Newsquest’s corporate planner on navigating new event trends

Lara Owen Reporter, C&IT
Newsquest’s corporate planner on navigating new event trends

Senior Event Manager at Newsquest Media Group discusses experiential trends, sustainable solutions and the tests of planning overseas.

Having studied event management at university, Stephen Laughlin was always drawn to the exhilarating world of events, “I realised being able to take control of designing, planning and managing events was a great way to unleash my creative flair. The constant innovation within the industry ensures that each project I work on is uniquely challenging, encourages ingenuity and allows me to continue to open doors to new connections within the event industry.”

the chance to connect with a diverse range of individuals and build long lasting, valuable relationships across many sectors is a reason why I love working in events

Initially drawn to the rapid character of the events industry, Laughlin was keen to delve further, “the news and media industry has a very fast paced nature, no two days are the same and news across the world is constantly changing, that’s why I was drawn to Newsquest. It allows me to really challenge my skills while having the chance to be creative and deliver events under numerous major news brands.”

Branding the events industry as a hub for “team collaboration, creativity, challenges and networking opportunities” Laughlin pinned it’s value on the point of connection, “the chance to connect with a diverse range of individuals and build long lasting, valuable relationships across many sectors is another reason why I love working in events.” 

The triumphs and trials of planning overseas 

Of course, an industry as dynamic as events does not come without its challenges, “planning events internationally in North America, while being desk based within the UK, has definitely been a new hurdle to overcome. 

“In my previous role, many of our events were hosted internationally due to our client base, which came with many challenges. Sourcing a venue within the US, from a UK planner perspective was challenging, especially when planning with only photographs and floor plans having not carried out a site inspection due to distance and travel.”

Planning abroad not only brings about issues of time zones, but laws and cultures can greatly affect the planning process, states Laughlin, “their state taxes for F&B costs, the general state taxes which are added on afterwards as well as managing an event budget with currency exchange involved and exchange rates changing daily. 

“Planning an event in a venue you’ve never physically stepped foot in is daunting, especially when looking at branding opportunities, staging, travel for delegates etc. It's also challenging to source suppliers, event hosts, entertainment and caterers, especially when going in blindfolded. Albeit it was a massive challenge, it really helped me develop many skills and build many contacts.”

In contrast, there are highs that stand out for Laughlin, “my most favourite event in the UK has been producing the prestigious ‘The Herald Property Awards for Scotland’ which honours the achievements of Scotland’s most innovative and successful home and commercial builders, developers, agents, interior designers and more. 

“The event runs under the world’s oldest, longest running national newspaper, The Herald and awards programme has been running for 16 years. The event has grown from strength to strength and is always very exciting to plan. 

“Producing the event comes with many challenges such as directing a panel of expert judges up and down the country to carry out site visits to whittling down the shortlist and also working with a wide range of sponsors and partners. It does, however, give me the chance to be creative with the design work for the venue, content on the night and marketing of the awards programme – and of course another exciting part is getting an insight into some of the most amazing, show stopping houses in the country.”

How corporate event planners negotiate sustainability

An ongoing challenge for all planners, unlikely to diminish anytime soon, is that of sustainability. For Laughlin, “sustainability awareness plays a massive factor in event production as we become more and more aware of the impact events can have on the environment. An element that often goes overlooked is sound and lighting production uses massive amounts of energy and transferring to renewable sources is a challenge not only as a planner but also for venue managers, that we all face as an industry daily.

“Obviously, transport and travel emissions are another challenge for the industry. One positive outcome of the pandemic was accelerating the need for virtual/hybrid events especially when delivering international events. 

"Air and road travel has a big impact on the environment and hosting hybrid events not only reduces the need for travel but also allows us, as planners, to expand our audience reach much further afield. As an events professional I always consciously look at options to partner with local, national and international public transport providers to offer discounted rates on travel to major event hubs/venues which in turn encourages more people to use their services, reduces pollution and helps save on costs. 

“We have a long way to go, but we’re already on our way to producing more sustainable, environmentally friendly events.”

Current trends in the corporate event space 

Laughlin dove into the growing trends he’s seeing in the corporate event space, “one we’re seeing is that ‘experiential’ events now lead the way. Gone are the days where people felt they had to attend events to absorb content within a specific field. Event attendees want to feel as though they’ve taken something away from an event so it’s not just another ‘day out of the office’ which is why it's important for planners to consider what experiences should be featured at events while meeting the needs of clients and attendees. 

People won’t remember your centrepiece, but they will remember the experiences they encountered.

“Expo’s have always been a huge way of generating leads, building connections and selling products/services; however nobody attends an exhibition to complete a booking form and sign a contract. Many are now simply looking for ideas, inspiration and to meet new people. Implementing experiences into an event is a great way to generate leads while building a relationship with someone and leaving a lasting impact on their experience of meeting you. 

Laughlin concluded, “There is a massive pool of experiential providers and many experiences you can implement into an event to make it memorable and it can be as simple as a 360 camera booth, branded edible products, photo boxes, lock boxes to win prizes (a great way to capture data) and many more. People won’t remember your centrepiece, but they will remember the experiences they encountered.”