Presidents Club an event industry response

It’s not often that an an event, attended by a few hundred people, makes it into the the list of the biggest stories of the week. However, this week one of the top stories surrounded the Presidents Club Dinner as detailed by the FT, which was held at the Dorchester Hotel on the 18th January.

So shocking were the revelations, that they merited a question in the House of Commons. Those who attended had their reputations to defend with some waking up in need of a new job. The Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took to Twitter to commend the investigative work undertaken by the FT “This is brave reporting from @FT, exposing behaviour that is outrageous and unacceptable.”

So fast paced was the story that by the early evening the trustees behind the event announced it would no longer “host any fundraising events” Coverage rippled across the globe, articles appeared on CNN to The Australian. Rarely, if ever, had an event like this had such a huge amplification across the main stream media.

So how did the events industry react to the biggest news story, that perhaps it had ever seen? Well, with a deafening silence.

After reading the revelations on Wednesday morning and following the constant stream of fallout throughout the next 48hrs, I wondered what my industry had to say. Would it condemn some of the facets of the event or every part? In fact maybe even the whole idea of the event? Or perhaps it would put the event in context of the 1000s of similar charity events that raise millions without any of the deplorable outcomes, and ask not that the baby was thrown out with the bath water?

My industry was under the microscope, quite like never before, so I was keen to see who and what was being said from within our industry. So I checked our leading publications.

The Main Event Magazine, Stand Out Magazine and Event Industry News made no note whatsoever of the story. Conference News and Meetpie both had articles relating the details of the FT story, with Meetpie adding a post from their editor linking to a questionnaire asking: “what is really happening in our industry and what can be done to make it a successful, safe and happy place for everyone.” But no where in any of these five publications could I find any kind of response or reply from the industry as to what had gone on.

Perhaps we can’t expect our publications to lead on issues of such importance, so I looked at our leading associations. The events industry does not want for association who represent us, so I settled on EVCOM, MPI UK & Ireland, AEO, ESSA, ABPCO, ACE and ILEA. Unbelievable, across these seven associations I found no mention of the Presidents Club event, in any context, on their websites or on their Twitter channels: it was as if the Presidents Club story was a figment of my imagination.

I had started looking for a statement or press release, but in the end I began searching for ANY mention of one of the biggest stories so far this year. Unbelievable across the seven Twitter feeds, with posts numbering in the hundreds, I found no mention at all of the President Club dinner. This, if you really think about it is incredible.

A story of truly international interest takes place within our industry, in our capital city, attended by some of the wealthiest in our society and many well known men in the country, and five event publications and seven event associations do not comment at all on the event. This is staggering.

We have to ask why the silence from the event industry?

In no way do I want to detract from the main allegations (which it appears remain steadfastly unchallenged) by highlighting another aspect of the story, however I think that the lack of response from the events industry is perhaps a story all by itself.

It’s now Sunday night and I’ve had a chance to look at the coverage of the event over the weekend. Jo Swanson MP asked what this means for gender equality and also for an investigating into possible criminal activities that may have taken place. Columnist Yvonne Ridley suggested that “events like the Presidents Club dinner speak volumes about London’s Square Mile” The Guardian suggested that “After the Presidents club it was time men changed their tawdry behaviour” However, from the industry closest to the event? nothing.

It’s been several hours since I messaged all seven of the event associations above to ask if they were planning to make a statement on the Presidents Club. I have had no responses and at last check their websites and Twitter feeds remain in denial. Everyone seems to be asking what this means about almost every aspect of our life, except the very industry that is to blame.

Let me make this clear, the event organisers of this particular event and the environment that has long been tolerated and accepted within the wider event industry is greatly to blame for the disgraceful actions which took place in the Dorchester hotel.

Views from outside and inside the events industry

To an industry outsider you could simply see a few hundred pissed up blokes taking things too far, all acting totally to their own agenda; inconsiderate of the feelings of the event staff and uninterested in the negative impact of their actions. From that perspective, perhaps the event organisers could have done more, but surely the individuals were to blame?

From within the event industry it doesn’t take long to find similar comments blaming individuals, this is from the Meetpie piece: “IF individuals behaved badly, then report them and let the law take its course”

It’s understandable that an industry outsider could understate the role of the event organiser, but not someone from within the industry. As event professionals we know that we design events to create an environment and atmosphere to encourage our attendees to act in a certain manner. We design our exhibitions to allow sales to be done, our conferences for attendees to learn and network, and our live gigs for punters to hear the band. We select the best venue. We choose our AV suppliers, caterers and entertainers in the belief, or knowledge, that will support us to create our desired ambience. Looking at the choices made by the organisers I have to directly question what was the event designed to do if not to lead to to the horrendous and disgusting outcomes listed in the FT?

If an experienced events professional received an event brief that said: “Ensure that an atmosphere exists that intimates a host of young woman and that the only woman present feel at the beck and call of the all male audience” they would have come up with the event which unfurled on the 18th January. The event was by its very design, bound to lead to the incidents of sexual harassment which took place at this event.

In no way let the male attendees off the hook, but further light has to be cast on the event professionals who created the event and perhaps a more searching one on an industry that has, until now refused even to acknowledge the issues at its core.

I will update this article if I have any response from our seven event associations. As of 11am GMT nothing from any of the Associations.

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3 comments

  • Joan Eisenstodt January 29, 2018   Reply →

    Yes I’d seen some coverage and thought I’d teeeted it and if I did not, esp since my latest newsletter and blog at meetingstoday.com are about similar but not exact issues.

    You have done us all a huge service for calling out these actions. Bec just like the case of Dr Nassar and US gymnasts and other women athletes, this could have been stopped by many.

    Why wasn’t it? Is it “my client right or wrong”? “The customer [no matter how their actions offend moral behavior in any setting] is always right?” Or even “The young women need jobs; this no matter the degradation is a job.”?

    Our industry was noisy at first about the devastation in Puerto Rico but the daily news and requests for help stopped after a few weeks. The #MeToo movement only picked up steam with the Steve Wynn case but will wait in hiding until the next. But oh the “ink” over Marriott’s commission cut! Yes when it comes to human beings we do a far lesser job.

    My gratitude to you and to Tracy Stuckrath who forwarded this on.

    • williamthomson January 30, 2018   Reply →

      Hi Joan, thanks so much for your note. I really appreciate it. It doesn’t seem like many event professionals appear at all bothered by what was uncovered. We all know deep down that this is the tip of an uncomfortable iceberg and we simply can’t sit this one out.

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