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In conversation: Guy Robinson, CEO and founder of Coalition Agency

APM speaks to the man behind the drive-in entertainment initiative, Car Park Party, about adapting to change in lockdown, and the launch of his new project Car Park Panto, coming to a car park near you this Christmas.

This summer, Guy Robinson and his drive in entertainment company Car Park Party brought communities together, with the only national tour of drive-in Cinema, Comedy and Live Shows – all carried out in a safe and socially distanced manner – for people to enjoy from the comfort of their own cars.

Now, in the lead-up to Christmas, and with many other festive shows cancelled, Car Park Panto, in partnership with the Birmingham Stage Company and Horrible Histories, will present ‘Horrible Christmas’, as part of a national tour.

How did the concept of Car Park Party come about?

In March, we saw a huge iceberg heading towards the business as we entered lockdown and started to have shows cancelled. Not wanting to go down like the Titanic, and being an entrepreneurial bunch, we began thinking about how we could keep Coalition going, and quickly concluded that events in car parks would be feasible, as long as we could maintain social distancing. We decided to split the audience and risk over three specific types of show, all of which had to be live as that’s what’s at the heart of Coalition Agency, i.e. not just a movie - that’s when Car Park Karaoke, Car Park Comedy and Car Park Theatre were born. From the birth of these brands to delivering the shows and selling all the tickets, it took just 13 weeks.

What have been the most challenging aspects of project managing Car Park Party events?

Licensing was a huge hurdle for this project, and in fact saw a number of the sites not go ahead, which was hugely frustrating. As a business we always put customer safety and experience first, but that was not enough to convince some of the authorities. Also, trying to explain to our customers how ‘Car Park Karaoke’ would work was more of a challenge than we expected! (it was a live band called Massaoke on stage with everyone singing along to giant lyrics on a screen, so you know!)

What have been your favourite moments of working with the company? 

I set up the business in 1995 and it still remains my daily passion. Artists and shows come and go as tastes develop, and we’ve been lucky to stay ahead of those changes. Our finest moment in my opinion was delivering the first ever Ministry of Sound Classical show at The Royal Festival Hall in London. There were 2,500 tickets bought, a total sell-out, and it was a spectacular show from start to finish.

What makes for the successful delivery of a ‘project’ like Car Park Panto? 

In short, attention to detail, from the flow of traffic in and out the site, to ensuring everyone has the best view possible – not the easiest of tasks given the huge variety of vehicles that turn up...from convertibles to camper vans. We work with a first-class team on the shows who have made the whole process genuinely enjoyable.

Have you always worked in the entertainment sector, or have you used your project management skills in other industry sectors?

I started the business whilst at the University of Leicester studying economics and have never looked back. The profile of the acts and size and scale of the shows we deliver have grown gently over the years. We now sell many thousands of tickets a year. My skills of imagining, booking and then delivering the shows has grown over this career path.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

Always the delivery; seeing the smiles on the faces of the audience as they enjoy the show.

What has been the most unusual request for a Car Park Party you have received to date?

Well, not so much a request as a hole in the ticket booking terms and conditions! In order to keep people in their cars we asked them not to bring dogs, which may have needed a walk. At our Newbury show I was a little taken aback when I saw a cat on the dashboard of a car! When mentioning to the owners that despite it being very cute, pets were not supposed to be in cars, they very quickly pointed out that it only said dogs!! As ever, the devil is in the detail.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into this industry?

Passion. It’s ALL about passion. The hours are long, the pressure is often high, and it can take many years to really grow your responsibility, but if you love it, every day will seem like a genuine pleasure. Twenty-five years have flown past in my case.

A recent APM survey has revealed that being adaptive is the most important way in which project managers can change in the next five years – do you have thoughts on this in terms of your own experience during this pandemic?

I’m pleased that drive-ins aren’t the future of the industry. I really miss the audience interaction. But it’s been an interesting journey to see how quickly companies turned on that space to fill a void. Coalition will come out of this dreadful pandemic with new and stronger relationships, and a sense of positivity that even under the hardest of situations we have the ability to put on brilliant shows. That can only be seen as a good thing!

For further information and details on how to book visit Car Park Party online.

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