Louisa Harvey, Senior Events Co-ordinator at the University of Kent, tells M&IT’s Ross Jones how we managed the EUPRIO (European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers) conference in June 2013. This was the first time the conference had returned to the UK since 2003 so this was our chance to really showcase Kent and the wonderful facilities at the UK's European University.
What was the brief for the event?
The event was organised jointly with our office and Martin Herrema in Corporate Communications. We had been approached initially as the Conference Office controls all of the meeting space and accommodation on campus, so we would be the first point of call for any event hosted here. During our initial meeting to discuss the conference requirements we suggested to Martin it may be beneficial to think about the Event Management Service we offer. This is an additional fee but enables the conference organiser (Martin) to focus purely on the content of the conference because the handling of the delegate registrations, setting the budget, creating a social programme, dealing with all of the delegate queries etc is encompassed with the Event Management service.
Who devised the programme? and how complicated was it to organise all the meeting spaces, AV requirements etc?
The conference programme was devised by Martin and is a similar format to all of the annual EUPRIO conferences. The social programme was created by us and was based loosely on previous conferences that took place in 2011. As it is our office that controls the meeting space and AV so we were able to organise the rooms and AV equipment with ease. The only major challenge we encountered was the soaring numbers. The lecture theatre we booked had a maximum capacity of 215 and when registration closed we had a record number of 247 delegates booked to attend! It required a bit of shuffling and adding extra chairs but we worked around it. We asked delegates to pre-book which parallel sessions they wanted to attend and based on their results we allocated the seminar rooms based on capacity but a high number of delegates forgot which session they had chosen so we had to shuffle the seminar around according to size.
How and why were the external venues for the social programme chosen?
EUPRIO members are from Europe and we knew in advance that the majority of the delegates would be international so we wanted to showcase “Kent” and what we have to offer as we realised this may have been their first experience of Kent and Canterbury.
The first offsite event was on the first night, the walking tour of Canterbury. With the assumption that most of the delegates would not have been to Canterbury we decided that a tour of our city would give them an insight into the city’s history and to view our landmarks. The tour finished at Canterbury Cathedral where we led delegates into the Cathedral grounds for a drinks reception and light buffet in the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge hotel. This was the first time all of the delegates had been together and in what better environment than the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral? After the reception, delegates had free time in Canterbury or the option of a coach back to campus.
On the 2nd night we wanted to take the delegates out of Canterbury and showcase the surrounding areas. We took them to Whitstable for a BBQ on the beach. We found a restaurant in Whitstable called the East Quay who would close the doors to the generalpublic for our private function. We took 6 of our chefs from the University to supplement the chefs at the East Quay and worked together to create our traditional summer BBQ on the beach. From inside the venue delegates enjoyed:- a selection of fresh seafood from the ice bar with an artisan bread basket, mini fish fillets of cod deep fried in Whitstable beer batter with mushy peas, chips and homemade tartar sauce served in a scallop shell. From the BBQ we served:- Homemade beef burgers with chorizo and red peppers, carrot and sesame seed burger with minted yogurt and sweet chilli, mixed grilled Mediterranean vegetables with fried polenta and a spiced tomato sauce and barbequed sweet corn with chive butter. For pudding delegates were tempted to “Make your own Eton Mess” and tubs of locally produced “Simply” ice cream. It was a typical BBQ, it even rained! Inside we hired the local band “The Soul Monkeys” to perform, and delegates danced the night away.
The final night was the Gala Dinner, which was held at the University Campus. We chose Rutherford Dining Hall, as it had recently been chosen for the Archbishops enthronement, and is one of the largest banqueting venues in Kent. Delegates enjoyed a sumptuous four course meal, followed by a disco till the early hours.
The final part for the social programme was the optional tour of Leeds Castle for delegates wishing to extend their stay. Leeds Castle is often referred to as the “Loveliest Castle in the World” and is the fitting place to finish the conference.
Were there any aspects of the event that proved particularly challenging?
The most challenging part was the delegate numbers ever increasing, although it was great that the conference was popular - our initial numbers were based on 175 but our final total was 245. Other than that, the only challenge was something we could not have helped – the rain on the BBQ night in Whitstable.
Were the objectives of the brief met?
Yes I believe so, with a record number of attendees and successful feedback I would say we met our objectives. It was the first time this conference made a profit, and they did consider asking us to manage the next EUPRIO Conference in Innsbruck!