While the summer usually provides some much-needed respite and an opportunity for most people working in the Middle East’s live events industry to take a holiday, for Ginger Owl Productions’ Founders Julie Chennells and Nancy Skipper, that couldn’t be further from the truth. When TPiMEA caught up with the duo in July, the company was coming off the back of one of its busiest ever weekends, supplying its services to some of the UK’s biggest shows and festivals. “It seems like every park in London has had a show this weekend!” Chennells quipped. “Our previous record was seven events in a single weekend, and this year we managed a weekend with 11,” Skipper added.
Ginger Owl is best known in the Middle East for its extensive work with MDLBEAST, providing accreditation management, artist liaison, and logistics services for the Saudi Arabian company’s biggest events, including Soundstorm, Balad Beast, Azimuth, Gamers8, and the Jeddah Formula 1. However, while Ginger Owl is still relatively new to the region, having done its first Saudi project in 2019, Chennells and Skipper have the best part of 60 years of industry experience between them.
The pair met in 1998 while working for the legendary Harvey Goldsmith CBE on shows such as Cirque du Soleil, Picnic in the Park and countless rock, pop, classical and children’s tours. In 2013, they combined their skills, expertise and knowledge to create a production company with the aim of delivering events on time, on budget, and with outstanding results.
A decade on from the launch of the company, Ginger Owl is going from strength to strength. “We’ve seen a steady growth throughout the history of the company, and we’ve retained a lot of our clients – even from when we were freelancing,” Chennells reported. “What we’ve found is that there has been a huge number of events since COVID-19, and that has coincided with Saudi and the rest of the Middle East being a massively growing market over the past few years.”
Skipper described the business as having “a mind of its own”. She explained: “We’ve found over the years that we start off doing one thing, then demand from the market dictates that we end up doing something else. That’s one of the things we love about this business – it throws up different opportunities and the companies that do well are those that can adapt and make the most of those opportunities.”
The most recent pivot for Ginger Owl comes with the integration of technology into its services. “The advancement in technology platforms has become an incredibly important aspect of what we do,” Skipper commented. “The technology side of the business has grown massively in the past two years.”
A prime example of the company’s technological advancement being deployed in the Middle East is when it was tasked with building a bespoke system for MDLBEAST to use across all its events to manage accreditation and logistics. “The system has been a massive project for us,” Skipper reflected. “It’s a project that started in 2021 when MDLBEAST wanted a bespoke solution to disseminate information to crew such as shuttle bus times, site plans, stage renders, and general information about living and working Saudi Arabia. We built on an existing platform we had and customised it to MDLBEAST’s spec. Last year, we expanded that into an accreditation and logistics platform as well, helping us deal with everything from flights and visas to accommodation and ground transport.”
While the technology provides a benefit for the festival organiser, it’s also helpful for the end user, with a handy Crew Hub app allowing all relevant information and documents such as travel arrangements, visas and working schedules to be carried in one place – a fact that TPiMEA can attest to, having used the app for media accreditation at last year’s Soundstorm festival. “We had 16,000 active users and 7,000 downloads of the app, so it proved very successful with the international crew,” Chennells stated.
Running parallel to development of the bespoke platform for MDLBEAST, Ginger Owl also began working on another piece of technology called GO Advance, which focuses more on the accreditation, guestlist and artist advancing requirements for its clients in the UK and other territories.
“That platform is very flexible, modular, and you can add and take away whatever features you need depending on the event,” Chennells described. “We’ve used GO Advance across our AEG and Live Nation shows this summer and we’re pitching for further projects with it all the time.”
A new addition to the platform is a scanning solution, which offers RFID and QR code scanning – something that was deployed at this year’s BST Hyde Park. “The inclusion of scanning capabilities along with the rest of the features on the platform and the staffing means that we can now offer a true 360° solution,” Chennells added.
Of course, Ginger Owl isn’t the only company offering technology-based solutions to the live events market, but where Chennells believes the company stands out from the crowd is in its experience and understanding of the industry. “While some companies might have great technology, without that background in events, they can struggle to address the specific needs of the client,” she explained.
“We’ve been working in this area for so long and we understand our clients so well from a staffing side that we’ve been able to build the technology to cater to exactly what is needed on any given project. Both platforms have been massive successes for us and are being used across many events. It’s a very exciting area for us to move into and it’s an area that I can only see growing in the future.”
While artist advancing has remained relatively similar over the years, according to Chennells, accreditation has changed massively over the past decade. “It used to be a bit of an afterthought, but it’s now so important to our clients that it’s become a massive part of our offering,” she explained. “Even on smaller events, clients are seeing the benefit of having an experienced accreditation team who can provide them with any information they need, from sustainability and carbon footprint measuring to health and safety statistics. The information and data-gathering side of the business has become incredibly important.”
With weekends often consisting of multiple event deliveries in several territories, having the right teams in place is vital if standards are to be upheld. “It’s about getting the right personnel in place and making sure we have the right fit for each event,” Chennells stated. “We have processes that we follow; we have our trusted teams who have been working with us for a long time and know exactly what is required, so we let them get on with it.”
Turning attention back to the Middle East, the duo shared their excitement at the prospect of ongoing work in a region that they can only see growing. “Some of the things we see in the Middle East are completely unheard of in the UK,” Skipper said. “They want innovation, creativity, bigger, better, louder, faster, and that breeds an interesting working environment. You could have the most ambitious idea ever and it would be seen as a challenge to find a way to make it happen. It feels like anything is possible, and I can’t see anything slowing down in the region any time soon.”
Photos: Ginger Owl Productions