A year goes by very quickly. Quicker each year or so it seems. Some say it’s related to how long one has lived – a 5-year-old feels a year is very long because it makes up 20% of their life, and so on… When I look back at my 2023, the 12 months don’t seem that long at all!

However, when I review everything I’ve done, the places I’ve been to, the events that Identity has delivered, and most startling …how much my children have grown, it’s clear that an awful lot has happened since this time last year.

Identity’s year in events

Identity delivered hundreds of events this year, and for various reasons, a few events in particular stood out for me.

Firstly, Identity’s  delivery of the Coronation of King Charles III will remain with me as a living-history-event. I think I speak for the entire team, when I say that we felt it was an honour to be part of it. A huge thank you to all of the team that worked across the project to make it such a success. This was closely followed by Trooping of the Colour the next month for his first official birthday as monarch.

Michael Gietzen at Coronation
King Charles carriage at the coronation

“I come not to be served, but to serve. Grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and belief.” KING CHARLES III, during his coronation

In the same month, of June, we leaned in and provided our support for the production of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, which attracted significant media attention. Congratulations to the team for their stamina and determination as we headed into the summer months.

Team at the Ukraine recovery conference
Rishi Sunak speaking at the Ukraine recovery conference

Our aim at the beginning of the year was to expand our corporate work and our team did just that, delivering some amazing projects and new wins for household names in the Financial Services, Banking, Management Consulting, Renewable Energy industries and many more! We’re excited to take our partnerships to new heights and we’re hungry for more!

(We delivered some amazing corporate projects this year, but unfortunately, in the world of brands it means I am not allowed to reference them by name – but to all of the teams that work across these projects that help us to moved the needle with more international corporate projects – thank you).

While other corporate client events took us to Budapest, Vienna, New York, Singapore, London and Lisbon, it is the AI Summit in Bletchley Park that takes another place on my ‘stand out’ list of Identity events. The AI Summit, at the beginning of November, was a super project to deliver. Tech experts, global leaders and representatives from 27 countries and the EU attended (and Elon Musk). The outcome was a “world-first” agreement among the signatories, that aims to identify the “AI safety risks of shared concern”.

AI Summit leaders
Group picture of the Identity team at the AI Safety Summit

“We’re not stronger or faster than other creatures, but we are more intelligent. And here we are, for the first time really in human history, with something that’s going to be far more intelligent than us.” Elon Musk

The event, from our perspective, was a great success but the subject matter does make me wonder about what kind of world my children will live in.  Will all our jobs be done more efficiently by AI? Possibly! Artificial Intelligence can conjure up images of a dystopian future – I think it’s better to think of it as a new generation of data analytics, a suite of tools to make our lives more efficient. Computers took humans from walking to running – using AI is the equivalent of putting a human on a bicycle!! See, not so scary anymore, but I am optimistically cautious.

Read more on the potential of AI in events.

Then moving a world away from AI and into the world of 100% human creativity, we had the Turner Prize 2023 with Tinie Tempah presenting the prize in Eastbourne (my home town)…who would have thought?!  We were delighted to support this avant-garde art prize that garners an incredible international profile, with Identity relishing the creative production freedom that is synonymous with the Turner Prize.

Winner at the Turner Prize 2023
The team at the Turner Prize 2023

The jury commended Oxford-born Darling’s use of materials and commonplace objects like concrete, welded barriers, hazard tape, office files and net curtains, “to convey a familiar yet delirious world.” Reuters.

In the same period we were able to pull off a couple of key projects for us in the Middle East; firstly with Dubai Business Forum, coined DAVOS in DUBAI, where the team got to showcase their excellence in major summit delivery, but most certainly in warmer climes. I was lucky to attend this historic event as a delegate and contribute to the dialogue and ambition of the region’s economic plan. Oh, and then shortly after, the Identity Middle East team delivered Reaching the Last Mile Forum with Bill Gates – well done to all of Identity ME, thank you for making me so welcome and I cannot wait to see what 2024 holds for you all.

Michael being filmed for an interview
The Dubai Business Forum stage

Finally, for sheer importance, complexity and scale, COP28 was another ‘stand out’ event for Identity. With 85,000 participants, 197 countries plus the European Union, this record number of delegates made it the largest in COP history by some distance. Led by Simon Dunnell and Darren Kerr, with their amazing Senior Leadership Team, this project saw our team expand to 1200 people in Dubai with over 10,000 people working in our supply chain. They delivered the event with extraordinary professionalism, with strong collaboration with Identity UK offices and Dubai – it was a very proud moment for all of us at the agency. Congratulations!

The crowd at COP28
The team at COP28 in Dubai

And just like last year’s finale, we’ve got London’s New Year’s fireworks and celebrations on the horizon. We started the year with a big bang and we’ll finish it with another streak of bright lights and excited faces. This is our second year producing London’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks and they will be extraordinary – a celebration like no other, showcasing the capital as a unique city for everyone.

If you’re lucky enough to be one of the 100,000 in-person attendees, we’ll see you there, if not catch it online or on TV and let us know what you think. Good luck to the delivery team, who I have really enjoyed interacting with during my London office visits – you all rock and I know you’ll smash it. Check out last years making of NYE by us – it’s a great watch.

London fireworks for New Year's Eve
The team in front of the London Eye

On the Events Industry

The global events industry market is projected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2032*, (*growing at a CAGR of 6.4% from 2023 to 2032), yet it is probably fair to say that the UK market has experienced some stutters this last year. So while there are many different perspectives on the future of the industry, I think it centres on the following three premises– 

(1) that globally the sector is projected to witness continued growth

(2) that this has to be achieved with event sustainability as a core drive

(3) that technology in events has endless possibilities and will help achieve the first two points i.e. further growth and sustainability

Temperature Check

Agencies like us are investing in research and development to drive innovation,  improve the human experience, and provide greater choice to our clients and attendees. Underpinning all of this is the relentless pursuit of sustainability. Reducing emissions, using less (of everything) and delivering more –  more magic; more engagement; and more ROI for clients. I am proud to quote that we have made the following improvements since we launched our vision 2030 and carbon reduction plan in 2021:

  • 97% reduction in Scope 1 emissions
  • 25% reduction in Scope 2 emissions
  • 94% reduction in emissions from employee commuting
  • 91% reduction in emissions from office waste

This year, Identity has accelerated its transition to a sustainable future. We are going all out to get to net zero. There’s a bit to go, but a huge amount has been achieved so far.   Identity’s ability to accurately measure potential carbon emissions from every aspect of an event, and then reduce these to an absolute minimum continues to be a game changer .  Achieving ISO 20121 sustainability accreditation for several of our clients’ events is also a great achievement, and for the third year, Identity sits on the advisory board of ISLA, the independent industry body supporting the events sector’s transition to a more sustainable future. 

Technology advances continue to help simplify our event planning and achieve event goals. Tech is like magic dust to us in events, and there continues to be endless possibilities. So many in fact that it’s impossible to cover it all. However, here are my top-5 predictions for the ‘next big tech advances’ to help power human experience:

  1. Hyper-personalisation: Event platforms will leverage more attendee data and AI to provide super customised agendas, recommendations, and experiences unique to each individual. This is likely to include facial recognition technology to help achieve hyper-personalisation. The right stack of tech will make every attendee feel special.
  2. Immersive hybrid events: With AR, VR, and spatial computing tech, online attendees will be able to feel like they’re part of in-person events by seeing life-size avatars and holograms, exploring interactive 3D event spaces, and more.
  3. AI-powered event assistants: All attendees may have access to a personalised AI assistant via a mobile app or wearable tech that acts as a guide, makes recommendations, schedules meetings, takes notes, etc.
  4. Predictive data analytics: By tapping into attendee preferences and behaviour data before and during events, event organisers can make optimised real-time decisions around scheduling, room layouts, exhibitor selection, etc. to boost satisfaction.
  5. Smart event spaces: IoT sensors and computer vision will allow spaces to automatically adapt to crowd flows, lines, seating arrangements etc, to keep spaces optimally configured for changing attendee demands over the event lifecycle.

Get ready Digital Events Team! Your fantastic efforts and achievements through 2023 are going to go supersonic in 2024!

Personal event highlights

Notebook with writing

It has also been a learning year for me and I have spent a lot of my time idle reading (well, listening to) self-development books, seeking ways to better myself. Standout learnings for me this year have to come firstly, from Diary of a CEO (DOAC). This has transformed my dog walks in the morning and Steven Bartlett’s book has been a real validation of how to be better.

His first law; Fill your five buckets in the right order, really struck a chord with me and is why I have dedicated so much time to understanding what I do know. Also, his standout comment that you must out-fail the competition. Thank you Steven Bartlett.

Secondly, Mike Ford at Grateful Lemon, a newly formed friendship this year, has been teaching me how in the new world we live in, you need a new way of living. He has been a great energy in raising my own personal awareness of how to adopt small, yet very powerful habit shifts. Get that mobile phone away from the bed at night. (Get those 8 hours of sleep everyone).

Michael wins the agency pioneer award on stage

It was not all about producing and delivering events, I also attended and took part in fantastic events in the UK and beyond too. Earlier this year I was honoured to receive the Pioneer Award from my industry peers. Something I was hugely proud to accept in recognition of what we have achieved over the last few years and the difference Identity is making in the new era of live events.

Michael speaking at a conference

Later in the year, I had the pleasure of speaking at TBOE UK Policy Forum, as part of the Department for Business and Trade’s International Trade Week. Alongside BBC Newsnight Political Editor Nicholas Watt, major event producer Martin Green CBE and Theresa Villiers MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Events, we discussed the current political landscape so that any policy agenda that is created can be done so with realistic objectives at its core for events.  At last  (while remembering the wilderness year of 2020) I believe that the sector is being taken more seriously by governments around the world, and while budgets have broadly remained stable, there is an enhanced focus on the legacy of events – and rightly so.


Michael with Martin Sorrell

Bucket list ticked – dinner with Sir Martin Sorrell: For those that don’t know, Sir Martin was CEO of WPP for 33 years, building it from a £1 million ‘shell’ company in 1985 into the world’s largest advertising and marketing services company with a market cap of over £16 billion.  Prior to that, Sir Martin was Group Financial Director of Saatchi & Saatchi plc for 9 years, refining the practice of the ‘earn-out’. To say he has ‘seen it and done it’ is an understatement. It was a true delight to listen for so long and chat openly with someone who I have respected so much for what they have achieved in a similar sphere – thank you for your time Sir Martin!

And how could I reflect on major events without mentioning the wonderful, the spectacular and the down right bonkers delight that was The Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool. This stands out as the most incredible show I attended this year and congrats to Martin Green and all the team for an exemplary showcase of British excellence in Events.  The staging, the lighting, the glitter and the sheer drama of it all  – Liverpool really took the contest to another level! It was so much fun and WOW, what a hangover! 

The stage at the Eurovision song contest

Looking ahead

On a more personal note, it has been my first full year as CEO of Identity.  I have really enjoyed it, its most definitely not easy and navigating the economic challenges in the UK with new global offices has been a steep learning curve. But, I get to lift my head up from the day to day and look out to the horizon, plan and assess for the future.

I feel I add the most value in the realm of the ‘big picture’ thinking: less tactics, more scale. I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of this because there are so many potential daily distractions that if I don’t keep a laser-like focus on the journey ahead, I become less effective and less valuable to the team. I see my role now as keeping Identity growing, and keeping the team motivated to do more great things together.

The last 12 months has seen Identity become a global player and, by so many measures, the agency is stronger than it was when we started 2022.

This year has seen our private corporate work increase significantly, and is forecast to continue on the same trajectory next year. 

Excitingly, Identity will also open its first office in the USA in 2024. We also have ambitious plans for growth.  I am proud of all that Identity has achieved this year and very grateful to all my colleagues and everyone who has worked on Identity events this year.  You are all brilliant. And a huge thank you to all our customers for your trust, continued support and faith in us to deliver exceptional events.

While we do the final prep on London’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks, my thoughts turn to all those who will not be celebrating this year. One thing that is for sure, is that life can change in an instant. For the many thousands of people caught up in conflicts around the world, I sincerely hope that 2024 brings peace. 

With every best wish for 2024 – and while once again it may seem to go faster than ever before,  it will actually be a whole day longer! (a leap year). 

Happy holiday season to all and I wish everyone the very best for the New Year. 


P.S. My Christmas reading/listening list recommendations this year include:

  • If I could tell you just one thing – Richard Reed It’s a dip in / dip out book. Enjoyable 
  • Uncommon Knowledge: Extraordinary Things That Few People Know The team at the Economist look beyond everyday appearances to find out what really makes things tick. 
  • Against the Rules, Michael Lewis. The third series is particularly gripping – tackling what’s happened to our trust in experts and expertise. 

Please do share any recommendations you have. I do a lot of travelling!