This time, we have sat down with Robert Kenward, a recruitment expert specializing in senior hires within the events, MICE and experiential sectors and an experienced speaker, moderator, industry commentator and EDI advocate. With over 21 years experience in the recruitment and events sectors, Robert brings a direct and pragmatic approach to recruitment and retention. He is also the founder of YOU search & select and one of the co-founders of YOU exclusive.
In this interview, Robert talks about his career path, his achievements, his challenges, and his views on the impact of AI on the industry.
Robert Kenward: I came into the events industry on the recommendation of my old boss; I'd been working in recruitment for around ten years when my sales director married an event agency owner and told me about the vibrancy of the industry as she thought I would love it. I initially joined the board of an agency as a commercial director and then had a couple of different senior agency positions working in a commercial/new business role for several leading experiential and event agencies. After a few years, I could see a gap in the market and decided to combine my agency and recruitment experience and become an events industry recruitment professional.
My major achievements would be keeping my business going and launching a new company through lockdown. I'm also very proud to have co-founded the REACH events management scholarship that gives Black, Brown or minority ethnic students a grant towards living costs; it's having a real, tangible impact on the diversity of our industry at a grassroots level.
In September 2023, the scholarship won gold at the M&IT awards and I was personally honored to win the M&IT personality of the year – in recognition of REACH, my pro bono sessions, and the work I do to help the industry adopt better recruitment practices.
Robert Kenward: While I may not be directly involved in event creation now, I've had the privilege of witnessing and contributing to some memorable events. One that stands out was the Sony PlayStation 25th anniversary event organized by Bank Sadler. I was part of the team that won the event, and it gave me a real wow moment when it emphasized the importance of people over brands, and it showcased how a genuine connection with the audience can make an event truly special. This event was very cool and creative; it was held at Tobacco Dock and featured the Cuban Brothers and some stunning graffiti!
Robert Kenward: The pandemic was a significant setback for all businesses let alone those focused on events, leaving me without income for a considerable period of time. To bounce back - and quite honestly, to help me get out of a very dark hole - I opened up my diary and initiated one-to-one Zoom meetings to provide insight, support, and guidance to those affected by the pandemic with job losses and redundancy. I still hold these sessions once a week, and to date I have helped just under 800 people. I learned that when we work together, the power of our community is unstoppable.
Robert Kenward: The best practice for me is getting the audience involved in some way – such as a workshop or other interactive methods. I will always contact the organizers beforehand to understand who the audience is so I can then tailor the content to their interests and needs.
Another great practice is also remembering that sessions are not sales pitches; no one cares who the speaker is - I just include one slide to give some context to my background and experience and then get to the stuff they've come to listen to.
Robert Kenward: It won't destroy the industry like some people predict, but it will support it. Used properly, AI writing tools can help create marketing text and content – but it can be biased and formulaic, so it should not be used straight from the source. AI needs human creativity and interaction to polish and refine (and sometimes completely rewrite…) but it can produce a good starting point, or several good versions that can be picked apart and combined. But like most things, it is only as good as what is fed into it. It is an interesting tool that may help and support – but we can’t let it take over from human creativity.
NoIs the event industry effectively adapting to the changing expectations and preferences of the younger generation?
YesDoes the event industry place too much emphasis on extravagant productions and overlook the substance and content of events?
NoDo you believe there is an over-reliance on technology and automation in the event industry, leading to a diminished human touch?
YesIs there a tendency for the event industry to prioritize high-profile and celebrity-driven events over those with authentic and community-driven experiences?
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