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Performance improvement needs to lie at the heart of our events

I was recently asked by a junior member at the cricket club what I do for a living, which is harder to answer than you might imagine. Whilst we are certainly in the business of meetings and events that doesn’t really get to the core of what our industry is about and stands for. The truth is that events are really just a channel, a means to an end, and it is that end goal that really matters because ultimately for meetings and events to be successful they need to change behaviour and have a positive effect on business improvement.

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The Good Old Days of Travel

As a growing Event Management and Venue Finding Agency, we are finding ourselves more often than not at Birmingham Airport as we depart to operate and manage our events. Occasionally we may be lucky enough to venture down the M40 to London Heathrow if we are going somewhere a little more exotic than Glasgow. I have always loved travelling, but as I travel more in this new world of airline cost cuts, I shudder at the mere thought of boarding a short haul flight and treat long haul with a sense of trepidation (if turning right at the door, which is always the case).

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Where has customer service gone?

As an event management and venue finding agency, it’s great to be busy and being busy means that more than ever, we are working with a number of different suppliers to get the job done. I often describe our role as a form of brokerage, acting as the middle man between the client and supplier to deliver an extraordinary event.

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Walking the Tight Rope

It is great to be sitting back at my desk after a very busy 8 weeks helping the team deliver some incredible event management solutions across the UK and Ireland. From managing roadshows in muddy fields to delivering a prestigious gala dinner for 370 guests, our team has combined muddy wellies, hospitality desks and dinner jackets with both style and ease.

After 18 months of operation, our event management and venue finding solutions have found their feet and we continue to develop our products with customer service at the center of everything we do. Our team is growing and our client portfolio is increasing.

With this, I personally feel that I am now walking the ‘tightrope’, balancing enquiries with live projects and ensuring we have the right balance of resources to deliver extraordinary event management solutions.  As I balance, I am juggling projects such as a website rebrand and development of bespoke delegate registration software so we can further grow. It’s daunting and exciting.

The first year as expected was a year where we had to earn our stripes. My own reputation as an Account Director helped generate industry awareness, but our event management and venue finding product offering was new, untested and as with any new start up there was skepticism. The first year was about pure hard work, determination and breaking down hurdles.

In the last year, I have seen a shift in the way suppliers to include hotels and venues approach us. When we started, there was limited interest. Now we have earned some of our stripes, suppliers are knocking at our doors for appointments with requests to work together.

Now we are in our second year, I would say that we are working even harder with greater determination for Clearwater Events to be seen as a serious industry player. But, added to that, I am walking the tight rope.

We have two major client accounts supported with standalone event management and venue finding projects, which keeps our team very busy. We have a fantastic Sales Manager who is helping to strengthen our business and our team of Event Managers is growing. But, with our growth, I can’t do everything by myself now. I have to balance profit with overheads and ensure we have the right resources for the right events. And it does feel like walking the tight rope whilst juggling a number of balls in the air.

When you work for a large established event management or venue finding agency, regardless of your position, there is a level of comfort. You know that in your tightrope walking there is likely to be a crash pad under you to break your fall just in case you side step. You may also have very big hands to manage your juggling act. But, as owner of a start up agency, that crash pad isn’t there, so each step you take needs to be carefully planned, managed and delivered with precision and accuracy.

As I continue to walk the tightrope, become a juggling master and side step without losing my balance, I can see the crash mat start to form under me. Growing Clearwater Events ‘is’ all about the balance, keeping focused and ensuring the team deliver extraordinary event management and venue finding solutions whilst keeping costs to a minimum. Our next chapter in our start up will be very much how we as a company master our balancing act…….

High Street vs Megastores

As I sit here, with it positively freezing outside, I am listening to my favorite morning radio chat show as I work through my to do list. Half listening, they have been chatting about how many large retail chains have closed down in the last six weeks. It’s kinda scary. At the same time, there is a huge uproar as horsemeat has been found in certain mega food store burgers.

It seems there is a significant shift and conflict in how people purchase goods now. Online presence seems to be key for retail success where discounts and cost savings run supreme. Whilst vast megastores seem to the preferred method when consumers actually want to shop in real time.

However, it looks like we might start seeing a shift where consumers may now potentially move away from the big megastores and back to independent and unique retailers, ironically on the high street, as they fear what hidden nasties lurk in their mass-produced goods. It is often recognised that the independents are experts in their field, offer a highly personalised service with a quality product.

I can’t help but wonder how this relates to our industry for the year ahead and what lessons we could learn from the current trends in the retail industry? As an event management and venue-finding company, our growth and success is dependent upon cost savings, providing quality services with, of course, no hidden nasties along with having an online presence.

As a smaller, independently owned and financed event management and venue-finding agency, I think it fair to say that we represent the unique retailer. We compete in a world of online venue finding and event solutions along with larger agencies, which, we see as the megastores. In this shifting world, who will reign supreme?

Reading this month’s blog by Jane Hague, ‘Power to the People’, I think its clear that we too as an industry are facing a shift and need to act quickly in order to meet ever-changing and ever-increasing client (consumer) demands.

I am always dazzled and wowed by the technology in the market place, all promising to enhance our venue-finding and event management product. I certainly see its place and have been the first to try online venue-finding along with cloud-based event management tools. My fear in using these tools, however, is that it reduces the need to interact.  Can an online venue-finding tool ever capture the same cost saving as picking up the phone, building a relationship and selling the benefits of offering a better set of rates?

It is logical to use technology as our fundamental tool in delivering venue finding and event management and in fairness, it seems that our competitors (the megastores), are using it as a backbone to service delivery. So, should we follow suit?

I myself have been in the large agency world for many years, but often questioned the actual service we offered based on SOP’s, KPI’s, polices, procedures, templates, conference calls, and the list goes on. I set up Clearwater Events as I am a people person and I believe the best events are delivered when we interact with the best people. This stems from venue-finding through to negotiation and logistic delivery. To ensure this, we need experts, people who offer a highly personalised, individual service with no hidden nasties.

Now, I am not saying that our larger competitors (the megastores) don’t do this, far from it. But, what I am saying is there is a need, a possible shift and a market requirement for smaller agencies (independent retailers) such as Clearwater Events to coexist with the bigger boys. Coupled with this, there is a need for people.

As I reflect, I think I have answered my own question. For me, this year is about people, it’s about partnering with the best and interacting in the best way to offer the best event management and venue-finding solutions. I will always be fascinated by technology and we have some of own exciting technology developments that are about to go online. But, we need people to power this technology whilst offering a highly personalised service with a quality product. A machine is of course as only as cost as the person operating it.

It’s time we as an industry support each other, it’s a year where we need to dig deep and look at how trade shows and marketing opportunities can represent our own high street and mega stores whilst embracing technology that helps our people deliver events for our clients people. It’s a year which could see winners and losers, so isn’t it important we take stock and learn the lessons from the retailing world?

To Exhibit, or Not to Exhibit

Well we have survived another EIBTM in Barcelona and the trip concludes a busy year of attending exhibitions, trade shows and fam trips with the objective of increasing our event management and venue-finding knowledge. And boy, what a year it has been! We have worked out we have seen over 300 hotels, venues DMC and support services at these events, which made us question the actual return on investment achieved. Read more

Carrot Danglers

Earning your stripes and becoming a credible event management agency is a little like the chicken and the egg story. You need clients to showcase your event management skills, yet to showcase your event management skills you need clients. And, when you think you have cracked this conundrum, you have to ask, where do I actually get my clients from?

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Our own Olympics Legacy

The team at Clearwater Towers are feeling a little blue today… The withdrawal symptoms from the Olympics have already started and the office doesn’t feel the same without the background hum of crowds cheering as Team GB head for another victory on the television. We have been glued to the TV and have been rather surprised by the sports we have watched, from handball to BMX racing. In fact, Jonathan, our co director, phoned into LBC radio and ended up live on air to defend the opening ceremony – now that’s passion!

One month on and I have to eat my words a little bit. The Olympics have been an incredible boost to the country, we have shown the world how we as nation have the ability to deliver the extraordinary, on time and within budget. We have shown how to perfectly manage incredibly complex events whilst keeping a sense of humor and being realistic on what makes a wow factor event. So, perhaps it is this that will become our lasting legacy? Our legacy could be that finally a host country has shown how to really deliver a brilliant, wow-factor games that’s cost effective, yet successfully brings people together from all over the world.

My fear though is that this becomes only a London legacy. To make a real difference then, the legacy must be all inclusive of the entire UK and we as an industry have to identify the value and benefits to all as we move forward in promoting the UK, rather than just London, as a fab inbound destination. I do truly believe that the London 2012 Olympics will have a positive and significant impact to inward MICE business within the next year, but it’s important that we ensure the whole of the country gets a slice of the cake!

As a start up that’s almost a year old, we are keen to embrace this as a key area for growth as we continue to develop our own strategy in offering a competitive product at a realistic price to clients. This is a great opportunity for us smaller agencies to seize the moment and showcase our strength in delivering fab event solutions in tough economic times, usi back, pure hard work and determination will ensure success. So it’s this that will become Clearwater’s own Olympics legacy as we face a set of conundrums for growth that feel quite like the 100m hurdles or possibly even the triple jump (which I thought looked terribly difficult)

So, in response to my own comments last month, I am pleased to say that I have found my own legacy and I pretty sure the Olympics will create many more as people up and down the country reflect what the games meant to them.

The Cost of Industry Knowledge

Like many of my industry colleagues, I understand that venue and destination knowledge is a key foundation to our company and keeping up to date with the new ‘must see’ places is vital in ensuring we remain current with our proposals and event offering.

I have always said that until you have experienced something, it can be hard to passionately sell it and as such, I have made it my business to promote fam trips and hosted buyer experiences wherever possible within the team this year. I am always very gracious and thankful that these brilliant opportunities exist and we look forward to them greatly. My mum never quite understands why members of our team are often away and no matter how much I explain, she always sees them as a free holiday somewhere glam. But holidays they are not! In fact, they can be really hard work, but their benefit is incredible.

There are many industry trade shows and fam trips that occur throughout the year and we have been lucky enough to receive a number of invites, giving us the opportunity to experiencing hotels and destinations just as our delegates would. We are always surprised by the generosity offered and graciously embrace the often-tough sales environments experienced especially at trade shows.

I have until recently been frustrated by the associated costs in attending such trips. It pains me to be signing expenses for expensive hotel WIFI and airport car parking and have always questioned why we as hosted buyers or invited clients should be expected to pay? But, recently my light bulb came on and rationalized that for the cost of WIFI or car parking, we as a company are gaining levels of knowledge, which are almost priceless. I think many of us forget the costs and effort involved in creating these trips and are quick to complain about what expenses we do have to pay. Knowledge development does have a cost and it simply depends upon the level of investment the company is prepared to make.

It does pain me when I experience stories where industry colleagues stay up until 4am drinking and then can’t make it down for a coach transfer or a morning activity. Or when you hear complaints about having to meet suppliers after being flown for free to a destination!

Of course, like many, I have just come back from Imex. Over the two days, I heard so many people moan and groan about meeting suppliers and this troubled me. In accepting a hosted buyer place, these people know the deal. There is no such thing as a free lunch and if you’re being paid to go somewhere, you are going to have to accept the pressures of being sold to.

I found Imex to be brilliant. Why? Because I saw each appointment as an opportunity to network and sell my services whilst identifying ways in how we as suppliers could work together. I networked and chatted to anyone that was interested and the results were amazing. I met incredible people and have comeback to Clearwater Towers full of ideas and new contacts. Yes, the appointments are tough, but it’s the way you approach it. I did find the 350 emails in my inbox a little hard going, but we fixed that with a few spam filters!

So, please, lets stop the moans and groans and embrace these incredible opportunities as fantastic ways to learn, develop and network. OK, we might have to pay for a few things along the way and we may have some tough schedules in meeting suppliers. But, isn’t this a small price tag when you consider the real value they have to your business?