EN editor Saul Leese kicks-off a new series of interviews, starting with CloserStill Media’s (CSM) operations director, Julia Danmeri, to try and understand the daily challenges that operations teams face across the exhibition industry.
Danmeri has a strong history in operations and has been at CSM for nine years. Before that, she worked for four years at Emap and UBM respectively. She stumbled on events after working for a year in the Dominican Republic and returned almost penniless, and sent her CV to just about anyone that may consider taking her. Office Angels got her an interview with EMAP in Croydon, and the rest is history.
What are the top ten challenges people working in ops face?
Budgets: We’re responsible for a significant proportion of the event budgets so we’re under constant pressure to keep costs as low as possible, in order to improve profitability whilst also delivering good quality events. It can be difficult to strike a balance and also achieve a good result for all parties. It does, however, encourage creativity as you have to think about a feature, floorplan, etc. designs in order to manage budget constraints.
Sustainability: There is a struggle between sustainability versus cost. It seems to cost money to save the planet! At times, few green alternatives exist, and it can be difficult to afford the greener alternatives even when they are available. However, this also encourages creativity, e.g. you have to plan on reusing kit where possible.
Managing show teams: Operations is the link between all departments as well as exhibitors, and it can be challenging to juggle everyone, and extract the information you need, as well as managing expectations. You have to adapt depending on who you’re dealing with in order to get the best out of people. Operations are known for being patient, understanding and rational, which can sometimes be challenging, especially when you’re under pressure yourself. You also need to make sure you are regarded as part of the core team and not just a support function.
Well-being: The hours are long and pressures are high in the run up to any event, particularly when juggling multiple events. It’s important to find the balance between getting the shows done without pushing yourself over the edge. Ops aren’t typically great at taking sick days when they should as there’s a real attitude of the show must go on, but looking after your health is important as is work/life balance.
Exhibitor journey: Exhibitor contact with ops normally intensifies a few weeks pre-show which is an incredibly short timeline, and makes it difficult to provide the quality of customer service you want. How do you engage them earlier and encourage them to submit all necessary paperwork within deadlines? It’s important to ensure we’re abreast of technology as advances can make
the exhibitor experience more user friendly and streamline services.
Tenancies: Making the most of the time we can afford and ensuring we manage the space safely and effectively. It’s always been a challenge balancing the time contractors say they need versus time the venue has available versus budget constraints.
Integrating new show teams: It’s important to ensure that teams that come with acquisitions are integrated fully into the team to ensure we are all following the same processes where necessary and that our standard working practices are adhered to without becoming onerous for the country we’re working in e.g. H&S paperwork requirements vary from country to country.
Problem solving on the go: We manage a lot of people onsite so it can be hard to keep track of last-minute onsite requests let alone dealing with any crises/issues that arise in enough time to get them resolved.
Staff: It can be difficult to find good quality staff with the correct experience as well as the language knowledge that you require. You often have to compromise between knowledge and language skills.
Supplier sourcing: When launching new events outside the UK it can be difficult to find good quality, reliable and customer friendly suppliers who offer the right prices. Ideally, the suppliers need to be local as they have a better knowledge of the venue and country operations, as well as speaking the local language. However, they’re not tried and tested, so it can sometimes be a risk.
The April issue of EN will cover operational budgets, with ideas that will make life easier for everyone working in operations.