ISES UK: What should events look like as the sector stands right now?

ISES UK Event Jan

Picture taken by me (Instagram)

Last Thursday (21st January 2016) I headed down into trendy Shoreditch to check out Dinerama for the first ISES UK event of 2016.

If you didn’t already know International Special Events Society is an association for ‘event industry professionals that are passionate about knowledge, networking and event creativity.

I’ve been part of the Education Committee & a member of ISES UK for the past 9 months, so whilst bias to a fair amount of their offering I do truly wish I had known about the value you can gain from associations when I had still been a student.

The connections you can build with current industry professionals, hearing about topics that companies and leaders within the industry are discussing, but more importantly showcasing you commitment and engagement with the industry is incredibly valuable.

I would highly recommend having a look at the different ones available; both ISES UK & MPI have some great programs aimed specifically at Event Students.

But back to last week’s Forum. The event brought together three top professionals (in fact they are number 1,2,3 on Event Magazines Event 100)  Michael Wyrley-Birch (COO EMEA at TRO), Deborah Armstrong (Creator of Summerland) & Kevin Jackson (EITM) talking about what they think events SHOULD look like as the sector stands right here, right now. It was chaired by ISES Board Member Robert Dunsmore.


It was a really insightful panel discussion & spoke specifically about Agencies mark in the industry, which is a topic that never really got broached whilst I was at university.

To start the conversation off Robert started off asking what the ideal type of brief is;

Mike highlighted the fact that there is a big difference between procurement briefs and marketing ones. He also stressed that you can also clearly seen when a client has an incumbent and is happy with them.

A good brief enables a two-way dialogue, allowing one-on-one conversation to develop and understand  (to a deeper level) what they are looking for. The brief should not be driving you down a certain outcome, but allow for creativity from the agency.

Mike also said that a brief needs to be grounded in substance, audiences are more aware of when they are being marketed too. Whilst as an industry we love to say content is king, there is a need to move the content to being more ‘real. Events are so much more meaningful to audiences when you unplug.

Deborah comes from a slightly different outlook as she works on very bespoke projects. She finds the most important part of a brief is making sure the whole organisation is aligned. Because it is important to get to the points beyond the piece of paper, really understand why and what they client is looking for.

She also spoke about the value from building a relationship with a client, so that you are able to understand both what they & the audience want, because creative ideas always starts with the audience.

However Kevin’s outlook was very different. He stated from the outset that he doesn’t want to receive a brief, rather for him it is about being disruptive. The main focus should be on finding the reason as to why a client is wanting an event, because there is always a business need. Because we, as event professionals, are creative problem solvers, which means once we understand the business need we will understand the objectives that need to be achieved – making the event a success.


Robert posed the questions – where does the agency fit in with the events industry?

Kevin made it clear that you don’t want your agency to fit it, citing that Picasso didn’t paint things that people wanted, rather he painted things he wanted.

He spoke about how agencies need to get back to being creative, because it’s ideas that change business! It is about disrupting and pushing barriers whilst being smarter.

Deborah added that ideas do not always mean taking risks, but instead making sure they are meaningful.

Mike added in that as an industry we’ve started judging events success by how big they where, by how much technology is being used. However he stressed that we should instead be focusing on the outcome of our work, not the scale.

This is a problem because clients don’t understand what the term experiences means. It is instead a ‘key term’ that keeps being over used & popping up everywhere by everyone. Mike stressed that it is down to us to help clients understand the value of experiences.

He added that one of the ways we can do this is by being smarter, and measuring the events and business outcomes. When we start comparing and being able to share insightful data we can start to take back the term experiences.

Mike went on to say that whilst we are in a data driven world we don’t share or explore data, but to develop and enhance the industry and our professionalism we need to understand the value of what data can deliver.

As Kevin put it, to be successful you need to find clients who trust and like you. Clients are looking for specialist, they want to employee an agency who has particular skills. Which is one of the reasons we need, as an industry, to get better at noticing what works, why & then tailoring it. Kevin added that data allows you to prove that you’ve been able to achieve what you said, which is a very important aspect to some clients.

However Deborah said that her focus in more human, because you don’t design an event based just on data. Yes it can help inform the creative design and enhance the overall experience, but not on its own.

Mike added in that data is more on an output rather than an input, and Kevin agreed saying that is it the insight you take from the data that holds the value.

It is about understanding what the data points too and how you can then develop it.


Finally a great question came from the audience, looking at what advice Kevin, Deborah and Mike would have for anyone wanting to start their own agency!

Deborah ‘Don’t hire too many people straight away, because then you have a very high overhead’

Kevin ‘Make friends with a decent client, and make sure it is one whose relationship you value’

Mike ‘All successful agencies had one key anchor client that stuck with them – so relationships is key’

I think the length of this post gives a heads up to how valuable I thought the discussion was, and I would truly truly love to know what you’re thoughts are around this discussion.

Is data where we should be focusing our attention when designing briefs?

Do you think experiences is a term too overly used?  


There are a lot of great events coming up for Event Students over the next few months – which I will be writing about on the blog next month! BUT if you want to keep up to date with all the great opportunities available then @EventStudents1 is the account to follow!

Sharing any & everything that will provide value to #EventStudents

All pictures (unless specified) were taken by Darren Bandoo & used with his permission.

@Imdamnstudent@blogbykobrakFacebook & Instagram

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