I mentioned a little while ago that James and I were running a radio conference. It was a week last Thursday and was an amazing day, delivering beyond both of our wildest expectations.
It’s the first conference that me and James have both been responsible before. We’ve been on committees for events before, but basically with those, someone else does the main bit of work. This was very different partly because we would be out of pocket if it all went wrong! Mainly for my memory, but hopefully as something helpful to others, I wanted to write up some of the things that have crossed my mind when putting it together.
The venue was at the Magic Circle in Euston. It was great. Everyone’s asked me how I found it. I think I just Googled ‘London Event Venues’ or something similar. It just stuck out and the numbers were perfect for what we hoped we would sell. They were incredibly helpful and friendly and the rooms were the perfect size for us. It was also different! We wanted to do something new – and the venue massively helped.
We used Ticketleap for the ticketing, which worked really well. Managing over 100 different transactions is difficult. TicketLeap have a great system which can use Paypal, making the whole process pretty easy. We only used about a fifth of their features, but that fifth was great. Taking credit cards, using a management service and coping with Paypal fees isn’t cheap though – around a fiver of the delegate fee goes on that, which still seems expensive to me. It’s clearly a good business to be in!
I reckon over 75% of people who went paid for themselves. We wanted to do a conference that ‘radio do-ers’ could go on and keeping the price low meant that could happen. I was really pleased to see some students/recent graduates choosing to invest in their own careers by coming along.
£99 is tight
When you’ve paid for food, venue, ticketing, printing, insurance and photography there isn’t much left out of the £99. Getting the right price for food and venue makes a significant impact on the total cost.
Our initial idea, to keep the costs low, was to have Pizza Hut pizza for everyone. We thought this would be fun and quirky! However all venues specify a caterer or selection of caterers you have to use. The lowest you can get food, some coffee breaks and the staff to serve it is £19.50/head. But that doesn’t really get you much. I met up with Simon from Squires Catering and we talked through the event and what we were after. They made some great suggestions and did a brilliant job for a good price. We’ve only heard positive things about the food, which we’re really pleased about.
Magicians are expensive
We wanted some close-up magic for the day. But not at £400/hour. We’re clearly all in the wrong business.
Producing the programme – in reality one massive PDF which was also the first outing of the Media UK radio pocketbook – was made considerably easier by quick printing turnarounds afforded to us by digital printing. The programme actually went to print on Monday morning, and was delivered on Wednesday: useful for last-minute changes! We worked with Thinkpad Print and Design to produce them, printing a few more than we needed. The costs for that, paid for by Media UK, were £5.28 an issue.
Next time. No QR codes.
You have lots of ideas when you try and do these things. Sometimes just say no. I suggested that it would be really cool to have a QR code on the delegate badges linking to that person’s contact details. It stopped being a good idea when I had to manually create them all, and then manually do all the badges. All 150 of them. The QR code was then too small for some readers. Gahhhh. The delegate badges were also actually individually printed business cards from Moo.
Most conferences ask for presentations in advance. They rarely get them. I’m useless at doing it and generally turn up with my laptop asking whether I can do it from that? We bullied all of our speakers into getting them in advance. James then imported them into Keynote. He also fixed and harmonised video, audio, imagery and aspect ratio. This meant that there was no laptop swapping and all of the AV worked pretty flawlessly over the day. It also meant that we could keep the day on time. It was a huge amount of work – but very worthwhile.
As I was explaining the day to Catherine at the Magic Circle a week before the event, the look on her face suddenly made me very worried. It did seem ridiculously ambitious – loads of short sessions and a short lunch. I had a bit of a panic we’d bitten off way more than we could chew.
Luckily there were some things that kept us completely on time all day. Firstly was, again, bullying our speakers in keeping to time and getting them to do their presentations in advance. We also had an excellent floor manager in Helen Grimes. Helen’s been a Sonys and Radio Festival producer, in addition to her regular radio job. Having an experienced person to get the speakers ready and briefed before they went on stage is massively important and she did a great job. We also had Will Jackson at the front controlling a big screen with a countdown on. As a speaker, I found this invaluable to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Not going to the audience for questions also helped massively. We curated twitter comments and added our own, but this allowed us to better manage the flow of each of the sections.
Having Ignite Jingles, the RAB, Hallett Arendt and particularly Broadcast Bionics on board really helped us to fund the day. It also meant we could afford better food and get the day filmed too.
Photography & Filming
This is expensive. We got a great deal from both of ours – Dan Smyth – for the photos and Create for the filming. It’s also good to have some people that you can provide initial direction for, and then just leave to get on with it. There’s a limited amount of things that you can actually do on the day – so having a good team doing those things was massively important.
Whilst not really being conscious of doing it, providing a strong ‘brief’ for everyone really helped. We knew what we didn’t want and we were also inspired by things like Ted – something that we could easily point to so people understood what we were after.
An Authored Event
Again, something that wasn’t apparent when we were doing it, but the event wasn’t just a branded experience – Next Radio – me and James were very much connected with it. For many of the delegates, even the ones that we didn’t know, it felt like they thought it was definitely from the two of us. Obviously on the day we were on stage a lot but also all the website material was written in a very personal way and even the email to delegates a few days before was from us personally – not the impersonal Next Radio ‘brand’.
I think this generated a significant amount of goodwill from the audience and helped the atmosphere on the day.
We looked a bit into doing a sponsored drinks thing in a nearby bar, but in the end it didn’t really come off. Instead we signposted a particular pub to go to afterwards – I was amazed how many people came along – and then stayed! It was a sunny day and a really lovely way to end it as well.
Every conference i’ve been to has been made or broken on the quality of the speakers. We picked a really great bunch. I think pretty much each session has been described to me as someone’s favourite, which is great. Also by giving them a short time to speak and by making them provide their material in advance, I think helped them be even better speakers.
It would have been nicer to have more female speakers, we had quite a few extra that we really wanted, but for a variety of reasons they couldn’t come and do the day. In fact far more women turned us down than men. Maybe we were just unlucky? Maria Williams is doing a great job with Sound Women – so hopefully this will start to change. However, what’s also interesting is how few women wanted to come along. This was an event that was really open to a broad selection of people – young/old, new/established in their careers – I really don’t know why more women didn’t want to come? It can’t all be down to the fact our speaker line-up was very male, could it?
For it to all work it’s imperative that you have good people working on it. Sharing the bulk of the work with James made it all the more manageable. I don’t think it’s something that i’d been keen to do on my own. We both had complimentary skills that helped the workload greatly. On the day as well as Helen and Will, having Joe and Luke looking after delegates and registration and then having an extra pair of hands with Dave helping with all the technology meant the key areas were covered off by people who we trusted to just sort stuff out. It was really valuable.
Overall, it was a fantastic day. We’ve had some great feedback something that’s been quite humbling. If we do it again it’s going to be hard to beat.