To paraphrase Aretha Franklin, behind every great event there has to be great event staff – and exhibitions are no exception. EN talks to five staffing specialists who say it’s all about the personal touch.
Q: What kind of staffing do you provide?
Jon Sigsworth (JS), MD of Gallowglass Crewing: We have a UK workforce of 600+. We train staff – through our own dedicated training company – to be qualified in a variety of technical skills to support a range of client needs. We often provide the main crew supply for all other contractors involved at a show too.
Sarah-Jane Benham (S-JB), MD of Kru Live: We provide high calibre, event savvy and authentic staffing for experiential brand activations, PR stunts, stadium hosts, conferences and awards, exhibitions and tradeshows and hospitality programmes.
Oliver Pitman (OP), founder and CEO of Pitman’s People: The Pitman’s People event staffing division specialises in supplying high calibre event staff at conferences and exhibitions; bar and hospitality; security and stewarding; event hosts; promotional PR and brand ambassadors; plus retail, pop up shops and fashion shows.
Q: How does staffing at exhibitions vary from other events?
Jez Berryman (JB), MD of Crewsaders: The key difference is probably in the lead times involved. Unlike lots of our other events exhibitions have fixed deadlines which means set ups and de-rigs run smoothly.
Wendy Hooper (WP), commercial director at Brightsparks: Exhibitions attract sector-specific consumers. The environment is more competitive as all stands are looking to disrupt and engage with those whom are attending. The staff need to be more extrovert and competitive while ensuring they are knowledgeable about the brand/company they are working for.
JS: The long-term scheduling makes exhibition environments easier to work in than some others we’re used to, but the work is not without its time pressures.
S-JB: Exhibitions require stamina and tonnes of energy!
Q: How has staffing changed over the years?
JB: The clients expect the crew to be more skilled nowadays, it’s not just about lifting boxes. Our induction and training procedures are constantly being developed to accommodate this.
JS: Unfortunately selection has become heavily influenced by cost rather than quality. We find this surprising, given the huge sums spent on the design and build of bespoke stands. It’s not unusual for a single stand to cost in excess of £1m, so to risk damage to materials and exhibits in the hands of cheap, unskilled labour, and the subsequent cost of emergency repairs or replacement seems like false economy.
S-JB: For too long staffing has been an afterthought of events but we are now seeing more and more clients engaging with their staffing partners early to ensure they secure quality teams bespoke to their audience. Staffing has the power to influence and create memorable experiences that can be amplified way beyond the physical event space; something event organisers worldwide strive for. Compromise on the quality of your staffing and you compromise the effectiveness of your event.
WH: We are now a media savvy nation and consumers are more aware of all forms of social interaction, whether it’s via Twitter or websites. With this in mind, staff have to be more engaging and knowledgeable regarding all the touch points the brand is involved in. We hold rigorous training and ensure we monitor key traits such as communication, presentation, initiative, enthusiasm, confidence and engagement
Q: What’s the best part about working in your sector?
JS: The sense of being part of a great team all pulling together to produce an immaculate show is infectious, and the fact that people come to crewing from backgrounds as diverse as acting and sport makes for a brilliant mix of shared experience.
OP: The great people you meet, the fantastic events you get to be a part of. Its fast paced, exciting and each day is different.
JB: It’s probably a combination of the travel and the variety of work involved. You can be moving an F1 car by hand in Milton Keynes one day and setting up a wedding in an Italian castle the next.
WH: The best part of being in the industry is the fluidity and pace of the industry.
Q: Has there been an event that was particularly memorable?
WH: Rugby World Cup 2015 was one of our most challenging events. This was held over a six-week period and we provided more than 7,000 shifts across Twickenham, QE2, Wembley and the Fan zone parks. We provided staff working in area’s ranging from the President’s box serving Prince William at Twickenham through to working on a food service van for Duck Truck at the Fan zone.
JB: We did once lift a live tiger onto a stage. Fortunately it was in a box at the time.
OP: We work with a charity beating blood cancers, which is very close to our heart. Each year they have a number of events to raise valuable funds. Not only have we provided controllers and many stewards for their great sporting events, but our own head office
team were in the triathlon relays, open water swimming, running and cycling.
Q: What sets your company apart?
JB: I think it’s the fact that the crew feel invested in the success of the business. We encourage guys to see the big picture benefits of impressing clients – a happier working environment and a share in the rewards.
S-JB: We look after our people. Having worked my way from brand ambassador to MD, in just four years, I know what’s important to those representing us and our clients.
JS: It’s no coincidence that we are one of the few, if not the only, company in the events industry to have an HR director on our board. We’re committed to maximising people’s potential, not only through skills training but through behavioural development as well. By recruiting the best available people and investing in training we’re able to provide a highly motivated workforce that is skilled in a range of disciplines.
OP: Our motto is ‘Pitman’s is our name. People are our brand’, so we provide outstanding staff with great personalities and match up skillsets to our clients needs. We will place a multi-lingual crewmember for an international build or a sports fanatic for a BA position that is about fitness.
Q: How do you think the sector will change in the future?
JS: We are seeing the smart stand designers reconsidering the way they deploy their people. Historically they’ve had their own in-house teams installing stand content, but much of the installation work can be outsourced to trustworthy crew companies. We’re being asked to build more ambitious environments year-on-year, and can only expect the sector to continue moving forwards, with spend becoming more effective for exhibiting brands.
WH: My belief is the industry will become more sophisticated. It will utilise social media more to interact with delegates and customers.
S-JB: Look out for an increase in the importance placed on relevant and authentic staffing. Those that do will create more meaningful and deeper engagements. Those that empower their field teams to understand the bigger picture will flourish in 2016; the experience they create and deliver on site plays a crucial role in building a bond between a brand and consumer.
JB: The obvious answer is that administration demands will continue to increase as advanced vetting and security measures are ever more stringent. I think for us in particular technological developments mean that keeping the guys training up to date is central to continued success.
OP: The events sector is expanding still, especially the exhibition side as more companies start and grow. This means the staffing sector will follow, as there will be more great events and exhibitions that need building and staffing.