Their Message, Your Event

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Spring 2018

In a world where everyone is encouraged to have a voice – does it matter if attendees use our events to speak up about their own agenda?

Although social movements are not new within society, the frequency of high-profile events being used as a platform to promote a social agenda is rising because of their high level of media coverage. If those that attend our events choose to use the event publicity to promote their own stance, there is a chance that onlookers may shift their focus away from the event and towards the social movement.

Why are we discussing this now?

With 2018 being labelled the year of social movements, there is a concern that an event’s purpose may become lost under the weight of the movements that people promote. In recent months we have seen a rise of awareness for the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, for example.

Some celebrities have chosen to use their attendance at high-profile events, knowing that the event will have wide-spread media coverage. This enables them to promote a message and show their support regarding these movements.

Examples include:

  • Prompted by the Golden Globes, celebrities wore black to show support for the #TimesUp movement at the BAFTAs. Some that did not attend used their social media to show support (check out @emilia_clarke on Instagram).
  • In January, the Grammys saw attendees wearing a white rose for #TimesUp as a symbol of equality within the entertainment industry.
  • Members of the public hijacked media coverage on the red carpet of the BAFTAs for #TimesUpTheresa –  to fight a UK bill on domestic violence.
  • Last season, NFL players knelt whilst singing the National Anthem, to silently protest against police brutality in America.
  • Many athletes at the Winter Olympics in South Korea are choosing to wear rainbow laces in support of LGBT inclusion and acceptance in the sports community.

Is there a threat to our industry that the event and its media coverage could be hijacked by a social movement?

The above shows examples of events with a high media coverage, and celebrity attendees with an international following. Due to the audience reach, people perceive or perhaps hope, that the event will provide a strong platform for the movement they support.

Do social movements shift the spotlight?

Although there will be opposing views in regards to the necessity of the social movements – something that we, as event managers, need to consider is the idea that the content or cause of the movement, could be associated with our event and by doing so our intended message is lost.

Typically, social movements highlight wrongdoing either across society or in a specific industry. However, with a possibility of our events being remembered for the social movement – does this affect the message our event is trying to portray?

How could your event be affected?

No one can deny that our reputation helps us with new clients, repeat custom and financial stability. As event managers, we spend time planning all elements of events, including intended media coverage, sponsorship relations and financial objectives. Are these planning elements likely to be affected if a pop-up, or planned social movement occurs at your event?

Let us imagine for a moment that we are a sponsor of a high-profile event with various attendees and plenty of planned publicity; the colours and logo of our supporting business are easily and frequently seen. Now let us add a social movement that has gained momentum among a large proportion of the attendees, could this affect our own media coverage?

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Example of wearing a white rose and/or wearing black for social movements in contrast to no movement. Are you distracted and wondering why they are holding a rose?

How do we as organisers manage the media attention at events to ensure the event’s intended message is clearly portrayed?

The organisers of the Brit Awards chose to proactively support #MeToo by supplying a white rose to anyone who wished to take one. A quick Google search of ‘the Brit Awards 2018’ brings up countless articles about winners and performances – keeping the spotlight on the awards ceremony.

In contrast to the approach of the Brit Awards, the organisers of the Oscars released a statement claiming that they wanted the attention to be on the films and not the social movements happening around them. Although not discouraging the movement, the Oscars were to be a place of unified celebration of film entertainment and fashion, with a subtle nod of the head to the movement. Organisers argued that viewing ratings of awards ceremonies are down due to an imbalance between entertainment and political statements.

From the initial press of last night it seems the red carpet, full of celebrities wearing colour with some political pins (as opposed to black), was able to focus more on the awards evening itself, and therefore movements did not consume the spotlight. However, during the evening celebrities chose to use their voices whilst on the stage to raise awareness on movements such as TimesUp, MeToo, gun violence and immigration laws in the USA.

Do you think that social movements can cause the spotlight of our events to shift? Are social movements inevitable at high-profile events and something that event managers need to take into consideration during planning stages?

Should we be showing support and facilitating the movements at our events? 


Holly says:

Some really interesting points made here. I definitely see a shift in the spotlight and agree with why people are participating in the movement, but think it blurs the point / message of the event. As an event manager, I believe its best not to fight a movement like these and work with them as the Brit Awards did as it could destroy the legacy of the event in the future.

Hi Holly,
Thanks for your comment, great to hear your opinion on the subject. Do you feel like there would be implications at the events that you manage if you did fight the movement?

Holly says:

I think, like a lot of events it all ‘depends’. It depends on the environment, the movement, the celebs backing the campaign, media ect.

I believe that it could potentially be catastrophic if you decide to fight big campaigns like the ones named above and could ruin careers because you chose not to work with it. These campaigns can have a lot of strength behind them and fighting them could be disastrous for all.

Event Managers should work together with these movements, but keep control of the event and make sure all event messages fulfil the event objectives and the reason for the event.

Events can be so vastly different from one another that it definitely poses a question as to whether there is one solution to fit all! The movements we have written about here are definitely high profile movements that are circulating the media at the moment, but we think this could happen on a smaller scale. By going against (any) of them, you run the risk of loosing supporters and causing friction between businesses and communities. Is it worth the fight to keep your event true to its purpose? Perhaps it is a balancing act between supporting it, but still achieving what you want from your event?

Susan says:

Thought provoking read. Personally, I wouldn’t be ecstatic about an attendee speaking up about their own agenda. It doesn’t show much respect for the honour they are being awarded. However, it’s my job to manage the event.

That said, I do think it’s important for issues to be spoken about and out in the open. The rich and famous have a chance to effect real change in our society for good. It was a smart move of the Brit Awards to offer a white rose. They may find at future events that social movements approach them directly, which makes it easier to control the event and sets the event up as a beacon for good which is great publicity too.

Should we be showing support and facilitating the movements at our events? Absolutely. But with some control. My question would be ‘What are famous people doing to help outside the spotlight?’ Are they just jumping on the bandwagon so to speak? The ones that are truly helping should be given a voice and our world will be a better place for it.

Hi Susan,
Thank you for your comment, it’s really great to hear your opinions. It’s an interesting note that perhaps it shows a lack of respect for your own event, even if they are bringing light onto an issue that needs it. Do you feel like events are the wrong platform for their own agenda?
However, by the event embracing the movement, as the Brit Awards started to do, perhaps we are looking ahead to the future of events where they work in combination with other causes – related to that industry. It certainly would promote the organisers of the event in a positive way, that they are trying to achieve something good for our society. Perhaps it would also reduce any surprises, from the movement taking place or what the attendees are trying or going to do – as you say, retaining some control. From observation, we think celebrities are moving to social media as another platform to speak out. Do you think using their personal social media accounts would be more beneficial than our events?

Susan says:

Reducing any surprises is always something I work towards. In my opinion, award events are the wrong platform. As they’re so famous, why not set up a separate platform to highlight issues. Look at the UK royal family, they don’t hijack other events.

Very true! Maybe an event for the sole purpose of the movement is something that we will see soon, now that awards season has finished.

Emma O'Donnell says:

This makes for an interesting read and I too share your concern that the message of an event can be overlooked, if our attendees choose to use it as their own platform. However, I wonder if this is more an argument about how the media writes about our events, and what they choose to focus on – which is something we obviously have little control over in today’s society!

Hi Emma,
Thank you for you comment – we agree that how the media portrays an event is a whole other discussion! Perhaps through managing security, and restricting where members of the press are allowed access to, event managers would be able to control it a bit further. Can we ever control what they write?
We want to know whether attendees are stealing the spotlight, but there could be an argument that certain media companies will always focus on certain things, regardless of how the event managers have chosen to approach the social movements. Drawing attention to images taken after the Brit Awards of ‘up-skirting’, even though the Brits tried to support the movement the paparazzi still chose to take these images. Check out to see what we mean!

This is a really interesting read and highly spoken about topic!
However, do you think that this is only relevant to high profile events due to the amount of media coverage they would obtain? Surely this wouldn’t be an issue at lower profile events e.g. a village fete or school community event?

Susan says:

Yes, you’re right. It’s only an issue at high profile events. But as these people are so high profile, they don’t need an event to broadcast their message. I’m sure they have the media following them all the time.

Hi Susan,
Yes, that’s true and is an interesting insight. I guess celebrities are voicing their opinions in the media all the time! However, at an event they are able to stand in solidarity with other celebrities to voice their message, to project a stronger message together. It seems the perfect pre-planned platform! (Just maybe not so perfect for the event manager!)

Thanks for your comment! You’re right – because its a high profile event, celebrities have chosen to voice their opinions on these movements. However, on a different scale social movements could still happen at a local event. For example, maybe if there is an arising issue in the community, a local village fete could be used as a platform for villagers to voice their opinions on the issue they do not agree with. This may be captured in the local media due to the event platform as otherwise the media may not have been there.

jlannon2014 says:

I guess that it depends upon what the event is trying to achieve… The Brits example is interesting as it could be considered to have enhanced the event and given a social credibility to an otherwise bland and trite awards ceremony. Do we want to become a body like the FACT where we fine or ban people for wearing symbols associated with a social movement (Pep Guardiola has just been fined for wearing a yellow ribbon on his lapel)? Active “management” of this could result in negative publicity…

Thanks for your comment, that’s a real thought-provoking idea! As the Brits were in support of a social movement that had hit headlines all over Hollywood and hit home for a few of the celebrities that attended, it was portrayed by the media as the event looking out for their own industry. For other events being used as a platform for movements such as Pep Guardiola wearing a yellow ribbon which was worn as a political symbol, the Football team could be associated as a whole instead of just the individual. All events will have different aims and objectives, so would becoming part of a body restrict the overall goals of the event and become overshadowed by the body itself – possibly being used as a platform for yet further social movements? As event managers, should we put the objectives of the event first and put our personal opinions to one side, as this could cloud our judgements?

jlannon2014 says:

Maybe the event and social movement could be mutually inclusive?

msteadman2016 says:

I think that all events come with spotlight features sometimes good sometimes bad. No matter how hard you try to avoid them they will always be in the background building momentum. In regards to high profile events the celebrities are advised beforehand on specific things to say to boost their profile. The media thrive on such celebrity gossip and if you don’t embrace it you likely to loose the spotlight on the actual event. This is a sad state of affairs but it’s the world in which we live in where we have supported such celebrities and they use this to their advantage.

I think it would be in our best interests as event organisors to embrace such movements and use them to our advantage. This has to work both ways.

Thank you for your comment! That’s a very interesting point in regards to celebrities being advised on what to say beforehand at the event. Do you think the celebrities have had a boost in their profile by supporting the different social movements at the high profile events, or is it their attendance in general at these events that have boosted their profile?
In relation to The event manager and showing support of movements, do you think what the Brits did by providing a rose was enough support, or is there something else that could be done to show support?

Ann-Marie says:

I think it depends tremendously on the type of event being arranged. I work in higher education so events we organise have a academic focus but could also be mixed with a political agenda. I don’t think I would be particularly happy to have an attendee speaking up about their own agenda. However I do agree with the other comment that it is the job of the event manager to manage the event.

Celebrities do have the power to make statements and be listened to and also to publicise particular movements or causes. It is worth considering the most appropriate way to make these statements and whether it is being done for the publicity or for the actual cause/movement.

Thought provoking piece

Hi Ann-Marie, thank you for your comment. It is interesting to hear about this topic from a range of events. From what you have mentioned, this is definitely the sort of thing we are looking at – it doesn’t have to be celebrity attended events at all. If you heard that someone was going to speak up, would you seek to speak to them or try and come to an agreement? With regards to celebrities using their voices, perhaps there is space there for another whole discussion! What is using their popularity for good, and what is doing good for their popularity? Perhaps that is a question of how genuine is that individual to the cause.

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