In April, I had the opportunity to attend both IMEX Frankfurt (fabulous!), and hosted in partnership with this, the inaugural International Special Event Society Global Event Summit with Visit Scotland and Events are Great Britain. If you were to follow the posts of any member of this group, you will see the rolling hills of Gleneagles Golf Course, men in kilts aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, the very cool built in tiered and rotating seating in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre and pipers both greeting and leading us through the spectacular Edinburgh Castle where we dined overlooking the city.
What you won’t see is the hours spent behind closed doors as this group of event professionals dived deep into issues facing our industry including the impacts of the sharing economy, global security and risk management, virtual reality and the value event professionals bring to an overall experience.
Surprising risk management revelations
When we delved into risk, there were some surprising revelations. Obviously, we all understand our responsibility as event planners to mitigate risk at all levels, with destination and venue selections, audience security, crowd flow management, infrastructure and implementation, activity and event delivery being the major areas of influence. We noted the importance of working with security professionals not only on world-scale events but on many types and sizes of events. This is a team function that cannot be overlooked.
There can be no rose-coloured glasses even when choosing what is perceived as a safe destination, in a secure and beautiful venue with no glaring risk factors. Even if we are not taking groups on a high-intensity or potentially risky activity, we and the guests assume our event is safe no matter where we are, and we must work to make it be so.
Depersonalization as protection
Each year there are festival stages that collapse, nightclubs which erupt with fires or firearms, crowd surges which cause trampling deaths, and more recently bombs in airports. As human beings we have a built-in brain mechanism that allows us to distance ourselves from these incidents, to depersonalize as protection against our natural fight-or-flight reptilian brain impulses. If we allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed by the emotion of these, none of us would leave our homes, and events would not take place. As humans we are able to put these into the perspective of it being “unlikely to happen to me,” and for meetings it is indeed not these threats which are the most detrimental to our industry.
Even volcanoes and viruses don’t get us down. Perhaps because each of these can be put in its box, measures can be taken to ensure best practices in safety and security and events can go on. These are not threats to our industry as a whole in part because we can answer to these and show the steps we can take to reignite our travel and secure our event spaces.
Securing event spaces
We may add in magnetic (“mag and bag”) screening, or a bag check such as we see at fairs, festivals and even Disney parks; for events where we deem these necessary our clients and guests will accept or even welcome these measures. We can share these messages on media, on our event and ticketing websites and create the presence of visible security as our guests enter an event space. We use staff who smile but are trained to notice anomalies. We install security cameras and undercover personnel, and we rigorously test equipment – all part of the day in the life of the professional event team.
The threats to our industry have been much sneakier, showing up when we least expect and undermining the work we do every day.
- The sharing economy disrupting our hotel and transportation partners has challenged these sectors while at the same time giving travellers weary of same-same experiences often more authentic experiences at a lower cost. This means our conference registrations may be increasing, but so is the attrition in our room blocks and the associated costs.
- New cloud and app based services are seeking ways to trim production costs by sharing AV in spaces booked concurrently (and taking a slice of the savings). Meals cooked in private homes are being offered at a scale fitting a world-stage event impacting banquet and restaurant usage.
- Apps are being utilized to fill meeting space and make better use of decor sitting in warehouses.
Other efficiencies are being launched daily, and as an industry we have little to no organized response to this new sharing and its possible impacts – both positive and negative.
A larger threat has come from issues such as the AIG effect or even “Muffingate” where suddenly a spotlight on what is perceived as irresponsible spending is shone on our industry, and where the public takes it personally. The US based Meetings Mean Business initiative has been very active in changing this perception, but like any first impression it takes up to nine additional impressions to change what we first thought. For event professionals, already seen as a cost centre in many cases, this is a huge challenge, but one we continue to work through with advocacy and education.
Perhaps our biggest challenge is our own industry, where we have little to no barriers to entry, and we end up with a range of service providers from long-standing, educated, experienced and deeply professional to novices who are willing to undercut pricing but also don’t have the experience to wade through the entire mine field that an event can bring. Showing the value we bring based on education, expertise, strategic thinking, hard-won experience, an ability to build relationships among teams and yes, common sense is a challenge.
As one producer said to me last week, “When the celebrity stage built on a cliff edge starts to teeter, I need someone in charge who can make the rapid fire decisions required to make it right, right now!” While this may seem extreme, the reality is every day of an event will bring its own set of challenges. Having the right team of professionals will make the critical difference between risky and risk-averse – taking every event from average to outstanding and delivering seamlessly in a way the clients only begin to comprehend because with diligence and forethought event professionals and our supplier partner teams make it look so easy!
How do we define our value? One event at a time.