Fifteen years or more ago, Peter Jones remembers running an event in which 10 Harley Davidson motorcycles roared through a room as banquet staff cleared the dinner tables. Around the same time he orchestrated a person to be shot out of a cannon over guests and into a net.
At another the Electric Horseman rode through a gala dinner cracking a whip, while at another pyrotechnics were blasted indoors with debris falling into the attendees’ food.
At the time these events would have been spectacular, standout, incredible. They would have been applauded for their creativity and knocked the socks off the guests. But they were also a little bit on the edge, and in today’s wonderful world of event producing, would simply not cut the mustard without very lengthy risk assessment plans.
But rather than bemoan the current state of the nation, Peter is thankful for the increased focus on duty of care and risk analysis.
“It has actually been a good thing for the industry and it’s been a matter of educating clients and suppliers of what we as event managers need to do,” he says.
And he is not alone. One of the doyens of the events industry in Australia, Peter Rix, who now heads up George P. Johnson in Australia, fondly remembers an event he organised that involved 30 helicopters flying down Sydney Harbour with the lead helicopter carrying the new Toyota Prado.
There was a great deal more OH&S freedom to be risky in the 70s and the 80s but that life was never going to survive.
“The lead helicopter was carrying the new car which we then had to swap because the rules of the authorities was that we couldn’t carry the vehicle over the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” he recalls.
“The only rule we had was that we had to fly over water the whole time. And so when we got to the bridge the helicopter carrying the car had to peel off and we had an identical helicopter with the same car on the other side of the bridge, near to Luna Park, and it then carried the car up the river to Saint Ignasius Riverview College where we then landed the vehicle on the actual main oval of the school and two parachutists landed next to the car with a bit of pyro.
“We got away with that because in the front helicopter we had the Federal Minister for Transport who was a helicopter freak. In the modern era they would never let us have 10 helicopters in close formation let alone 30.”
WE HAVE TO BE CAREFUL WHAT WE DO BUT IF WE STOP PROVIDING THAT INVENTIVENESS NONE OF US WILL HAVE A JOB. WE GET HIRED TO BE SPECTACULAR.
Rix says that as the creator of events that his clients demand, and because of the pressures brought about by bureaucracy and occupational health and safety requirements, today’s event producer simply has to be more inventive and professional.
“Budgets and procurement means that we have to be careful what we do but if we stop providing that inventiveness none of us will have a job. We get hired to be spectacular. If you want it to be very spectacular, then take your clients to Thailand where there is absolutely no OH&S.
“We were in Cairns a couple of weeks ago for Hilux and we still managed to have a fairly spectacular couple of days for the dealer group.”
He believes that you can still get approvals for highly spectacular events but it takes time – time for rehearsals, much like a stage production such as Les Miserables would do prior to its opening. That amount of rehearsalrequires money and time, issues that corporate events simply cannot budget for.
And with the technology available today, he does not believe that is required.
“These days with LED and moving images, you can create things that really do take yourbreath away.”
“There may have been much easier rules in the past but there was nowhere near the level of professionalism in events like there is today.”
The Big Bang theory
Howard & Sons Pyrotechnics director, Andrew Howard, believes that events were not necessarily more creative but “they were sure as hell a lot easier to produce and a lot of fun to work on prior to the time that the multiple levels of government bureaucracy graced us with their presence”.
“I enjoyed working with a large event producer in Australia and internationally about 10 to 15 years ago whose motto when dealing with government departments, venue managers and anyone else who stood in the way of his ideas becoming reality by saying NO was: `It’s easier to seek forgiveness than it is to seek permission. So go do it!’
“No matter what your opinion is on today’s laws, regulations, rules and restrictions that are imposed on producing events, people’s welfare always trumps their cultural event experience.
“We all have a responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone at every stage of producing an event and I will 100 per cent support and follow the directive of any bureaucracy that actually ensures the safety of everyone working on or attending an event.
“As an event supplier always working in different venues, different outdoor event spaces, and different states/territories and even different countries my biggest gripe with today’s multiple levels of commercial and government bureaucracy is that you can pay the permit/license fees, prepare and outline an extensive written event safety manual thicker than the Encyclopaedia Brittannia that ticks all the boxes but if no one actually reads it, implements it at the event, follows the written
planned procedure if an incident occurs or a person is injured is it really worth it? No!
“So my plea to everyone in all departments working in events is: keep it real, make it real and we will all make a real difference in everyone’s event experience.”
Eugene DeVilliers from The Extra Mile Company in New Zealand says challenges of the past have been replaced by new challenges.
“There are possibly more boxes to tick nowadays but that certainly doesn’t hinder things it just means we need to be more creative with the way we facilitate them,” he says.
Stuart Katzen of Eventify says for him the biggest change event planners now have is “we are forced to actually think about what we are doing. If there is the propensity for danger on a job then look at it, analyse it and mitigate it! It does not mean, don’t do it! You can always make it happen, just do it differently, so that no one gets hurt.”
Talk about risk assessment, it took the founder of BridgeClimb nine years to get approvals for what started out as a team-building activity.
If today’s event planners are thinking about the good old days when anything goes, spare a thought for the founder of BridgeClimb, Paul Cave, who took nine years of painstaking effort to get his idea off the ground.
In October BridgeClimb celebrated its 17th year as one experience that is on bucket lists around the world.
Just over 10 years ago there was just one small group who climbed the bridge which spurred Paul Cave to think that he might have a business idea.
In 1989, Cave helped organise the Young Presidents Organisation World Congress in Sydney and was contemplating activities for delegates. His aim was to find a superior team-building activity that would deliver on multiple promises. Something that: was interesting and original, delegates would want to do and turn up for, would deliver unity, motivation and inspiration for teams, was iconically Sydney, and that delegates would remember and talk about positively with colleagues, friends and family.
Cave already had an affinity for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, originating from his father-in- law, who passed on to him the first ever ticket for the train crossing of the bridge he’d bought as a child in 1932.
He was struck with the idea that climbing the engineering masterpiece would tick all of the boxes he was seeking.
From there it took him nine months to succeed in taking the Young Presidents on the most unique team-building activity they had ever experienced.
The delegate feedback was overwhelmingly positive and a personal dream was born for Cave to do whatever it would take to share the summit of the Bridge with everyone.
What it took was diligence, sweat and determination for more than nine years – longer than it took to build the bridge and seven years longer that Cave had anticipated.
Since its origin as a team-building activity, BridgeClimb has made some giant strides in the corporate space and has hosted incentive groups as large as 2100, with larger groups expected in 2016.
In the past 17 years, BridgeClimb has taken more than 3.4 million climbers to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from more than 137 countries, with climbers aged from eight years to 100.
In March 2015 BridgeClimb launched a suite of corporate climb enhancements created in collaboration with some of Australia’s top EAs, PAs and CEOs.