AEO celebrates its 100th birthday at The Vox
CASE STUDY: We went behind the scenes at the 100th birthday celebrations for the Association of Event Organisers at the Vox Conference Venue.
In December, the NEC hosted the AEO Centenary celebrations, designed to bring together event organisers from across the UK and beyond to reflect on the previous two years of the pandemic, award outstanding groups and individuals and celebrate the big 100.
“There were numerous planning challenges,” confirms Ian Taylor, Managing Director, Conventions & Exhibitions. “An event like this is a great moment for the industry to reflect on the recent crisis as well as one hundred years of heritage, legacy and growth. And yet, the pandemic was ever-present, which means coping with a degree of flexibility and uncertainty in our planning and event execution.” Covid-secure measures were present, with checks undertaken with all guests prior to entering the venue, as well as other measures put in place regarding ventilation and cleaning.
“Understandably, this was a momentous event for the industry, particularly with the rise of the Omicron variant happening at the same time,” continued Taylor. “We have always been stringent in checking 100% of our guests and we continued to do that for this event, tightening the measures even further. We have always looked to do everything we can to improve safety and provide reassurance to our guests. In total, 500 guests attended the event and the feedback has been exceptionally positive .”
With more than 100 years of events to celebrate and the early years of the AEO taking place in the 1920s, the theme ‘Roaring 20s’ became the golden thread across the planning, features, catering, event design and entertainment decision-making.
Central to the look and feel of the event, which was developed for the AEO by our own Marketing and Studio teams, was the heritage factor, with imagery from past 100 years given prominence. The branding was designed with the theme in mind, a black and gold art deco approach across digital screens and event collateral. A 1921 Pathé Film clip was sourced and edited by us, taking guests back to the year the AEO began, supported by a presentation from the NEC and AEO using highlights from the past 100 years.
Chris Skeith OBE, chief executive of AEO says: “A century on and our original collaborative ambitions haven’t changed much – bringing people together to learn, inspire and create memorable experiences continues to be of paramount importance. If there’s a silver lining to be had in the past two years, it’s an even greater appreciation of working closely with our venue partners and organisers who share our values to acknowledge the industry. The AEO Centenary Party is an excellent example of how this collaboration made one of the most memorable events of the year possible – our attendees’ words not mine! It was a pleasure to see the NEC team bring our event to life and we look forward to much more collaboration in future.”
The ‘fun’ factor was also key for the NEC marketing team, with a focus on encouraging guests to enjoy the moment as a time to reconnect with their teams, colleagues and industry acquaintances following a long spell away from face to face events.
“Our aim was to promote spontaneity, which is why we used the strapline ‘live is only live once’ and introduced our Party NECessities on each table with 1920s dressing up props packaged in a box to look like a birthday present. This was embraced by the guests, who used the accessories to dress for the occasion. It complemented wider activities like cocktail-making, a themed photo booth and menu, as well as filling the venue with large birthday-style balloons. We had our biggest exhibition customers in the room so it was vital to create a lasting positive impression but using as little budget as possible.” explained Kelly Haslehurst, Marketing Director at the NEC.
The opportunity to create 1920s-inspired food for the event was an element Amadeus, the catering partner, did not wish to miss. The chance to develop a menu influenced by food of the time, with a theatrical component added into the mix, was led by Executive Chef for The Vox, Aaron Johnson-Waters.
Speaking to Johnson-Waters about the menu development, he said: “I am so proud to work in the kitchen with such talented chefs. We work hard as a team to ensure the quality of our catering is always of the highest standard and this shows in the feedback we consistently receive. We are always pushing innovation and thinking of how we can enhance our clients’ experience.
“There is a full experience with catering, at first the guests eats with their eyes, followed then by the quality and taste. There is also a story to any dish, whether it’s from first to last course, farm to fork.
“A recent example of where we pushed innovation to enhance our clients’ experience was at the AEO event. I took inspiration by doing some research and looking at some 1920s classic and putting a Vox twist on them, making them current and adding a wow experience. For example, the desert was an Upside Down Pineapple Cake, which was considered incredibly fashionable in the 1920’s. Of course dessert is often the last course, so I wanted to finish the experience with a bang. The dish was formed of compressed pineapple, raspberry textures, passionfruit and pineapple gel, dehydrated pineapple crisp and banana split ice cream. We served a full carved pineapple to each table with the dessert, with dried ice, and infused it with a pineapple scent oil. Before the guests started to eat their dessert, their senses were already flowing, and the full experience ensured that they were eating the dessert before the first mouthful, due to the smell of the pineapple aroma stimulating their tastebuds. These experiences ensure our guests go away remembering the Vox for its food innovation, experience and service.”