8 April 2020

Episode 1 of: The Facts of Live – The Series, ‘What’s The Point?’

The episode covers: unnecessary struggles, know what business you really work in, the series structure, why before ROI and what’s the point?


Hi, I’m Will Glendinning. I’m a Producer, Writer, Designer, and Director. I’m also the author of the bestselling book “The Facts of Live.” This series is loosely based on the book, but focuses on how to deal with the issues resulting from the global crisis we’re working our way through. Looking at how brands, governments, agencies, individuals and anyone else conceives, procures, produces, or creates anything live – to create the greatest value and impact.

Even before the crisis we find ourselves in now many live events, exhibitions, and experiences had dubious, questionable value, and if you’re honest you probably went to some of them or seen some of them too. But as we come out of this crisis we’re in many live events and exhibitions are going to be under much more scrutiny.

This is a welcome change in my view and if any one good thing comes out of this situation it will be the start of and appreciation of more creative work and working, new approaches and fresh thinking. Okay, that’s three things – but still.

I’m a creator at heart and much of my time is spent pushing creative boundaries and trying to inspire different thinking. And that’s the way it should be. Yet many practices and standard approaches in the business of live events and exhibitions, actually do more to hinder this than help. And much of my work, and the purpose of this series, is to sort that out. I constantly see brands, agencies, governments, organising committees and all sorts of people wrestling with the same unnecessary issues time and time again.

Do any of these sound familiar? Poor creativity, ideas getting watered down or lack of innovation, wondering where or how to find the best creative talent or why the talent you have isn’t delivering what you expected; procurement exercises that become exercises in compliance with the procurement process and getting people the exact opposite of the best value and ideas they need; wrestling with budgets and costs of things that keep moving and are often undefinable; struggling with all the curveballs and change or as it’s often called, chaos; and everyone’s favorite complaint, long hours and stress.

For the most part these are completely avoidable.

And for this new world we’re emerging into they’re going to have to be tamed if brands and organisations want to buy better, generate better creativity, increase value and generate more impact. Less struggling and nonsense – more creativity!

Why are these issues we’ve been discussing then so common? Well, to answer that we have to take a step back. And I have become entirely convinced that many people who work with, in or around live events don’t actually know what business they’re working in. So if you work in sports or the arts, or entertainment or marketing or government or communication, if you do anything live, do yo u actually know what business you’re working in?

Well here’s a short video I put together a while back which explains.

– Art is just art,

– Sport is just sport,

– A message just a message,

– And music mere music.

– Until you add an audience,

– Then you’re in the business of:

– Theatre.

Yes, whether you’re an artist, or organising sporting events or working in marketing or communication, if you’re doing anything live you’re most definitely in the business of theater. Yes, we’re all ‘luvvies’!

You have a stage or performance area. You have something happening in that space, content. And you have an audience. It’s live, it’s theater.

And theater, or live events, is a craft or discipline in its own right. It’s a craft or discipline that so few understand though or know where to turn. For example, if someone wants a building, everyone knows they need an architect. With live events, there’s no such common understanding. The result is that everyone makes something up, relies on hearsay, or relies on Mark from Marketing or Penelope from Procurement or they form a committee to discuss and invent a process. It’s utter madness and it’s the reason behind things costing more than they need to, being more complicated than they need to be, being less creative or impactful than they otherwise would be.

These are problems the more frugal, discerning, emerging world can ill afford. And without a cursory understanding of the discipline or craft we’re all working with, how can you possibly know what you’re doing or the approach you’re taking, or you’re being sold, is best for you? It’s simple… you can’t.

There is an an endless supply of books, courses, individuals and training to deal with all the individual aspects of live events, from event management, and sponsorship and marketing, through to the technical, content and creative side of things. But how do you best utilise these aspects? How do you best engage with them? How do you procure them? And how do you glue them together to create the greatest value and impact? That is the seemingly enormous knowledge gap this series films and kicks all the issues we’ve been discussing into touch.

So this series is going to cover the following things:

Structure, make it complicated and expensive like many or adopt a far simpler and more effective approach.

The genesis, what to do at the idea stage, the decisions at this point have bigger repercussions than any other.

Talent, understand the talent you need, don’t need, when you need it, how to identify it and how to structure it as powerfully and as effectively as possible.

Leadership, get the most out of your team or those you bring on board using proven and often overlooked principles.

Money, understand how budgets and money really work, and how they don’t, giving you way more control and delivering far better value.

Procurement, and I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to cover it, as the approaches I see day in and day out are costing people a fortune and are either entirely counterproductive at one end of the spectrum or scandalous at the other. We’ll sort out procuring live events, goods and services, more efficiently, even when you don’t know what you need.

Risk, we’ll look at how to reduce financial, operation and reputation risks, though by the time we get to this stage it should be pretty obvious.

Creative, how to effectively nurture creativity and find or generate new ideas, and how not to.

And finally, alchemy. All of this is to glue together the myriad of issues, people and organisations you’ll be relying upon against the backdrop of constant change and uncertainty, an immovable deadline and with everyone watching, transforming how we all, together, conceive, procure, produce and create live events with far more value and impact.

All of these, are ‘The Facts of Live.

So that’s where we’re heading, but we’ve got to start somewhere. So in the final part of this first episode, what point does a live event serve anyway? Is there any point in doing them?

There are only three things you can do with a live event, sell, communicate or entertain. That’s it. And if people could do any of these without a live event, given the cost and the effort, they would. Or they should. Yet I’m always amazed by the amount of events I see that are either misguided or misjudged. Now this is perhaps a whole episode in its own right.

For example though, there are the tedious internal communication events and conferences staged only for tradition’s sake. Much of the content could be delivered more effectively digitally. There are the vanity events where a CEO just wants their photo with a celebrity speaker on stage or a brand wants to show off their product without considering the media side. And there are the events that don’t need to be events that are form over function, like events produced just to capture excited faces or moments, which is common, yet ridiculous. What you need here is a photoshoot. Quicker, simpler, and cheaper. And I could go on, but you get the gist.

Brands and organisations can often get pretty wound up by things like value, impact and return on investment, or ROI. Now ROI is an entire science or as I see it a bit of a dark art because with enough politics and enough mathematics almost anything can be engineered or demonstrated. I’m not going to get into a whole discussion about ROI in this episode but my view about it is pretty simple, as should yours be.

Almost anything can be measured, and ROI then scientifically calculated. But asking what the ROI of an event is first is the wrong approach. The question that needs asking, which so few seem to ask is quite simply, what’s the point? If you can’t answer this, your event or exhibition has dubious value. If you’re relying on others to come up with what could be measured or what the ROI might be without saying what you want to be measured, or why you’re doing an event, this is a fundamental flaw and should be ringing alarm bells for everyone involved.

How many exhibitions search for meaning and ROI once they’ve been commissioned? How many conferences or experiential events have their teams running around trying to determine their value or ROI after they’ve happened? And how many resource-hungry sporting events see you yet more resource after the event trying to work out what the impact’s been or what the ROI was? Now all of this is so common, it’s almost normal. And it’s complete madness.

There doesn’t necessarily need to be a good value reason for doing an event. If you want to blow a load of cash just for the hell of it for your own reasons, that in and of itself has some kind value to you. But if there’s no obvious point to the event, don’t do it, what’s the point? And once you know you want to do something, make sure a live event is the best solution.

Apply some channel-agnostic analysis. Are there better channels, approaches or media that could deliver a better result? And with that done, what you need to measure will be crystal clear and then mechanisms to do so will either be straightforward or can be worked into the design process. It amazes me that how many people in organisations don’t adopt this analysis. Work out the why and then the ROI.

Once an event makes sense to do following some proper thinking, or strategy as the fancier in our world like to call it, for goodness sake, make sure that event is then wondrous or worthwhile or both. Wondrous, meaning does it entertain people or provoke them to think differently in some way? Or worthwhile, meaning does it deliver against any business or communication objectives?

If it is wondrous or worthwhile, or preferably both, it will move your audience. Move them to buy more stuff, move them to think differently or move them with powerful entertainment. And if you’re not going to move your audience, seriously, what’s the point? Make sure you, your client, your team or whoever owns or is creating the event or exhibition is clear on why they want it, or focus all attention on working out what the point is before going any further

Once it’s clear not only will the event almost certainly deliver better value but the teams working on it will be clear on the vision and can make sure all efforts are focused where they should be, increasing the event’s impact. It’s crazy how often this is overlooked, typically because of vested interests, be they political, or ego, or self-preservation or commercial, or whatever else.

If there’s one thing you get from this series, if nothing else, this one step can do more for the value and impact of your event then anything else.

It’s a simple question, what’s the point?

With the purpose clear, it’s then time to move on.

And in the next episode, we’ll be looking at what all events have in common and how, based on solid, proven theatrical principles, any event, regardless of its type, its scale or its purpose is best structured.

There’s the commonly adopted complex and cumbersome approach or there’s simple and streamlined.

It really doesn’t need to be difficult or involve the wrong sort of hard work. And then – guess what, everyone involved can focus on being more creative, creating more value and creating more impact.

Imagine that!

Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time.