What do you love about life?

I find great satisfaction in the simplicity and predictability of life. What I love most is the inherent order and structure that sort of exists in the world and life to me, I guess is a bit like an organized puzzle where maybe each piece has its place and its purpose. Of course, you know, I appreciate the integrity of life’s principles. I think that’s also really important and, you know, following principles is crucial for perhaps a stable and balanced existence, you can’t operate in chaos.

I really like to make sure that I have a structure around me as best as I possibly can with, of course the full world knowledge that you have to be adaptable and adapt to change and challenges always come up, but structure can still work in that. I value the connections I have with others and perhaps there’s a sense of duty and responsibility that comes with those connections, you know, being able to rely on and support loved ones and bring, you know, a deeper sense of fulfilment to my family life is one thing. But in a broader sense, I guess life’s consistency and dependability provide a solid foundation for me, for society rather to function effectively, I take pride in contributing towards that stability.

What you do to live well, did the role that you played during COVID help you to survive it, because you had a job to do and you couldn’t just sit back and not know what was going on? Was it a hindrance to you or was it a help that you had such a responsibility?

I think I really took a personal and professional responsibility because with full respect to my peers who are industry journalists as well, there aren’t many of us covering specifically that side of the industry. So it really did fall to us, trade press in particular, to be those conduits of voice. We weren’t the problem solvers, so to speak but what we could do is find all these various fragments and bring it all together to sort of paint a picture. Living well for me and drawing back on that pandemic experience, I guess revolves around maintaining a strong sense of personal and professional integrity and adhering to strong principles and you said earlier on that we didn’t do scaremongering. Absolutely not. I’d much rather go down vanilla language because there was too much scare mongering. It was scary because it’s easy to say now that we’re sort of out of it, but back then it was like, are we going to get out of this? What does the future hold? Is the whole industry dead? Which big beast will go flat next? All those small independent businesses, all those freelancers, nobody knew. Tremendous uncertainty – worst thing any journalist in that situation could do is enhance that uncertainty.

So the energy must go into establishing fact and when the fact was not there, try to help those in power make the right decisions and give them the facts. But I guess living well, it starts with being honest with yourself and everyone else around you and that means perhaps omitting mistakes when they occur and I guess we can all say we’ve sort of made mistakes along the way. I wish perhaps I had done or tried to do a bit more in getting more press attention for the industry where I could have done as challenging as it was, every industry wanted to sort of make that noise as well. But again, it sort of comes back to that routine and structure piece again. The pandemic threw that to one side, so we had to try and form structure within what was essentially chaos.

What’s your purpose in the role that you’re doing now?

Davis Tanner has been a company I’ve known for a long time, for as long as I was at Conference News. It’s a brand communications agency. It’s got some absolutely fabulous clients and it has been around for 26 years, and it runs what we now call a think tank and policy unit called the Business of Events. That essentially allows myself and my managing director to carry on a lot of the great advocacy work as part of a broader structure as to support the trade bodies and Visit Britain on the work that they’re doing to advocate for the sector.

We believe that the events industry has got enormous economic potential and offers society so much through medical congress and advancing society and all the rest of it so essentially my job is twofold. On one side, the David Tanner side, I help clients develop their own content to find their own voices in, you know, in a proper, in a way, in a scientific way that makes them accessible to make sure that, you know, we’re talking about the right subjects and the right way and not just sort of going with the grain and they’ll just chuck out a press release here and a chuck out a press release there. It’s about establishing brand voice and brand narrative, which is in keeping with what the events industry wants.

The other side is the advocacy piece. So we use our business of events platform, which every year we bring to life by running the UK Policy Forum, which in 2023 is happening on the 8th of November in Westminster in London and that’s where we bring together MPs, policymakers, those working within the government department, specifically DCMS and Department for Business and Trade and we essentially integrate them with the events industry having, you know, wonderful conversations and all the rest of it. The way we see it is we’re a think tank and policy unit. So we are using evidence we do our own research and reports, which we submit to the All-Party Parliamentary Group, which I’ll elaborate on in a moment. We are essentially just speaking to government to make sure that they have all the information that they need, which supports the work of UK events which is the overarching trade body and Visit Britain, Visit Britain Business Events, which has the obligation to advise the DCMS.

We’re very much working with the trade bodies to help give them the extra leg up and leverage that they need to have the best type of conversations and to make sure that the asks we have of government, whatever that might be, VAT relief, favorable trading conditions, visa rules, all the rest of it conducted properly with engagement from the industry. So the all party parliamentary group is another aspect which not everyone sort of knows about an APPG is a body of MPs, cross party MPs and Davis Tanner acts as the secretariat for the events one. We therefore help recruit the chair, we help recruit MPs to that group, we inform them, we give them various information and they are essentially advocates for the sector in the Houses of Parliament. We’re essentially educating them for me there’s about 32 of them who sit on the group now no doubt it’s all going to change next year as we head into an election year so we are where we are now. It will obviously be a bit like Doctor Who and have to regenerate with new faces as we’d expect. But really we are a vocal voice in trying to advance the industry’s cause. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a big laser and light show. You know, we’re not out there blaring sirens and saying, look at this, we’re doing this, we’re doing that. It’s more quiet, methodical work in the background in line with the existing structure, we’re supporting that structure.

What trends are you seeing? 

Yeah, so every quarter we do the business of events runs its events economy tracker where we look at M&E data. This is more specifically meetings and events that doesn’t include trade shows and exhibitions because that’s a different a different metric. Broadly speaking, there are there are more events happening now than perhaps there were.maybe in 2019. We’re certainly not far off 2019 levels, if not already exceeded but there are some interesting trends. Obviously the price per head has increased somewhat dramatically, particularly this year, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that that’s been driven almost exclusively by the increase in cost of living and inflation, specifically energy.

You should see what venues are being charged by energy companies now, it would make your head explode. That cost is just gonna have to be passed on to the client. I mean, that’s business, I’m afraid, and we’re seeing as a result that while there are more events happening and the price per head has increased, the number of delegates attending these events is reduced. So I imagine that actually the fees that the venues are getting are probably the same as what they would have done is that the organisers are only bringing fewer people together because budgets have obviously not increased in line with the cost of inflation and the cost of energy.

Lead times again, these have remained reasonably short. I don’t have the number in front of me but it’s somewhere in the region of 80 days so maybe a couple of months just over that but there is now signs that people are starting to get back to booking much more in advance. I’ve met a few venues now, only anecdotally who are saying that they’ve already got bookings in for 24 and maybe 25 as well. The short lead time situation has not been very helpful, particularly when any form of catering is involved because it makes it very difficult to plan your staff and your team. You know, a lot of venues will use contractors so there’s lots of people to manage being here at the right time, at the right place, get the food orders in. If you’re booking a 200 person event only two weeks out, then you’re not giving the venue or the ops team any chance to actually get organised thoroughly. So we really want lead time to start going back to if we can use the word normal, fine. But we need to get a good four, five, six months in advance now, and hopefully start getting away from this last minute bubble that we’ve been stuck in since we were able to start running events again.

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