Why the weekend conference appears to have had its day

This column was conceived a month ago, on a rain-swept railway platform. I’d been dumped at Birmingham International by a disgracefully underperforming Virgin engine, en route from Euston to the annual Radio Festival conference in the city centre.

This column was conceived a month ago, on a rain-swept railway

platform. I’d been dumped at Birmingham International by a disgracefully

underperforming Virgin engine, en route from Euston to the annual Radio

Festival conference in the city centre.



Discarded passengers were told to catch a local train. A few minutes

later I realised that Bob Geldof, booked to make the keynote speech of

the morning conference session we were both rushing to attend, was also

held up, and looking miserable. He was travelling to Birmingham from

London in order to talk to people usually employed in or near the

capital, who were congregating in a place not of our choosing.



Geldof discreetly practised his warm-up jokes while angry Midlands

commuters eavesdropped, happy for any diversion: we were all praying for

a local shoppers’ ’hopper’ to come to our rescue. We eventually arrived

safe, but late, at Birmingham New Street. Geldof went on to give a good

speech to the annual festival about the special quality of radio,

pirates and how he hoped to profit from radio’s commercial expansion.

But the experience of wasted time, rotten travel arrangements and of

being in a remote city, made me look at my diary afresh. Especially when

I found that many of BBC Radio’s brightest executives were also delayed

for hours on the M40, M42 and M6.



I’ve attended eight conferences in the last year which required an

overnight stay, but found only one of them unmissable: Rupert Murdoch

haranguing the BBC at the European Audiovisual conference last April.

I’ve turned down at least that number because they were in remote

places; Banff in Canada, Berlin, the Greek Islands.



It’s odd how many times the organisers have said: ’ah, we’re switching

to somewhere with more life next year’. Barcelona instead of Berlin.

Once upon a time a conference ticket was a device to escape the office

and reward favourites. But in today’s stressed climate, that is

impossible. It’s why the only sort of conferences people rush to attend

are day-long and tied to very specific subjects.



Those who work in the networking professions, whether journalism, PR or

lobbying, have a common grounding: it has been drummed into us that it

is valuable - essential even - to network and to be seen in the right

places. I have always assumed this to be an iron discipline: that you’re

finished, for example as a media journalist, if you find the Edinburgh

International TV Festival, coming up later this month, too boring. Now I

say, rubbish. We have e-mail, faxes, and cheap newsletters.



Conferences have to adapt to the times. I favour the short, sharp

focused day-long event rather than the long drawn-out weekend. Give me

Brighton over Barcelona or Cannes any day.



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