Collaboration in the Event Industry
Warning: This blog post was not written by someone who enjoys writing blog posts, or writing in general. The idea of publishing this piece of writing is most definitely outside of the author’s comfort zone.
“A rising tide lifts all boats”
If we are to believe the Wikipedia page then this phrase is incorrectly attributed to the legendary JFK, who did use it often. Supposedly the phrase has existed in the Chinese language for centuries. But this doesn’t really matter - what matters is the meaning of this phrase and it’s relevance in today’s society.
The kernel of an idea for this blog post started when several industry associates attended the inaugural Mass Participation Asia conference in Singapore in December 2018 which in turn blew up my social media feeds.
They all returned incredibly positive about the experience and the chance to get together with so many like minded people in the same industry. One thing that stuck with me was one article or post that mentioned this phrase - “a rising tide lifts all boats” and the call out for more industry collaboration. This really resonated with me because I believe the event industry in Australia does need more collaboration and open dialogue.
Let’s begin by talking about another related issue first - tall poppy syndrome. One of my former managers used to talk about this and the comparison between Australia and the USA (where he used to spend a lot of time).
In Australia anytime someone says they are going to start a business or have an idea, people might smile politely and say something like "Great idea!" but within 5 minutes they are criticizing that person or idea and detailing all the reasons why it won't work.
Don’t get me wrong, you don't want to crush someone’s idea or dreams with a list of 100 reasons why it won't work or it’s been done before. But there is a way to help and guide someone that uses tactful ways of asking questions about challenges they might face and that way is not to talk or gossip about that person behind their back.
The US gets this - they are far more supportive of success (and failure) - they are better cheerleaders. We don’t really do cheerleaders in Australia. Sure, Rugby League has cheerleaders and crowd engagement but it doesn’t really hold a candle to what the US does and anyone that has been to a live sporting match in the US can attest to this.
This disparity between the Australian and US culture was highlighted during my time working for Tough Mudder. We would send out post event surveys to all participants and collect the net promoter score as a way of measuring the success of the event. The gap in the scores between Australia and the US was considerable. Australian events on average were getting scores around 50-60, whereas the US were scoring well over 70 for most events. This was a reflection of the US’ hoorah culture where everything was appreciated.
On the flipside Australian’s prefer to give “constructive criticism”, because even though the person had a great experience they want to provide honest feedback. This is not a bad thing. I whole heartedly believe open communication is the key to success in life (and this applies to all aspects - business, friendships, family). It’s just important to understand these cultural differences.
Ok I may have strayed away from my initial point, but stay with me here.
I believe that tall poppy syndrome and this need to provide constructive criticism is the reason for a lack of collaboration in the events industry in Australia. As an industry we have our walls up and consider events or providers similar to ourselves as the enemy and have our guard up. We believe that the way we run our events is the best way and our product is the best product and don’t see the value in talking to our competitors.
A lesson I learnt about this was when I was on secondment working on an event with another event delivery team. I kept using the phrase “we do this” or “we do that” and I repeatedly was ignored. I found I had more success being less direct (if you know me, this is not my forte) and would instead talk the team through some pros and cons of their way and then as a team we would brainstorm other ways.
Maybe if Events collaborated more we'd have more innovation and more success. In events, it is very easy to think of all the other similar style events in the market as competitors or enemies even. But in reality events come in all shapes and sizes, they occur at different times of the year and they attract different demographics.
For Event Organisers the benefits of collaborating with competitors are extensive. In this day and age, marketing is a huge challenge for everyone as the landscape changes - so cross promotion with another database might be a benefit. Or management of event calendars to avoid clashes might be an easy win.
Working together on major challenges like environmental sustainability, council management and counter terrorism meaures is an obvious benefit - but easier said than done. Or some more peripheral benefits might include combined buying power with suppliers or even having a network for the buying/selling of events.
One thing we do have in our favour in Australia is that we are a small industry which means as people move around from one business to another, they take with them knowledge and learnings and also they are constantly expanding their network. This needs to be supported more in Australia as the value of employees continues to grow.
Register Now is an online registration provider - we consider ourselves Switzerland (aka neutral) in the event industry and we only want to see more people doing more events.
We are more than happy to send a potential client to a competitor if we believe that our platform is not the best fit and we are striving to build and maintain relationships with competitors. A couple of good examples are in the fact that a very good mate works at Eventbrite (we are still mates, most of the time) and on a recent trip to Auckland we caught up with two of the owners of EventPlus.
Instead of just talking about the issue, we want to commit to doing something about the issue and one way we would like to foster a more collaborative industry is a continuation of the good work started by our friends at Event Workforce Group/Rosterfy - and that is re-booting the Pursuit of Happiness…. Watch this space.
Penning this article may have been outside of Ben's comfort zone but we think he should get uncomfortable more often! Register Now's Chief Hustler and Clients Services preaches what he writes and on a daily basis challenges our internal team to work more collaboratively with each other and our clients.