In Conversation With Richard Murphy

First Event is a corporate events company based in Yeadon and fast becoming global virtual events specialists. The creative team that works across Yorkshire and London strives to develop truly special events.

These events include conferences, exhibitions, celebrations, employee engagement events and more, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company had to pivot rapidly to deliver events that could meet their clients’ needs whilst also abiding by the global restrictions on travel and gatherings, which meant going virtual.

I spoke to First Event’s Managing Director, Richard Murphy, to find out more about the company and their move to a global platform.


Richard explained that pre-COVID, the company employed 50 people, delivered over 100 events across the world, and turned over £12 million annually. However, when the pandemic hit in March, events were postponed by clients and new business halted. Richard said that he and the team had to act quickly. They revisited their business model and decided to offer virtual events. This innovative move to virtual meant that First Event was able to continue supporting clients to meet business objectives.

Within weeks First Event had retrained staff members to become technicians and had delivered a range of virtual events with clients across the world. The company was doing so well that they had to recruit new team members. In addition to the virtual move, First Event has also worked with new and existing clients to support internal workforce engagement, for instance delivering over 1000 care packages to people working from home, as well as fun virtual events and awards nights. 

During the pandemic 

Richard told me that First Event has a philosophy of trust and as such agile and home working have been part of the company for years. He said that as a result, the First Event team was very much prepared to work from home when the pandemic hit. He went on to explain that the main changes related to a shift in thinking and as a result a need to retrain the staff to go virtual.

The training was fun. It was good to have a new challenge and to explore new possibilities. One of the most exciting things about the move to virtual events is the ability to work quickly and deliver multiple events each day. Clients can save on their carbon footprints, helping them to meet their sustainability objectives. 

Bespoke congress platform

Over the summer, First Event hosted an innovative congress involving 10,000 delegates, using a bespoke virtual platform. Richard explained that First Event was due to deliver a face-to-face event for a Bitcoin company in Kyoto, Japan. However, because of COVID, the company had to think outside the box and so decided to deliver it virtually. The virtual congress saw delegates walk into a virtual lobby where they could meet and talk to the company CEO who was an avatar working behind the information desk. The delegates could then choose where to go, with the option of attending a presentation, explore an exhibition hall or even relax in a meditation session. Richard said that one of the most exciting parts of the virtual event was the networking event at the virtual bar. The feedback that First Event received was incredible, so much so that the Bitcoin company has already planned to do host a similar virtual congress again in the new year. 

One Virtual – explore the potential

If you want to see what virtual events can look like, you could check out One Virtual, which is a free online event offering insights on the effectiveness of virtual events and virtual event technology.

Richard explained that First Event wanted to host One Virtual to show how a virtual event can work and how engaging it can be. He described the range of high profile speakers who are attending, including Katie Piper, who will be delivering a presentation about how to make the most of what you have, Ollie Ollerton from SAS Who Dares Wins, who will be talking about how to cope in uncertain situations, and James Mason from Welcome to Yorkshire, who will discuss how he and the organisation adapted in response to change. The online event will take place on 14th October and anyone is be able to register to take part in the event ( from the safety and comfort of their living rooms.  

First Event and the future

Richard confirmed that the company will continue to deliver virtual events. He emphasised their possibilities, explaining that if and when face to face events can take place, virtual events may well continue to be the preferred option, because they can offer an array of exciting opportunities notwithstanding saving companies money and reducing the carbon footprint of large events. The world of virtual is moving so quickly and there are so many new possibilities to explore, such as virtual reality, intelligent clothing and animations, which means that virtual events can only get better. Moreover, Richard and the First Event team are excited about working with clients who had not considered working with the Yorkshire based creative events agency before, such as the NHS, universities and schools.

The data the comes from virtual events is incredible, for instance highlighting which events are most engaging. This means that First Event and their clients will be able to learn how to tailor events best to each audience. 

Richard and his Yeadon-based team have quite clearly demonstrated that exciting and engaging events with thousands of delegates can still go on despite the pandemic, as long as we are all prepared to think outside the box and embrace all that virtual has to offer.

Photograph provided by Hanglands PR.

Dr Gemma Bridge

Gemma, is a freelance writer and independent researcher. She has been writing for over 10 years and loves to share what's going on in and around Leeds. She is also an international athlete, the Running Mayor of Leeds and the creator of Leeds Food Guide. You can find her on Instagram at @GLB_racewalk or @Leeds_FoodGuide, or on Twitter at @glbridge1 or @RunMayor_Leeds

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