There’s no point organising an event if you don’t set objectives. And of course you have to have the right objectives. Often this basic element of any event is missing from the YES movement’s events.
Saturday’s protest outside BBC HQ attracted around 250 people and saw considerable support on social media – in part down to the ever present Independence Live. But what was the point? Or in event talk, what was the objective of the protest?
BBC Bias Protest at Pacific Quay
It’s no small effort to coordinate a demonstration of this size. Even as the team behind All Under One Banner (who coordinate some huge and important rallies) cut their event teeth, it’s still a challenge. I’ve managed over 700 events, so I know organising and attending every event is time you could be spent doing something else!
The first thing to say about the protest at Pacific Quay is that I would have not advised running it at all. However, doing the planning process one objective should have been penned and communicated to all:
“This protest is being organised not against the employees but against the editorial decisions that appear to be strongly biased in favour of Scotland’s place in the Union and also editorial decisions which seen to “do down” Scotland at every turn. We are seeking a meeting with senior representatives of the BBC to express the views of a large number of Scots”
You have to set an objective this this, otherwise what’s the point?
A pointless protest
Why have people standing outside to listen to a few speeches and wave a few flags unless something meaningful is to come out of it?
Why run an event, if all you are going to do is score a spectacular own goal?
Why look a PR gift horse in the mouth?
The answer is simple: because the event didn’t have the right objectives.
Look again at the objective I suggest and walk through the two possible scenarios:
1. BBC meet representatives from protest against BBC Bias.
2. BBC refuse to meet representatives from protest against BBC Bias. Where’s the PR downside there? It’s a win/win for the movement.
But without objectives we have this:
“We offered the leaders of the protest the opportunity to come in to the building to enter into dialogue with senior managers at BBC Scotland but they declined the offer.”
Made even worse by this:
“I was the person asked and I declined. We don’t want to enter into a dialogue with the BBC to try to repair things…. Do any of you see any buttons up the back of my head? No! We want to see the end of the BBC in Scotland. I hope I made that clear.”
Let’s get one thing clear: a hard Brexit will not be hard for everyone. After the 2008 financial crisis which started the wave of “austerity” across Europe, the wealth of the top 1% has been on an upward trajectory ever since. With wage growth pretty much stagnant, it is the earnings from assets (the top 10% own almost half of UK wealth) that set this group apart.
As some do better when most do worse, it is clear that for the last ten years we have not in fact, “all been in this together”
A hard Brexit will not be hard for everyone
Most Economists suggest that the Brexit which is likely to play out will be considerably worse than the crash in 2008. Of course the pain will be felt by some, while others will be shielded by their wealth.
This disparity of pain will be obvious to most UK citizens. They will see inflation rise and wages, at best, remain moribund. Not only will the cost of living rise but the quality of life will deteriorate. Things that seemed easy to do, like trips to Europe and common like eating Iberian Ham, will be truly foreign.
Already sparse shelves will empty quickly. Run down roads will worsen. Teachers will be more stressed. Across the whole of society the fabric that holds us together will strain. And this will all exist in the same world where the stock market stays buoyant, executive bonuses stay high and international companies use the falling pound to buy back shares to increase shareholder payouts.
So how will society function with such obvious levels of disparity and despair? It is simple. We will blame other people and then we will blame ourselves. This is the natural progression of a society irrevocable damaged.
A ‘no deal’ or an exceptionally hard Brexit will lead to a nationwide overdose of Europhobia. The main stream media, with the few exceptions which prove the rule, will be baying for European blood. This kamikaze approach by the Tory Government can only work with the complicit support of the foreign based media owners and their lackeys at the BBC. The song sheet is already being rehearsed.
It will read like a racist playlist:
“We will be in this state because of the unreasonableness of the EU”.
“The Irish, the Irish, our supposed friends have been the worse. Those thick Irish.”
“The Germans have been waiting 70 years to get back at us”
“Isn’t it time to send those Poles back?”
I shudder to think of the racist riffs and bigoted melodies that will be played by The Mail and The Express.
Open veins of the U.K
In those long sought after trade deals we will find new enemies. The reality of international trade will all too quickly play out. When two Nations play this game the larger holds all the cards. The UK will be dwarfed by scores of Countries as it seeks an impossible “level playing field”: in international trade it does not and has not ever existed.
The UK will find the conditions will be like the ones they set for South American countries in the nineteen century when Great Britain blockaded their ports, banned domestic production and flooded their markets with cheap produce then, of course, racketed up the price.
It will be pay back time for Nations across the globe. The “Open Veins of Great Britain” will give the xenophobes new life, especially when former colonies truly rebel, “The Indians, the Indians, our supposed friends have been the worse”
But of course the blaming of others can only last for so long. Soon enough we will run out of headlines and Nations to attack.
It will become harder to blame others, so we will naturally and easily blame ourselves. Like a recalcitrant skelf our anger will sit just under our skin and we will scratch and scratch until we bleed.
A new double album of material will be released by the UK Government and welcomed by their super fans in the Great British Press. We Brits Are A Lazy Bunch will be accompanied by Our Economy Needs Modernising.
So it’s easy to find alternative facts to evidence that this is down to the lazy Brits attitude and application to work rather than the short term nature of investment and the sucking of profits offshore. “If you want things to improve you have to work harder AND longer” will underpin the discussions on the UK’s productivity.
In a worsening economy it’s not a large leap for this to take a much darker turn, “Maybe YOU are working hard, but the person next to you isn’t” With that, the societal descent will be almost complete.
The final piece of the absurd national catharsis will be to blame our institutions. Modernisation will be super changed as a sense of national panic, built by the Government and willingly supported by the media, will take the sacred cows into the slaughter house.
With trade deals will come the opening up of the entire British state. Liam Fox and his bunch of buccaneers will be courting American multi nationals to run every facet of the UK economy. The 1% will see wonderful new investment opportunities and will be in on the ground floor.
The USA is the promised land for these charlatans. They look on the shallowness of the state and go misty eyed. They see the state retreat from every aspect of life and mirror in that a dreamscape for the UK.
The 11th of September is a holiday in Catalonia for the national day: La Diada. Plans for La Diada 2018 were announced in July.
The focal point of the celebration is always the huge rally organised by the ANC and Omnium, the two largest grass roots organisations that directly support a Catalan Republic.
Plans for La Diada 2018 unveiled
The celebration is different every year in theme and often location. This year the celebration will take place along a 6KM section of one of Barcelona’s main streets. La Avenida Diagonal, a road that pretty much splits the city in two, will be crammed with those in support of a Catalan Republic.
It’s likely that around 1 million people will take part, at what is now, the largest annual single day event in Europe.
A colourful demonstration
As well as a different theme and location there is normally a different colour. This year the colour is Coral, to reflect the ties that secured the ballot boxes during the 1st October Catalan Referendum.
The vast majority of supporters will wear the official La Diada 2018 luminous coral t-shirt. A helicopter will fly the route, taking pictures that will be beamed across the globe. The global press interest will be as high as ever. Front page covers and news bulletins across the world will show images of a million defiant Catalans demanding the right to self govern.
Millions of supporters of the idea of a Catalan Republic will have an amazing day. They will see that their dream is shared by a huge number of Catalans. The event is both a strategic and tactical masterpiece.
The location for La Diada 2018 is well chosen
Many of Barcelona’s most famous monuments and buildings sit close to Diagonal. From Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium at one end to Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia at the other, Barcelona’s brightest and best cultural building will come into sharp focus. The pictures remind the world of the immense wealth of Catalan culture.
The colour has been chosen to evoke memories of the 1st October Referendum
La Diada 2018 will remind the world when Catalans had to “brave” the line that snaked outside 100s of polling stations as they waited to cast a vote. It’s like re-running the referendum without the potential for voters being bloodied by Spanish police.
The organisers know that to engage at a regional, national and global level they have to alter the backdrop of the event to avoid apathy setting in (a situation that every annual event has to face): even Europe’s largest annual event can lose it’s appeal.
The event is coordinated, funded and organised by the professionals employed by Omnium and the ANC. As of course it has to be. As an event organiser it would be unimaginable to think of an event like this funded and organisation by part time independence supporters. The stress and the stain would be unbearable, so to would the administrative and logistical burden. The event is a huge undertaking, involves months of organising and costs in excess of 600,000 Euro*
Sure a happy bunch of grass roots enthusiasts could run an annual event, but just imagine the difference? The event would shrink, press would not be invited, managed or housed, helicopters would be replaced by cameras on top of buildings, the PA replaced by a loud hailer. It would be so unthinkable for a Catalan independence supporter than they would laugh at the suggestion: having the most important day in the Catalan Independence calendar run by part timers! Are you mad?
No, the Catalans are not mad. But the Scots are. Amateurism rules, and our independence events make a tiny ripple on the smallest of ponds.
*rough estimate given to me by the Head of Press, ANC, in 2017.
Probably the most seismic political event in Scotland since the referendum result in 2014 took place on Wednesday: the walk out of all 35 SNP MPs in protest at the process laid down for the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Now you can look at these “events” in one of two ways. The first is how Andy and Fiona felt:
The second is the way that almost everyone else, outside the Independence bubbles on Facebook and Twitter, did: absolute silence or totally ignorance.
Events in Scotland
This was the movement’s immediate physical response to the Westminster power grab from the Holyrood Parliament. Maybe 600 people is a lot. Maybe it’s nothing. But I want to look at Jason’s point:
So what if we were to plan a march to London or a human chain across Scotland, who exactly would plan it, market it and organise it?
My day to day life is organising other people’s events or advising them on how to organise their own events. I’ve been doing that for almost 10 years. I’ve been organising events for over 20 years. As you can see from other posts on here I bang on about events quite a bit.
It would almost definitely be beyond the wonderfully committed volunteers of HOOP and AUOB. It would be almost exclusively advertised through two social media platforms (operating in the Indy bubble) and our other dedicated indy mediums like The National.
The National YES Registry would I am sure use their platform to support: but again this concentrates on the already converted and committed.
The organisers would not have access to the largest email database of independence supporters (held by the SNP) They would have no funds to advertise the event, unlike their Catalan cousins who have 300,000 Euros to advertise their La Diada celebrations. No cash to pay for professional PR. In fact vey little of the things that are needed to make an event like this truly successful. Passion and dedication only gets you so many attendees.
The Independence movement needs a dedicated, professional organisation to coordinate, support and offer resource to the movement. If one existed, similar to the Catalan National Assembly we would be able to answer Limmy’s Tweet:
We would be able to say. The Scottish National Assembly will be organising a Human Chain across Scotland in August. Images will be shown world wide. It will cut across Edinburgh during the Edinburgh festival, bringing the issue of Scottish independence to a world wide audience in our capital.
We need a body like this. Even if it just organises a few large annual events. We need to, as Limmy says, do “something”
Please drop me a note or comment if you support the idea of an independent body to coordinate the YES movement.
Owing to the success of the AUOB march in Glasgow in May, views on events dominated the YES supporting media and filled Indy blogs for the full week after the event. Every article showing the power of events to the Scottish independence movement.
We all got quite excited about the massive turnout, and it really felt like the movement received a jolt of energy. This shot in the arms was especially noticeable online.
I believe an annual event like this is crucial for the YES movement and I have some thoughts on when that should take place, which I will save for another post.
As someone who has organised events for over twenty years, I have seen organisers and organisations caught up in a post event high. Almost overnight we have all got very excited about the power of events or as we event professionals like to grandly call it, live engagement and communication.
The power of events to the Scottish independence movement
Ive been writing for a while about events for the YES movement so I am delighted to see more in the movement acknowledge their power. Bringing like minded people together to discuss, plot, challenge, laugh, debate and plan is the fuel for every successful movement: it’s the reason that the right to free assembly is always at the top of the Dictator’s banned list.
We aren’t quite up against a dictatorship but the YES movement certainly has its challenges getting our message out, and this is why our events must not waste the opportunity in front of them.
The AUOB march was of course just one of scores of different YES events that took place in the first half of May. The next major YES event is The Gathering in Stirling on the 27th May and before that loads of other YES events will take place across the country, all doing their bit to build the case for an independent Scotland.
Our movement has to include a huge effort to physically engage the wider electorate, as it’s really the only field of communication where we can play on that level playing field.
How to compete against the Unionist dominated Main Stream Media
The main stream media in Scotland and the UK speaks with an almost universal voice and this brings it a huge amount of power. But thankfully, it’s not just the frequency of a message that has an impact but also the emotional connection, and that’s were events can help level that playing field. Events which are more of an experience have an emotionally bigger and more positive impact than more traditional events.
If you are thinking about running a YES event please drop me a line to arrange a chat and we can make sure that the format you choose will achieve your objectives. But most importantly keep organising events!
Marches are about numbers and with so many in attendance at the May AUOB march it’s been hard to avoid. And that is all down to the amazing work by the AUOB organisers. Huge respect. They have done what politicians and political parties have been unable or unwilling to do: put independence back on the agenda.
Saturday’s march was an huge success. There’s no other way to look at it. Mike Small summed it up beautifully in a piece written the day after the massive rally.
On the other end, the stuff on the main stream media was all stuffing made of sour grapes and it was great to see Manny Singh (one of the AUOB organisers) in CommonSpace directly challenge the article in The Herald which argued the demonstrators “had got it pretty badly wrong”
The organisers and the demonstrators hadn’t got anything wrong. Yet.
I’ve been organising events for over twenty years and I currently work with a host of different organisations across the globe to help them run better events. For anyone interested in my background you can see the type of stuff I do and what I regularly blog about on my company website.
I’ve been following the YES movement, blogging and learning from the live engagement strategy of the Catalan independence movement and I have some caution about the three AUOB marches that are scheduled to take place over the summer. I hope that the organisers and the wider movement will pause and consider my points.
To measure success you have to set the right objectives
I will try and not make this sound like an event management lecture. Before you plan an event the first thing you should do is set objectives. Any march can have a few objectives and they are generally achieved by one means: having a lot of people there. I detailed the importance in numbers in a blog post after the 2017 AUOB march. It was simply amazing to see the huge increase from 2017. The objectives were achieved by a vast number taking to the street.
Here’s what the AUOB organisers are planning next:
“The next All Under One Banner independence march will take place on 2 June in Dumfries, one week before SNP Conference, and Singh was keen to emphasise the importance of supporters attending demonstrations outside of the central belt to “prove that this is not a localised movement, that this movement is willing to travel and show up in big numbers all across the country.”
In event speak, Manny has laid out the objectives of the event. And unfortunately the event has been designed to fail.
On the 3rd of June the MSM will be full of articles saying “less than X” attended. “As we saw in the 2014 vote, independence is really confined to two large industrial cities” “This is no mass movement, in less than a month numbers have dropped by X amount” The headlines will be written already. If a march doesn’t attract more than it did last time it’s easy for the momentum to stop. Or at least look like that.
Now of course, I could be totally wrong, and I really hope I am. How amazing would it be if more attended the march in June! But I would bet against that. And even if I am wrong, the organisers should still avoid the risk of it being smaller. That’s just a sensible approach that any professional event organiser would take. There’s no need to walk straight into the trap already being laid.
However, I fear it’s already too late. The march will go ahead, advice will be unheeded, and the MSM will happily gloat over the diminishing returns from marches.
Regional events are crucial to the success of the movement
I completely understand why the AUOB organisers have come up with the idea of marches across the country and I totally agree with the objective behind these events: “Let’s demonstrate that there is a demand for independence across the country” That’s a great and very important objective, however it is the format of the event (the marches) that is wrong, not that objective.
The default position for movements is to march, sometimes it’s right, but often it’s wrong. In the case of the AUOB their efforts would be put to much more effective use if they organised different format events, and I want to make this clear, they absolutely should keep running events.
So what should the YES movement do?
The organisers should focus more on dynamic formats with the objective to be visually powerful and to grab headlines. The organisers should totally stay away from drawing attention to the numbers. Leave that to an annual event and let that one be about numbers.
I normally spend a week or so with an organisation asking question and understanding the particular issues that will affect how they run events, so I am at a bit of a loss to suggest real alternatives, however I won’t shy away from coming up with some ideas or certainly examples that would super charge regional events and shift the focus away from the numbers taking part.
The Catalans understand this. They have an eye for the dramatic.
But here goes, here’s my regional events strategy for the AUOB team!
Over a six month period events should be coordinated. They would take place at different times and would highlight one particular sector of the Scottish economy. The objective would be something like this:
Using regional events will show that the movement is national. Each region should highlight the experience, impact and importance of a particular sector to the Scottish economy. The objective is to highlight Scotland’s wealth – visually and powerfully. We have to dispel the idea of “too wee and too poor”
So, this leads to events like this:
Using bottles of whisky to spell out “Independence has a cask strength case”
Same with oil: “Barrels of evidence that Scotland will thrive as an independent country”
Or with salmon. “If someone tells you Scotland can’t thrive as an independent country it’s probably a bit fishy”
These displays could be heavily promoted in advance or could be guerrilla style campaigns.
Now as I said, I am not as close to the organisers or the movement as I would like to be (being based in Barcelona for the foreseeable future) so I can not list these as suggestions, only as the “type” of event that would have an impact.
These types of events also nicely side step the traps being set for our moment as we try to capitalise on the momentum created by the fantastic work done by the AUOB organisers.
As ever, I am happy to spend more time engaging with anyone organising events that support Sottish independence. Just get in touch.
We are already about three years too late in creating a professional YES organisation. So there really is no time like the present.
Following on from the wave of optimism after the AUOB march over the weekend I wanted to start to detail some ideas about the national YES organisation. The idea seems to have a very broad support and at the moment there seems to be two credible places to start:
An organisation created from and around the current National YES Registry or
I am in favour of a new organisation born from the current YES movement via the National Yes Registry and it’s first year budget wouldn’t need to be in the six figures.
Before we start to look at the “who” I think it’s important that we take a step back and look at actually what we would have to do to get an organisation like this up and running.
I’ve set up a few businesses, run a few departments and as a consultant I’ve set up and reorganised structures within commercial organisations. So I feel confident to have a stab at what a YES organisation would need before it could be fully functional. Here’s a list of the things I think we would have to have before we formally launched:
A committee structure
A board of directors
An overall communications / membership platform
An organisational structure
Social media channels
Social media guidance
Social media strategy
Brand and brand guidelines
Health and safety, equal opportunity employment policies, etc.
Ensure GDPR compliance
Funding and revenue strategy
Contractural arrangements with public relations etc.
Live engagement strategy
Business set up
I am sure this is not an exhaustive list. Does it look rather daunting? Or are you asking, really, is all this necessary? Yes, it is. Considering the scrutiny that a YES organisation would be under it would be vitally important to make sure there were no holes in the organisation. Imagine if someone did to it, what Wings does to Scotland in Union?
With so much to do I could imagine a YES organisation may not see the light of day this year unless we start doing things now.
So what I am suggesting, having absolutely no power or authority to suggest it, is that the movement should, by the end of the May, have a proposal from the Scottish Independence Convention and one from the grassroots, via the National YES Registry. Plus of course any other suggestions that anyone in the movement wants to propose.
We now have an opportunity to unify a movement that has been split for too long. A YES organisation has to be the practical priority that will steady the ship and will support the challenges that are ahead.
Please get in touch or share this article if you agree that the movement should decide on the organisation that supports the movement before the end of May.
March’s #HandsOffOurParliament demonstration will show everything that is great about the YES movement, and at the same time will expose some of the handicaps that we carry with us. I have a few suggestions that will make the most of the event.
A beautiful thing will happen in Edinburgh on the 23rd March, something that shows the best of the YES movement. A few months ago it was nothing more than a conversation topic between a few Scottish independence activists on a bridge. Three months later a few thousand people will create a human “hoop” around the Scottish Parliament. If anything sums up the YES movement’s power and passion it is this ability to turn words into actions.
"Democracy is under threat in Scotland. However, Westminster politicians are building their case on exceptionally shaky ground, and they know it: but they can easily ignore, and fend off other politicians. They can bin newspapers and ignore partisan news reports. What they are unable to do is to show the same intransigence in the face of a seriously determined street movement. Just imagine 50,000-plus linking arms around Holyrood to "protect" democracy."
I am certainly not claiming any credit. It’s easy to have an idea (this post has a few more) it’s much harder to actually get out there and do it. The credit must fall to those putting these ideas in to action (my thanks to one of them in particular, Cliff Serbie who was frank with me in answering my questions)
I currently live in Barcelona and this has its disadvantages when trying to do what you can for the YES movement but it also has advantages. Being up close and personal with the Catalan independence movement offers me a very different perspective on political events in Scotland. If you are going to pass on some tips you may as well learn from the undeniable masters of mass movement street politics: the Catalans.
My suggestions and observations are based on my twenty years organising events and my experience of the dynamic fight for self-determination here in Catalonia.
I know Scotland and Catalonia are in many ways similar however they are also very different. I have taken those differences into consideration when making my suggestions in this post. I am not going to suggest that we should aim for 250,000 taking part next time! That would just be daft, but there are things we can do. Starting now, with over a week to go until the HOOP event.
March’s event should be the first but not the last HOOP
Before jumping to conclusions I contacted the organisers via their Facebook page (and they have seen and “signed off” this post) to find out a bit more about their plans. As you would expect they are but a group of dedicated activists with little time and even fewer resources for such a big event. It’s typical of our movement, and I covered some of the issues with this volunteer approach last year when I looked at the All Under One Banner rally.
Where I see issues with this DIY approach, many in the movement see beauty. The idea of the true grassroots, scrimping and saving and “doing the best they can” is romantic to many Yessers. I don’t share that opinion: we have a few hundred thousand minds to change and I think a professional approach to all that we do will ultimately be more successful. I truly believe that our events can have a big positive impact on many potential YES voters.
So with my total respect for the people who are doing it and my belief that some professional support would make things even more powerful I present my suggestions.
1. Limit expectations and the size of this HOOP event
The organisers have done everything you could expect of a volunteer team. They have had coverage in The National and The Scotsman and are increasing the awareness daily on social media. A couple of thousand taking part would be an amazing achievement. However, as we all know to our chagrin, demonstrations numbering in the few thousands are unlikely to make an impact on the MSM. I know that we will all see the usual Tweets: “where are you BBC”, but the organisers shouldn’t be distracted by that. The main objective should be to galvanise the YES movement and make this event a catalyst for a similar event that is much bigger and bolder.
2. Start raising funds by selling a badge
At the moment there are no plans to collect funds (the organisers asked me to make this VERY clear) at the event. This approach is of course very grassroots, the idea that people pay for things! It’s a romantic notion but campaigns that are not directly supported by private funds or political parties need to raise money from those passionate about the cause.
If the organisers are really to do anything that breaks outside our of YES leaning networks we have to raise money.
Selling this for a few Euros is a simple and effective way to raise funds. I am sure with a week or more to go the organisers could source or make something that they could sell for a coupe of quid at the event. Or perhaps someone reading this post could do it for them? The organisers need to sell them, account for the sales and hold on to the money for a while.
Why is money so important when fighting a campaign? The Catalan National Assembly organise the massive La Diada events every September 11th. They spend €300,000 on advertising. Yes, that’s what you have to spend to get a crowd in a country as likely to demonstrate on the street as they are to buy a beer! Money talks and we really have to make our voices heard. This event is a wonderful opportunity to start to raise funds for an upcoming campaign.
Following the event these little lapel badges (whatever they look like) could be either sourced directly from the official supplier, as the official ones are here, or made by groups and sold across Scotland, with funds being sent to the HOOP Foundation (which of course at the moment is a figment of my imagination). Slowly a fighting fund on this specific issue could be built.
The uniqueness of the power grab, as this clear democratic deficit, is that it is something that unites political parties and many voters, even some unionists. In Catalonia many a Yellow Ribbon wearer is no independentista; however the idea that you can be in prison for your views is an anathema to many. There are issues that transcend party politics and the power grab issue is one. It is a unique opportunity.
I hope you don’t feel grubby thinking about money. But if you do, you are probably about to feel worse. I am suggesting that the event is used to start a database for those who feel passionate about the power grab.
3. Collect email addresses and then collect more data
I asked the head of press at the ANC what was the secret that brings 1 million people on to the streets. The answer was data. Boring, but true.
Every effort should be made to collect email addresses of those attending HOOP and who are interested in the impending doom of a Westminster government using Brexit as an excuse to erode democracy in Scotland. At the end of the event the organisers should have a list of email addresses of people who WANT to be contacted about issues relating to the Westminster power grab including events and merchandising.
So to summarise my advice:
We should have another similar event later this year run on a much more professional basis that has grander and achievable objectives.
We should have a fund set up and run by a grass roots movement.
We should have the beginning of a powerful database.
If these three things take root in March we have a very good chance of building something that is even more beautiful. But that’s not the way things will pan out.
But of course, we are grass roots, so none of this is going to happen.
Maybe someday and somehow political activists in Scotland will take a different, less romantic approach and try and organise events that really make a difference.
If you are interested in attending the HOOP event visit their Facebook page. If you are interested in running a different type of event along the lines I’ve suggested, get in touch.
I have to ask the general YES movement: does the audience at our events give a fair reflection of our movement? It certainly doesn’t reflect those who, after being enthused, voted for Scottish independence in 2014. We therefore should be worried.
It is fantastic to see so many YES groups “getting the band back together”. Last weekend Twitter was full of news and images of YES events across the country. It’s like we are all getting ready for something eh?
Here’s a couple of images:
Notice anything? Well, the first thing that sprang to mind for me was the lack of age diversity. It’s actually really striking. Putting it in terms of a question, “where are the young folk?”
I asked Indy Blogger William Duguid, who was at another YES event over the weekend, what the age range was like there: “Anywhere between 55 and 65, though it wasn’t uniform”
It’s fair to say that although not uniform, it is very common for our indy events to be made up of an older audience. The images are from a couple of small regional events, however the same pattern is found at the larger ones too.
After the first build conference in 2017, I was asked to do a short post event questionnaire. Watching online I had an inclining that it was an older audience. So I included a question in the responses: “Your age range?”
Number of respondents on the left. Along the bottom the age rage (sample 10% of attendees)
I ask again, does the audience at our events give a fair reflection of our movement? No matter the answer, it certainly doesn’t reflect those who voted in 2014.
It’s clear younger voters are not attending any of our events in any significant number (putting it mildly) and I think we should be concerned. Is anyone else worried or bothered about this?
Attracting a younger audience to Scottish independence events
As many more YES groups will be formulating their events over the coming months I hope they take the opportunity to ask how their events can appeal to a younger audience. I am sure everyone agrees that it is absolutely crucial that if we want to win a second referendum campaign, we must engage, excite and energise a younger audience.
Our movement has to be supported by the vigour of youth. Using live experiences (what we are currently calling events) should be one of the most obvious ways to engage a wider audience. Events are viewed by many as the best way to reach the audiences that other means can’t reach.
Even as an events professional for over twenty years it is a challenge for me to put this transformation from event to experience into practice, so I know it’s not going to be easy for the army of YES volunteers.
With that in mind I’ve thought about a few simple things (shortcuts to creating experiences) that every YES group can consider as they plan their next event. Here’s how to attract a younger audience to your YES event:
1. Conferences are regarded as boring (and almost ALL of them are)
If your next event is called a “conference” strongly consider changing the name of the event. Nothing is likely to turn off a younger attendee than the belief they are going to attend a boring conference. Perhaps it’s not just the name you can change but the overall format. Have you ever considered running a Pecha-Kucha rapid fire event or a Hackathon or a BarCamp style event? There are a whole host of types of events that can remove you from the “do not attend” list.
2. How the event is perceived before is very important
The name of the event as well as the logo, images you use, and how the event is promoted will go along way to attracting a younger audience. Just taking the time to think about how the event will be perceived by a younger audience is likely to attract them. You may hate the idea of creating a “brand” for your events but this will help it stand out in a sea of time sapping events that young people attend.
3. Set a target for attracting millennials, perhaps 10% – 20% of your next audience
One of the objectives for your events should be to use them to recruit people to the movement. That objective should be widened to attract a specific number of younger attendees. Just having this in mind will help you achieve it.
4. Don’t spend the whole time talking to the audience
Look at your programme. What percentage of it is people speaking to the audience, compared to time spent listening to the audience or having the audience engage with each other? Millennials like to comment and feedback and they like to hear from, and speak to their peers.
Your sessions should have interaction. Speakers should be responding to the audience and tailoring their content according to their responses. Think of your attendees as “participants” rather than an audience. This is a sure fire way to engage a younger audience.
5. You have to mash-up the format
The technical events terms is Meeting Design (here’s a link to a whole host of articles on how to do this from my Gallus Events website) but in short, if you have an event that lasts any longer than a couple of hours, you need a variety of session formats to keep people interested.
6. Remove some things
Don’t have a top table. If you have speakers ask them to join from, and then return to the audience. If you have a chairperson ask them to move around the room or certainly, spend more time on the same level as the attendees. Don’t have trestle tables at any exhibition stands.
The idea underpinning these few suggestions is to make the event less formal and traditional. If you remove these traditional barriers you are likely to foster an environment that encourages much more interaction.
7. Choose your venue wisely
No event attendee really wants to spend time in a cold, drafty church hall. I totally understand that it may well be the cheapest option, but the venue is exceptionally important for all your attendees and younger folk just won’t turn up if you have the wrong venue. Take some time looking for the venue and choose one that will likely support the type of event you are trying to create: an open, informal and engaging experience.
8. Use technology
There are loads of free apps that will help you run a better event. Whether it’s an app that helps you check in the attendees, helps you collect their ideas or makes it easy for them to vote.
As well as making your event easier to run, your audience is used to apps and technology. Your attendees have a smartphone and you have to take advantage of this bit of equipment.
Oh, and using an overhead projector as one indy event organiser is planning to use doesn’t count as technology:
“This is just a wee heads up to ask ye if you know where I can get a cheap overhead projector I can use for a new pro-INDY group/project” This was a Tweet from last weekend.
I lasted used an OHP at an event in 1998. Most millennials wouldn’t know one if they bumped into it (which given its size is likely to happen)
9. Have some younger speakers
A younger audience will be interested in seeing speakers that they identify with. This is of course the same for any audience, the speakers should in the most part, reflect the movement while encouraging those who are currently not engaged in that movement to attend.
10. Follow up with attendees after your events
Millennials (and don’t we all) hate thinking that our time was wasted. If your event doesn’t lead to anything then really consider if it is worth running at all? No one likes a talking shop. Events have to lead to action.
An absolute must for any event that wants to bring attendees back is to follow-up and demonstrate what was achieved by or at the meeting. It is a little more work for the organisers but it will be worth it. The added bonus is that every idea, not only engages a younger audience, but will engage all of your attendees.
All of these ideas lead to events which can slowly become more experiential and I would suggest that YES groups focus on no more than two of the ideas at a time. Gradually we can and we must improve our events to attract a younger audience.
Judging by a few hours on Twitter over the weekend we clearly have a long way to go if we are to have events that attract a younger audience. Younger voters did vote for Scottish independence and still want to vote for a better Scotland. We have to show younger voters that we have a dynamic independence movement: one that will listen and adapt. The future becomes clearer at the events the YES movement run.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
An independent Scot's view on the search for an independent nation