Someone's Got To Do It: Keith Betton Is Head Of Corporate Affairs At Abta

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Indy Lifestyle Online
How long have you been doing your job?

Eight years but I have been in PR for about 13 years and have worked as a convention organiser for 30.

What does being a convention organiser involve?

Recently, I've been organising this week's Abta convention in Cairns. We start looking for a venue three years before a convention - it needs to have exhibition space to seat up to 18,000 people and be close enough to hotels and other facilities. Last year, it was Playa de Las Americas in Tenerife. Again this year I wanted it to be somewhere on the tourist map.

What are the challenges of your job?

Getting the destination right. I also have to find out how to get the delegates there and back quickly. The host country must also be able to organise things and understand the convention's aims and objectives. Weather is another big factor. With outside venues, you need to have a back-up plan in case it rains. Finally, you must provide for about 50 journalists. The facilities have to be really good - it's a bad idea to start with a miserable press corps.

What is a typical day like?

I arrive at the office at 8.15am and spend an hour doing errands and working on my in-tray. At the moment, about half my time is spent organising conventions. We work on three conventions at a time - last year's, this year's and the one for next year. The other half of my time is spent being a spokesperson for Abta on TV or radio. At 9.15am, journalists start coming in and there is bound to be an interview on the issue of the day - an earthquake or the latest food scare. I leave the office no later than 5.45pm.

That said, when I'm working on a convention I arrive at the centre at 7.45am to prepare. If there is a live TV show, we rehearse all the speakers for the next day - they are professional people,not necessarily professional speakers.

Occasionally, we have to work throughout the night - someone might turn up with different formatted slides to those we were expecting or they may want something that we hadn't anticipated. There should be no surprises on the day, so everything must be right.

What do you love most about the job?

Unlike most people in PR, I am able to take complete control of everything I do. For instance, if the BBC suddenly phones to say the speakers are useless, I don't have to sit down and write out a response three hours later, but I can respond immediately, live on TV.

The worst part of my job is the fact that you never know what is going to happen next. For instance, when a big piece of news suddenly breaks it is exciting and exhilarating - everyone wants advice. The next day though, everything that did not get done on the day the news broke, still needs to be done and people don't always understand that. Perhaps the worst part of the job is the element of unpredictability.

If you are at a party and someone finds out who you are and what you do, what is the question they are most likely to ask?

"Can you get me a cheap holiday?" or "Have you ever met Judith Chalmers?" I am always surprised about just how much non-travel people know about our organisation. I recently met Patsy Palmer and she said: "You make sure that people get their holiday if their holiday firm goes bust." I was really surprised that she knew of us.