Blue Hat for a new day
CN goes all around the hat with Ben Parkinson and Neil Harvey, co-founders of Blue Hat Teambuilding
Where did you meet?
Ben: “We had been working for event companies in the 90s and noticed that teambuilding concepts back then were versions of basic army command tasks and often involved the provider making a trip to B&Q in preparation. It wasn’t very inspiring.”
Why did you decide to work together?
Neil: “We had similar visions in wanting to take the teambuilding industry to a higher level by creating genuinely engaging experiences. As I came from a theatre prop-making background I could see the potential for real improvement in the delegate experience that would mean they would leave saying: ‘Wow, I’ve not done anything quite like that before; it’s changed my perception of what teambuilding can be like’.”
The pair officially joined forces back in 2005 under the ‘Blue Hat’ brand and together have been recognised by the industry with over 40 accolades.
Neil: “When we started, we didn’t have any event products, so four of us spent a man-year in designing and building a new game called Hells Bells just on the belief that it would work and a loan from the bank. It did work and is still a stalwart in our portfolio today. We now have a portfolio of over 100 unique events.”
“But it hasn’t all been plain sailing and the first Bluehat UK incarnation, ultimately, was liquidated.”
Neil: “In 2014 Ben and I were non-executive. The CEO at the time invested heavily in a number of projects, funded by the success of the core business of teambuilding. Unfortunately they didn’t work out and the ventures created ongoing financial challenges.”
Ben: “After the departure of the previous CEO in 2016, Neil and I came back into the business to lead a recovery. We strove to bring the much revered brand back to life despite shouldering significant personal financial losses. We’ve addressed the inefficiencies and put the focus back on to our core passion of creativity and innovation. We have received wonderful, reaffirming support from agency and corporate clients alike.
“Neil and I are delighted to be back in control of the brand. We are not a jack of all trades; just a master of one – teambuilding.”
What is the Blue Hat difference?
Neil: “One is the attention to detail put into the experience. The props and equipment are hand crafted in house at our workshop in Hertfordshire. For example, you could put the items from our Da Vinci Code event into a museum and people wouldn’t know which are real artefacts and which we created.”
Tell us about the challenging briefs
Ben: “Having less than two weeks to design and build and deliver a high profile event that would include teams made up of high profile sporting and media celebrities and filmed live for Sky has got to be up there.”
Neil: “A recent event in Rome for 240 delegates resulted in a 20-team chariot race, each with their own mechanical horse built onto their pedal go-cart. It was a real Ben-Hur experience. ‘When in Rome’ and all that!”
How do clients' budgets influence what you can do for them?
Ben: “To achieve best value is not choosing the cheapest event you can find. If you save a few pounds by cutting corners or choosing an unreliable provider and it doesn’t go well, was it worth it? If an experience didn’t benefit the delegates in a positive way, why bother at all? With such a huge range of unique and innovative events, and the ability to create something from scratch, there’s always something that fits a client’s budget. We’re here to guide them through the process from brief to event.”
What do people take away from a teambuilding event?
Ben: “It depends on the client brief. We drill down on this with each customer to get under the skin of what they are trying to achieve, once we fully understand, we are then able to start recommending solutions.”
Neil: “The events we create are often used as a platform for learning. Because they are a fun shared experience, they naturally break down barriers and help delegates get into their true, natural selves. This is the perfect state for learning.”