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Blog Post: A Thousand Little Decisions

What is it that makes an event successful?

A question often levied by clients, colleagues and the curious. Obviously there’s the important, obvious things like understanding the client, the audience and then matching the two in a way that adheres to the brief and the budget, and yet is sufficiently disruptive to positively affect the behavior of the brand’s existing and potential consumers. You know, the easy stuff.

But we’ve all been at events that look to have done nothing wrong, but for some reason just didn’t get it right either. Why was that? What was it that was missing, what mercurial, intangible caloric element that you can’t quite put your finger on?

I’m not about to suggest that we have distilled it for our clients’ use exclusively (we’d like to have done that just as much as our clients would’ve liked us to), but after more years in this industry than I’m willing to admit publicly I think I can offer an informed opinion.

It is tied into some more existential thinking I’ve been doing lately, concerning how I’d like to see my sons grow up and behave as they try to make their way in the world. To have the confidence to make the smart choices, not just easy ones.

What I spent a lot of time thinking about was success. And by success I’m not referring to making a lot of money, or having an impressive job title. I’m talking about a fundamental successful life of happiness and positive impact on people around them. I don’t think I can be accused of thinking too small with this one.

Like many men of a certain age I’m a runner, and this came to me over the course of several miles, refined over the course of many more. To communicate the idea I had as succinctly as I can, I’d go for something like…

Success doesn’t depend on the scale of the right decisions you make, more the frequency of them.

If you’re not in a position to make a decision that ends poverty for millions of people, it doesn’t preclude you from being a more successful person than someone who can make that decision. Does one huge right decision outweigh dozens of smaller everyday ones?  I don’t think so. As individuals we have amazing opportunities every hour to positively affect our own and other people’s lives. If you doubt this then just think how an unexpected altruistic act from someone can change your whole outlook for the rest of the day.

So what does that have to do with events?

Some of the most successful and emotionally impactful events I’ve been involved in have succeeded because people in key positions cared enough about seemingly tiny decisions being made correctly. Taken individually these details appear frivolous, distracting and often petty. Getting them right doesn’t have to mean creative dictatorship or obsessive levels of fixation, more often it’s about experience and knowledge coming into effect. These tools are the foundation of the instinct that lets an event producer know whether to spend that little bit longer on an element rather than to delegate or let it ride without a check. Start adding these little insights together and teaming them up with the bigger, more obvious decisions and you find yourself with an incredibly strong fabric of a project that is also flexible enough to deal with the last minute changes that often threaten to undo us late in the day. The strength (creatively, logistically and commercially) has to be in the component pieces, not just the consumer-facing elements.

What are these enigmatic components that hold the keys to success? They change from project to project, client to client and time to time. That’s where knowledge and experience come into play. No-one gets them right all the time, but understanding that they’re there and how important they are is a big step in the right direction.

So there you have it boys. Be right. Often.

Love Dad.

Paul Stanway | Creative Director – XYZ