Defining Our Place in the Events Industry

Rick Stainton

We asked Power of Events founder, Rick Stainton, how the organisation’s work can turn confusion into definition.

Here is a history lesson.  We all know that in the chaos of Covid the whole of the UK events industry shut down – hard and fast.  Then, despite very little government support specifically for live events, we were amongst the last to be allowed to re-open for business.  The cost to the industry across the four nations of the UK has never been fully identified.  Some supply chain businesses pivoted to help support the unprecedented healthcare provision of vaccinations to the UK population.  Iconic venues transformed into emergency hospitals.  Some businesses thrived but many didn’t and an unquantifiable number of event professionals found work in other roles and sectors simply in order to survive and pay their bills.

Across the complex eco-system that makes up the world class UK events industry, the need to create a compelling and consistent narrative about our value and contribution to UK plc had never been more urgent.  Initially each sector of the industry, with multiple communities of interest and often with the support of several different trade associations, tried to get airtime to plead their case for support.  It soon became apparent that these multiple messages coming from business events, festivals, live performance, music, comedy, theatre, exhibitions – the list goes on – was a cacophony of different voices, quoting different data and asking for a very wide range of different things in terms of support.  It was confusing for everyone involved, even though they were all trying to do the right thing, under very difficult circumstances and in a very fragmented environment.

Gradually individual campaigns coalesced around the need to collaborate and work together to craft simple and clear messaging in a timely fashion, for a variety of key audiences – from officials to elected MPs and other key stakeholders.  From that experience key questions were then asked – what does the UK event industry actually look like, where best can we demonstrate how it all fits together and how can we show our true value and get the respect we deserve as a creative driver of innovation, experience and opportunity?

The Power of Events evolved from that period and took on the mission of creating a showcase for everyone working in events of all types across the 4 nations of the UK.  The first challenge was defining the core 7 sectors that make up the event industry in the UK in a way that would get majority support from everyone in the industry.  Working with industry leaders and association heads from all the various sectors the model for defining the industry now sits on – a platform that for the very first time provides a comprehensive showcase for the whole of the event industry in the UK – designed by the industry for the industry.

Tools now in place

The creation of a showcase platform for the event industry in the UK finally exposes the breadth and depth of activity that is not fully recognised by some of the key economic indicators managed by organisations like the ONS.  In particular the lack of developing and then adopting SIC and SOC codes has really held the industry back when compared with other industrial sectors.  The development of the core 7 sectors is just a small step towards creating a narrative about events of all types that co-exist, particularly in reference to the importance of the shared supply chain.

Identifying all the key trade associations and communities of interest, then securing their support as partners, and consequently spreading the message to their membership has been another huge advance.  Getting all the mainstream trade media to set aside their commercial differences and provide both news feeds and editorial support is unprecedented, as is the level of generosity and support from businesses that donated to the start-up fund and are now supporting the operational costs into 2024 as well.  Developing an events calendar for all industry events to enable better scheduling and share the huge range of opportunities to learn more about and network within the industry is another great tool.

But perhaps the most important tool – as suggested by the industry itself during the scoping and development work for The Power of Events – is the Event Industry Insight App, which is in the process of being launched currently through a cross Four Nations UK wide tour over 30 industry events.  This digital tool is going to provide huge opportunities to improve the breadth of reach and quality of data we produce across all sectors and will help generate really credible insights into so many key issues – from sustainability to accessibility, DEI to career development routes.

How do festivals fit into wider industry sectors?

Looking at the AIF submission made to the DCMS Select Committee on the future of UK Music Festivals it is clear that as a sector, festivals are adopting the same language and strategic approach as other sectors when representing their members.  There is a strong focus on using data – so the estimated number of festivals in the UK is 975 based on available listings.  As in other sectors, effort has been put in to identify the different types of festivals that make up the current market place.  These range from the micro multi-day greenfield music festivals (up to 5,000 capacity)  which are hyper local and often multi arts, run by volunteers and have a broad age demographic.  En route to the 30,000+ Glastonbury and Boardmasters large festivals, medium multi-day festivals of 10-30,000 focus more on headline music acts to drive sales as well as multi arts elements such as comedy and literature.

The evolution of festivals from rural environments to urban settings also reflects the increasing diversity of venues found in other sectors.  These can include metropolitan/park festivals such as British Summer Time in Hyde Park as well as multi venue urban festivals such as Live at Leeds.  So increasingly festivals are adopting the language and strategy that supports the overall narrative about the events industry as well as adapting formats that are being used elsewhere such as multiple venues and a much clearer focus on the overall experience for the audience.

“The Power of Events has already had a huge impact on the events industry. We have supported them since learning of their mission to unite the various sectors of the industry. Our team attended their app launch tour and it was fantastic to hear about all they have achieved in such a short space of time! As an outdoor festival, it is important we stay up to date with the current climate, so having a platform that provides a consolidated source of research and data is invaluable – we cannot wait for the first research project to be shared over the next few months.”
Ciara Hollis – Event Manager, Bournemouth 7s

During the development of The Power of Events, a by-product was trying to define the most effective ways to describe the complex eco-system we operate in.  In consultation with The Power of Events partners such as EIF, AFO, AIF, NOEA, PLASA and NCASS, it became apparent that all sectors share the same supply chain that festivals rely on, creating a critical point of alignment between what has been traditionally viewed as very self contained sectors.  The range of services required by a festival promoter can be similar to those required by a rights holder producing a concert at the end of a race day, a bespoke public sporting event, an outdoor experiential brand activation or a large scale public celebration – such as the power, security, fencing, H&S, logistics, catering, technical production, staging, toilets and audience management infrastructure and expertise requirements. These supplier partners and freelancers could all be working on a festival one day and another live experience in a different sector the next – indeed throughout the year this helps with smoothing a consistent level of work through the various sectors’ seasonal cycles. There are of course specific and unique operational requirements for each type of event within different sectors – however they do all ultimately deliver bespoke content and live experiences on site to their audiences.

“As an unseen industry that goes about its business and works tirelessly to deliver world class events we are sometimes guilty of not having the time or resource to join the dots across the markets with client and suppliers alike. By bringing the supplier chain together we open up the conversations, the networks and possibilities of cross market support as well as providing a more centralised directory for clients to work with. The knock effect gives us a more united approach in representation in both the political and public eyelines. Creative Technology are delighted to part of the start of this journey and looking forward to seeing its development over the years to come.”
Lee Dennison – Head of Marketing and Client Services, Creative Technology Ltd

Elements of the festival format have been copied frequently in the past.  They lend themselves to multi-cultural events, sports events as well as corporate events and brand experiences.  With the impact of the cost of living hitting festivals hard, the offer in terms of variety and affordability reflects the challenge that many other sectors delivering events of all types are currently facing too.  The combination of event, brand activation, social media engagement and consumer experience is starting to erode the traditional dominance of advertising, with major global brands investigating the live experience as a primary channel.  Making sure that the festival sector takes advantage of these shifts means sharing insights and intelligence across all the sectors, so that we can create opportunities to grow and sustain the festival sector into the future.

“As a student The Power of Events is an amazing central hub to access a wide range of communities and insight within the events industry. It is also super useful to find upcoming events that may be of interest for me.”
Imogen – Event Management Student – Leeds Metropolitan University