How did you get into the industry?
I started out working for Reed Exhibitions, selling trade stand space at various packaging exhibitions. One of the highlights was going to Paris for a 10-day show called ‘Corrugated’ – yes, a show dedicated to corrugated cardboard. After two years at Reed, I was invited by my then boss to join her at Wembley Conference and Exhibition Centre and I remember worrying that moving venue-side might be boring? how wrong I was. In 1998 I was part of the team who reopened the newly rebuilt Sadler’s Wells Theatre, a dream job for me, giving me the opportunity to bring my commercial skills to a dance organisation. It was there that I was bitten by the stage bug, and I’ve been working for theatres ever since. I have been at the Royal Opera House for 10 years now.
What do you like about the industry?
It has to be the creative aspect, seeing a project come to life and developing it from start to finish is so rewarding. No event is the same, there is so much variety. I also like the close-knit feel of the industry, where you can always pick up tips and hints from other industry peers to improve your offering. This is one of the reasons I became involved in Unique Venues of London (UVL). The supportive atmosphere is so important to our mutual success, providing an open talking-shop in which we can share ideas and learn from each other.
How was business for UVL last year? Any major trends noted?
Business in 2014 was strong and there is a level of confidence expressed for 2015 which hasn’t been seen for years. I think we are going to see an increase in live events, particularly more immersive experiences, which will require greater creativity from everyone.
What do you consider to be UVL’s USP?
We offer a one-stop shop for event organisers, giving access to some of the most creative and eye-catching spaces in London at the click of a mouse. By offering a sophisticated venue search tool and a free dedicated hotline service, we are able to expand the horizons and capture the imagination of event organisers looking for something different.
What are the venue consortium’s main strategies for 2015?
Our aim for 2015 is to be more strategic in where we focus our marketing resource, targeting specific market segments with a multi-channel sales campaign. We are also planning more website development, building on our new platform launched in July, offering content specifically aimed at sharing advice and expertise with event organisers.
Greatest achievement in your role?
Bringing BAFTA to the Royal Opera House was definitely a highlight, but my personal favourite was programming the first ever artist residency in 2011 with the ‘House Of Rufus’, a five night sell-out season with Rufus Wainwright. I have several new projects ready to launch in the early part of this year, all of which have the potential to change the landscape of the Royal Opera House commercial division – if I pull half of them off, I will be popping the champagne.
What has been the most difficult situation you have had to deal with?
The day-in-day-out politics of business. When you are an entrepreneur and an agent, you have to be resilient, determined and ready to negotiate on a daily basis.
Funniest moment experienced at work?
I have loads of stories – but sadly I’d be sued if I ‘named and shamed’. We had a photoshoot planned for the events team, when the PR company had the bright idea of making us all wear pointe shoes. It has been many years since I crammed my feet into a pair, and I must say it was quite worrying how keen the boys were to try them out. They soon changed their mind, when I made them go en pointe. They still haven’t stopped moaning about the pain.
Time-saving tip for organisers?
Add the UVL website to your favourites. With 81 unusual venues across London, from historical to modern, small bijoux houses to large purpose-built venues, you won’t need to go anywhere else to find a venue.
Prediction for the future?
There is no doubt that the economic buoyancy felt last year in the domestic market will carry through into 2015. We recently surveyed our members and found that 91 per cent were optimistic for this year, which is up eight per cent from 2013. However, national optimism should be tempered by the uncertainty prevailing on the continent, where growth is slow. As much as the home market might be picking up, international business from EU members has the potential to dip. It is important that the MICE industry is ready to react to change.
This was first published in the January issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor