I joined the emerging events industry as a callow youth back in 1977. Of course, the technology was very different then.
PowerPoint was barely a glimmer in Bill Gate’s eye. Slides were king, needing truckloads of technology to make them dance. Conferences were the next big thing, and the usual measure of ROI was, ‘Did everything work?’
The client was generally the head of sales or marketing, or maybe the MD. Budgets were flexible and were often agreed on a handshake.
As clients have become much more professional in their approach to staff communications, we’ve become much more sophisticated in the way we approach our business. It seems hard to believe that most corporates didn’t have a comms department. We recognise that the message, style and tone of voice need much more thought in order to pay their way.
The power of the internet now means that almost everyone can find suppliers of what used to be specialist services, from A/V to Zither players. Back in the day, unscrupulous event suppliers could add a juicy ‘commission’ to their third-party costs. However, professional procurement means that clients only want to pay for added value, and who can blame them.
All of this means that we’ve evolved in the way that we support our clients. We have to ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’, as we don’t want to be responsible for an additional cost that had no impact on the business. Better to spend the budget on refurbing the staff canteen than a meaningless conference with dry ice and laser beams that doesn’t improve the bottom line.
In order to make a living, we have to ensure that every minute of our time can be justified, and keep a precise account of every sandwich on the crew lunch table. Funny thing is, that’s exactly what we expect our suppliers to do. Although some of us were nervous about transparency, it’s actually been a really positive experience all round.
I’ve also witnessed a staggering growth in the channels available to communicators. There was a time when if the CEO wanted to communicate via video, you’d set up a big screen with rows of chairs, a sound system, maybe some lights and – hey! let’s make it a conference. Nowadays, we can stream prerecorded or live video worldwide, or build it into an effective intranet site with interactive functionality. (Try doing that with a VHS tape!)
The good news is that Outlook have teams who completely master the worlds of video and digital technology, enabling us to keep ahead of the game and ensure that all clients are using the best approach to maximise their ROI.
I can’t deny that I still have a sentimental urge to see a hair flickering in the corner of a slide. But I take enormous pride in the fact that we still apply the same creativity and energy as we always did. And our clients are communicating in a much better way than ever.