Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

Posted On 15 May 2017
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An event can be plagued by uncertainties like power or equipment failure, a medical emergency, an unwanted fire, sponsorship withdrawal or the last-minute cancellation of a Keynote Speaker. It’s difficult to deal with all of these contingencies and more without a carefully structured risk management plan. Yvette Chatwin outlines what to consider.

Research suggests that the meetings, events and conferences industry is worth as much as £70 billion to the UK economy every year. This includes a mixture of venue hire, transport, catering, accommodation, technology, taxes and other related services.

As is the case in other service industries, meetings and events facilitate the success of others – as a venue operating in this industry, we provide the medium for individuals to gather, share knowledge and learn. However, events also involve logistics, suppliers and the requirement to hand control of a given situation over to a third party.

Events usually take attendees away from their ‘normal’ working environment, requiring them to act or behave in a different way. Therefore, events by their very nature require attendees to change their routine. With change very often comes risk. Ultimately, while there are a host of specific risks around the organisation of an event, they fall into three distinct categories: financial risk, personal risk and reputational risk.

Financial risk stems from either part or total failure of the event. As organisations plan and host events they incur costs, both in terms of time and money. If an event is a success, such investments have value by providing a return on outlay. However, each element of an event that goes wrong devalues the overall event, in turn reducing its effectiveness and success.

With events sometimes costing organisations as much as £100,000 per day, it’s no surprise that there are a range of specialist event insurers. They can provide cover through a raft of policies in case of part or full cancellation of an event. They can also help in providing financial security for high value events.

Technology risk

Technology can be a big financial risk. Live streaming, video presentations, HD projection, lighting and sound are all fairly standard production elements for an event. However, they all present a potential risk of failure which has a differing range of impact on an event.

Projection failure means presentations cannot be seen (likewise for lighting), while sound system problems mean that speakers, etc cannot be heard. Both situations are easily solved by dint of using a venue or production company with back-up systems in place as well as knowledgeable on-site staff.

Efficient Wi-Fi is a bigger technological risk. Most event organisers and attendees remember to ask if the Wi-Fi is free, but few question its speed or ability to handle HD video or significant numbers of concurrent users – either of which can serve to bring an event to a screeching and somewhat dramatic halt.

The really ‘savvy’ talk about contingencies for total Internet failure. What happens when the broadband line goes down? Some venues will be lucky enough to have two entirely separate high-speed lines running into the building and, as such, are able to confidentially resolve such an issue. However, not all venues are blessed with the same capability.

Organisers should also be aware of the potential challenges around the use of a new venue or one undergoing refurbishment, which can once again have fiscal risks. Contractors face challenges: dates slip and it’s all-too-easy for a building with a specific opening date to not be available for several more months. Is it worth risking part of your event on the many variables that can go wrong in the building trade, from the planning stages right through to the availability of building supplies?

These are risks of which you need to be aware, but generally speaking they’re not too risky in the wider sense as you should be made fully aware of any potential impact with plenty of notice. At the end of the day, the answer here is all about communication.

Transport logistics

Other risks that could cause the failure of an event and subsequent financial issues include those around transport logistics, which will hardly be a surprise to anyone working in the UK. From strikes to roadworks and traffic accidents to lost luggage, it isn’t just the delegates who don’t always make it to an event on time. Missing one or two from a few hundred delegates is probably not the end of the world, unless the Keynote Speaker’s involved.

While there’s an additional expense to incur, it’s always worth bringing major speakers to the venue in advance. Again, this is something to think about when choosing your venue. Of course, a well-located venue with access to a wide variety of transport links is also a help. Being able to shift from road to rail or from overground to underground is a bonus.

Weather can also be a challenge, as indeed it was for 30 Euston Square only late last year when mother nature overwhelmed London’s storm drains and water made its way into our main Auditorium. Clients were evacuated and an impromptu conference space created before delegates were moved to the fifth floor State Rooms so as to conclude their conference. That was, however, the simple part of the process. The difficulty was that another client had booked into the Auditorium the following day.

While Health and Safety reviewed the Auditorium to see if it was habitable, the venue’s contingency plans were put into action. After conversations with the client, it was decided that the event should go ahead in an alternative location sourced by 30 Euston Square. At 5.30 pm, key staff were in place identifying how best to make the event work under constraints that included transporting staff, AV, additional catering equipment and food to a venue half a mile away that had the space, but lacked other resources.

Following constant communication with the client and a great partnership with the new venue, tea, coffee and bacon roles were ready to be served to the 200-plus guests at 8.00 am the following morning. The whole move was only possible due to a strong Duty of Care.

Interrogate the venue managers and your suppliers ahead of your event and keep asking the question: ‘What if?’ For example, if for some unknown reason the building needs to be evacuated in the middle of the night, what next? Does the chosen venue have relationships with other local hotels? If so, have rates been agreed? Is the cash on hand to simply move individuals from one hotel to another down the road with minimal fuss?

It would be remiss of me not to mention terrorist threats. It’s fair to say you can probably remove many impacts terror attacks will have by holding your event in a remote and inaccessible location. However, the more remote the location, the less likely you are to attract attendees in decent numbers.

The same plans and considerations that will allow an event to continue in the face of poor weather or a building fire are, on the whole, going to be of use under such circumstances, but it’s also worth thinking about what extra measures you might need to take.

Personal safety isn’t limited to the threat of terror attacks. In fact, it’s more likely to be an issue in more mundane ways. Standard Health and Safety risk assessments should see you through the biggest concerns. Best advice would be to use a venue that puts its team through extensive Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) training and documents procedures for all steps of the event process. IOSH qualifications provide necessary reassurances for clients and their attendees.

Gathering the right data

There’s one other area that’s important to consider, yet overlooked by so many: catering. Where you have events, you have catering. Where you have catering, you have allergens.

Our own research, conducted across 177 event professionals, has shown that 87% of organisers don’t gather enough data on the dietary requirements of their attendees, potentially putting lives at risk and placing those organisers at risk of unlimited fines, not to mention manslaughter charges in the worse case scenario. Make sure you gather the right data and work with the venue and caterers to keep your delegates safe.

No-one who organises meetings and conferences would ever suggest it’s an easy process, yet even they sometimes fail to see the risks so often right in front of them. Teamwork, strong business relationships and trust in your venue, catering and production suppliers are among the most effective ways in which to mitigate risk.

Through continual communication and strong business relationships, you can identify and fix myriad problems before they can occur.

Yvette Chatwin is General Manager at 30 Euston Square

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.