Event Q&A: Dennis Mills

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A look at the issues involved in event planning courtesy of MEI chief executive Dennis Mills.

What do you think cities have learned from major events in the past, and how has thinking changed in recent years when it comes to planning events? The first and obvious comment to make is that each major event is driven by the scale of core modernisation needed – well beyond just the venues, and training of support personnel rather than staging of the events themselves. Each games will continue therefore to vary from country to country. Available budget is also clearly an issue. What is changing is an emphasis on particular aspects which will result in a reduced legacy burden and environmental impact – so all around design. For example, temporary overlay, as provided by members of the MEI network such as Arena and ES Global, is undoubtedly an area of Events delivery which will continue to grow. If one day, the Olympics for example, were to be hosted where the funding levels of the BRIC countries is simply not available, temporary overlay, including such innovations as collapsible 50 meter training pools, all help to save cost. The other new area in focus is Green Technology and the need to reduce the carbon footprint. I believe London 2012 will be the case study for both temporary overlay and sustainability for a very long time where great care has been taken in both areas. The challenge now is to get future host cities to recognise the long–term legacy benefits of getting this right. Another way to look at trends is perhaps what is not happening and one area where this may apply is new media. This is largely as a result of complexity due to the protection of rights holders. The explosion of new media and camera phones where ambush marketing is a major risk presents some real challenges for event organisers. The inevitable media attention of these events will also drive new security requirements and Rapiscan Systems and Honeywell were both involved right from the beginning in protecting the London 2012 construction site so security planners are now recognising the need to provide capability right from the start, years before the main event. In terms of stakeholder engagement, the issues above can sometimes extend well beyond the role of the organising committee which is simply trying to stage a successful, enjoyable event within an agreed budget. City authorities in Brazil are actively engaged in the 12 FIFA World Cup Cities and without their support and ability to coordinate all the key agencies in the early days, the events would fail to deliver on expectations. Airports, transport, hotels and the whole visitor experience are an integral part of supporting the organising committees. Do you have any specific tools that you use to plan events? Our Major Events Business Group provides a multi–sector business community of outstanding companies who are prepared to collaborate to both win business and provide one point of contact for Bid and Host cities. The London–based model is being integrated into the new Brazil group to create what is understood to be a totally unique and highly innovative model. Here the major deliverable is business related market information about procurement, potential partners, accurate and pragmatic briefings and meeting key stakeholders in a trusted environment. This virtual form of a centre of excellence will gather knowledge of lessons learned from the past, international best practice, and provide a mentoring and support structure to help companies of all sizes succeed in these dynamic markets. We remind ourselves that in most cases, personnel responsible for the wider capabilities outlined in my comments find it is no simple challenge. This is a first for them; intense, complex, multiple procurement programmes, on an unprecedented scale, in the media spotlight and to fixed deadlines. So MEI's message regarding all tools and approaches which help the organisers is we want to know about it and help get them used. Can an event be run in a modular way? Is there really a one–size fits all solution? The extreme answer to this, if the temporary overlay message was taken literally, would appear to be yes in terms of physical structures. Clearly when it comes to cultural issues, training needs, security and logistics etc, the answer is no. Where we do see a move to more of a modular approach will be when the knowledge databases of best practice and cost awareness are fully mature. However, would we want this? Probably not. Avoiding the not another shopping centre syndrome must be key for a great visitor experience. When should cities start building infrastructure for an event (ie should this be considered during the bidding process)? How early should they ideally start planning an event? Taking London again as an example, it need an Olympic sized pool and Velodrome anyway and the same is proving to be true in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games 2014 and I see this trend increasing. In fact, on the back of its pre–investment, Glasgow has already secured its first World Championship before it host its Games. Sochi is another example where the new ski–resort would have been built even if the city had not won the bid. So yes, the trend will increase and it has a more subtle benefit of taking some of the pressure off the final stages of the construction phase and to test delivery processes and skills. Start how early? Very early, as early as you can. How should cities deal with politics and egos in the planning process (ie how to best manage the various stakeholders)? Somewhat alarmingly, the number of key officials who start Games preparations and are still there at the end is very low. Frankly it is not surprising. Many of the agencies involved have never worked together in such a time–driven environment and where they are effectively forced to work together. The first key step is therefore to map out the roles and responsibilities for the organisational entities and decide what is in and out of scope for each entity. In London, the delivery model was to form the Olympic Delivery Authority which then went out to competition for the Programme Management role won by a consortium of companies. In Brazil, the approach is to form an expanded mandate ODA (called the APO), but typically government departments will deliver the capability almost as business as usual. The roles of the Organising committees tend to be very well defined and uncontentious but suffer from effectively forming a brand new organisation, staffed by a large number of I have done it before consultants, but necessarily people who have worked together. I often equate this to forming a new company of medium size, with no corporate culture, business processes, IT systems and therefore this is a major challenge. The second step is to mobilise very early and regrettably this is one of the biggest mistakes made – leaving less time for planning than should be the case. This immediately puts key staff under pressure and causes the blame culture to kick in. The third step to help mitigate these challenges is the production of the master procurement plan and a Roles and Responsibilities Matrix under pinning it. With a simple Risks and Opportunities register, these documents provide everybody with a single view of the world and the process of production alone will help build relationships. This should be examined by organisations like MEI who can provide an external view and removed from any political in–fighting. The fourth step is engagement with industry. There is a tendency to see all companies in the early days and then rapidly close the door when host cities get overloaded. This creates tensions and turns off a supply of expertise who are often very willing to help key departments. This leads to a them and us attitude and often is reflected in negative press attention, which in turn has consequences for the blame culture. So the messages are to start thinking about all of this early, and to engage with industry in a way where best practice can be shared but in an appropriate environment and in a time effective way. This is exactly why we are establishing the Major Events Business Group for companies in Brazil. What sorts of things can go wrong when it comes to planning an event and how can you best manage them? Other than factors which can often be out of the organisers direct control such as weather, strikes and protests, failure of key infrastructure etc, there are some often repeated challenges which I believe can be avoided. The first has to be around all issues transportation and movement of people. Atlanta Games is remembered not for the small bomb which went off in the Park, but the effectiveness of transport. The opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup showed the challenges of getting people into the stadium in time for what was a highly sought after occasion. The second point is about ticketing and filling venues. Making sure that that the price–point is right is obviously important but trying to ensure the stadiums are kept full requires some elegant solutions and technology has a key role to play in allowing tickets to be re–sold. The third point is not necessarily whether something has gone wrong but the perceptions of the media. Media need access to good information, the right facilities and good access to meet their aims. Organisers ignore this point at their peril. In terms of mitigating both the unforeseen challenges and the three points above, I can only give two bits of advice. One is detailed planning, obviously, and the second is the need for very detailed table–top exercises which are the first lessons learned stages prior to full test events. These exercise show where there are gaps in doctrine in terms of different words meaning different things to different people, communication systems, processes and again roles and responsibilities. With different scenarios in place, at least the organisers will have done as much as possible to reduce the risk of things going wrong and be seen to have done so. Finally, what are the essential/must–have elements when it comes to the successful planning and running of an event? This can be summarised as: the right people, in the right roles, in an appropriate organisational structure which sits within a clearly defined planning and delivery framework. If the right procurement strategy is in place, and appropriate engagement with experienced event delivery companies, scenarios are tested and lessons learned, thereafter you can only rely on the nimbleness of people and agencies to respond to the unexpected on the day. Thankfully those involved in this market are can–do people and most event challenges go unnoticed. I will finish by saying that despite all these potential challenges, it is a great market to be in and given the increasing media attention and visitor experience expectations, getting the basics right will help reduce many concerns.

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