Director’s Chair

By February 8, 2018Features

Andrew Harrison, Director of the Event Supplier and Service Association (ESSA), talks to H&E North about the event industry trade body, its plans to attract young people to the industry and more.

Hi Andrew! Tell us about ESSA’s new talent hub which was unveiled recently?
We identified that we were in the midst of a bit of a problem with getting young people into our industry and attracting the best talent. Companies were having difficulty connecting with colleges and universities and were not seeing that natural process where they were able to fill gaps within their workforce.

We identified that we had dropped off the radar as a sector that could be promoted to young people as a potential career, nor is the world of events and exhibitions something that is promoted at career days as an option. We struck up a partnership with University of Lincoln to start creating content and awareness about this issue, had sessions at our recent conference and wrote articles within our industry press to challenge people to think about how they can r-engage with their own local schools or colleges. The talent hub was the first step to provide ESSA’s members and the industry with guidance, to advertise vacancies or use recruitment tools.

But it’s too big a job for one association to fix, it needs to be done in partnership with the whole industry. We’re just at the start of what could be a 10 to 20-year plan to help us get a foothold on this issue.

So for those who might not know, what does ESSA do?
We’re a trade body representing the suppliers of goods and services to the events industry, but our association means different things to different members. For some members we are a differentiator for them with clients, for others we supply day-to-day business services such as legal advice, HR information, accounting and financial advice.

A large part of what we do is in the industry governance side of things. At this moment in time we’re engaged with organisers and venues in terms of conducting independent research on health and safety, around the build-up and break-down of events.

We also work with various government groups with our sister associations. This allows us to continually promote and keep our industry on the radar of the government with regards to safeguarding of investment and issues such as the potential ‘exhibitor tax’ which we challenged last year.

What does being part of the Events Industry Alliance (EIA) mean for ESSA?
The EIA is a secretariat which is the umbrella brand for three trade associations, the Association of Event Organisers (AEO), the Association of Event Venues (AEV) and the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA). We all work in the same offices in Berkhamsted but the majority of the time we work in isolation on our own projects for our own members. When we need to tackle industry issues and share resources, we come together and work as one.

Have new technological advances changed event supplier’s priorities?
I think they are facing a difficult task when it comes to keeping up with technology, especially for small companies. I can’t imagine what it’s like running your own business and having to continually innovate and invest in research and development and be aware of your competitors.

The industry in the last few years has seen an explosion of new technologies in the manufacturing and building of events and products to enhance a client’s offering. It must sometimes feel quite overwhelming in that sense.

And how about event security?
Businesses have to keep up with technology and safety and think about corporate responsibility. Security and safety within our industry is important, more so than ever. There is a lot of travel involved for companies and individuals in the UK and overseas and companies have that accountability of juggling safety considerations for clients and attendees. Our industry is also always under the scrutiny of health and safety standards and finding more efficient and safer ways of working.

What are the goals for ESSA in 2018?
We are very much a standards-driven association, so we are looking at being more stringent in those areas and increasing checks for all members to adhere to a code of conduct and a quality charter. I want to strengthen that tidemark for what ESSA means and promote it as a standard across various sectors through our ‘Use an ESSA Member’ campaign.

We’re looking to create more new services and products, just like the talent hub. That is an investment by the association to create a service that our members can use to help fix a problem within our sector. We’re big believers in organising peer-to-peer networking among members and the rest of the industry, to help create opportunities for our members to network and attend forums as a community also.

To find out more about joining ESSA or to use an ESSA member for your event supply needs, visit