A Tale of Two Elections and an Important Events Industry

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Its Former Sponsor Virgin Bank

Professor Joe Goldblatt

When former United Kingdom Prime Minister Harold MacMillan was asked by a journalist what he believed was the single greatest threat to his premiership he famously said “Events dear boy, events.” And so it is today as two countries, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, conduct national elections and the candidates rarely mention the importance of live events to their nation’s economies.

In a review of the manifestos (political platforms) of three of the major United Kingdom political parties, future support for the events industry is never once overtly imbedded in their promises to the electorate. I believe this is because as the late American comedian Red Skelton privately once told me when I produced National Mime Week in Washington DC in the 1970’s, “Events are dangerous. They threaten power.”

As a part of the tourism industry you will also note in both the historic as well as current US and UK electoral proposals that candidates rarely mention the important economic value of this field that is so closely related to live events such as the upcoming Los Angeles Olympic Games, meetings, conferences, and exhibitions, and social familial events such as family reunions and weddings. This is because the average voter often primarily connects tourism with negative images including such as lack of public parking, increased air pollution, and overcrowding. The postive aspects such as increased economic injection within local economies, increased employment, and the overall positive image of the destination that is linked to economic and social development is rarely highlighted. It seems that politicians, their pollsters, and advisors may be asking “Why should we stir up the locals and risk losing the race?”

Perhaps this is why during my 47 year teaching career I often encouraged my students to not only vote but to also become active in political causes that they believe in and if possible, to even stand for public office. I served as a local elected advisory neighbourhood commissioner in the 1970’s in Washington DC and although I was in my early twenties I greatly enjoyed helping my local community with issues such as improving parking, reducing crime, and wait for this … providing greater funding for local live events.

Therefore, I am hopeful that due to the intensity of media coverage of the elections in both the US and UK that more young people may now be tempted to become more engaged with the issues, causes, and campaigns they believe are important to the future of their country. From environmental sustainability to sustainable funding for arts and culture, there are innumerable opportunities for today’s young people to help shape the decisions that will impact their lives for many years into the future.

Often times in the twenty – first century this engagement by special and single interest groups has led to the deplatforming (defunding) of sponsors. Most recently this has included the current controversy in the UK with a large financial investment firm whom environmental activists believe should not have their funds sponsor events due to their controversial environmental investment strategies. This has led to some events “pausing” their relationship with these companies. Regrettably, this single issue, risks increasing the financial and reputational fragility of future opportunities for sponsorships in the already precariously underfunded events industry. As MacMillan noted, events and politics are closely interwoven.

In the 1980’s the International Special Events Society (ISES) of which I was the founding president and is now known as the International Live Events Association (ILEA), conducted its first Conference for Professional Development in Atlanta, Georgia. It was also held during the summer before the US Presidential election when the two national candidates were Ronald Reagan (Republican) and Michael Dukakis (Democrat). We invited representatives from each of the two national campaigns to address our 300 attendees at one of the luncheons and when a straw poll vote was taken at the end of their pitches Reagan won by an overwhelming percentage. He also won by an even larger percentage the general election a few months later. The sense among the professional event makers at that early conference conducted at the start of an emerging industry was that Reagan was more likely, based upon his previous term as President, to set an positive example for producing lavish, high quality, and expensive events, and therefore would the encourage overall growth in the sector.

Now the choice is much more complex. In the UK we have recent examples of political leadership that conducted illegal events during a deadly global pandemic where even the Prime Minister partied whilst his citizens could not visit their dying loved ones in care homes. In the US we have a former President who is also the presumptive future Presidential candidate who recently received felony convictions from a jury that involved activities with a porn star. Both in the UK and US, hospitality events have played a major role in the public perception of these candidates

However, within other political parties, if you look more deeply, you also may find rhetoric and promises related to controlling immigration, reducing negative environmental impacts, and of course, for many, the big one which is creating measures to reduce the cost of living crisis in both countries and through foreign aid, around the world.

The question I shall be asking when I go to the poll to cast my vote (and I am able to vote in both the US and the UK) is simply this, if there were another global crisis, then “which adults do I want to be in charge”? As seen from the previous global pandemic and the disastrous way many pseudo – leaders dealt with the public health catastrophe, I wish to avoid this from happening again. Once I get past this threshold in terms of determining who receives my votes, I can then turn my attention to whom I believe has the best ideas and policies in terms of helping grow the events industry as well as society in general.

However, as you may imagine, an individual who understands the importance of strategy, exemplifies strong leadership, appoints and effectively supervises talented people, shows compassion, demonstrates financial security, understands the importance of environmental sustainbility and possess other other key skills is also someone who is often in charge of leading both minor and major events. Perhaps this time we should use this test when evaluating candidates and seek to elect an event leader whose future actions in times of crisis will encompass the latin definition of event which is e – venire, meaning “outcome”.

This time I am seeking the political party and candidates whose actions (planned events) will lead to the outcomes that create a better world for all of us. After all, if as MacMillan stated it is events themselves that are the most critical aspect of governing, then now is not the time to avoid at all costs being the victim of future events and rather elect talented individuals with integrity who have mastered the art and science of event leadership so that all of us will benefit with better outcomes in the future.

And remember to vote and encourage others to join you!

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Events Management at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own. For more information about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot/blog

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