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



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

No man is an island they say

group-01I think we can all agree that, in business, and specifically in events, people are our greatest asset.  This is true but only really so if we manage and develop that team and wider network to play to our collective and individual strengths.

What I mean is that, like any asset, if they are not used they can never be effective. You snooze, you lose! This gauntlet is laid down to all of us, irrespective of job title. Even if you are the office junior or an events assistant, you still have access to and use of this asset to gain support, to learn, to develop skills and to build your own network of useful people. And for anyone further up the chain of command, we have responsibility for this asset. We spend a lot of money on our people in terms of salary/fees, facilities, incentives, our time, knowledge and effort so we simply cannot afford not to manage our teams well.

In order to get the best value from our investment in our teams, we need to understand and appreciate them, their skills, approach, communication styles, needs, wants…and it can seem that all we do is service other people. In fact, that is exactly what we need to do to get the best from our teams. We need to design teams that have complementary strengths and skills to ensure that the client and wider stakeholder groups get the best possible experience.

At Mackerel Sky, we have a fantastic team of Associates with a vast range of experience and a great body of skill and ability that enables us to take on almost anything! Our business model enables us to draw together an appropriate team for each project that ensures that we will deliver to the highest possible standard within the brief and budget.

Internally, we all have individual growth plans that focus on developing the skills and experiences that each member of the team wants to and that are necessary to expand the reach of the company and individual project teams. Each person in the company is supported to undertake training and we plan our workload so that we have the right balance of confidence, skill and experience with learning and development opportunities.

But is takes time and effort and consideration. It also reflects on the value that I place on our team and on their commitment and involvement with the company. It is vital to take the time to notice each person’s work, to thank them, praise them and equally hold them accountable when stuff happens. Not shout and scream but recognise that it hasn’t gone well or that there were issues, and enable the individual or team concerned to learn from it and move on to the next project.

By investing in our teams and taking the time to be present in all of it, we are doing all we can to engage with the individual to gain collective benefit, to build the business and to deliver the event successfully.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

We’re All Perfectly Imperfect!

make-mistakes-e1333154059480We are simply human and we all make mistakes. Last week, talking to a business person I really respect, we shared the pain of making mistakes in business, recognising that this is something we all deal with.  It wasn’t just the mistake; it was the fact that as the MD, one has to take responsibility for those made by your team.  And it’s not just those of paid
members of staff but also volunteers and associated suppliers. That’s a lot of people on whom we rely to deliver our product or service to and for our clients.

This conversation brought into focus for me the risk and challenge of growing a service-based business and the importance of the decisions we make about who we work with.  Given the importance of these appointments, we often go into these relationships with relatively little knowledge about the other parties. Maybe a formal application process, maybe an interview, maybe tasks or presentations but generally no more than 4 hours in their company before offering them a job.  It’s almost always less time when appointing

Of course all of our time is precious and often recruitment feels like a burden and we just want to get on with the job at hand! We are often under pressure which is why we want to appoint someone in the first place but the point I am trying to make is that we cannot afford to make mistakes in this process.  The impact of making mistakes is that we appoint the wrong people to roles where they go on to make mistakes that jeopardise results, that
negatively impact on our relationships with clients, that affect the culture and morale of the team…..and we as the responsible person for the project or business have to take those mistakes on as our own.

It is vitally important that our teams know that we have their backs and that we will take the flak. This certainly applies publically but internally we also have to ensure a degree of accountability within our teams so that individuals know where they stand and that they can be confident in the company, in their position, in their relationships and therefore be as
productive as possible. This kind of accountability for our actions matched with a public taking of responsibility builds commitment and motivation so creating a team that is resilient and agile.  This ultimately makes our businesses more productive, more profitable and more impactful.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

What Are We Worth?

paintpotsI am at a loss for words as to why anyone would think that they are so perfect that they could judge anyone else to not be worth paying for work done. I believe passionately that everyone has the right to be treated as an individual, whatever their circumstances, whether that’s being paid the right wage for work done or access to opportunities.

Graeae is an extraordinary theatre company who work with actors who have a range of impairments/disabilities and create performances that are truly accessible. They issued a statement last week following Lord Freud‘s comments expressing their frustration and confusion. It must feel as though so much of what they have worked for in terms of changing perceptions about disability has been thrown away by this whole issue. But perhaps it is actually a productive debate – if nothing else, it has raised the issue of fair pay and discrimination in the public domain again and the outpouring of support for access suggests that the general public does not share Lord Freud’s view.

It raises a more philosophical discussion too – whose work is worth the minimum wage? Is Lord Freud actually suggesting that we discriminate the value of someone’s work on their skin colour, class, education, disability, religion?…To me this is outrageous. Who are we to judge other people on this basis in any context?

Tangle is a theatre company that is approaching this diversity question with a fresh perspective. Founded a few years ago, Tangle achieved National Portfolio status with Arts Council England funding earlier this year because of their work in engaging audiences, performers and the wider public. They tell stories from a range of cultures, bringing them together to represent and engage wider ethnic groups. These are stories that need to be told and celebrated in the same way that we celebrate Shakespeare or Ayckbourn.

As a business, it can be easy to feel under pressure to have to accommodate everyone and that quality is irrelevant in terms of ensuring that everyone else is happy. This is of course not the case but rather we need to recognise that celebrating diversity in all its forms is part of not only fulfilling quality assurance in the delivery of our products or services but is part of quality enhancement. Diversity brings new perspectives that can enable a business to really thrive both economically and socially, so let’s appreciate and value all of those inputs!

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

Dolly may have made the phrase famous but is working 9-5 all it’s cracked up to be?


Flexible working- a new world of possibilities or an employer’s nightmare!

With the recent change in legislation and more prominently for me an introduction of a new little man in my life, I have been forced to look at my career and work life balance. I knew that I wanted to return to work and continue my career after having a baby but I also knew that going straight back to five days a week 9-5 may be a step too far (he didn’t sleep!).

Cue Mackerel Sky …..

I joined Mackerel Sky and soon learnt that flexible working was the norm and a key factor to growth and development (as individuals and as a company). As an event management company the hours we operate are rarely 9-5 and so flexible working seemed to be a logical move.

I understand the thought of flexible working practices may cause headaches for some employers depending on the industry and it may not be a viable option for all, but if embraced it can allow them access to talented and skilled people that may not previously have been available to them (those unable to work the traditional 9-5, 40 hour week).

I’m not saying that flexible working is a seamless, easy to manage progression for everyone. It can certainly have its issues and I think there is a fear that suddenly everyone is going to want to work flexibly, that human resource departments are going to be inundated with requests and that there is going to be a huge rise in disgruntled employees having their requests turned down. In reality I doubt this is going to be the case.

I’m not going to dwell on all the potential pitfalls of flexible working but I am talk about what my biggest concern was when adopting the practice. I like to be involved and feel like part of a team and I worried that there may be a lack of communication and cohesion and that morale may suffer. From previous experience a lack of communication is a problem that faces a lot of organisations whether large or small, employees feeling left in the dark; a problem that could be exacerbated with more flexible working practices. However we have taken measures and made investments in technology to help improve communications within the company and with our clients and it works well.

I love working here, I feel very much part of a team and remote and flexible working is having a really positive impact on our company. It has helped us to evolve. Employees are able to work virtually, we can stay open for longer, travel further all whilst managing the work/life balance, very important factors in running an (happy) event management company.

Holly Patton, Operations Manager, Mackerel Sky