Emma Woodcock, Head of Business Development shares the value of her Board Member position within Academic Venue Solutions

Academic Venue Solutions invited Emma Woodcock, Head of Events and Business Development/Covid Response Team Manager at Keele University Events and Conferencing to share the value of being a Board Member within the consortium.

Board Members play an important role in the strategic direction for the consortium, to work with our academic venue members and position Academic Venue Solutions (AVS) as the natural partner for conference and event planners.  Emma has been a Board Member since 2017 and shares her involvement and how this benefits her academic venue.

What key strengths do you bring to the Board Team for Academic Venues Solutions?

Having worked at Keele University Events and Conferencing for over 18 years and taking up the role of Head of Event and Business Development, I have a great understanding of University politics and strategy, and how the commercial portfolio complements the University objectives.  This knowledge I feel is invaluable as a Board Member for AVS to understand the unique dimensions our members work within.

In a competitive world, I am a true optimist, and always see the ‘bright side’ never letting a potential revenue generating opportunity pass me by.  But at the same time, I am happy to hold my hand up for further clarification when I am chartering unfamiliar waters, as I see my Board Member capacity as a learning curve with peers who are from other aspects of University life.

Our combined strengths as Board Members position Academic Venue Solutions as a strong contender within the MICE sector and we are the only consortium specialising solely on academic venues.

What benefits do you believe being a Board Member for AVS gives your organisation?

The consortium is non profit making, however each and every member, quite rightly is looking for the ROI on their membership fees.  Representing the members, I feel I challenge and question to ensure we all get great value for money and our membership fees are well spent.

Collaborations AVS deliver to its members gives us a fantastic network of contacts, not just in Events and Conferencing but in other areas of the University; catering, accommodation, and IT for example.  It provides me with a really good understanding of where our niche bit of the MICE industry is, and I share this with my team to create sales and marketing strategies that will deliver our financial targets. In addition, we have opportunities to join focus groups with external organisations providing our sector with goods and services who are looking to develop their products and what to meet with their audience for development ideas and feedback.

On a personal note, there is no better development than being on the AVS Board, you simply could not buy this detailed senior level of personal development.

The pandemic placed the events industry in a tailspin, what have been your biggest challenges/greatest achievements over the past 12 months?

Almost a year ago, we were a very buoyant business and to see how quickly this shut down through lockdown was initially quite scary.  We were all in completely unchartered waters.  The University quite rightly was also working through what this meant for Student Learning and no one knew the time that would pass before we were positively looking to return to our full levels of service.

What became evident very quickly for my team was the transference of their customer service skills, knowledge of the campus to create new ‘COVID’ spaces and of course keep in contact with our client base, moving events, providing reassurance to social events and ensuring we delivered all the changes to be able to reopen safely, securely and providing confidence for our clients to meet at Keele University Events and Conferencing once again.

In September 2020, I pivoted my skills to lead the Covid Response Team at Keele University.  At first it felt a bit like a ‘Corona Coaster’ as I built up a team from scratch utilising some members from KUEC but also bringing in other colleagues from areas of the University, developing processes and systems in a matter of days.  We had to build relationships with Health Protection Teams and repor directly to the Executive Committee of the University.  We ensure that covid cases, isolations and contact tracing is well managed, in turn, keeping the campus and local communities safe.  The dedication of the team to deliver this, is contributable to the relatively low level of cases at Keele University and is something I am really proud of.

Preparing for the students to return home to families for Christmas, led to the Asymptomatic Testing Centre on campus, using KUEC team members once again to build this from scratch with an 8-day deadline to be fully operational.  This was a big ask…events of this nature and complexity would normally take 12/24 months to plan, so I had to turn to my 10 years’ experience in business development, managing and delivering events on behalf of clients and my vast contacts to push this through in the timescale. To date we have facilitated 10,397 staff and student tests.

From the outset of the pandemic, and my team’s roles changing to support the University, I didn’t want to lose the momentum we have gained in our commercial business.  So, I took the strategic decision to use external consultancy support, with academic venue experience to work alongside a small core business development team and was able to trust them all to do a great job.  We had regular touchpoint meetings, but I am so pleased they have kept our commercial business intact for us to return to over the coming months.

Amidst all our activities on campus, additionally in February 2021, we saw the opening of Courtyard by Marriott Keele Staffordshire hotel, a 150 bedroomed hotel with café, bar, fitness centre and outdoor dining space…so #nowyoucanstaytoo!  Currently delivering services to Key Workers and takeaway food and beverage, we are excited to see the full hotel open to business in May.

How do you feel your business strategies have changed as a result of the pandemic?

KUEC was about to enter a time of growth and change anyway with the addition of the hotel and hopefully being able to tap into new markets. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to really focus on our new sales and marketing strategies and review the areas of focus for the team. We have always enjoyed a high level of returning customers, internal events and are spending time reviewing our key sectors to understand how the pandemic has changed their business and respond positively to reengage.

We are hoping that being a green leafy campus will be to our advantage as meetings and events start up again.  What hasn’t changed is that Keele University Events and Conferencing is a leading academic venue in the UK, and in 2020 we were proud to be recognised as the Best Academic/Research Institution Meeting Venue at the CHS Awards.

What are your key objectives as Academic Venues reopen their commercial portfolio?

The commercial portfolio that Academic Venues offer is second to none for conference organisers, however we also recognise that our priority is to support the University.

My time as Covid Response Team leader has certainly provided enhanced insight into the pandemic, responses and ultimately how the team have worked to make the campus a safe and secure place to be.  I know that this is invaluable as we talk to clients looking to return to face-to-face events and looking for knowledgeable guidance on how to deliver these.  Our green open space provides a relaxing environment which is dedicated to learning and delegates will be able to enjoy the outdoors.

I know that business will not return to pre pandemic overnight, however we are looking forward to embracing a new future and partnerships with our Courtyard by Marriott Keele Staffordshire lets us explore previously untapped markets.

KUEC I am confident will return to delivering a significant contribution back to the University to reinvest in world class teaching and research.

Returning to my role as a Board Member for AVS, I alongside other board members, will be looking forward to supporting our member venues and continuing to deliver strong industry collaborations and recognition within the MICE sector as a key consortium to deliver MICE events.

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