Behind the Curtain

In the month of July 2015 Kenya experienced one of the annual global summits dubbed GES2015. The Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The summit which also encompassed an entrepreneurs’ expo, was further complicated by the presence of the President of the United States of America, Mr. Barrack Obama hosted by the President of the Republic of Kenya, H.E. Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta. With the perfect execution, even one who has no experience in the planning, execution and management of such an event would not make the observation that it was an easy task.

It took many players – food caterers, tent suppliers, taxi/ cab operators, mobile phone companies, Internet Service Providers, cleaning companies, public address system suppliers, PR companies exhibition stall builders, printers and so many more. After all the work, it would be correct to assume that no cost was spared and so the returns to most, if not all suppliers, were pleasant to the bank account.

It would thus be understandable for an employee of any of the companies named above to go to such a site and imagine just how much money his/ her employer would be getting. A quick math, if the employee knew the quotations issued to the clients, would make him/her desire to start their own outfit so that instead of a salary, he would get all that money. After all, if one such project is enough to meet the payroll for the month for the entire team and costs of operation, doesn’t it mean that if he was the one to do the job he would have all that and then some?

Truth be told I have seen such mathematics being done by many employees but listening to them describe it, one can’t help but notice the numerous flaws with their vision. In the following paragraphs, we will explore some of the value systems and considerations that can be seen characterizing the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events) industry.

So what goes into a successful event/ convention or organized tour?

From the initial request or conceptualization in an events management company, there is an evolution process before the bank manager begins to smile at your bank account.

There is:

Firming up the idea: If we are dealing with a business expo the company has to evaluate the viability of such an expo; who will the exhibitors be, where will the expo be held to have the largest number of visitors, should it be a Business to Business or Business to Customer, should you generalize or specialize by industry, has a similar expo been held, what was its success, how will you do it differently, what do you want to achieve, is this a one-time event or do you want it to be periodic?

Participants: Is this an expo for local, regional, international or a blend of all exhibitors? This informs the marketing strategy and event dates, partners such as hotels and airlines so that the team can develop packages that include travel, accommodation and possibly value adds of touring special tourist sites in the vicinity of the event. Participants also influence the who-is-who you will invite from the relevant government and private sector either to officiate or give pointers to where the participants should invest or spend.

Set up: This will entail knowledge and booking of the venue, contacting and securing suppliers for the equipment, furniture and fittings that will be used, getting the necessary permits and endorsements, security, planning layout of the event e.g. registration desk, security office etc. There was an employee who decided to leave his employer within the MICE industry because he was extremely good in design of the exhibition stands and décor design. In fact he was the lead and when he left, he targeted the very clients he had been serving under his employer. Giving them a lesser quote for participation in exhibitions, he soon realized he had bitten more than he could chew as he was forced by circumstances at set up of a very important event to go back to his employer for supply of equipment. It is wise to be smart. A very wise Teacher once said that a soldier does not go to war without first sitting down and counting the cost of the battle.

Sales: The dog work that no one likes but whose results everyone wants! Can you imagine booking a hall for $10,000 and having five exhibitors who each have paid $1,000 and a visitor registration of 200 people yet your budget was for 200 exhibitors with a target of 1,000 visitors per day for 5 days? How about planning for an East African tour for 100 guests using 4 trucks and you only manage to secure 20 guests and you had already paid for the 4 trucks in advance? Success of the event will majorly rely on selling the available event space and ensuring payments are done on time.

Operations & Finance: Without a doubt, even if all others succeed and this fails, then the business is in jeopardy. On the simplest of platforms, the question is how much will it cost to make this tour, event, meeting, convention etc. a success and how much should people pay and how much do I expect as a profit? There should be an element of cost saving, compare quotes from suppliers without compromising on the quality you want to maintain, prepare a budget, keep overheads low, track the expenses and at the end of the activity, conduct what we call a Return on Investment. There should also be the element of having a reporting structure with the team and also work to mitigate the risks involved in business.

Having interacted with various players in this industry I can only pinpoint values and qualities that have either allowed them success or that have caused them to stay on the reverse gear.

Integrity: it has many definitions but translated into this and any other line of business, the question that it seeks to address is – Can you be trusted? Is your word so good that it can be taken to the bank?

Problem solver: someone who does not get frazzled when there is a problem. They will think on their feet and offer solutions as opposed to saying, “I don’t know” or “someone else is to blame.”

Bounce back attitude: will allow one to accept that things can and will go wrong but when that happens, they have the ability to rise up, learn from the issue and move on.

Resilience: is a great value that allows one to make enough cold calls (both on phone and physically) and not get bogged down with hearing no.

Humility: Is a great character trait that allows one to do much and especially to learn from others. In the MICE industry, things are not static – ever! That dynamism must be embraced and only through humility can one learn what the industry is calling for. It is also in learning that one can know what to introduce as a value add to make their function/ event unique and memorable.

In conclusion, as an employee seeking to venture into the MICE industry, it is easy to look and imagine easy success. But those who have weathered the seasons in there as business owners will tell you, being a player in the MICE industry is not child’s play. It calls for sleepless nights, working when your friends are having fun, making losses but maintaining your name. Like a lot of businesses, it is not a guarantee that every project will give you a tidy profit. BUT with the right skills and attitude, you can make it and be among the many veterans in the industry who are now reaping big time because they stood the tests and trials of the business.

For more insights into business principles that will influence your profession, career, or work, we recommend the book Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slim

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