel Sky) together in 2007 and we were friends before that. One of the many qualities that I respect about Clare is her ability to balance personal and professional. She has taught me the benefit of pausing, of creating space in which to think and she has the most extraordinary brain. I love her different perspective on a situation that means together we generate a much more effective solution.3. June Gamble
June is Executive Producer with Plymouth Dance as well as being a life coach. It was June who first enabled me to pick up the pieces after my life changed quite dramatically and she enabled me to craft a future that I have now made a reality. Time with June is incredibly useful and positive and yet she never says what I should do but facilitates my finding my own solution. She has been through all kinds of stuff but she has found a way to channel this into supporting other people and making life changing projects happen.4. Helena White
Helena is one of the best vets in the UK. She has studied hard, developed her surgical skills to be in the top 5% of UK vets and is now the only female Director of Rosemullion Vets. She is also my sister and is the only person in the world who can really tell me to get a grip! She has been and is going through some tough stuff personally and at the same time is figuring out her role as a leader and manager as well as being brilliant! Helena is strong, generous, intelligent, and a natural skipper. I respect her integrity and time spent with her is always a pleasure.5. Allyson Glover
Ally is utterly lovely. To everyone! She is genuinely interested in every business and every individual who she works with in her role as Director of Unlocking Potential.  She is one of my role models, particularly in terms of how she engages with people – clients, team, funders – and I am inspired by her direct impact on the business sector in the South West. She is another strategic leader who motivates and inspires everyone around her. Again, not someone who provides the solution for me but rather connects me with someone who can help. She also gives me honest feedback which I really appreciate.

You will note that this is an exclusively female list but this wasn’t deliberate! It may be that women are inspired by women. Or maybe I have just been incredibly fortunate to meet and work with some amazing people who happen to be women.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Fantastic Mr F


Just recently I was posed the question, “Who’s your superhero?” My thoughts were professional? personal? If personal there are members of my family who would instantly fall into that camp, but I won’t embarrass them here!

Instead of going down the professional route, I chose to think more of a ‘life superhero’ who could span both the categories. So who do I think of that I admire, aspire to be, respect and generally consider to be a good egg? Well for me, and countless others I suspect, one of those superheroes is the indomitable Stephen Fry.
I can’t say I know any more about Stephen Fry other than what is already public knowledge. But what I know I really like. He is, of course, incredibly brainy. But the thing I’m more impressed by is not necessarily his intelligence and insight, but by the way we shares this with us in a way that’s not patronising or condescending. He clearly thrives on feeding his own knowledge and always seems open to learning from others which is not something all brainboxes do I think!
As a fan of language, in particular, English I also love how much Stephen Fry celebrates our crazy, nonsensical language through his studies and observations, but also own use of vocabulary. And this of course extends to his thoughts on the normality of swearing which as someone who’s never been very good at curbing that side of my vocabulary, I now feel fully justified!
I also hugely admire his utter honesty when it comes to speaking of mental health, addiction and the rollercoaster that seems to come with it. Most of us deal with our own inward struggles at various stages along the way so we can all relate to some degree. But Stephen Fry speaks with such frankness and honesty that you can’t help but listen to someone who’s prepared to lay themselves bare.
I doubt very much that I’d ever have the opportunity to meet the fantastic Mr F and even if I did – what on earth would I say? What could I possibly offer to the table?? And anyway, you’re not supposed to meet your superhero are you for fear of dispelling the myth of their superhero-ness?
So enough gushing. Whoever they may be, we need superheroes, or the idea of superheroes for many reasons: to shore us up, to measure ourselves against and strive to improve ourselves, to keep us admiring and aspiring, professionally, personally, whatever – and that can only be a good thing.
Helen Rowe, Marketing Manager, Mackerel Sky

A Chance To Reaffirm Professional Ideals

Last week I met someone who thinks like me. Everything he said resonated with my approach to business, my approach to events and my approach to my own work.

He too prioritises the people in everything – the attendee experience, the support for staff, the collaboration with partners.  Without these invaluable contributors, events just don’t happen.  For him, his career and business is built on professional recognition by clients, by peers, by staff and, like me, he holds to the fact that an event manager is only as good as their last event.

It was also reassuring to hear that things go wrong on (almost) all of his events too.  I have been banging on about this for as long as I can remember and I believe that our performance as event managers is entirely based on how we deal with issues and problems.  We can only increase our capacity and ability to deal with those issues and problems if we plan properly to a high level of detail so we are prepared for it.

This person is Mike Richmond from Richmond Event Management and is another role model to add to my collection!


The most beneficial part of talking to Mike was realising that I am not alone in recognising the personal challenge that managing large scale public events presents.  As he pointed out, everyone is judge and jury and everyone will judge, challenge and question you, your decisions, your ability, your professionalism etc etc. There is no getting away from this so the greatest skill we can develop is to balance taking valuable perspectives on board with letting individual judgments pass by.

But I am all about passion and commitment and working heart and soul in a project so when these judgments come flooding in, I find it so difficult to balance and not take it to heart.  It’s even more difficult to support my team in balancing this too.  I (and we as an industry) ask so much of our teams in getting involved completely in projects and whilst this generates great commitment and motivation for the team, it means that we have to enable those team members to deal with criticism and I believe that this needs to start from within the company with performance management across the whole team, including leaders.  Not an easy ask but I (and I think Mike would agree.) think it’s vital for the ongoing development of our industry and supporting new talent.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events