Everyone’s got something to say and the marketplace of ideas has become increasingly crowded over the last few years. TED has been talking for years now, And since it franchised its name and concept, it’s gotten even more ubiquitous. The South-by-Southwest tweets have already begun and it’s beginning to sound like geek spring break. Then you’ve got C2-MTL, and, of course, Fast Company events. And before you can say “Inspire me!” the race for your time, money, and mind space starts to look like a creative kumite.
This stiff competition isn’t slowing down. In March, the Sydney, Australia-based event Semi-Permanent heads stateside for two stops, in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, featuring speakers like Aaron Rose, Wieden+Kennedy Portland’s Don Shelford and Sezay Altinok, Gmunk, Gary Baseman, and more. Founded by graphic designers Andrew Johnstone and Murray Bell in 2003, Semi-Permanent has hosted 36 events across nine cities and five countries over the last decade. Past speakers and exhibitors have included Banksy, Stefan Sagmeister, Shepard Fairey, Roman Coppola, and creative minds from Weta Digital, Industrial Light & Magic, Pixar, and Droga5.
Given the proliferation of live events aimed at creative thinkers, we asked Johnstone for his Top 5 Things Creative Live Events Need to Do.
Do it for the right reasons: “We all need to make a living and pay the rent, but we’ve always done the event because it’s a good thing to do and something people would like to experience rather than the financial drive, and success will take care of itself. Back in 2003, we felt there wasn’t really anything like this in Australia at the time. So we just decided to go ahead and try it, and we got about 2,000 people out to our first event, which was amazing. It really confirmed our suspicion that there was an appetite for it here, and we’ve been going gangbusters ever since.”
Set the mood: “Know the kind of atmosphere you’re trying to create and take the steps necessary to do it. We really work hard at making everything about it approachable and casual. Everyone has the same access at the events and after-parties, and the speakers aren’t hidden off in VIP areas. Another thing we do is make sure the speakers are sitting in the auditorium watching the other presentations. People have liked that the speakers are fellow members of the crowd.”
Let speakers be themselves: “We generally just let them do what they like. They know their work and history much better than we do. [What] we do ask them to focus on a bit is not only their work but how they got to where they are. That’s really important to our audience. It’s not just about ‘here’s a piece I did for this’ or ‘here’s a video I created for this,’ it’s more about how they got to that point. Stefan Sagmeister does a presentation about what inspires him and his process, rather than show the work he’s done. Speakers have their own way of doing things, so we try to give them the space to do what makes them most comfortable.”
Make sponsorship seamless: “It’s important to have strong support from sponsors and partners. We like to give sponsors as much benefit as we can and try to make sure they’re getting out of it what they originally wanted to achieve. The Roman Coppola presentation was actually made possible by Google, integrating Google Hangouts into the event. It didn’t look out of place and our audience loved it. For the L.A. event this year, Nike has given us its Montalban space, and all they’ve asked for are some well-placed logos in the space. They know that’s enough and don’t want to overwhelm the event. Once again, we just try to integrate them in to give both them and the audience something out of it.”
Go beyond the event: “Our exhibitions, master classes, after-parties, and all that have always been very important. The videos, as well as the book we produce, are just about diversifying the event to make it more than that one or two days. It’s also to show people who aren’t in that city what they missed and maybe they’ll be interested in coming out next year. The speakers are the heart of it, but it’s always been important to us to make it more than just a conference.”