Innov8 – Events, Conferences and 350,000 Attendees – An Interview with James Caldwell

Formed in 2010, innov8 Conference Services have now assisted 100’s of International and National Conferences, Events and Exhibitions with over 350,000 attendees from over 90 different countries around the world.

James Caldwell Innov8

North West Business Life meet director and founder James Caldwell to chat about Innov8, events and the changes over the next 5-10 years

1. Innov8 Conference Services was formed in 2010. Give us a potted history so our readers know a little more about you?
Myself and Emma started innov8 back in 2010 during the recession, we both came to a point in our careers where we wanted to take the next step up as a Director but also to be 100% in control of the decision making process. We decided quite early doors what type of company we wanted to create and what type of ethos we wanted it to have, more so out of the mistakes we had seen in our previous companies. We had early success which helped define us, a lot of companies put their faith in ourselves as people and in time that grew to trust in innov8. We’ve took a lot of risks in that time, going for the biggest events, and also creating and financing Conferences and Exhibitions which not many companies were doing until the market stabilised.

2. What made you decide to launch an events company? Did you see other companies were doing it wrong or was it just a passion for people?
I think I’ve always been in that mind-set that I was always going to be a Director or an Owner of a company as I hold quite strong opinions, some would just say I’m stubborn. There is a lot wrong with the events industry, the whole professionalism of our industry is chaotic at times, anyone call themselves and event organiser with absolutely no experience or credibility. We knew there were a lot of companies who were looking for professionals who could be a lot more flexible around their needs, that helped us when we launched as we already had a client base where we knew we solved their problems. Ultimately if you’re throwing yourselves out there, you need to be pretty confident that you have skills and talents that people will pay for. I think both Emma and I was convinced early that we could build a team of event professionals who could really be successful.

3. A recent survey by Careercast ranked a career as an event coordinator is the fifth most stressful of 2016. The only jobs ranked more stressful than an event coordinator were military personnel, fire fighter, airline pilot and police officer. Is it really that stressful?
Ha, depends on what team you’re working for! I’ve got to be honest and say my work life is pretty relaxed, the office is not a stressful place, sure there are times in the run up to events that things can get pretty heated but I wouldn’t say things get that stressful. We have an open door policy to the office, where suppliers and clients are welcome at any time, you will often find the office dog playing Football with the team and we have rules to ensure that the team enjoy their job rather than just sit at their desk hammering everything out. Simple things like we all have lunch together every day, flexible working and a “non-corporate” approach to work in general. You sometimes find that offices are designed and ran in all the same way because that’s how people think an office should be. If an event’s organiser is getting that stressed out over their job then something is going wrong with the event, as the success of an event is based on the years of planning rather than what you do on the actual day.

4. Is there such a thing as an average day in the life of an events company?
Not really, it would get pretty boring if it was. You’re often problem solving, looking across multiple issues and constantly preparing for an event that might be years in the future. Those events are often very different maybe attendees to a World Medical Congress to one events and a local Business Exhibition the next hour. You have to be flexible in your approach to client needs, and therefore you can’t get stuck into a process whereby you are that structured that you can’t adapt to change. I think one of the big feedback points from the guys in the team is they really like the variation in their roles, they are all professionals but never stuck on one aspect of a project (registration/ web-design/ project planning) for a full week.

5. You run events and conferences for other businesses and also your own events – Any preferences?
I think it’s always nice to create something, so when you create a new event from scratch and make a huge success out of it, there is a great feeling that you are good at what you do. The best ones though are when you can do that for a client, when you can help and support them to create or change an event to be a huge success. There are not many agencies out there who can do that, so we know when we are successful with those events that clients really appreciate it.

Innov8 Events and Conferences
6. Events are a great way for a business to get noticed. Any tips for small businesses running their own events and at what stage should they bring in professionals such as yourselves?
Think about why you are holding the event in the first place, each event should have a clearly defined objective. Anything that does not help achieve that objective is a nicety and therefore can be removed and replaced with something that helps achieve your objective. Try and write a one-line sentence that clearly defines the event and what it will achieve, for example “The Cheshire Business Expo is designed to help connect the local businesses with new clients, suppliers and partners.” It then drives your thoughts moving forward, looking at your venue does it help or hinder that process, looking at the way you layout the floorplan does it help people network?

7. We both know from networking there are people who will only turn up at free events. What do you feel they are missing out on from paid for larger events?
I think there is a temptation that when you attend a free event, that you can get the same value as the paid for events. My personal belief is that as long as the event is supporting you or your business that you should attend it. For example we have a Sales Conversion Conference in March, which whilst it’s a low fee, there is a cost to attend as a delegate. Therefore there is a greater expectation on us as a Conference organiser to really put some unique and valuable content out there. It’s very hard to get unique content for Free Seminars and Workshops, whereas at paid for Conferences you know you have to provide something that people cannot just “Google” or pick up for free elsewhere.

8. Running lots of events you’re used to a lot of networking opportunities. What are the biggest networking mistakes most businesses make and what is your biggest networking tip for a business attending an event?
Firstly the whole ROI debate (return on investment), it’s a buzz word that crept into networking a few years ago. Catching up with colleagues, peers and clients should be a part of what we do as people, trying to put a financial value on that is pretty silly. You’re there to meet people, sure we all have work to do, but at the end of the day if you’re only looking for a quick sale then that’s going to become really apparent quite soon. Trust takes a long time to build, I don’t give people my business overnight, I prefer to work with people I know and trust.
Secondly thinking that networking isn’t work, the number of times I’ve finished having a chat with someone only for them to turn around and say “right, I’m off to do some real work now,” basically you’re saying that there was no value in talking to people you met today.

9. We’ve spoken at a number of your events. If someone was looking to speak at your events in the future – what are you looking for?
Stay on topic, stay on time and stay relevant to your audience. Most of the time the complaints from delegates come that the speaker went over time, it’s not fair to the event or the delegates who have a packed day and you’ve took 20 minutes off their lunch. Speakers should also make sure that they deliver what they said they would, if you advertise a talk on Social Media and spend 20 minutes talking about something else, its false advertising and again delegates get really upset about it.

The big one though is not selling through the stage, no one comes to a free seminar to be pressured into buying a Podcast or a Training Course. If you want delegates to hook up and check your company up afterwards, a simply postcard or business card with your website will suffice and focus on getting your seminar right.

Innov8 Events and Conferences

10. One of your Flagship events, The Social Media Conference in Manchester, is coming into it’s 3rd year now. How has Social Media changed the events industry?
Its not really changed it per-say, its added a new dimension to how you communicate with attendees and how you market your event to those who are interested in your content. I think there is a perception that Social Media is something that is different to marketing or other parts of your comms strategy, I don’t see it as that. It should sit in with it as a new way to engage your audience, but part of your overall strategy. Social Media should really sit alongside other elements of your web, e-comms and digital strategy to provide that one brand perception and its up to your attendees to find the place they are most comfortable to communicate with you.

11. You streamed the recent Social Media Conference online – how do you see events changing in the future. Will virtual ever take over being there in person in years to come?
I doubt it, there was a big fanfare over Video Conferencing 10 years ago when tech companies were trying to convince us all to spend £10,000 on big plasma’s and camera equipment. It never really took off as the technology got cheaper and all of a sudden the camera’s on our smart phones got more sophisticated. I think a lot of the real-time events have not changed in 50 years, its about refining that process and using technology when it can help improve that return on investment. You mention the Social Media Conference’s online presence, its an audience that is massively on tablets and mobile devices, therefore we needed a website and strategy that focussed on those platforms. On the day, we used Twitter Walls and Social Interaction Strategies to engage with delegates but it was about being relevant to that audience. There is a big thing about Hybrid Events at the moment, events which are streamed online in real-time, but there
are still a lot of questions on the technology that have not been solved.

12. What do you feel are the biggest changes to the events industry in the next 5-10 years?
More of a personal opinion this, but my biggest concern is how do the professionals mark themselves out in such a complex industry. I don’t think innov8 is the only company with this issue, there are a lot of very good Conference and Events agencies which struggle in this way. Myself, I’m a member of the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers, there are only 50 members in the UK as you have to hold a lot of experience in the industry but companies need to see the value in our standards. There are some fantastic event organisers out there, some we compete with, some we collaborate with but sometimes you see an event getting organised by a company which doesn’t have the experience necessary and it damages the event industry as a whole when it goes wrong.

13. Any unfulfilled ambitions you still have to reach?
I think a lot of us when we were younger think of really outlandish amazing things that we want to achieve, fast cars, big companies lots of money. My ambitions are pretty simple, a company which is both ethical and professional, a team of people who enjoy coming to work on a Monday morning and clients who enjoy working with us and see the value in what we bring to their events.

14. Finally – what is your biggest business tip that helped you grow Innov8?
Keep learning, every day. If I could go back 5 years I would make so many changes, a more modern CRM system, a better accountancy system, I would probably have gone for a different office setup than I did originally. Allow yourself to make mistakes, but learn from them and adapt for the future. No matter how experienced you are, you need to learn more and keep your company moving forward despite setbacks. You need to open yourself out to new thoughts and processes, often you find yourself doing things like everyone else does. Sometimes it good to sit back and look at what you’re doing and ask the question: “Are you doing it this way because it’s the best way, or because it’s the way that everyone else does it.” Often you can find inspiration from other industries and roles to find a better solution to a problem, but you have to be open to new ideas first.

For more info on Innov8 Conference Services look here and for real time updates follow on Twitter @innov8_conf

Interviewed by Alex McCann at – follow on twitter @altrinchamhq

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About the Author

Alex McCann

Alex McCann runs Altrincham HQ - a Social Media Marketing company with 100+ recommendations on Linkedin and ranked Number 1 for Social Media Marketing in the UK on Freeindex

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