Chris Anstead, OrangeDoor’s Head of Production recently celebrated 10 years in the business, starting as a part time production assistant a decade ago and working his way up to Head of Production and part of the global event agency’s senior leadership team. It’s been a decade marked by major milestones for the agency – from the rapid growth in ‘experiential’ to the devastating effect of COVID on the industry; to OrangeDoor’s B Corp accreditation and the increasing impact of technology on events, it’s been a truly ‘eventful’ 10 years.
We caught up with Chris just before Christmas 2023 – at the end of an incredibly business year that took him across the UK and around the globe.
‘The Juice’ (OrangeDoor’s newsletter) editor: “We're here to celebrate your 10-year anniversary at OrangeDoor. And, it's been a fascinating 10 years for you and the industry - one punctuated by many major milestones. So, let’s start with you telling us how it all started; your first role at OrangeDoor and the journey you've been on over a decade with the organisation.”
Chris Anstead, Head of Production, OrangeDoor: “It’s been a long time and it’s quite hard to kind of recall that far back if I’m honest. I started off only doing two to three days a week; learning the very basics - how to build registration sites, then working to integrate those sites into of the conferences we were running at the time for some of our larger clients. I was managing the reg reports and ensuring all of the relevant information was passed on to third parties.
“Then the role started to merge into a more technical remit. I started spending more time on site and there was more of a requirement to start setting up and running the technical elements around the events we were delivering. We used to run a range of Tech Summits for Dell Technologies and we would have up to 100 people in a type of classroom format.
“We'd go into the rooms, set up desktops and interlink them all together via local area network to a media server so the necessary information could be pushed across to the devices and attendees could interact with them whilst having a live demonstration take place. From there it was into conference plenary setup - learning about the lighting, projection screens, audio and how everything comes together and drive a successful session. I didn’t come into the agency with all this knowledge so there was a lot of learning from my side and I was learning on the job and in my spare time or downtime.”
‘The Juice’ editor: “So, 10 years’ on, what defines your role and responsibilities now?”
Chris Anstead: “My title now is Head of Production. I manage the production team and look after eight full-time members of staff plus around 30-35 freelancers at any one time. It’s very people- focused; ensuring the team are all ok and have the resources in place to be able to accomplish their tasks on a day-to-day basis.
“I’m constantly on-site at our clients’ events and conferences, making sure that these are all delivered, not only to our clients’ standards, but to the exacting OrangeDoor standards we have, to meet contracts that we have in place. Our clients use us because they know we work to the highest standards – it’s my job to ensure we not only meet them but exceed them wherever we possibly can. As I’ve been in the business for 10 years, I've come to know a lot of our clients incredibly well and have a very good relationship with majority of them, so I spend a lot of time on new business calls or briefing calls, supporting the client services team from a production side.
“I’m also on the agency’s senior leadership team. This in particular, has been a goal of mine for the last couple of years – to help bring the voice of the production to the top table and have it represented and heard. Everyone has a valid opinion to offer – especially those right at the coal face of an event – they see the challenges and have to tackle them head on, so I believe it’s critical to listen to my team and represent their views and concerns in these conversations.”
‘The Juice’ editor: “Going from a part time, largely administrative role to Head of Production a leading 30 or 40 people and being a respected member of the senior leadership team in a decade is huge in terms of personal growth. How do you feel about your professional development through this time; what are the key learnings that you've taken from it, especially with regard to the way you respond to challenges in a work environment?”
Chris Anstead: “Perhaps my biggest personal achievement is this: when I was young, I wasn’t a very educationally driven or focused person. I was given an opportunity to work for couple of days at OrangeDoor, and I recognised the opportunity for what it was, and fully grabbed hold of it. I took it upon myself to learn the knowledge that I needed to about the industry and how I could ‘better myself’ day by day. I won't lie - when I first joined the business, I had no intention of being here 10 years later; it was never on my radar to join the events industry, it was just an opportunity turned up and the timing was right at that point in my life.
“As such, it’s been a great personal achievement not only to get to 10 years in the industry, but to want to still be here 10 years later! I am constantly developing myself and business skills. I now have a good understanding of small business of this size is run and what it really takes behind the scenes to run a successful SME.
“Before joining the SLT, I only really understood the business from the deployment side. Now I’m privileged enough to sit in on our commercial meetings and to see how the back end of a business like OrangeDoor runs. It’s all about constantly to expand that knowledge and taking responsibility for ‘self-learning’ – this is what I have committed to for the last 10 years and it’s definitely my biggest achievement.”
‘The Juice’ editor: “I agree with you. I remember when I first joined an SLT, it was a real revelation. When you are an employee, you naturally make certain assumptions from a commercial perspective when you sit outside the SLT. Then you join the SLT, and you realize the reality of what the commercial pressures are within an SME a small business and how seemingly inconsequential things have enormous ramifications if they're not addressed. Is this your experience too?”
Chris Anstead: “Yes. When you're outside the SLT, you're constantly having conversations with team members why the company is not making certain decisions and you hear a lot of rumour. But once you're privy to those conversations, you get a much better understanding of exactly why that's happening or why the business is going in a certain direction. One thing that I'm trying to do more of is to educate my team on why certain decisions are being made in the business and how that affects them. This education piece doesn’t happen overnight. To give the team that knowledge is empowering for them and helps them to understand the context behind the decisions. This is really important for working together as a team and for cultural cohesion.”
‘The Juice’ editor: “What's been the most defining milestone for you you from a professional perspective over the last decade? What has , more than anything else, forced you to fundamentally rethink the way you deliver the business?”
Chris Anstead: “It has to be COVID. That really was a pivotal moment for me and OrangeDoor. We lost 90% of our business is overnight when lockdown first hit. We had to pivot rapidly and change our business model to make sure that we survived. We had to learn how to deliver virtual events literally overnight. We had to upskill and learn new programs and platforms, how they rand and what resources we need to get in place. It was a big ask for a lot of the team, but they embraced it.
“It was a long three years and it had its ups its downs. However, the team did an incredible job pulling it all together and keeping us keeping us level and just above water. There were times where we were running 24-hour long virtual broadcasts, and we had beds set up in the office so the team could work in shift patterns. It was intense at times. There was a huge amount of learning - not only from an industry point of view, but also how we worked, developed and communicated as a team. There was a real strength, resilience and camaraderie that came out of that time.
“Securing B Corp accreditation in 2022 has also been a major achievement. As we came out of COVID, the industry witnessed exponential growth – a lot of focused on how we now deliver events in a more sustainable way. This again, required a big education piece – for us, our clients and our suppliers. In fact, one of my proudest achievements of all is in the sustainability space. Over the last couple of years, we have won industry sustainability awards for some of the exhibition stands we've designed and deployed on behalf of our clients. The exhibition world is notorious for not being sustainable - you build a stand; it's up there for a few days and then it goes to landfill. We have worked really hard with our suppliers to change this and focus on reusable; recyclable materials and it is paying dividends.
“We work with them, challenge them and make sure that they're giving us the most sustainable options. Some of our preferred suppliers are now actually in their own process of applying for B Corp. So it's great to see them coming along on this journey with us.”
‘The Juice’ editor: “How has B Corp accreditation changed the entry point of the conversations you have with clients and suppliers?”
Chris Anstead: “I’m not giving my secrets away! (laughs) In many instances, it’s really about just making those subtle changes that can really make a difference. Sustainability tracking throughout for our project lifecycle is critical to this. Depending on the nature of an event, we can demonstrate to our client how much CO2 was created overall and how this was offset, for example. We recently delivered a massive four-stop European roadshow for a client with 1000s of attendees. All of the food from every single day at those events was packaged up and given to local charities, whether that is a homeless shelter, or a or a local church, so there was very little waste. So it's having both big and small touch points like that right through an event.”
‘The Juice’ editor: “OrangeDoor has held a consistent set of values that has defined it since it was established in 2000. And I've spoken to Elizabeth (OrangeDoor’s CEO) in the past and she said to me that OrangeDoor always really been a B Corp in terms of its value proposition it just had to wait to find an organisation that could provide the accreditation. How do OrangeDoor’s values align with your own and why do you think it's important today that you know employees and the business have their values aligned?”
Chris Anstead: “I'm very much a people person and this aligns with OrangeDoor’s values: planet and people. We have to look after our people first. We need to make sure that everyone here is in the ‘same team’ - that we're a cohesive unit. If you look after them, they'll look after you and the work they deliver.
“However, it's also making sure from the outset that they're the right people for the job. I'm a very firm believer that you don't just hire someone based on what's written down on their CV. You get in front of that person and speak to them; understand their personality and values, and whether they're going to ‘fit’ culturally. It's all well and good having someone who on paper, smashes it out the park, but if they then turn up on that first day and they’re not a cultural fit, it's going to have a negative impact on other people in the business and potentially your clients too.”
‘The Juice’ editor: “What’s been your proudest moment over the last 10 years?”
Chris Anstead: “My proudest moment is just seeing the change that's happened within the business. It's 23 years old and started in the back bedroom of our CEO’s house. Right now, I’m sitting in our incredible office and creative studio in Bromley. We’ve got over 30 full time staff and over 60 freelancers working for us at any one time. The scale and variety of the projects we now work on, I couldn’t have even imagined when I started 10 years’ ago – huge events in amazing places for 1000s of people. I’m proud of the growth of the agency, the people we have in it and our commitment to always trying to be a better, more sustainable, more responsible business. I feel very privileged to be to be a part of that journey. And I'm looking forward to the next 10 years and what these will bring.”
‘The Juice’ editor: “That’s great to hear. What about your biggest challenge? Perhaps something to do with an event that you've had to overcome? Or it could be something in your own developmental journey? And how have you overcome that?”
Chris Anstead: “Discovering the right leadership style that works for me has been a challenge. Over the last five or six years as my role has constantly evolved. I quickly went from Technical Manager to Head of Live to then Head of production. I was concerned through that progression that maybe I didn’t have the requisite leadership skills as my roles and responsibilities grew. It’s hard to make that jump from team member to leading the team – there is a lot of complexity that comes into play in terms of striking the balance between friend and leader. I never want to lose the friendship piece, but being a leader sometimes means making tough decisions that affect others and they don’t always have all the information to contextualise why the decision has been made. This is where culture and trust comes in. If you have a good culture based on trust and respect, your team trusts you to make the decision, even if it’s not always clear to them the reason why.
“Everyone has their own way of being a leader and managing people and I think I've got to a good place that works for me now. Watching and learning from other people in the business has been very helpful as well. As a ‘people person’, when I lead, I like to take a step back, and just watch the room and see how people are working and see what makes people tick- what puts people in a good mood and what doesn't, and how they react to things you're asking them to do. If you give them a project, do they like working on that style of project? Is that where their skills are best suited? If not, let's not do that again. Because that's not going to put them in the right mindset. Let’s readjust and how to manage, lead them and take them through that process.
“This whole thing has been a real self-learning journey – there is only so much support and training you can have, the rest is up to you. I initially had an expectation that someone was just going to give me a one-hour session, and it was all solved, and they were going to give me all the answers. But it's, it's not like that at all! It takes a lot of time. However, it is so very rewarding in many ways.”
‘The Juice’ editor: “I think they're really salient points. There's always a challenge when you move up through a business - that point at which you move from friend to managing your friend as a leader. The challenge is how you continue to maintain that that relationship, but also lead with compassion and empathy and understanding and context. What does the next 10 years look like for you – where do you from here?”
Chris Anstead: “I'm really enjoying the growth of the business and seeing where it goes next. I enjoy sitting on the senior leadership team and being an advisor that helps people in the agency as they develop their own career. Honestly, at this point, I'm open to anything as long as it is growth and progress! I kind of feel as if I'm here to do what the business needs me to do. Over the last decade, I've pivoted frequently, and my job roles have changed over and over again, to fit with the direction the company is going at that time. So, if the company changes direction again tomorrow, so will I because I'm so invested in it!”
‘The Juice’ editor: “One final question. You have gone from an entry level part-time role to Head of Production in the last decade. What would be your advice to someone who is the younger version of you now - who wants to get into a role in the events industry, but perhaps doesn't have the qualifications, the degree, whatever it happens to be for the traditional route. But, they have that burning ambition. What they you do? How does that undiscovered talent get discovered?”
Chris Anstead: “Create the urgency within yourself and take advantage of every opportunity you're given. If you want to get discovered, go into the agency or the business that you want to start in and have a conversation – ask to meet them and understand what it would take for you to be employed by them. There is nothing wrong with applying for a role where you maybe you don't have the fundamental skills for, but you have the grit, the persistence and the determination to learn. You have both believe in yourself but also apply yourself relentlessly.
“If you do secure an entry role – then get involved as much as you can, commit to it. Always put your hand up, ask the questions, show the interest. Be the first person to say ‘Yes! I’ll do it!’ Don't be afraid to have a go at something. And if you fail, find out why. Then try it again. Keep learning, yearning, growing – ask for help, listen and apply. We rarely get to a senior role without having to ask for help so reach out and get other people involved in supporting your journey. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to try!”
Ambition. Commitment. Persistence. Belief. Fine words with which to finish a conversation with a fine leader.