Here’s a conundrum: I keep hearing company heads bemoaning the shortage of creative talent, and yet according to the statistics, there are more event management graduates than ever before. So, is the next generation of events innovators falling into a black hole?
Even discounting the hordes of students who are busy carving out careers as wedding planners, there’s got to be a steady influx of new blood into our side of the industry. What’s happening to all the young visionaries and bold disruptors?
I was chewing this over with my boss the other day and he believes lots of the young creatives are being poached by companies in Germany and Holland. While the UK has been polishing its trophy as the global leader in event production, it looks like other countries have caught up, if not overtaken us.
The US has been buying our expertise since the recession started to bite and Berlin and Rotterdam have become the latest European meccas for creative talent. Unable to afford living in London, millennials are being lured overseas.
But there could be another reason. Warming to one of his favourite themes, the boss started drawing parallels with the advertising industry of 30 years ago. Obviously, I was in short trousers at the time… but he reckons that the events industry is now undergoing a rerun of what happened to the ad business in the eighties.
Pumped-up by their huge success in the Mad Men era, the big agencies attracted the attention of the city investors, who bought into, and gained control of, the most profitable businesses. And, not trusting the incumbent directors to maximise profit, they installed their own accountants. Suddenly, creativity came under the baleful eye of the cost-controllers.
In just a few years, the ad industry was all but destroyed. Agencies had completely lost the plot in terms of creative output. Not surprisingly, the creatives got frustrated and drifted away – and the industry never recovered.
You’ll be wondering what all this has to do with the events industry in 2018. Well, aren’t we all under pressure to compromise on price? Corner-cutting is considered smart economy by procurement departments hell-bent on driving down costs.
And in our universe, creative thinking extends way beyond conceptual design. It’s essential right the way through the supply chain. Increasingly ambitious, immersive events demand more sophisticated equipment, complex staging and production techniques.
The installation of a giant LED screen in the shape of an eye, a dynamic light wall or even the blanket ban of plastic from a festival site all require vision, imagination and the healthy appetite for a challenge.
Of course, we’re not doing ourselves any favours by habitually talking about event “delivery” – as if all the ingredients for a life-changing experience fly off a shelf in a warehouse and magically synchronise themselves into a show without any kind of human intervention. The reality is that every day people are coming up against issues and obstructions and having to devise clever solutions to make the impossible happen.
In spite of which, as soon as clients ask event companies to shave a bit more off the budget, the account managers meekly cave in, eroding their margin because they’re terrified of being undercut by competitors. But what chance do we have of producing ground-breaking ideas and pioneering technologies when we’ve been told to innovate on a shoestring?
Of course, there are brilliant creatives in our industry – but a lot of the ones I meet have grown-up kids of their own and are beginning to think about succession planning. Which may be what has prompted these conversations about the talent drought in the first place.
Ever the optimist, I’ve got my hopes set on Brexit. Yes really. Depending on how difficult it will be for UK nationals to retain residence rights in Europe after 2019, there’s a slender chance we may get some of our own young British artists back from Berlin. Fingers crossed.