A masterclass in event communications
Four giant marionettes, 1.3 million visitors and a three-day outdoor performance. Where do you begin when it comes to planning an event of this scale? We interviewed the team behind Liverpool’s Dream to find out.
For those of you well versed in the management of large-scale events, you will appreciate that success can only be achieved through proactive planning, preparation and communication. Without these fundamentals in place, you’re on track to fail before you even begin; especially when it comes to planning a spectacle such as the Liverpool Giants.
Royal de Luxe, the world’s leading street theatre company, returned to the UK in October 2018 to entertain 1.3 million people who came to see Giants walk the streets of Liverpool and Wirral during a three-day outdoor event.
The Giants performance saw four enormous, moving Marionettes parade through the streets each accompanied by 30 Lilliputians (artists who physically move the Giants), 9 vehicles, 100 Benevol (volunteers) and 30 security within the bubble. This was alongside operational staff, security and police at each scene and rest place.
For an event of this size, there are an overwhelming number of considerations to plan for incorporating security, road closures and transport – all whilst enabling Royal de Luxe an element of creative freedom. Events like this certainly aren’t commonplace anymore, and there is much to be learnt from the team who pulled off such a remarkable feat.
The 2018 event marked the third appearance by Liverpool Giants, following two visits from Royal de Luxe in 2012 and 2014, pulling crowds of 800,000 and 1,000,000 respectively – this allowed the Giants team to apply knowledge and learning from previous years.
“Back in 2012, when planning the event, we had considered the route but not the movement of the crowd between the different scenes in the City centre” Event Manager Susan Lees reflected, “we were not sure how the crowd would respond to the Giants and the performance; suffice to say we learned a lot about crowd movement that year.”
Fast-forward to the 2014 event and an increase in visitors posed new problems when transport plans faltered, “Lime Street Station struggled with visitor capacity on the Saturday evening despite plans being put in place to mitigate these risks.” The event was also thrown a curveball when the head of the Grandmother Giant fell off mid-performance, “we knew that going into 2018, we had to expect the unexpected and plan for all eventualities.”
In preparation for the event, the team travelled overseas to observe the Giants performance in alternative locations. The 2017 event in Geneva, Switzerland, provided an interesting insight into event management incorporating 1000 police officers, snipers and concrete barriers – security was at a maximum.
In 2018 the team attended Leeuwarden in the Netherlands and saw a more relaxed approach to the event with minimal performance space, a small police presence and very little preparation for the street performance, “We really got to see a variety of approaches to the planning and execution of the event, we observed both ends of the spectrum when it came to security and planning”, Susan recalls “this really helped us to find a middle ground when it came to balancing the safety and security of the event without impacting the performance.”
Arming themselves with the knowledge, insight and lessons learned from previous events enabled the team to plan for a wide range of scenarios, enabling them to proactively mitigate risks right from the very beginning.
The seamlessly executed spectacle was overseen by the Culture Liverpool team (part of Liverpool City Council), supported closely by Merseyside Police and underpinned by 55 stakeholders, all of whom had a role to play in the planning and preparation of the event.
It was Project Manager, Jen Falding, who had the job of coordinating the complex relationship between the French team, Royal de Luxe, and all 55 stakeholders. “The planning process began eighteen months in advance of the event with the formation of the joint agency group. Project meetings then took place every two weeks with all key team members.” Regular, consistent communications certainly helped the planning process.
With so many stakeholders to inform, the team relied heavily upon an online portal to share documents, information and regular communications with the project team, “The portal had around 330 users and incorporated input from the police and other blue light services, regional transport partners, highways, parks, security suppliers and volunteers.”
Communications weren’t just limited to those involved in the planning and preparation of the event either, local businesses and residents had a huge part to play in the Giants event, “we actually visited all of the businesses located on the route of the event, it was essential that they had a enough stock to cope with the visitor demand. It was equally as important that they didn’t plan for any large deliveries or bin collections over the three days.”
The team also navigated other events taking place in the city across the same weekend, twenty-two weddings, funerals, protests, Irish parades, not to mention a Liverpool vs. Manchester City game, “we maintained regular contact with everyone about the event and spoke to local residents regularly about event plans, to the point where we even received a wedding reception invite. Essentially, we had to navigate a three-day shutdown of Liverpool city centre and communication was pivotal in ensuring minimal disruption – it really was a City-wide effort.”
Balancing artistic vision with safety
The Giants covered 21 miles over the course of the three-day event and, with record numbers of people due to gather both sides of the river,
Merseyside Police played an active role in coordinating contingencies.
Specially trained police, both visibly armed and covert, were deployed at the event, employing resources such as behavioural detection officers, number plate recognition and CCTV. Silver Event Commander Superintendent Mark Morgan, together with Bronze Commander Superintendent Jonathan Davies, have an extensive history of working alongside Culture Liverpool, “With a focus on the role of police versus the current security climate, the planning, preparation and deployment of policing operations was very different in 2018 compared to previous years; our focus was on preparing for the unexpected.” Mark explained.
Over the twelve months leading up to the event, Mark and Jonathan joined the team in their overseas visits to assess safety and security protocols deployed at other Giants’ events, “It was our role to work with the team to identify and mitigate any risks, enabling all preventative strategies to make the event as safe as possible. Observing the performance in other countries enabled us to carefully balance the artistic vision of Royal de Luxe and safety throughout the duration of the event, a great example of this was the counter-terrorism measures employed in Geneva.”
In order to deliver a succinct response to emergency situations, crisis communications, and streamline operational plans, the team held table-top exercises covering several incidents that could severely impede the event. Weather, staff illness, vehicle failure, threat level changes and fires were just a few scenarios discussed and prepared for. With all key stakeholders in attendance, the exercise ensured all responsive structures were put in place and risks were identified, anticipated and planned for.
When it came to security, a competitive tender process successfully procured FGH Security, led by Lewis Walsh, to oversee the safety and security of both the moving and static Giant displays. Their role, along with Event Design and TESS, was to assess crowd management considerations combining asset protection, crowd dynamics and fluid movement of the deployment as the performance moved through the city, whilst also ensuring that people could still interact with the Giants.
The previous two visits by Royal de Luxe gave the team an insight into crowd dynamics; this experience enabled the team to plan routes based on the speed of the Giants, anticipated crowd size and pinch-points in the city.
“The Giants required a 15m x 5m corridor. To make the route passable we arranged for the removal of roundabouts, traffic lights and street furniture – even BT lines where required”, Susan explained “In the end we chose two routes to help disperse the crowds sufficiently, we gave visitors prior knowledge of routes before the event and tracked the Giants movement in real-time via an interactive map online.”
Despite huge crowds, there were no reported injuries, no arrests or increases in crime and a huge amount of positive public engagement was generated.
Responsive and adaptive
Three weeks before the show Royal de Luxe announced it would be the last show featuring these Giants, further adding to the anticipation and excitement of the event “You could only imagine what this did to encourage visitors. It was a huge coup for Liverpool to host the final event” recalls Susan, “at this point anticipating the number of visitors was an impossible job.”
Despite the forward planning and excellent communication from the outset, there were many uncontrollable factors which required the team to be adaptive and responsive. For example, the weather was a massive factor; operating a 50ft and 2.5 tonne Giant in high winds comes with an element of risk!
No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go awry, and this event was no exception. “On Saturday, the radios failed, and until they were back up and running, we relied on WhatsApp to communicate with the team on the ground.” Although this caused an inevitable concern at the time, it had minimal impact on the event and was quickly rectified.
The team also experienced a close call on Saturday afternoon of the event when the Giants met on the Strand, “last-minute changes by Royal de Luxe impacted timings and inevitably, the crowd merged. Necessitated dynamic interventions led by Superintendent Jonathan Davies and supported by event control ensured effective crowd management and dispersed the crowds quickly seeing no negative impact on visitor experience.”
When asking the team what their winning formula was for the successful deployment of such an event, they all responded with the same conclusion; it’s all about strength of communications, partnerships and trust.
This event will forever be remembered by the people of Liverpool as the biggest in history; it’s a great example of how an entire city can come together to deliver something spectacular.
Special thanks to Project Manager Jen Falding, Event Manager Susan Lees, Superintendent Jonathan Davies and Superintendent Mark Morgan. All images ©Liverpool City Council & Jason Roberts, used with full permission.