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The Secret Exhibitionist: Trading Places

by Nicola Macdonald

Anonymous industry commentator The Secret Exhibitionist asks, are some people successful purely because they work on a successful brand? 

We’ve all seen the film, right?

Eddie Murphy plays the homeless street hustler transported into the world of Wall Street commodities trading, all at the whim of a one-dollar bet orchestrated by two elderly scheming multimillionaires who are gambling on the fact that Murphy, a man with no money, experience or relevant skills could do the job of their accomplished Managing Director. Yes, you’ve seen it (and if you haven’t please dig it out as it’s one of Hollywood’s finest feel-good Christmas movies) but what’s the relevance to our industry? Well, here’s my thinking…

Over the past few weeks and months I’ve started to notice more and more ex-colleagues, suppliers, idiots who turn up at any industry bash etc. who have popped up on LinkedIn or on other social media channels regaling us with news of their latest promotion or the success of their recent event or project. We’ve all been there, causally scrolling though the feeds and suddenly seeing one of these stories, the eyebrow begins to raise and under your breath you utter “Christ…he/she was absolutely bloody useless and now they are celebrating another promotion and have a team of 30 under them”.

You feel physically nauseous as you read that this person is now global MD at their latest company yet when you worked with them they could barely make a cup of tea or sharpen a pencil, and that leads me to the big question; could you take someone with no experience, no prior knowledge of the events sector and put them in a position of authority and see if the success of that exhibition, venue or project remained unchanged by the new recruit? I genuinely believe you could – honestly, think about it.

Ok, the person would have to have adequate social skills but even that’s not a pre-requisite (I know plenty of people in the industry who can’t even look someone in the eye, let alone lead a strategy plan), it’s simply because some organisations really don’t need that person in that chair – things would still work out just fine, because the momentum is there, their role is irrelevant but companies feel that they need to have the quota of staff and the titles to go with it. I reckon my tortoise could do as good a job as some of these people that I’ve seen collecting awards.

Ok, let’s take the exhibition sector, we all know events that are on that are cash-cows (or as someone once described them to me, “3M’s”; Money Making Machines) and that whatever happens, whatever marketing material you come up with, whatever sales lead strategy you embark on, whatever clever widgets you add to your website the show is going to succeed. If you did nothing – genuinely did nothing – the show would hit targets. You know it, I know it.

If this sounds a bit unfair and a bit cynical you may be right (and someone has come up with the concept, the acquisition, the strategy in the first place –these aren’t the people I’m talking about), but take a look around you – that person who you know isn’t worth the cost of the seat they occupy, could they be replaced? Do they genuinely bring anything to the business or are they just riding the coat-tails of the success of the brand they work on? And then think about who could replace them, would you be willing to take their job and give it to the guy who sits on the pavement outside Sainsbury’s and asks for spare change? Go on, think about it…I bet it changes your perception of your colleagues, your workload, their workload and the project/show/conference you are currently working on.

We’ve got a lot of amazing people in our industry but we’ve also got a load of dross, the mediocre execs who have risen up the ranks because they do the basics, don’t rock the boat and happen to work on a successful brand. I bet if you were brave enough you’d give that checkout girl at Aldi a chance and she’d do as good as or a better job. Go on, I bet you. How about one dollar says I’m right?

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