Top PA

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The three property development activities (EPMS, Euromissions and ITIM) never quite took me away from an ongoing commitment to exhibition management. It was suggested by Richard that the perfect set-up for an events’ team is three shows per year, each set four months apart, their various cycles meshing perfectly.

Top PA business card
Top PA mailer
Queues outside hall

At Prism I had promoted a number of my PAs into management roles, yet they could be pulled in as a special team when there was a major project. I researched the notion that a show that treated PAs and secretaries as serious players within a company would have value. After all they played a big role in planning office layouts, in buying stationery and office products, in booking hotels and travel, often organising HR and company social events… Blenheim had its London Secretary Show but its most important feature was that attendees got a big goodie bag, treating them as low-level. We could do better, because PAs deserved more respect.

Sarah and Matt running Top PA desk
Top PA fashion catwalk

We ran a Top PA competition with Cosmopolitan magazine, the winner receiving a Peugeot 205. The PAs that emerged were nothing short of amazing, and, though appreciated at their organisations, they perhaps still did not receive the recognition they deserved.

I particularly enjoyed one short-list interview with a powerful lady who worked with an ex-military boss for a charity. She was asked, as were all those reaching this stage, to contemplate the situation where her boss, while overseas arrived at a hotel to find no reservation. She learned of this and on checking had found it was her error. How would she deal with this? She looked at the panel bemused, and said she didn’t believe there was any hotel in the world where the Major wouldn’t just get himself checked in, he wouldn’t phone home. It didn’t appear that she could contemplate her making an error either.

ASIDE: Back at Vista, I had a temporary PA working for me when I was sending an engineer out to Norsat in Vancouver for training. The guy had never been out of the UK before, he had to obtain a passport specifically for the trip. He was obviously nervous, and I talked him through both ends of his flight.

On arrival in Vancouver. I explained he merely had to go through Immigration, collect his luggage and look out for someone holding up something with his name on it – simples! Except the temp had booked him to Toronto – missing his destination by 2,700 miles! Poor guy, he took an age to find out how to call me, back in the UK, and had no credit card, so I had to wire money to complete his trip. Good PAs were vital and their passing much missed.

I ran Top PA as an exhibition with seminars for two years and then morphed it into a conference with a small exhibition at London’s Regus Centre just off Trafalgar Square.

ASIDE: The Barbican’s Hall Manager and I had a bet on a sporting event, probably involving Chelsea, which I lost. Rather than give him the £20, I mounted it in a frame with some rhyming text about the circumstances. It seemed like a way of paying up without him getting the full benefit.

But imagine my concerns when he was later arrested and charged on bribery and corruption charges – there, proudly on his wall, was my £20! However, I never heard anything on the subject.
Top PA chequebook – front cover
Top PA chequebook –back cover

A regular feature of shows back then was the ‘chequebook’ a promotional piece, chequebook-shaped and sized, that contained offers from the exhibitors in a convenient form, often with a pre-paid service for registering/claiming – we were all still using bank chequebooks back then. For Top PA in 1990 we used it as the conference guide too.

ASIDE: The Regus sales manager had been present during that year’s Poll Tax riots (31Mar1990) and had been down in their locked lobby waiting to go home. We had all watched the scenes on television, but she had been just a sheet of glass away. The looks on their faces was so feral that she was physically sick. This called to mind a night down near Billingsgate when there had been some student march that had blocked bridges and resulted in traffic gridlock. After over an hour of not moving it was as if the drivers had gone insane, they were driving up wrong lanes, up one-way-streets the wrong way, up on to pavements. All they achieved was a worse gridlock that was impossible to uncouple. But it was the looks on faces that were really scary, you could see they were irrational and visceral. Madness and savagery was very close, I understood the manager’s reaction.

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