18th September 2009

Without doubt! As always we were treated to an excellent conference, well organised, a good variety of speakers and relevant to the times. It was clear that there were fewer members than last year but those that did attend got more from the time invested, were from the leading agencies in the country and are those likely to survive the turbulent times ahead.

So what stood out? The theme of social ethos and commercial focus was a thread linking all of the elements and was best exemplified by Josephine Fairley founder of Green and Blacks. She was always going to get a great response by giving a bar of chocolate to every delegate beforehand! If anyone wants to know what happened to any uneaten bars ask Emma Chapman! Jo had a great story to tell from the germ of an idea to an exit strategy and the “adoption” of her business by Cadbury. The commercial reality was never far from the surface but this is a business with a social ethos underpinning everything that they did from sourcing to wrapping.

Whilst as always at NWES we are politically neutral the contrast between the two MP speakers at the conference was so marked as to be embarrassing. On day one we heard from Lorely Burt the Liberal spokesman and the general consensus was that she was somewhat out of her comfort zone, had only a fleeting knowledge of her brief, rambled on about a range of unrelated subjects and left everyone no clearer about her party policy on small business. When the party has a respected “hard hitter” such as Vince Cable it is all the more surprising that a “lightweight” was paraded before us. If you are going to speak at an event take the time to understand the audience, be focused and tell the listening delegates something new. I hope that Lorely matures into her brief because as one delegate said to me straight afterwards “god help us all if she ever wields any power”!

On day two we had Mark Prisk the Conservative Shadow. I am not exaggerating when I say that here was the best conference speech that we have ever had from a politician – certainly in my 12 years. Mark is obviously very at home with his portfolio, had taken the time to research the listening audience and gave us all something new. Not everything will have gone down well but we heard an honest appraisal of what can and cannot be done, how it will influence enterprise agencies and what we can expect from an incoming Conservative government. Irrespective of political leanings the audience seemed all in agreement that here was someone that we can do business with.

For the first time in many years I had no responsibility to worry about and it was somewhat liberating which made this one of the most enjoyable conferences ever. The team who attended with me all came back with several actions to put into place and a much better understanding of the industry and where NWES is placed (at the top obviously!). On this showing the NFEA conference has a lot more life in it yet and the non attendees are in danger of falling even further behind the pack. Book now for next year!

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