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With Great Deal Comes Great Responsibility

You may have read recently that outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May has given the tourism sector a ‘deal’, in which business events feature prominently. Huzzah. Good will to all men, women, and other.

The business events industry has been chipping away at government for years, yearning for attention, and now it has got it.

We have struggled for identity in the public domain, with events often seen as a footnote in the marketing mix. Brands, though, have changed their perceptions in recent years and events have burst through the pie chart to now sit atop the pile. Indeed, this week’s IPA Bellweather Report testifies that events are seeing an increase in budgets, a trend backed by Events Marketing Association (EMA) members.

Of course, with Great Sector Deal Comes Great Responsibility.

The greater our profile becomes, the more scrutiny will it be under. This, invariably, means there are going to need to be some changes.

Change the First: the bullshit merchants are going to be called out. In all walks of life there are those who exist solely to amuse themselves, and naturally there are a few kicking about here in the business events industry. Maybe one day the mainstream media will be looking for someone to comment on the industry in some capacity, and if they don’t come to me (of course!), I hope they find one of our trade associations or the EIB chair. The last thing we need is for some berk in a pastel jacket to harp on about how mental health issues don’t exist or that the sky is green. We need to be calling out daftness more often, not carrying on like children when we don’t like something.

That said, I often get the impression that on industry panels, and indeed in interviews, that people speak with one hand behind their back. They’re not opening up, or sharing their real opinions, seemingly afraid of upsetting a boss or client, or even a prospect. There’s no shame in having a view. Mind you, that doesn’t mean we should embrace ignorance, but some measured, fact-based opinions wouldn’t go amiss. Or maybe someone throw a custard pie?

Change the Second: the environmental impact of the industry. Even those who accept that the environment needs looking after will roll their eyes, and its understandable. No one likes to be lectured, so the best way to avoid being patronised is to learn to be a bit more proactive.

But even then there remains an inescapable fact: our industry has a large carbon footprint, and it can only be reduced so much. Delegates still need to move around in planes, trains, and automobiles. They still need to eat and have their hotel towels cleaned.

I am, personally, no supporter of HS2. I think the principal is solid, but the reality is that it will become a premium service, out of the reach of many. There are already signs that the benefits of the line will be negligible. Plus, I’m a railway buff and those who don’t read history are doomed to repeat it...

I often listen to radio broadcasters lamenting HS2, too, but adding that “people don’t need to travel for meetings anymore because we have Skype.” This, I imagine, is a common perception of our industry. We all know video meetings are mostly rubbish, they are certainly unnatural. You can’t beat face-to-face, and for that we need to travel.

What we need is a comprehensive audit process to show the nation what we are doing with our food waste, signage, diesel people carriers, and so on.

I recently got my tyres changed and was charged £4 per tyre for ‘ethical disposal’ – whatever that means. Could we see similar schemes here?

The public will be watching us, and they will want their questions answered. We must be able to demonstrate responsibility.

Change the Third: Support your trade press. This is no cap-in-hand begging for help, on the contrary. I’m sitting here in a crown right now, twirling a bejewelled sceptre.

Our job is to report on the industry and to help steer the conversation based on what we find and hear. Contrary to my earlier flippancy, the mainstream media look to us first when they need a steer on what we are all about. The more you engage with, and support, us the more we can do to help. Share with us your views and experiences, partner with us for events that serve the greater good and do so with a smile. Is there an issue out there that we have not addressed? If so, tell us.

So, there we are, then. The government has taken note of us, the Home Secretary is reviewing that cockamamie EU-worker £30,000 salary threshold cobblers, event budgets are up, the UK remains near the top of the ICCA Rankings, and the recent UKCAMS survey puts the direct economic impact of our industry at £20bn. If you’re pleading poverty, you’re doing something wrong. Have a good summer.