Next up in the Operations team, we speak with Anthony Lowe, MEETinLEEDS’ Conference and Events Manager, who shares his thoughts on the challenges faced by the industry, as well as what the recent changes mean for the customer.
What does a day in your position look like?
Whether I’m in the office or working an event, no day is ever the same! My position involves working with staff from all operational areas, as well as liaising with both academic and administrative colleagues. This often results in everything from chefs questioning dietary requirements or suggesting new ideas, to calls for last minute catering for VIP meetings, or for the meeting that no one ordered the tea, coffee and biscuits!
Reporting to myself, the team consists of two Conference Co-Ordinators, two Hospitality Co-Ordinators and two Admin Support roles. As a Senior Link Manager, it’s my responsibility to regularly liaise with our International Medieval Congress Team, as well as acting as the key contact for the University’s Positive Impact Partner, Communication Matters, who are a key client for MEETinLEEDS.
In addition, I also act as a Customer Relation Manager for Deli(very), which involves the need to understand what deliveries are being made on a daily basis, and support the many enquiries that are made via the hospitality team.
It’s no surprise that conference and events at the University involves the use of so many buildings across the wider campus; this often means going to physically set up, or help to set up, events in the Sports Hall, Conference Auditorium buildings on Western Campus, or in our iconic venues including The Great Hall and Parkinson Court. Every single event is different, and the support infrastructure varies, so possessing the skills to be versatile and manage each event differently is critical.
What first attracted you to the conferencing industry?
I have worked in the Hospitality Industry for all of my career. After beginning in hotels, where I did my training and initially specialised in Personnel, I then progressed to become a General Manager. For the past 24 years, I have been in Higher Education, working closely with academics and supporting my colleagues.
What has working in the conference industry taught you?
That you can never stand still! Customer’s expectations are changing rapidly, and above all, the most important aspect is to provide the service that your customer want; whether that involves directly or indirectly using sub-contractors as required.
What’s more, the impact of social media has created a need for companies, such as ourselves, to understand our competitors in more detail.
What is your favourite thing about working in the conference industry?
The people that I’m fortunate to work with, the clients that I interact with and the impact that working in the events industry can have. For example, working with the International Medieval Congress and Communication Matters has enabled me to get to know many of my customers, as they both hold annual conferences – with this year being a little different, of course!
Also, managing events allows me to offer my professional and personal experience to people who are often outside of their comfort zone.
In your experience, what has been the biggest challenge in the industry to date?
Whilst there is no doubt that COVID-19 is having a huge impact on the industry, other challenges that we have been faced with for quite some time include the development of technology and the impact that social media has had on marketing events. Through digital platforms, we are able to reach customers in a way that wasn’t previously possible, allowing us to provide an even more personable approach. By navigating these new methods, it was important that we address the challenge by creating a new strategy, ensuringthat our customers’ needs are fully met every step of the way, across every possible platform.
How are you adapting to the current situation?
I believe it’s important to take advantage of this period by using it as an opportunity to reflect on the impact of change, and what this might mean for us not just in the coming months, but the coming years as well. I’m also keen to support my team, many of whom are not used to working from home, with regular meetings and check-ins.
What does your new way of working mean for the customer?
For us, it’s business as usual! Even though we are working remotely, customers are still able to reach me either via email or over the phone. The only difference is that they get a slightly quicker response now, and perhaps even more time dedicated on planning for early 2021!