Museums and galleries put events in the frame

How do museums and galleries measure up when it comes to showing your event in a good light? John Keenan finds out

Most corporate conferences take place with a captive audience, let’s be honest. But that’s no reason the event should feel like a prison sentence.

Mark Rose, director of production and creative at agency Zibrant Live says that working in museums and galleries offers a wealth of opportunities from a production angle, and open up a whole host of theming opportunities.

He says: “Whether a product launch or immersive brand activation, the unique backdrop of these venues often enhances the delegate/guest experience, adding value to an event and creating a unique experience.

“From our perspective the production potential is one of the key advantages of working in a museum or gallery and they are very popular with clients who want to stage an event which is striking but also provides some relevance or context to their product and services. For guests, the opportunity to visit one of these landmark spaces ‘out of hours’ is special enough in itself, offering a unique and sometimes unusual perspective on these spaces. Furthermore, this type of venue also really comes into its own when there is filming and photography involved as they provide a visually engaging and interesting backdrop.

Rose argues that working with museums and galleries can be a challenge as often the logistical requirements are much greater when working in these spaces and extensive planning is usually requested.

He says: “It’s an obvious one, but you have to be extremely careful when working in these spaces. A degree of operational expertise and empathy with the venue surroundings is required to ensure that accidents do not happen as, when you are carrying heavy duty equipment such as steel decking around priceless exhibits the risk is high and any accident could end up being very costly!”

Cassander van Eerd, deputy managing director of events at AddingValue believes that museums and galleries work well for international audiences coming into the UK and for UK audiences going abroad because the guests are not likely to have already visited.

He says: “For a domestic audience you are likely to have visited under your own steam and as such the idea is less exciting or unique. The cost for a museum as a venue versus another space is relatively high. You pay a high venue hire with limited set up times and everything else is on top.

“They can be a hard sell in the current environment. The list of exclusive or preferred suppliers results in limited negotiations and the tight access times to venues means it can be hard to make the space unique.

“The Natural History Museum is an example of a venue where most dinners look the same because you have around one-and-a-half hours to set up prior to guest arrival.

Kate Braxton, director at agency Jameroo, says that working in iconic museums in London requires a certain ‘approach to life’.

She says: “As a live event producer with a cultural bent, museums and galleries have always fascinated me. Some clients love the association with them because they’re artistic, thought-provoking and add an extra texture to the creative culture of their brand.

“Museums are beautiful backdrops, but come with challenges. Firstly, you often inherit suppliers for both production and catering. You can choose, but don’t necessarily have the same level of confidence when lifting the curtain on an important, possibly high profile event. That can paint unusual colours onto any producer or event manager’s face. Access times are stringent. More pressure. You have to be thoroughly protective of the environment. Don’t touch any wall with a flight case!
“Microsoft, Friends Life and Sony have all used certain London venues including Somerset House and The Saatchi Gallery. Having worked at both for product launches and London Fashion Week, they’re two of my personal favourites, and the venues equally like to be connected to a top brand. That assists the relationship between the event team and venue, and becomes a more outstanding and justified creative solution.

“For clients, it’s always an interesting walk around in a museum, but networking can be harder. By nature people get distracted in a gallery, looking at the largest diamond in the world or The Mona Lisa eye-balling the back of your head. And if you’re launching a new phone, for example, go overboard on ensuring you organise the best Wi-Fi bandwidth in the world.

“All that said, for an awards evening, press event or product launch, somewhere like The Saatchi Gallery gives you the best white walls going for exquisite lighting design. But leave that space like you found it at midnight, because you’ll be in for a bigger bill than you’ve already had to fork out and an unpleasant discussion with your client over cost. My maxim is: find the right reasons for the museum.”

Dan Johnson-Allen, operations director at the Smart Group events company points out that each single event has its own specific requirements, but there are certain nuances which apply specifically to listed/heritage spaces.

He says: “There’s no doubt that museums and galleries provide a huge wow factor to an event. For example, imagine dining under the gaze of ‘Dippy’ in the Natural History Museum or in the ‘Making of the Modern World’ exhibition at the Science Museum. Already impressive, the spaces can be transformed further through production and lighting into something breathtakingly atmospheric, lending themselves well to specific types of branding and theming.

“Facilities also pose a challenge as many of the spaces were not constructed with modern logistical requirements in mind, things we take for granted such as loading bays and lifts as well as power restrictions which can have a considerable impact on both catering, AV and production. Again, conservation regulations will also have an impact, causing operational issues through the need of the supplier to comply.”

Steve Matthewson, head of business and development professional networks at The Guardian, sings the praises of The Crystal, Royal Victoria Dock, London, which is home to the world’s largest exhibition on the future of cities. It can host a variety of events, ranging from conference and meetings through to product launches, award ceremonies, and gala dinners.

Matthewson says: “We were very proud to host the 2015 Guardian Sustainable Business Awards at The Crystal. Obviously, there was a great brand fit between The Crystal’s green credentials and Guardian Sustainable Business’ objective which is to create meaningful dialogue around the huge changes facing organisations today. There is a great flow in the different spaces at The Crystal that really worked for both informal networking and the official part of our evening.”

John Keenan


John Keenan

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