With lockdown easing and the possibility of live events ont he horizon, PLSA Chair Richard Butcher, shares his thoughts on the future of PLSA conferences.
Did you manage to get to Investment Conference?
I hope so. If you did you were amongst our record highest ever number of delegates and attendees. Almost 40% more than any investment conference previously. Remarkable.
It is, of course, obvious why: a fantastic programme of thought-provoking sessions including the best speakers and panellists.
There may have been another contributory reason though: this was our second major digital only conference and, being blunt, more people can get to their PC than can make a trip to Edinburgh in normal times.
If this is the case, it proves what we have been arguing for a long time – digital is and must be part of the future of the PLSA. We need to move from having a purely analogue proposition, through having an analogue proposition delivered digitally to a truly digital proposition. That is the future.
Now, to be clear, while it will need to be truly digital proposition it won’t be an entirely digital proposition. A lot of what we do, and you, our members, value it, is get people together and I simply cannot imagine a digital experience that replicates the unplanned, spontaneous and fortuitous chats I have in the hotel lift or at the HSBC coffee stand (and nor can I imagine a digital version of this excellent coffee) – so the future will be a hybrid of digital and physical events. Fantastic programmes of thought-provoking sessions including the best speakers and panellists. A blend of digitally created and delivered content, and analogue content that you can consume digitally. Isn’t it exciting?
The team are working hard to imagine what that could feel like and they’d love to hear your thoughts. Let us know. It’s important we deliver our conferences and other output in a way you find (a) useful and (b) enjoyable.
And as lockdown seems to be unwrapping, the opportunities for reinvention are there for the taking.
But there is the thing.
The PLSA conferences are the biggest annual industry events and they take a lot of prep. An awful lot of prep. There’s the programme to plan and populate. Speakers to find, pre-presentation briefing meetings to get in the diary and have, the tech checks and then the sessions themselves. There’s the conference floor to plan and fill. Stands to sell, build, and fill. Freebies to be sourced and arranged. There’s the catering to organise and get set-up, the PR behind the whole thing, the sales and marketing work – exhibitors, sponsors, and delegates. There’s the green room to arrange and stock, the tech room, the team room, the press room and the hotel rooms. There’s the coffee to grind and the water to heat.
This takes time. In fact, work on the October Annual Conference usually starts in earnest in January. The venues are booked years in advance (“hello – is that Manchester? Yes, we’ve a conference we want to stage in the city. 2000 or thereabouts people all told. Could you squeeze us in in say a few weeks’ time?”). This means we have to make early decisions about a lot of things and one early decision we’ve had to make about Annual Conference 2021 is we can’t afford to take the risk of a third lockdown. So, we’re planning for AC21 to be digital.
I know this will disappoint some of you, as it does me, but…
Provided there isn’t a third lockdown we’re hoping we’ll be able to plan some physical events around the annual conference content – maybe in the run-up, during or even after the event itself. Smaller gatherings to watch, debate and most importantly meet in person. To mingle.
Covid has few advantages but one of them is that it has forced us to think differently about how we work. This has opened our eyes to opportunity and new ideas. It has forced the pace. Our conferences are never likely to be the same again. Instead they will be bigger, better and delivered to you in your choice of ways.
The next PLSA digital event is this year's Local Authority Conference: Performing under pressure.