Oliver Chesher, director of Admiral PR, shares his experiences of managing a very special Royal event, as a guest blogger on the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s blog.
This Jubilee year, many agencies and marketing departments will be commissioned to work on Royal events, as Her Majesty and family tour Britain meeting their loyal subjects.
Project-managing a Royal visit is a unique challenge, even to the most experienced events managers, which is why we thought we’d share a behind-the-scenes look at how we did it when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Manchester this year.
Our client, Central Manchester Hospitals, briefed us to create a once-in-a-lifetime event for its staff, patients and the public, as well as the VIP and Royal guests. We had been the PR agency behind the 2009 opening of the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, the biggest in Europe, but nothing could prepare us for this.
Even with months of advance planning, an event like this is a seriously big job. For anyone else with a Royal visit on the horizon, here are a few observations:
First you have to suss out what your Royal visitors will and won’t do. Remember the Queen is elderly, so don’t expect her to walk too far on a guided tour, or up and down lots of steps. The Lord Lieutenant and his office (the Queen’s representatives in the region) were extremely helpful and encouraging in helping us to make sure that the Queen would enjoy the occasion we were planning.
Next you have to make sure your plans meet with the approval of the large teams of various security services, who will be working very closely with you in the run-up and at the event itself. For example, don’t put up any marquees where they might block an exit or a line-of-sight for a police spotter position! Also, make sure all suppliers and visitors are excluded from the site on the morning of the event, while the sniffer dog teams do their work.
Building your team
Speaking as a small agency, it was very exciting for us to be running such an enormous team on this event. From marquee and stage-builders, decorators and florists, to caterers and AV and film crew, we had over 50 people working for us, and we were just a small part of the client’s overall project team. It’s essential to bring in suppliers and partners you can trust, and you need to be super-organised.
Unlike a sporting or showbiz event, crowds at Royal events tend to behave themselves impeccably. Naturally you’ll need barriers to keep the way clear when the procession of vehicles sweeps through, but once the Royal party is on its walk-round, people wait politely in their pre-ordained groups, and there’s certainly no unseemly jostling! Anyway, if there’s one thing the Royals are used to, it’s crowds of people taking photos of them.
The climax of most Royal visits will usually comprise a welcome speech from the host, and perhaps a Royal unveiling or ribbon cutting. This is your photo opportunity for the media and is what the outside world will see and remember. Ours took place on a purpose-built stage outside one of the hospitals, where a band played a specially commissioned fanfare and a local artist-designed plinth and plaques were unveiled from behind a curtain. Attention to detail here is crucial, right down to the colours of the flowers, flags and carpets.
Surprisingly enough, the PR aspect of this job was the easiest part. Not only did we have a large team (Admiral teamed up with the NHS Trust’s own highly skilled communications department), but the Palace press office was so clear on what we could and couldn’t do, that all we had to do was follow directions. Also, the journalists, photographers and film crews that are invited to Royal events are usually accredited “Royal Rota”, which means they know exactly where to go and what to do, so everything runs like clockwork.
Making a film
The client commissioned Admiral, with our partner film company Seveer Media, to make a memorable documentary-style film. However, there are strict rules regarding how many cameramen are allowed to follow the Royal party as it moves around. We therefore set up camera positions around the route of the Queen’s tour of the hospitals, and roving cameramen interviewed staff and members of the crowd. The resulting DVD has been inserted into a commemorative book for the Trust’s 12,000 staff.
Another thing to remember about Royal visits is that they are over in the blink of an eye. The Royal family’s itineraries are always so tight that they can never hang around, which means that from getting out of the Bentley to being whisked away usually takes less than an hour. So you need to plan to entertain your other VIP guests after the Royals have departed. We erected an enormous marquee, and brought in the Manchester Catering Company to provide Jubilee-themed canapés and cocktails. We even broadcast some of the footage from our roving cameramen onto big screens so visitors could relive the events of the morning.
Never underestimate how emotionally invested you will become in an event like this. Even the most hard-bitten and cynical agency boss cannot fail to be swept along with the electric anticipation of the crowds, the tears of joy and excitement on people’s faces, and the ecstatic celebrations when the whole event has gone without a single hitch. When you’re face to face with the Monarch, it hits you just how extraordinary a day’s work this is.