Shorter Lead Times, Finding Niches: Paul Cook on Challenges in Event Industry Today

Event-o-phile. If it existed, that would be the word I would use to describe my friend, Paul Cook. Paul has worked in England to support event professionals in many different ways over the years. When he has seen a need, he has taken action.

Paul founded Clarity Event Insurance  in 2006; created and maintains the online event planning resource, Planet Planit; has served MPI in many roles and recently wrote a book on risk management for events entitled “Risk It!“. In an effort to help young people coming up in the business, he organized the Young Acheivers awards last year and repeated it successfully this year.  This year he also organized a successful speakers showcase in an effort to connect planners with quality presenters.

I met Paul on Twitter nearly two years ago. His open, warm and supportive social media persona impressed me from the beginning and, as is often the case on Twitter, our friendship evolved into a collaboration as co-organizers with Ruud Janssen and Lindsey Rosenthal on the upcoming Event Camp Europe, Sept 9 in London, England.  Paul recently agreed to answer a few questions about the state of the event industry in Europe and what Event Camp Europe will offer event professionals.

JENISE: As a very involved event professional you’ve seen a lot of change in the industry, I’m sure.  What do you think are the issues that are impacting European event professionals the most right now?

PAUL: This is a great question and it is hard to know where to start to answer this. But I think that the shorter lead-in times to events is key as this has been becoming less and less which creates its own demands. Finding a niche event or show to differentiate you from the competition is always a key issue regardless of where the economy is, whether in good times or bad, and finding ways of communicating and connecting without turning people away will always be a challenge.

Then we have the evergreen issues of ROI, value for money, sustainability and now we have the issue of the relevance of social media. So for an event professional there is always something that will require attention, either from trends, fashion, political change or legislation requirements.
JENISE: How are these issues being addressed?

PAUL: By using the educational resources available to event professionals through associations, communities, peer to peer exchange, lobbying government, specific training and understanding the issues via media and exhibitions. There are numerous associations all offering broadly similar advice but there is no one cohesive body at present. Maybe one day that will change but for the moment the experience of event professionals and their desire to learn is key to how many issues can be addressed.
JENISE: How can learning about hybrid events help event professionals?

PAUL: Learning about hybrid events can help all event professionals whether they are working in venues, planning corporate, association or other events. It is not just event planners that need to learn but also the suppliers. Otherwise how can venues offer their facilities as pod locations? How can the technology companies know just where event planners in their understanding and what is needed next?  My belief is that there is a lot of talk about “hybrid events’ but I am not sure just how much deeper experience and understanding there is in general in the events community. It is easy to use the terminology but what does it really mean?

Learning about hybrid events will show people what options there are for broadening events which can only be to their benefit.
JENISE: Do you find a lot of resistance to hybrid events or virtual events in general?

PAUL: I think there is resistance when people don’t fully understand what benefits there may be to them. Often the issue of cost can be used as an excuse. So I wonder if the technology companies could come up with a  way of demonstrating the value of the hybrid or virtual against the cost aspect. It all seems a bit grey and mysterious at the moment.
JENISE: Are new meeting formats such as open space conferences having an impact in Europe? Why or why not?

PAUL: This is a tough one for me to answer as I have spent much time at European and USA based conferences where open space has been a component so I am used to conferences that include these formats. What, I know though is that each meeting may not always require an open space element. Again this will depend on the objectives of the meeting. I have seen open space/un-conference formats used very effectively in both corporate and association environments.

I think new meeting formats are relevant to all event professionals regardless of where they are based geographically.

We know that attendees require more interaction rather than the traditional speaker and classroom style based event. People are demanding more which has to be good for our industry.
JENISE: Are  techniques that increase audience participation gaining ground at European conferences?

PAUL: Absolutely yes. Again this is not geographic specific. People are asking for opportunities to be involved and to be heard. Some events will need changing, e.g. panel sessions should re-think and re-invent if they are to become valuable. A series of talking heads, effectively talking to each other just will not leave attendees feeling satisfied anymore.  In fact the combined experience and knowledge in the audience can add a huge benefit to overall discussions.

JENISE: What do you hope participants at ECEU will take-away?

I would like participants; whether remote, in a POD or with us at the venue of Down Hall, to go away inspired and exhausted. Inspired because they will have been actively involved in the event and can see how some new ideas could help with their future events, and exhausted because we will have worked them as ‘guinea pigs’ and looked under the bonnet/trunk/hood of hybrid events with them. Anyone who thinks they can come and watch and not participate will be sadly mistaken.

Get your hands dirty at Event Camp Europe, after all we are all experimenting and learning together to progress our industry.


Posted on August 7, 2011, in European event planners, event camp europe and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Paul – I appreciate your comments and add: “Open Space” is not an “unconference” – it is a specific discipline with remarkable potential. When organizations “include” Open Space, they are often doing a disservice to a dynamic method of gathering information and encouraging participation. I wish our industry would understand it more and do more than “Open Space Lite”! – Joan

  2. Thanks Joan – My apologies as I didn’t mean to cause any confusion to anyone.

  3. Looking forward in taking part in Event Camp Europe as a POD in Stockholm, Sweden. We are hoping to be a mixture of students and representatives from the industry. Our students are studying to be “Production Managers, Meetings & Events” here at Travel Education Centre. Looking forward to having you over in Sweden next week Paul.

    Chris Jolly, Course Leader

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