Backstage with Katy Roberts
This week, we go “Backstage with” Katy Roberts. As the Head of Live Operations at ITV, Katy is someone who knows all too well about the live events industry. From managing catwalk shows to bringing to life Britain’s most loved daytime TV show, Katy has a wealth of experience in managing many spectacular events.
How did you get into the live events industry?
I had been working for Budweiser since I left university, working my way up from the promo team to a key account manager, looking after bars and pubs across London. As with all good career moves, it happened purely accidentally when Anheuser Busch restructured and I was made redundant. I was determined to get into the wedding market as an Events Manager but was offered a role at a b2b exhibitions company so took the opportunity. On paper it was far less interesting than my previous role; an account manager on a construction exhibition where I specialized in the flooring, electrical and lighting sections of the show.
However, it led to an internal move onto a fashion trade event which was much more up my street. I became Head of Womenswear, managing catwalk shows, looking after the exhibiting fashion brands and overseeing customer marketing. I then moved on to launching this event in Shanghai, taking European brands to Chinese retailers at a point when the Asian fashion market was booming. Although the role was a huge challenge, I learnt so much about working with different cultures, troubleshooting while onsite, managing an event at a distance and looking after customers who I had to take to the other side of the world. I then moved from b2b and into the b2c event world, launching This Morning Live in partnership with ITV. A shopping event which attracted 30,000 visitors and 250 retailers as well as an array of talent to manage as well as ITV stakeholders who were new to the exhibition and events world. Following three successful years running This Morning Live, ITV asked me to join their commercial & licensing department as Head of Live Events, my main project being 'I'm a Celebrity...Jungle Challenge’.
What are your favourite things about your job?
One of the satisfying things about working in live events is seeing the blood, sweat and tears coming to life as an experience that brings so much joy and excitement to guests. The I'm a Celebrity attraction should do just that, and one of my favourite things about this project is leading the workshops we have on bringing the much-loved TV programme to life, including the jungle sounds, lighting, merchandise and detail in the props around the 'camps'.
What’s the proudest moment you’ve had working on a project?
The moment that Holly and Phil took to the stage for the first time at This Morning Live in 2017 was probably the proudest moment of my career. The excitement of the audience was palpable and when the biggest stars of daytime TV appeared from the wings, it was like being at a concert. The sound worked, the stage didn't fall down, the talent were on time and we even achieved the live link back to the studio with no glitches. It had been my most challenging launch and I couldn't believe that I had achieved the vision we had imagined 8 months previously without any huge dramas. A large proportion of the audience for This Morning are disabled or have mental health issues so watching how happy the event made them was pretty bloody heart-warming.
What would you say are the biggest challenges with working in live events?
Trying to visualise an event when you're essentially working with a 2D floorplan is only possible with experience really. I have made mistakes on events where I haven't thought about sightlines to stages, height of walls or pinch points on gangways that created issues for the audience. It's only when you've made mistakes that you can walk through a floorplan and visualise it as a 3D space, and in some cases, I've needed to do this without ever seeing the venue. With my current project, the space is currently a concrete box within a shopping centre so trying to create an almost immersive jungle experience takes a lot of vision! However, despite being the biggest challenge, it is very satisfying when you get it right and create a space for an audience that gives them the experience you set out to achieve.
Do you think today’s audience craves a live experience?
Absolutely. The digital era has almost spurred this on for some generations as they are looking for the next best instagrammable moment to share on social. For those not so engrossed in digital content, live experiences offer something you cannot get through a screen, stimulating all senses and offering opportunities to socialise with groups of people with shared interests. Whether that be an immersive cinema experience, festival or even a business networking event.
What benefits do you think live shows bring to both artists/ performers and shows like This Morning?
It's absolutely a chance for talent to look their fans in the eye and give back to those who have supported them as they've grown in their career. Whether you are a music artist or a TV star, the contact you have with your fans is limited to comments on twitter or fan mail, which simply don't allow a connection that you can get with a live show. In the case of This Morning Live, most of the talent were incredibly nervous to step out onto a live stage. They had no autocue or camera to hide behind which exposed them to the audience who loved them, and that was the beauty of this particular event that changed the dynamics between the talent and their audience and broke down the natural barriers of the screen. In the end this benefits the performer and the audience (as long as it goes well!) in that the audience will connect further, engage and stay loyal to that performer's 'brand'. For the performer, they are able to gauge how to adapt their style in a live environment to become better at what they do.
Are you excited for Bristol to have an arena?
Bristol is a fabulous city and I can't believe it doesn't already have an arena to be honest! From an ITV perspective, there are certainly far more events that we would prefer to run outside of London so it will be great to add Bristol to the list of potential venues.
Can you name your first gig, last gig, favourite gig?
To be honest nearly all of my gigs have been festivals, but I think one of my first might have been seeing Prodigy at Brixton Academy which is an amazing venue. One of my favourites has to be Rudimental, also at the Academy, the rush from 'Feel the Love' blasting out into the audience was incredible. The last festival I went to was Big Feastival in 2019 which was pretty special as it was the first time my daughter has really understood the power of live music. Raving to Grandmaster Flash while she was on my husband's shoulders with her hands in the air was pretty special.
Can you name a song that can instantly boost your mood? (and why)
It’s a tossup between Clean Bandit's 'No place I'd Rather Be' and Temper Trap's 'Sweet Disposition'.
And finally… can you share an all-time favourite song/ a song that means a lot to you so we can add it to our YTL Arena Backstage Pass playlist?
It's cheesy I'm afraid so don't know if it will make the cut but it has to be Lionel Richie's 'All Night Long'… an all-time favourite, my karaoke song of choice (with or without the music) and just a great track to dance to with my friends (preferably on a table).