A year in webinars: Executive editor William Barns-Graham discusses IOE and IT's educational broadcasts

Wed 13 Dec 2023
Posted by: Danielle Keen
IOE News

Will Barns-Graham with DG Marco Forgione

It’s been a busy year for the IOE&IT content team. Aside from covering the year’s biggest trade news, it also leads the organisation’s webinar programme.

Mixing high-level expert discussion with practical tips and expert insight, across public webinars and member-only ‘Lunchtime Learning’ sessions, the webinar programme has gone from strength-to-strength since its inception in 2015.

I spoke with my colleague, executive editor William Barns Graham, to find out more about 2023’s webinar highlights and the direction he wants to take the programme next year.

Year’s highlight

Choosing among a packed webinar programme, Barns-Graham chose May’s sustainability webinar as his favourite session of 2023, saying it’s a topic he regularly reports on and “is only going to grow in importance”.

The panel comprised of contributors from the world of trade and environmental advocacy, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Trade Council (ITC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Experts offered advice on how businesses could put environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals at the centre of their business practices, rather than leaving it as an afterthought and relegating it in their list of priorities. Barns-Graham said:

“We brought important topics and issues to our audience which they may not have been considering, or at least prioritising, in their business planning.

“Given the importance of the climate emergency and the role of global trade in addressing the challenges it poses, I think we did something really important and hopefully helped to move the dial a bit.”

Public programme

The opportunity to create more panels like this, designed to deliver wide-ranging discussion across a range of trade topics, is high on the agenda for next year’s webinar programme.

This follows several years requiring highly technical, customs-related content due to new post-Brexit regulations, following the introduction of the EU-UK Trade and Customs Agreement (TCA) in 2021.

“Starting from 2018 to 2020, the focus was much more about preparing businesses for Brexit, getting them familiar with key customs processes and documents.

“The need for this kind of content was borne out by the numbers, as these were our most popular webinars.”

Right up to the end of 2022, Barns-Graham says that the IOE&ITs members “were very much focused on these new rules and processes”.

More diverse

However, he’s excited to explore a wider range of topics and “move beyond Brexit”, turning his attention to a wider-range issues, including climate, digitalisation and how human rights intersect with trade, adding “we now have the opportunity to provide more unique topics and bring in a more diverse and varied range of voices”.

He attributes this opportunity to IOE&IT’s rapid growth over the past couple of years, with IOE&IT now employing staff from all over the world. He also cites how the organisation is “launching exciting new industry-government initiatives” such as the E-Commerce Trade Commission[DK1]  , as well as ongoing collaborations with multilateral organisations like the World Trade Organization and International Trade Centre.

“The increasing scope and variety of topics reflects the development of IOE&IT. It’s now engaging in more territories, covering a wider range of topics and is involved in a greater number of new projects.”

Lunchtime Learning

However, IOE&IT members can still expect to receive practical trade advice on IOE&IT webinars, including presentations full of practical tips on navigating the incoming raft of regulatory changes affecting the UK next year.

“There's a lot of change coming up for UK trade in 2024 and 2025 around the introduction of the single trade window, the development of the ecosystem of trust model and the regulatory changes coming in with the Border Target Operating Model.”

The member-only ‘Lunchtime Learning’ programme, now hosted by content editor Phil Adnett, features practical guidance from IOE&IT academy specialists and it emerged out of members’ need for post-Brexit support.

Barns Graham said they were “set up as detailed deep dives into different customs processes” and notes the role in setting them up during the pandemic of his colleague, membership development manager Helen Hastie. Elaborating on the difference between the free public events and Lunchtime Learnings, he added:

“On the Lunchtime Learning we focus on giving in-depth, practical guidance on how to trade, how to manage customs processes and software, how to complete a customs declaration form or use CDS.

“It’s a great opportunity for IOE&IT members to get greater access to our experts, a chance to ask detailed questions and to get a sense of how our training courses and products could then further educate and support them.

“Our public webinars, by comparison, fulfil the role of raising awareness of upcoming trade changes or key trade discussion points to the wider trader community.”

Big audiences

2023 has been another great year for the programme and Barns-Graham is pleased to see the progress made from the programme’s inception.

The ‘lockdown effect’, which increased uptake of virtual learning, led to a significant increase in webinar attendances in 2020 and2021, and numbers have remained high across 2022 and 2023.

IOE&IT webinars regularly attract several hundreds of businesses and trade professionals these days, with the peak on the programme being a session held in the aftermath of the UK securing the TCA in 2021.

“That webinar was a full house – which is 3,000 attendees on the current platform we use. It was quite exhilarating – and nerve-wracking! – presenting to that many people.”

Numbers remain high, with the most-attended webinar this year attracting well over 1,000 people.

Barns-Graham says this shows that there is a significant appetite in the British business community for “accessible, practical information about trade”.