Last week there was a post on a Facebook group from a bride who had just received a quote from a hairdresser and make-up artist and realised that their prices bore little resemblance to the figures she had in her budget. She checked elsewhere and discovered that these were fairly typical and consequently was on the hunt for someone to do it for free…
For anyone who has ever gone through an event tendering process, this scenario will seem frighteningly familiar. All too often the the invitation to tender document seems to have been written with little or no knowledge of event planning and the budget bears no resemblance to the expectations of delivery.
Similarly, if you are completing a PQQ for a local authority or government body, there can be completely redundant sections only applicable to building sites. I have been asked to provide my working at height policies for a webinar programme and details of my traffic management plan for a meeting with four attendees in a local hotel. You can’t avoid these questions by inserting ‘not applicable’ because it would make the application nul and void so you must plough on creating policies which you will never need or use.
Early this year I was asked to help prepare a tender response for an event which a local authority had bid for and won from an international body. How they had managed to do this with little expertise in organising events of this size was anyone’s guess, but it was patently obvious from the specification document and the huge information gaps that this was what had happened. The brief was badly framed, there was no indication of the number of attendees, the programme of events or the available resources. Most importantly there was no clear definition of who was expected to take on the financial risk for the project or details of the original scoping exercise which had been undertaken in order to make the successful bid.
More recently I have seen a tender proposal for an local government body that was looking for an events organiser who would run a total of nine events with at least five specialist staff at each of them and a defined number of attractions. Added to this were a number of other complex requirements, including applications for event licences, provision of site security measures and hire of specific goods and services. By the time the costings for all of these required elements was complete there would be very little margin in it or indeed any management fee for a professional event organiser.
Larger commercial organisers can be almost as bad with their complex procurement processes. Events are very different to the purchase of specified items, often needing to change at a moment’s notice. Structures can become strictures, with event management companies reluctant to take on board extra costs knowing that they will not be able to recoup them at a point in the future on another project. Small events become prohibitively expensive when isolated from the purchasing power that can be delivered by a group approach.
There is very little an individual event producer can do to alter this process on their own. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and complete the tender document to the best of your ability and hope for the best. But maybe it is time for the many and varied bodies representing the events industry to start educating purchasers on the need to employ some real expertise at the beginning of their event procurement process in order to create meaningful and carefully created tender documentation and consequently ensure that they get the right results at the end.
Back in April 2004 a new Association was formed to advance the cause of events management education. Just ten years earlier it would have been almost inconceivable that anyone would want to study the topic, let alone at degree level.
Today, the Association for Events Management Education has 47 institutional members representing British and International universities as well as commercial training providers.
There are those who would scoff at the very idea that you need two, three or more years’ education to be a good event manager, and indeed the qualities of patience, attention to detail, quick thinking and adaptability are not necessarily picked up in the classroom. But the world of events has changed. They are now significantly more complex, made so by legislative changes, particularly in health and safety, and technology such as social media and complex ticketing arrangements.
The US has had its Certified Meeting Professional programme since 1985, when it was launched by the Convention Industry Council. It now boasts more than 10,000 alumni in 46 countries, illustrating the value our industry now puts on accreditation and high standards of best practice. Doubters say that this is education for its own sake, but by promoting standards of performance and ethics in our industry we are constantly proving that we are a force to be reckoned with and have a valid, valuable voice when it comes to participating in policy and business decisions.
Events education is important. It enables us to recruit talented individuals who have already had a taste of managing festivals, meetings and conferences from the ‘non-sexy’ side as part of their course; it gives us stature when dealing with professional bodies, government organisations and policy makers; and it ensures that we never stop learning about the wonderful world of events and what it is capable of.
I’m going to confess right now to being a bit of a George Clarke addict, and in particular his Channel 4 series Amazing Spaces. Passionate about building and design, his programmes are a bundle of nervous energy as he bounds from one project to the next (rather like a few event managers of my acquaintance!). The Amazing spaces series focusses on innovation and creating brilliant projects in unlikely places with equally eclectic building materials.
For me this triggered a link with events, because I began to think how great events and experiences can be created when we look outside our normality. Armed with this idea I have been off to do a little research and there is much inspiration to be found. Pop-up events are everywhere, from mini food festivals to art exhibitions, fashion shows to vintage tea dances.
Of course there is no way that a large scale industry meeting or exhibition is ever going to relocate from a purpose built venue. But there is much to be gained by taking the event to the audience. A Town Hall meeting for a corporate client can morph into an interactive learning opportunity; a product demonstration into a memorable activity that builds customer loyalty and interaction; a staff training day which becomes a night out at a Michelin starred restaurant.
Following on from yesterday’s post on how events can be a tool for restoring a destination’s image it seems logical that pop-up events can play a pivotal role in this activity. Their small size and physical dexterity means that pockets of entertainment can be placed in locations where potential audiences are gathering but no suitable solid-state venue exists.
Green initiatives, reduced staff budgets, technology and pressure on individuals to spend more time working mean that there are significant obstacles to getting people to come to us at a specific venue. Maybe Pop-ups are the answer…
This is the title of a paper by Eli Avraham from the University of Haifa in Volume 8 of the International Journal of Event Management Research in November 2014.
While the events industry itself is well aware of the huge positive potential a well-executed project can make, Dr Avraham uses the paper to explore the theory of hosting ‘spotlight events’ in destinations where a negative image makes it very difficult to attract tourism, businesses and inward investment. This is also a topic that is currently being discussed in great detail by the City Nation Place initiative. So what exactly are the benefits of hosting events in a less well known destination, and what kind of events should they be?
Dr Avraham identifies seven different types of events which can have a significant impact on how potential visitors view a destination:
- Mega sports events: Olympics, World Cup Football,
- Sports events: city marathons, individual sporting federation’s world cups
- Cultural events: festivals
- Events that brand a destination contrary to the stereotype
- Events with opinion leaders and celebrities: Davos, Cannes Film Festival, G8 Summit
- Conferences and conventions
- Events that convert negative characteristics into positive
Human nature means that potential audiences are often very fixed in their opinions about a particular destination, and consequently ordinary marketing efforts will not make a significant difference. This is where events that are expertly created, managed and executed can deliver. But, as organisers of Barack Obama’s recent visit to Tanzania discovered, it is not enough to clean up your act for a few short days, there has to be additional investment to ensure that any goodwill is not lost as the last dignitary boards the plane home.
unplugged: ʌnˈplʌɡd/ adjective
1.trademark (of pop or rock music) performed or recorded with acoustic rather than electrically amplified instruments.
2. (of an electrical device) disconnected.
A recent study by the research group Flurry found that people with smartphones now spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes each day on mobile devices, some of that potentially fuelled by the multitude of messages, emails, tweets and other content event organisers are pushing out to them on a minute by minute basis.
We don’t leave them alone while they are at the event either. If it isn’t asking them to contribute to a live Twitter feed we’ll be sending them reminders and directionals to ensure they know about every little aspect of the event whatever they are doing at the time.
A recent study by a U.K. psychologist, Sandi Mann, shows that all of this technological intrusion could in fact be reducing the benefits we spend so long creating for the audience, not least because we are preventing them from absorbing and thinking laterally about what’s on offer. In her study, Mann asked subjects to do something really boring and then try a creative task. What she discovered was that the more boring a task, the more creative their ideas were. Only by allowing our minds to wander, daydream and start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, is our ability to do autobiographical planning, or goal setting, working at its optimum level.
So should we be looking to ‘unplug’ our audiences from their devices once we have got them through the door?
The continuing popularity of consumer events like Eroica Britannia, Taste of London and a plethora of music festivals in all parts of the UK shows that those which thrive are those which give their audiences a real participatory experience. The challenge for B2B events is much harder. Having got into the rut of believing the only way to get people to the event is to justify their time out of the office with more and more content, and that you have to remind them of what’s on offer every single minute of the show’s opening hours, it’s going to be a hard habit to break.
But if we want our audiences to fully engage with speakers, exhibitors and other delegates, and develop great ideas while they are our guests then perhaps we need to stop our constant, and frankly rather needy, electronic chatter.
It is the season for surveys (indeed we are currently conducting one of our own) and in December the US based publication Meetings Focus published their 2015 Trends Survey.
Overall the study shows that the US market is expecting to see increases in the demand for meetings over the next twelve months in conjunction with restricted growth in supply. The simplistic conclusion from this is that planners could see an increase in the rates that they are likely to pay for meeting space. However, further investigation into the figures suggests that things aren’t looking so bad for professional planners, indeed they may not be affected much at all. Those who leave booking hotel rooms/accommodation until the last minute are likely to be the ones left out of pocket.
Looking forward to 2015, the most optimistic sector is the independents, with 29.5% predicting that the number of meetings and events they will hold will increase in the next twelve months. By contrast, 33.3% of Government planners were predicting that their output would decrease, potentially a reflection of the continual tightening of budgets in the public sector, although this is less than recorded in the same survey a year ago. Across all sectors the majority view was that the status quo in terms of their event production quantities would be maintained in the coming year.
Although this survey is a good indication of sentiment in the US marketplace, it does not tell the whole story, particularly with respect to the assertions made in the report about supply and demand. While measuring hotel room occupancy forecasts against planner activity plans seems to suggest that there will be tightening in margins, it does not take into account the fact that many more, and varied, venues are becoming available to meeting planners adding another layer of competition which will affect price negotiations.
To read the full report Download it here