Blog: Alton Towers... please never on my watch

Black-sky thinking is vital for delivering brand experiences, says Mark Stringer, founder and chief executive of agency PrettyGreen.

Blog: Alton Towers... please never on my watch, says PrettyGreen's Mark Stringer
Blog: Alton Towers... please never on my watch, says PrettyGreen's Mark Stringer

Most of us over the years have been involved in putting on stunts and experiences featuring an element of danger or potential risk of injury – purely thanks to the activity itself.

I've been lucky enough to be part of the virtual agency/client team that put a man to the edge of space, back flipped an BMXrider over Tower Bridge and thrown people off death slides and what being involved in these extreme brand stunts and experiences has taught me is the importance of what I term "black-sky" planning. 

Black Sky planning is a horrible session (or series of sessions) where the full team run through every single "what if" scenario under the sun. A session where you sit with the production and health and safety and comms teams and jointly pull apart everything that could go wrong, how you escalate issues, how you think through every possibility - be it a minor or major issue.

  • What happens if someone's sick in the line, how do we get rid of the smell?
  • What if it there's a heatwave, can we distribute water?
  • What's the nearest hospital, do we have the contact details?
  • How many fire extinguishers and where are they located?
  • Who's in the ELT when there's a code silver?

As an outsider, it would appear Alton Towers ELT kicked in quickly (although I'm sure there was a period of panic before the calm of the crises kicked in). And it's about the team/brand and co. remaining in control whilst enabling the experts to do their job, and the comms teams ensuring the media are being managed and catered for.

They'll be a lot of clients sat around probably dismissing the relevance of the Alton Towers shocking disaster. "What's putting on a pop-up in a disused shop got to do with Alton Towers?" they'll ask their agencies. Well, for me, that's probably the biggest mistake a brand/client can make. 

In all my years of being involved in putting on some (frankly ridiculous at times) experiences, the biggest issues I've ever experienced haven't been on seemingly "dangerous" events, but from the ones that on the outside just feel like warm fluffy experiences; a stabbing at a ticket give-away, a bag of heroin found at a tea party,  a dislocated shoulder in a ball pit, broken bones on a slide, guarddog attacking a journalist's son, total police shut down due to crowd safety, World War II bombs uncovered on the day of opening. These are real examples might I add!

I'm not saying you can plan for every scenario or that a simple sampling product giveaway needs a CEO escalation session. But a small loose thread when pulled hard enough can destroy the fabric of the whole company and an experiential campaign without a joined up crises plan is putting both your client and your agency in an unnecessary precarious position.

My advice? Plan for the worst, learn from the disasters and never think it won't happen on your watch.

Mark Stringer is founder and chief executive of agency PrettyGreen.

More: PrettyGreen launches partnerships and promotions division

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