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AEG’s Danielle Kennedy-Clark on fan expectations

AEG’s VP guest experience Danielle Kennedy-Clark has spoken to IQ about enhanced customer expectations at shows, post-pandemic.

A 16-year AEG veteran, Kennedy-Clark was deputy general manager of London’s The O2 prior to being appointed to the newly created role at the start of 2023.

“I could see a gap within our business, particularly working through Covid and seeing how behaviour was starting to change around guest experience,” she says. “We didn’t have an overarching person pulling a strategy together and making sure there was synergy between all of our businesses.

“Given my experience, and the passion I have for it, I thought it seemed like a good role, so we created it together, but based around AEG’s need and aspiration to put the customer at the forefront of all of our decision making. We’ve always done that, but we probably haven’t done it as strategically and seamlessly as maybe we should have done in the past. And that’s why I’m here now – to drive that agenda point forward.”

“If you put 20,000 people in a room that don’t know each other, it can be fantastic, but it can also be quite problematic”

Kennedy-Clark suggests the Covid shutdown – exacerbated by the subsequent cost of living crisis – represented something of a turning point for audiences.

“There have always been certain behaviours around different demographics, arrival processes, and those sorts of things. If you put 20,000 people in a room that don’t know each other, it can be fantastic, but it can also be quite problematic,” she says. “We’re experts in controlling that and have been for many years, but what we’ve seen coming out of the pandemic is this real passion and drive to be in a live environment. Everybody’s certainly missed that, but we have seen behavioural changes.”

Kennedy-Clark suggests that, for many customers, their overall experience at an event is now just as important as what they actually see on stage.

“The expectation level of guests has certainly gone up and there are multiple factors around that – particularly that money is sparse,” she continues. “If people are investing money into going to see a show, that’s a privilege for us, but it also comes with expectation because there is a finite amount of money and have built up to it as a special occasion. So from the moment that purchase happens, there’s an expectation that it needs to be as seamless as possible.

“It can be quite overwhelming, as well, to come to a massive place full of people and music, with lots of things going on, if you’ve been out of that environment for two years, so we need to consider that as well. On top of that, our staff were out of practice and so we need to make sure that their interactions between our people on the ground, and the people attending is all joined up and done in the best possible way to make sure that everybody has an enjoyable time.”

“Smart technologies are helping us move forward into the future and take the pain points away from the customer”

Kennedy-Clark outlines some of the priorities for venues when dealing with customers on arrival.

“Of course, safety is paramount and should always be at the forefront of everybody’s mind,” she says. “That’s our number one priority, so that guests feels completely comfortable when they arrive and it’s certainly something that we factor in always with very fine detail.

“You also have to communicate efficiently and effectively to a guest. Where we’ve changed is we don’t necessarily over-communicate, we need to make sure that there’s a fine balance and they get the information they need at the right time, and that it’s readily available. It’s a 24-hour culture now – it can’t just be available 9 to 5, it has to be available 24 hours a day. If you can’t get the information quite quickly, you get quite frustrated, so we’ve had to evolve with the use of chatbots, for instance – information readily available in apps and being able to download your ticket at a touch of a button, and it’s all stored in your phone. Smart technologies are helping us move forward into the future and take the pain points away from the customer.”

During last month’s ILMC, Prof Chris Kemp of Mind Over Matter Consultancy put forward some of the sociological factors for changing crowd dynamics, which he says pre-date the pandemic. AEG has worked closely with Kemp on studying the issue in detail, and now monitors the data it obtains from post-event and on-the-ground surveys “much more meticulously”.

This week has also seen the announcement of The Residence – an exclusive VIP members club at The O2

“Our customers will tell us how we did and whether we’re getting things right,” says Kennedy-Clark. “They are asked questions like, ‘How long did it take you to get into the building?,’ for instance. ‘Were you in a queue when you got to the bar? Was what you needed at the bar available?’ We’re analysing these sorts of things in much more in detail now so that if there are any areas where we can improve, we can do it very quickly.

“We will check the data around how quickly the tickets were scanned because we know it increases people’s satisfaction if they haven’t had to wait. We would look at spend per head – have we been able to service customers efficiently and effectively in a timely fashion? And we would look at incident rates to see if there were problems on the night, or complaints, or any issues with staffing. So we take this data from multiple areas and it goes to filling out this big picture.”

She adds: “We put smart technologies in place to take away the pain points and make sure we can be automated where needed to be, but not so automated that we take away our people. Ultimately, we want to be the industry leader in giving a best in class guest experience. There are so many other experiences available, and we need to make sure that we are the business of choice.”

This week has also seen the announcement of The Residence – an exclusive VIP members club at The O2 designed to change the way customers experience live events.

Opening late 2023, the 300-cap club will offer members exclusive access to some of the best views for every public event at The O2. It will be located on Level 3 directly opposite the arena stage, as well as exclusive experiences including retractable viewing platform The Walkway, which will enable members to stand 70ft above the crowds before the show.

The Residence will also include intimate lounges and booths, a range of premium bars including a cocktail bar and a ‘floating’ champagne bar, and a 50-seat restaurant with an open kitchen serving specially curated menus.


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Steve Sayer succeeds John Langford as the O2 GM

The O2, the world’s most popular live entertainment venue, will enter 2019 with a new general manager.

Steve Sayer, formerly the O2’s commercial director, will become its GM and vice-president from January, succeeding former GM/VP John Langford, who was recently named COO of AEG Europe.

Sayer’s promotion is accompanied by two other appointments: The O2 operations director Danielle Kennedy-Clark is promoted to deputy GM, while Gavin Brind becomes finance director, replacing AEG Europe’s new CFO, Paul Reeve.

“I’m delighted to be announcing that Steve, Danielle and Gavin will be leading the O2 from January,” comments Langford. “Their combined experience in managing this incredible venue, working alongside the senior leadership team, means that the world’s busiest arena will continue to flourish.”

“I’m excited to be leading the venue as we further develop the customer experience and our programme”

Sayer joined the O2 in 2014 as commercial director, overseeing ticketing operations, merchandising, food and beverage, and corporate sales, along with exhibition content and overseeing roof-walk attraction Up at the O2.

Kennedy-Clark joined the O2 at venue manager in 2010, before being promoted to operations director in 2017. Brind, meanwhile, joined AEG in 2012 and has been deputy finance director since 2017.

“The O2 continues to set the benchmark for the music and entertainment industry in every respect,” adds Sayer. “I’m excited to be leading the venue as we further develop the customer experience and our programme, finding new ways to delight the millions of fans who visit the O2 every year”.

The O2 was once again the world’s top arena by ticket sales in 2017, selling more than 1.44 million tickets compared to Madison Square Garden’s 1.17m.


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Case study: How to safely increase customer numbers and standing floor capacity

For the last three years, MOM Consultancy has been working with some of the largest venues in Europe on various projects including changing barrier configurations at events, testing plans at major stations, supporting new plan implementation at sporting and music events and facilitating the uplift of standing floor capacities. The latter of these has been a revelation for the company and helped MOM to understand the complex integration of safety and security needed in such projects.

In all projects, the customer has to be the focus. Realising the full benefit to the customer and also the primary key stakeholder needs to be met is a fine balance between customer care, safety, security and increased income. Many approaches to projects are based primarily on a profit motive whilst others are made putting the customer and the centre of development. The secondary type of approach enhances the whole experience and does not just focus on tangible quick wins. Two examples of clients who have put the customer at the very centre of their developments are the Echo Arena in Liverpool and the O2 Arena in London.

In this article we are going to focus on the O2 Arena as a case study and their three-year project to uplift the standing floor capacity whilst ensuring key benefits to the customer. To enhance the project MOM felt it pertinent to bring in a health and safety expert from ACT, Chris Hall, to provide expertise in an area where MOM does not work but is essential to understanding what is legal and practicably possible in relation to guidance, fire safety standards and other key precepts. Working alongside firstly Steve Gotkine, and then with Danielle Kennedy Clark, the seamless continuum was of paramount importance – it took three years from the start to the finish of this remarkable journey.

The project started with a series of familiarisation sessions to ensure that the team were au fait with the venue; this included visits to events, a review of plans, guidance used and health, safety and crowd management aspects, as well as interviews with a cross section of staff and a customer survey. By triangulating the plans with the surveys and observations, the team were able to put together a plan which tested the outcomes requested by the O2 management. The key aspect was spending time with the team watching how they prepared for events, their training protocols and the implementation of plans at the venue. Creating an understanding of how the venue worked, what made the audience and staff tick and what possible additions would support customer perceptions of care were all-important.

The delivery of the uplift in numbers utilised both a qualitative and quantitative approach, and one which would turn out to be a gradual testing and monitoring process from the initial numbers to the new density. Some may feel that a three-year testing period is a long time to finally implement the requested and agreed uplift, but due to the venue’s duty of care and ethical approach everything needed to be right to ensure the buy-in of every stakeholder involved.

The process was initiated by a debate: Firstly, a debate about the efficacy of increasing the number on the venue standing floor and how this would look given the shape and structure of the venue. The second debate was around the venue’s present structure and how this would cope with the obvious uplift and whether the existing structures were adequate to support such changes. Once this had been identified, preliminary meetings were held with the fire consultants to view the fire plan and what the envelope surrounding the plan provided. Deep and testing conversations were held and also secondary reviews held to test the envelope, which proved sound.

The key to all deliberations with a venue is openness and the will to succeed

The consultants then worked on the figures creating a series of options, each of which had a number of caveats. Each caveat was related to the idea that for each calculation the management team would have to consider changes to the venue to facilitate the numbers.

Chris Hall worked on the figures, while Chris Kemp worked on the psychosocial aspects of the staff and crowd and what their appetite was for change. How likely did they feel that an uplift in floor capacity was the right thing for the venue? The results of the conversations were positive and the interesting piece was the difference in the appetite for risk both among staff and also the audience. These reports were written up and presented back as part of the final report.

Delivering such reports and ensuring that they meet exacting standards is difficult, as the safety and security of all stakeholders must be the first concern. Any changes proposed by the team in conjunction with the venue management team have responsibility and accountability attached to them – so this is not a light touch, but rather a complex integration of qualitative and quantitative factors resulting in the possible reshaping of the venue or unforeseen changes which, of course, can have knock on effects.

The key to all deliberations with a venue is openness and the will to succeed, as in a carefully structured and trusting client/consultant relationship. This is based on respect and that each individual brings something special to the table that may result in a better than hoped for outcome, especially in the competitive arena environment.

The initial project took five months to complete and at the end of the process provided an outcome which could then be taken to the council’s planning team. This nerve-racking process can be very testing unless, like our combined team had done, answered every question that we knew that we would be asked in the presentation to the council. From this presentation there were few questions, and the joint delivery by MOM and the O2 went down well, showing a finely integrated strategy and operational delivery.

A number of recommendations were then made by the council which resulted in the O2 team having to take the results to the board and provide them with a specification and costing, which included a cost-benefit analysis. MOM also made a number of recommendations which were accepted by the council – these were all related to health and safety activities and the gradual increase in capacity until the final capacity was reached. A further recommendation was that the O2 worked on a case-by-case basis with the increase and not as a blanket for every event, taking into consideration holdback of tickets, artist and audience profiling, the A-Guide and the resultant templates for gigs and other salient information.

The process to reach this desired density was a long but necessary procedure

The management team’s understanding of their customer base is very deep and they can usually predict how an event will go and how the customer will act. This is key to the unified and positive outcomes of any event. However, the team is only as good as their weakest person and the O2 assiduously provide training for their teams at all levels to ensure that all members are working towards their true potential, thus creating a culture of safety across the organisation.

Following the work that the O2 carried out with MOM, the O2 team were confident that they were moving in the right direction and it was safe to embark and introduce their first change in the floor density for the arena. After they had completed a thorough risk assessment for the forthcoming shows, they introduced the first density change in October 2015. The standard floor density that the venue had worked with for a number of years was altered from a .4 to a .39 density. On average the venue operated a minimum of 15 shows at the .39 density before reducing the density further. Following each show the team, led by Danielle, monitored, debriefed and reviewed the standing floor footage of the event and obtained detailed feedback from the staff on the ground. They continued to risk assess each event before implementing any changes to the density. The desired safe density that Danielle and her team were working towards was .36.

The process to reach this desired density was a long but necessary procedure. This ensured that the team had considered and fully evaluated the risks and continued to work towards the desired outcome. Over the three-year process they continually liaised with their licensing authority on the progress that was being made. Danielle and her team are now coming towards the end of our their evaluations and working at the lower density levels, Due to this process, the standard floor numbers have increased on average by 10% for each event. However, what is very clear is that the time taken over the process and alterations made inside the venue have been supported by a strong health and safety underpinning to their approach.

Changes like this are not to taken lightly – but if venues have the patience to deliver without considering the financial benefits, but concentrate on whether such a development will be safe, is crucial in ensuring the resilience and longevity of such changes.


Professor Chris Kemp is the founder, CEO and owner of Mind over Matter ConsultancyDanielle Kennedy-Clark is director of operations at the O2 London.