15 April 2020

Episode 2 of: The Facts of Live – The Series, ‘Who’s In Charge?’

This episode covers: content and context, choosing between easy or hard, a simple structure clarifying who’s in charge and common objections.


Hi, I’m Will Glendinning. I’m a Producer, Writer, Designer, and Director. And in the first episode of this series we sense checked the point of going to the effort of producing an event or exhibition in the first place. If you’ve not watched it, it would be useful if you did, and if you have, we’ll assume there is some merit to your idea – and your event, exhibition, or pavilion, or anything live is worth doing.

As we looked at briefly in episode one, all live events, regardless of their type, scale, or purpose are, at their heart, theater. You’ve a stage or performance space, you’ve something happening in that space and you have an audience, it’s theater. Which is a craft that’s been perfected over thousands of years, since Egyptian times at least.

Given all live events are essentially theater, it means we can find some commonality, and there are common ways of being able to conceive, procure, and produce them more easily. The first thing they have in common are two words that I use constantly and if understood correctly can make life so much easier. Those two words are content and context.

Content is the purpose of a live event and what happens in or at it.

Context is everything required to deliver the content.

For example, firstly, a sporting event. Content is the sport itself, the athletes or participants, the equipment they need, and the rules they abide by. Contextual issues are the finances involved, marketing, the venue or locations, the complexity and scale, the technology and infrastructure or overlay, the logistics and operations and everything else involved.

Alternatively, take a music event. The content is the singer, the band, their material and performances. Context, again, is the finance, marketing, venue, complexity and scale, the technical side of things, logistics and similar.

A conference, the content is the speakers on stage, any material they present, and the message behind the conference, it’s purpose. Context, again, finance, marketing, the venue, complexity and scale, technical, and anything else needed to make it happen.

A final example, a pavilion for an expo perhaps. Content is the building itself, the architectural design, and the experiences and activities within them. The building and experiences need to work in harmony and should be designed together as one, and therefore, together are the content side of things. Context, again, the money, any marketing and PR, location, technical, construction and infrastructure, logistics and anything else needed.

When we look at them in this way, we can see that all live events share more than they differ, which can make our lives much easier. As we also looked at in episode one, there isn’t the common understanding of the craft or discipline of live events in the same way there is with other disciplines such as medicine or architecture or law where, by and large, everyone understands the best approach even if they’re not experts in those respective fields.

When it comes to conceiving, procuring, or producing live events, people tend to make their own approaches up, or perhaps rely on marketing or procurement, rely on hearsay or what’s most common in their sector. This leads to higher costs, more complications, and less creativity, and reducing a live event’s value and impact. It’s crazy and completely unnecessary.

You have a choice.

The hard way by making up what you think might be best or assuming common practices are best practices. Or the easy way, taking proven simplest approach possible.

Which would you prefer, easy or hard?

Whether it’s the Olympic Games, a festival, an experiential brand event, a conference, an exhibition, whatever it is, there are four key questions, and if those questions can’t be answered almost immediately by anyone working on an event or in that event, there is no way on Earth that live event is being conceived, developed, planned or produced as efficiently and effectively as it might do, which reduces its creativity, reduces the value, and reduces its impact. Those four questions come down to structure.

Question One. Which one person is the overall lead ultimately responsible for delivering the live event? They need relevant contextual experience of having led events with similar contextual requirements before in similar circumstances. They don’t necessarily need to understand the content or the purpose of that live event or the exhibition or the pavilion.

Question Two. Which one person is the overall lead for all content or creative direction? They need to have relevant content experience. This might be a Brand Manager or Creative Director for a brand or business event, the competition or sporting director for a sports event, or for a concert it would almost certainly be the artist.

Question Three. Which one person is responsible for the physical delivery and production of everything? They need relevant contextual experience of having delivered similar before in similar circumstances.

Question Four. Which one person is responsible for all the logistics and operations requirements? For example, travel, accommodation, catering, ticketing, accreditation, and all the rest of it. They need relevant contextual experience, again, of having delivered similar before in similar circumstances.

The boundaries between these four roles can of course blur, but getting the right team in place and the right marriage between content and contextual experience is critical.

These four roles could all be the same person on a small event. I’ve done them all before on smaller events. Or they may have massive committees or teams involved, but ultimately there needs to be a directly accountable single individual in each of these four roles, not a committee.

If you have a larger event with many parts, perhaps a festival, for example, with multiple stages, or a multi-sport event, or a pavilion with different spaces, or a summit with a conference, dinner, and exhibition, you simply split the event down into clear sub-events. Identify who’s taking on each of the four roles for each sub-event, and then have them all report into an overall project lead and an overall content or creative lead.

Again, some people can take on more than one role across these structures if that’s viable – skillset, time, capacity, and geography-wise.

If you’re the client or buyer, you could have this team report into you or you may even be one of these core team members. The Producer if you’re right for the role or the content lead, perhaps, if you’re a Brand Manager, but make sure this structure is clear and unambiguous.

The focus here is on roles, not job titles. It would be easy to get confused and lost in people’s job titles and just because their job title is one thing, it doesn’t mean they’re not capable of something else. Ignore job titles. Job titles are often more confusing than they are useful. Just look at the roles and what needs doing.

I have adopted this approach on projects where there’s been just me or a couple of us, through to projects where there have been over 20,000 working on it. Yes, working on the event, not attending it. It just works. It’s also based on theatrical principles that have been proven over hundreds of years. I can’t take all the credit.

The reason it works is that live events see you having to glue together a myriad of issues, people, and organisations against a constantly moving backdrop that you’re not always in complete control of against an immovable deadline and with everyone watching. You don’t always have the luxury of time or having all the information to hand, which means that everyone needs clear leadership and clear direction.

If you or anyone working on a project doesn’t have absolute clarity on who’s in charge or leading the project, who’s in charge of the content, who’s in charge of the technical and delivery side of things, and who’s in charge of the logistics and operations, I can guarantee you you’ll be spending more money than you need to be, you’ll be more frustrated than you need to be, and you’ll be sacrificing one or all of either value, creativity, or impact.

Needlessly so.

If I ever stumble across any issues with a live event, creative, commercial, practical, timeline, personnel or politics, it can almost always be tracked back to these four key roles not being in place or not being clear, or the content and context marriage being out of balance. More importantly, once you have this team in place with the right marriage of content and contextual experience, you can bring in anyone with any idea, regardless of their experience, and from anywhere. And actually nurture ideas, nurture creativity, and nurture innovation – with a support structure that works with rather than against creativity.

Make sure you have this structure in place. Put it in place or have those you’re bringing on board put in it in place for you. Your event will be less complicated, less expensive, and less painful this way. Life’s too short for anything else, surely.

And as we come out of the crisis we’re in at the moment, there will be little room or appetite for such needless waste or confusion. There needs to be a simple answer when anyone asks the question, “Who’s is charge?”

Explaining this structure, which I find myself doing almost daily, I hear two common complaints.

The first is an insistence that a project’s figurehead should be the lead of the project. This isn’t the case. A figurehead, be it a CEO, an artist, a VIP, a marketing director, a chairman or client or an athlete or whoever else, can still be the public face and public lead of the live event, but unless they have the contextual experience and time, they can’t be the practical lead of a project. It’s simply solved, though. They merely need to have the team, the structure of four, report into them or they work with them closely just as a team would if they had a client or primary stakeholder. Simple.

Secondly, people ask about everyone else involved. Account managers, procurement, marketing, digital teams, functional area leads on sporting events, stakeholders and subcontractors, and anyone else. You’re producing a live event, this is the structure you need, these four key roles. Everyone else, everyone, works with, in, or around this team in some way, reporting into or communicating with one of these four key roles. It doesn’t really matter which as long as they report into one of them.

This structure then maintains clear lines of communication, responsibility, and leadership, which are the routes to more creativity, more value, and more impact. You can make it simple or you can make it complicated.

You have a choice.

There’s plenty to take in here, and to save this episode becoming a feature film, I’ve kept just to the key points.

For more guidance, you can find free resources on TheFactsOfLive.com, including examples of how to apply this simple structure to various different types of events at every scale imaginable.

And if you’d like structures for other events detailed, just let me know.

Armed with an understanding of content and context in looking at the most efficient and powerful structure possible to conceive, procure, or produce any live event, the next episode looks at how to kick things off.

That is, what to do when an idea or a need for a live event first materialises.

The decisions made at the idea stage, the live event’s genesis, can have a far bigger affect on that live event’s creativity, its cost, its value, and its impact than the decisions that you or anyone else make you further down the line.

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