We may not be the world, but we are the Australian events industry

By CEO, Peter McDonald

Ours is such an interdependent industry. Irrespective of the nature, be that social, business, personal, community, sporting, musical, a festival, major, minor, special, whatever, every event needs someone to organise it, somewhere to hold it, and various suppliers and partners to embellish it.

I’ve previously likened event management to an iceberg. So much unseen is necessary to enable the seen. But whether seen or unseen, nature’s aggregation of the many ice particles and the connectedness that comes of that is what produces the greater iceberg object. Some would even say its pressure that brings it all together.

Pressure is something synonymous with event management, but where I think we as an industry fall short of nature’s example of what pressure can achieve is an insufficient extent of connectedness. I don’t think it’s impossible to do and I can give an example of how when an industry’s people come together, something huge and enduring can come of it.

I recently watched a Netflix documentary The Greatest Night in Pop. It is about the evening of January 25 1985, when dozens of the time’s most popular US musicians gathered in Los Angeles to record a charity single for African famine relief – We are the world. Setting egos aside, they collaborated on a song that would make history. In my opinion it’s a great watch and worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

Cutting to the chase everyone involved in the project volunteered their time to create something bigger than any of them ever could in isolation, that would benefit billions of people worldwide – be that through funds raised or entertainment – and that as Huey Lewis described in voiceover was “gonna live forever”.

Lionel Richie describes how within the one space a family of industry grew, where people owned the need to be there above and beyond their existing commitments. They had just one moment in time to get it perfect. Talk about pressure. The sales the song achieved suggest that they did get it perfect.

Ken Woo, a cameraman on the evening, tells the story of how, come the end of the night he pulled out an invoice he had prepared only to be told ‘thanks, no thanks’, which he reconciled comfort with on the basis that he had gotten a “cool T-shirt and a great story” instead. He could not have known that night what would come, and just how fortunate he would be to be able to be still telling that story 39 years later.

The bit that resonated most with me was the revelation by one of the vocal arrangers, that early the next morning, after everyone had left – the recording session had gone through the night – he heard Diana Ross crying and when she was questioned as to why, she responded that she didn’t want it to be over.

Lionel Richie reflected how what they had done that night was so big and so powerful. Earlier in the night he had hosted the American Music Awards – at which he’d won multiple awards – but when he got home the morning after, and his family were congratulating him on those achievements, all he wanted to talk about was ‘We are the world’. His perception was that being part of something much bigger than him overshadowed everything going on in his life – as good as all of that was.

Quincy Jones, the record’s producer, talked about how music is a strange animal. It can’t be touched, smelt, eaten or anything else. “Its just there”. It has a spiritual energy. Bruce Springsteen however viewed the song more pragmatically: it was a tool to achieve an objective with. Shiela E spoke about how she is – present tense being correct – a part of something that has been life changing, and how “very humbling” that is.

Paraphrasing Harry Belafonte, he spoke how collective power can be very impacting. When egos are put aside in the service of the greater good, people can truly be one. Everyone needs each other. He said, “The point is to get in”.

The show concludes with Richie telling of a lesson his father sought to teach him. It is to enjoy coming “home” because a time will come when you can’t. Whilst a house may be there long term, the people who make the house the ‘home’ won’t. The studio where the recording was made still stands, but the connection that occurred that night which was so imperative to achieve not just the harmony of the tune but the fundraising windfall isn’t. Everyone went back to their separate ways.

So how is this relevant for our industry? That’s easy. It’s the transferrable premise. Through uniting and altruism, great things can be achieved; things much bigger than any of us, that can last a long time, and benefit many people. MEA seeks to be both the house and the home for the industry. The collective contribution of everyone to form a connectedness across the breadth of the sector will empower us to be what the industry needs us to be to lead it – and become something as awesome as a natural creation like an iceberg. Finding ways to say yes and pay it forward, and dare I say put egos and self-interest aside – whether this be through investment of time, product or funds – will result in both MEA’s and the industry’s endurance. Time may ultimately reveal that unbeknownst to you, you too had your own ‘Ken Woo’ moment.