PR veteran Ken Kelling has been at the heart of some of the UK event industry’s biggest ‘moments’, including running the strategy and operations for the Olympic Torch Relays in 2012. Now an Associate Director at Davies Tanner, the ‘Scot by birth’ is bringing his expert guidance to Scotland’s national tourism agency.
Recent past: I’ve been with davies tanner for three years working with VisitScotland Business Events and other clients in the events industry. I also work with national industry bodies such as the Business Visits and Events Partnership and the Events Industry Board. I’m a qualified coach with the International Coach Federation and enjoy one-to-one coaching, mentoring and group facilitation. I’m also training as a volunteer Samaritan – mental health issues are so important and prominent right now.
Before that: I spent many years working in tourism and culture. I was Communications Director at Visit London (now London & Partners) for seven years, navigating two very different agendas under Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson in their respective times as Mayor of London. I ran the strategy and operations for the London Olympic and Paralympic Torch Relays in 2012 which felt like a totally once-in-a-lifetime experience. I remember seeing Boris genuinely moved by the impact on London that the Torch and the build up to the Games had made, as he got prepared to go on stage in front of 80,000 people in Hyde Park.
Industry: This is a great time to be working in the events industry. There’s a huge interest in the power of major events, right the way up to Number 10. And business visits and events have a higher profile than at any other time. Crucially, the importance of meetings and events to inward investment, trade, pioneering research and entrepreneurship is now widely recognised. Scotland is doing an amazing job of setting the benchmark in this area through campaigns like #ideasbecomelegend and #scotlandisnow. “Look at what Scotland is doing” is a mantra we often repeat to other clients.
Vision: Working on the Torch Relays was a real eye opener to the power of events to inspire and engage people. As a result, I’m really interested in how we can all work together with greater ambition and purpose. Meetings and events of all shapes and sizes have a part to play in changing the future for the better. Sometimes we’re a bit negative about Britain’s international image and competitiveness, but we are world-class when it comes to organisation, hospitality and event management. Scotland is a wonderful example of this because it has so much authenticity, heritage and #scotspirit to tap into. “A great place to live, work and invest” is a claim made by many destinations, but in Scotland’s case the product really delivers on the promise. Living your brand authentically is a great aspiration to have in my view.
Best moment: Always hard to pin one thing down of course. But perhaps a stand out moment was winning PR Week’s broadcast campaign of the year. We took five traditional London black taxis (complete with real life London cab drivers) from the East to the West coast of America, travelling 3,000 miles and stopping at 13 different cities en route to offer free rides to both thrilled and sometimes bemused members of the public. I loved its ambition, cheeky humour and outright British-ness. We also got great coverage everywhere we went.
Is Scotland the perfect stage? With Scottish parents and VisitScotland Business Events as a client, it would be hard to say no! But…I meet international event planners all the time who are desperate to visit Scotland for the first time in the very near future or who have visited Scotland already and want to return soon. There’s a mistyeyed smile that the word Scotland evokes wherever you are in the world. Combine that enviable brand heritage with ever-increasing flight routes, world-class venues and hotels and an instinctive warmth of welcome and it’s a wonder anyone would think of holding an event anywhere else.