Dan Marsden-Knight is the Chamber’s events programme and development manager. Kay Wilson talks to him about his dream job and uncovers the attention to detail that goes into organising memorable events with his team
Events programme & development manager
For an events manager, running the rich and varied North East England Chamber of Commerce calendar of prestigious dinners, VIP lunches and informal networking occasions may sound like the dream job. It can be, but it is also a high- pressure role as Dan Marsden-Knight, events programme & development manager, knows well, running over 200 events a year with the region’s business leaders relying on his team, and him, to deliver outstanding occasions.
Dan relishes the challenge with tales aplenty of major successes, glitches overcome and lessons learnt.
One of these lessons was never to put complimentary chocolate bars on guests’ seats, especially when the keynote speaker arrives late and sits on white-covered chairs, without removing it, only realising some time later when it had melted.
Needless to say, due to Dan’s swift action the majority of the 500 guests at the event never knew anything about that heart-stopping moment.
Washington-born Dan has been at the Chamber for over six years following an events management career which started in European holiday resorts such as Andorra and Barcelona.
After his holiday rep work he returned to the region for a year to work on Sunderland’s air show and the launch of the city’s Aquatic Centre.
He then worked in London for five years for prestigious medical colleges including the Royal Society of Medicine.
By 24 he was leading a team of eight people and part of a department running over 500 events annually.
Dan’s return to his native North East followed the untimely death of his mother, as he wanted to be based nearer his family. When he was appointed to his Chamber role at 26 he was one of the Chamber’s youngest ever senior managers.
He says: “Working for the Chamber is my dream job. At my interview I was asked to give my suggestions for the 200th anniversary dinner. I’m delighted to say everything I pitched was then put into action and delivered.
We had Sajid Javid speaking to 800 guests in Durham Cathedral and then a formal dinner in a marquee on Palace Green. It really was a night to remember.
“When I started here we organised around 70 events a year and about a quarter of our members attended them. Now over 50 per cent of members come to our events at least once a year. This makes us the North East’s biggest provider of business-to-business events, over 7,500 people to come to them, which is fantastic for a membership organisation. It proves we are doing our job.”
The number of events being organised by Dan and his team of three may be substantial but one of the biggest challenges of all their careers was delivered successfully last year, with the first formal dinner ever held in the nave of Durham Cathedral.
Dan said: “When organising the dinner, at the forefront of my mind, is the need to be respectful of the Cathedral as a place of worship. We worked closely with their team to ensure the fabric of the building is treated with the utmost care. For example, one of our partner members Franks the Flooring Store, very kindly provided the carpet to ensure the floor was protected.”
This year the Annual Dinner built on last year’s success and hosted just under 800 guests. The logistics associated with the event are mind-boggling, but the events team take them in their stride.
Dan explains: “My team are fantastic and always rise to the occasion.
“The minute last year’s dinner was over we started to plan this year’s event, taking place in September.
“The Cathedral’s caterers Baxter Storey work closely with me and their menu for this year was really unusual and imaginative.”
The challenge of feeding 800 people simultaneously is complex for any caterer, doing it inside a historic building makes this even more taxing.
Dan said: “In all of these arrangements, the main thing we have to remember is that the Cathedral doesn’t close. Our Annual Dinner cannot under any circumstances have an impact on its daily religious services.”
The next major event in the Chamber’s event calendar, announced earlier this year, will be its Annual Business Awards to be launched in January 2020.
The North East England Chamber Awards, which feature the Chamber Business Awards and Chamber Inspiring Females Awards, will celebrate a range of businesses and leaders.
The aim of the awards is to recognise the achievements of members. The awards will also link directly into the British Chambers of Commerce national awards, giving our members the opportunity to become shortlisted for categories at the national awards, which is an amazing opportunity.
“My team and I have been working tirelessly to get planning for these awards off the ground and we’re really excited to launch early next year.”
And a final word of advice for event organisers, Dan said: “Always make sure you arrange something you would want to go to, if you think its going to be dull, it probably will be, so make sure it has more appeal.”