Event Management: Inspired and admired

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What makes some of the UK’s top event managers’ tick? Discover what gets event organisers out of bed every morning – and it’s not a bacon sandwich…

Coffee, cake and strong liquor. These are just some of the mixed and varied responses Stand Out received when it conducted a straw poll amongst event managers when asked what makes them tick. The answers may lend themselves better to the question: What sees you through load out at 2am? But nonetheless, it’s interesting to look at the psyche of Britain’s top event people.

In 2009, The Chairman’s Network, a club comprising British chairmen and women, met to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the year ahead; pearls of management wisdom were also imparted, with advice offered on team development and identifying smart business moves.

“God gave us two ears and one mouth,” reminded Tina Rogers of Thesaurus Computer Services. “Use them in that proportion,” she said. While Ken Olisa of Restoration Partners suggested that real managers are those who can tell the difference between threats and opportunities and can reduce the threats to a minimum. George Ryder, managing director of 1stAdvisory, remarked that few would argue that adversity can be the mother of invention, suggesting that challenge can often concentrate minds and create opportunity.

Claire Pasquill, managing director of Mask Event Design and Production, revealed that she is inspired by people who have the ability, or perhaps find the courage, to be truly maverick.

“One of the easiest traps to fall into as a business manager is to play it safe and if your business is doing OK to just keep doing the same things to try and replicate medium levels of success. It can be really hard to break free of this mindset: especially in a recession. But ironically this is exactly what we should do: A recession provides new opportunities and necessitates change. If we stick with the same safe ideas we are likely to lose even more money. People like Anita Roddick, Simon Woodruffe and BJ Cunningham really inspire me, as they have taken huge leaps of faith. But I don’t think there is much of a difference between how successful people run their business and how they live their lives. There is a great Henry Kissinger quote that I have stuck to my desk that sums this up: ‘If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.’

“I think I quite naturally apply this to my personal life: I have always daydreamed and planned for the future, but I think it’s hugely important that the leader of any business engages their employees in The Plan,” continued Pasquill. “When everyone knows where the business is heading: The shared goals and aspirations, they can apply themselves to achieving them through everything they do.

“It’s easy to jump out of bed when I focus on the things I love about creating great events. I love the instant feedback of wandering round a party and seeing everyone having a great time and I love the creative elements of my job. I am very lucky to be MD of Mask as I have a really hard-working and supportive team of people around me.

“In terms of managing my team, I like to work collaboratively and make sure that we all share ideas. My team writes their own personal strategies, set their own deadlines and manage their own workloads to achieve the overall aims of the business. This works really well for Mask because the team in place is creative and independently motivated, but it hasn’t always worked in the past, as some people simply prefer to be guided more clearly and even told what to do. In the past I have had people like this to manage and I think I found it hard because I really hate being told what to do and often assume that other people are the same.

“I entered the industry in 1999 after a degree in politics. I think I rather fell into events because I knew that I wanted to work in a creative industry but wasn’t trained for anything in particular. I worked 12-hour days for a fairly low salary for the first few years, as do most party planners, but I loved the job and aimed to get promoted as quickly as possible. My first job in events [at Theme Traders] taught me the fundamentals of event planning: Never assume anything. Always be specific and always check the small details.  This may seem simple but it can be quite hard for recent graduates to have the confidence to question suppliers that have 30 years experience. The best event planners know that the devil is in the detail. It may appear to be a ‘creative’ job but it’s actually best suited to people who dot every i and cross every t.”

Live and inspirational

Katie Kenny is head of RPM’s newly-founded corporate division. Having left her previous role as senior account director at Sledge. Kenny revealed that an event manager is only as good as the team round them – a well-voiced cliché yet one that rings true with so many organisers that Stand Out chats to.

A degree in art history, a background as a restaurant manager and a career that has seen her throw herself head on into projects has set her up well for her new role, which she has been in for just one week.

“I used to manage a restaurant. I met a couple of people who worked in events and thought it’d be good to be involved. My first job was in a start-up and it was a real learning curve. I loved the practical elements of working, and then I progressed to contract work with PricewaterhouseCoopers. I’ve also launched a venue and have done stints with Mask, Imagination, Acclaim and Sledge. And now I’m at RPM,” Kenny explained.

“The contract work was good for me. I got to see all sides of the industry. It made me understand how corporates work, I realised the pressures and how things such as cost centres work. If I’d only ever worked at an agency then I wouldn’t understand all that. My experience of working with a venue has also given me a rounded 3D approach rather than a single point of view.”

But what makes Kenny tick? Handbags, family and friends – not necessarily in that order – are cited by Kenny when asked, yet on a more serious note building a new department and developing creatives currently get her out of bed in the morning.

“I don’t go to work in a process-driven job where every day you do the same thing. I got on with my team and have fun with people. I’m not in a stale office where I don’t know anything about the person at the next desk. The live environment gives you live feedback, and it’s a pretty unusual thing.”

Kenny, whose previous role at Sledge saw her organise the Innocent Village Fete, has an appreciation for Glastonbury’s Emily Eavis. Creating the village fete from scratch and welcoming 60,000 people through the event’s doors has led her to realise how much of an inspiring figure Eavis is. Growing Glastonbury to what it is and to keep it evolving as a marketable thing is amazing, said Kenny, who currently has some sensitive projects in the pipeline

“I’m not a believer in micro management. I believe in divvying up the work and giving my team their own responsibilities, giving them ownership of a project rather than running them in a traditional way, looking down on them. I also believe in bringing specialists in when you need specialists because not everyone can do everything. You are only as good as the people round you and that’s your team, but you also have to know when that moment to bring a specialist in is. And trust them.”