An Aldar First On Yas Island!  A Sales Centre In Twelve Weeks!

An Aldar First On Yas Island! A Sales Centre In Twelve Weeks!

Another challenge from Aldar Properties delivered in record time. “In one of our early meetings about their stand for Cityscape Abu Dhabi, our clients at Aldar Properties mentioned that they were struggling to find a venue for a sales centre for the Yas Acres development,” says Hedley Grist, Action Impact’s Account Director. “We’ve worked on a few interesting projects with temporary structures (some of which turned out not to be so temporary), so we offered to help. But in our next meeting, they issued us with an even more unusual challenge. They had identified one of the buildings at the Yas Links golf course as a possible venue, and they wanted to know if we thought it could be converted into a sales centre in time to benefit from the publicity around Cityscape, a mere twelve weeks away.”

Action Impact's 'Expo 2020 Experience' Inspires New International Award

Action Impact's 'Expo 2020 Experience' Inspires New International Award

At last week’s 2016 Middle East EVENT Awards, Action Impact’s Expo 2020 work in Milan, Italy helped inspire Informa Exhibitions, the organisers of the Middle East EVENT Awards, to create a new award for 2017 – ‘Best International Event or Brand Activation’. Adrian Bell, Co-founder and Executive Director at Action Impact said; “We are extremely proud of the experience that we created for Expo 2020 Dubai, and it is an honour to be told that we have helped promote the need for a whole new category for future editions of the prestigious Middle East Event Awards.

As a company, our vision has always been to support local companies and organisations in telling their stories to their target audience, wherever they may be, and although that usually means that we work locally and regionally, we have the network and the experience to enable us to produce world-class work anywhere in the world.”

The experience that was created by the agency's UAE talent was a self-contained introduction to the 2020 Expo, situated at the heart of the UAE pavilion in Milan. It was open to all visitors to the pavilion and had three distinct target audiences: VIP government delegations, other pavilions’ commissioners, and the general attendees of the expo.

In the six months that it was open, it was seen by over one million visitors including high-level government delegations from many of the 180 countries who are considering participating in the 2020 Expo.

“We would like to think” says Adrian, “that our work will have encouraged many of those visitors to consider Dubai in their future travel plans, but more importantly, that it will have provided a suitable backdrop for the early discussions that should result in a record number of countries participating at Expo 2020 Dubai.”

Suzy Pallett, Consumer & Corporate Group Director, Informa Exhibitions said; “Our decision to create a new award for international event work emanating from the region is an exciting development and an indication of the quality of the work that the Middle East region is actively producing. We’re really looking forward to seeing next year’s entrants for 2017.”

How To Stand Out From The Crowd: Create An Oasis

Aldar Properties challenged us to be different, so we delivered an oasis of calm contemplation... that revolved! “We’d done quite a few stands for developers before, and we entered the meeting expecting the usual brief: make the models look good,” says Hedley Grist, Action Impact’s Account Director. But Abu Dhabi based Aldar Properties had a surprise for Hedley and Executive Creative Director, Simon Tapping: they wanted something ‘different, really different.’

“Their explanation of different was that we would be featuring a single project, code-named North Yas, and that there would be no models on the stand, and otherwise we had a blank sheet of paper,” says Simon. “Refreshingly, they were only wanting to see sketches of our initial ideas, rather than fully rendered visuals, which meant we could easily show them some different possible directions”.

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“A couple of brainstorm sessions with the team resulted in three very different ideas. The first idea we called ‘The Oasis,’ and it was definitely our favourite. We produced a simple deck with brief explanations and simple sketches to get all three ideas across, and sent these to the clients.

Fortunately, they all liked our favourite idea too, at which point it was full steam ahead to create The Oasis for Cityscape Abu Dhabi, for the launch of Yas Acres.”

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“We would achieve this with clusters of comfortable seating grouped around digital touch-tables, with the whole space defined by a series of suspended panels. From the outside, these panels would be clad with materials representing the architecture of Yas Acres, like a life-sized sample board, whilst inside they would be projection surfaces onto which we would project imagery to evoke the lifestyle of the development. Oh yes, and just to make it a bit more interesting, the panels would be constantly moving on tracks, whilst the entire seating area would be on a huge slow-moving revolve!”

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“Throughout the process, we did our best to appear to our client like a serene swan drifting across a lake,” says Hedley, “but the reality of the effort involved in overcoming the challenges that we set ourselves was probably noticeable once or twice.”

“Our clients at Aldar were as protective of the concept as we were, to the point that when the decision was made to showcase some models of Yas Acres on the stand, they took additional floor space, so that we could place these extra elements adjacent to The Oasis rather than dilute its effect by cluttering up the main space.”

The on-site build benefited from all of the pre-planning, meaning that the stand was finished in plenty of time, and drawing interested and admiring looks from other exhibitors even before the show opened.

Paul Middleton, Executive Director, Commercial, Aldar Properties, was determined that the stand succeeded; “We wanted to use the platform Cityscape gave us to launch our most significant residential development ever, and we knew that the only way to do it was to achieve something unique,” he says. “Action Impact delivered just that. All visitors were able to experience what we were creating.”

Action Impact Builds First-Of-Its-Kind “Temporary Museum” For HIPA

When legendary French avant-garde filmmaker Jean Luc-Godard was asked the deceptively simple question, “What is photography?” he answered with a stark, but profound statement: “Photography is truth.” Ask what a museum is, and many people will describe it as a building – usually old and grand – that’s packed with artefacts. But, I like the Godard approach: A museum is not a building, it’s what’s inside that counts. That all sounds pretty philosophical, and it is, but it’s also an approach that characterises an important piece of work our agency undertook recently in Dubai. We created a pop-up museum – a temporary structure – to exhibit a never-before-seen collection of photography from the private archives of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum as well as a diverse range of 20th-century masterworks and 21st-century contemporary photography. It was a stunning perspective made up of 868 works by 129 photographers, from 23 countries.

The ‘Dubai Photo Exhibition’, as named, was organised by the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA) and ran concurrently with HIPA’s 5th Season Awards which attracts both professional and amateur photographers from around the world.

Action Impact, was tasked with creating a temporary contemplative space for the exhibition. It had to allow visitors the time and space they needed to seek their own truths from within each stunning photograph. The pop-up museum needed to be designed and built so that it could be seamlessly integrated into the heart of Dubai’s new creative centre, the Dubai Design District. And, of course, it also had to meet the exacting standards of an international team of 19 renowned curators, whose selections are usually housed in venerable museum spaces under optimal conditions.

We had less than a month to build a space that enabled visitors to enjoy the artwork in peace – and at the right temperature and light levels. So, inspired by the growing trend for pop-up structures, from shops to arcades and, of course, museums, we got to work.

Our team, led by Producer Matthew Serpico, and Creative Director, Adrian Little, created a design that fitted in with the existing street furniture in D3, and the surrounding architecture. “We went for a very neutral design so that the photography could shine,” said Matthew. “We organised the galleries as a series of connected spaces to ensure that each curation worked as a story. We also had to try and give the impression to the visitor that this was a solid, almost permanent structure.”

We worked hard to create a space which could handle a considerable volume of visitors, and ensure that they could flow through the spaces freely, giving them the time and space to view each image in detail. It took quite a lot of resources to get it done: the 3,000 square metres over five structures needed 2,250 metres of mains cabling and four generators, 900 metres of ducting, 200 square metres of tempered glass and 39 metric tonnes of steel!

It worked. Wall space was, obviously the point, so our design offered the curators almost 3,000 square metres of it, lit by 1,600 lights. And it was all built in just 22 days. The best comment I heard once the exhibition was in full swing was, ‘This place feels like a real museum like it’s been here forever.” The purpose was not only to create a space where visitors were able to view artwork, but also a space where people could meet each other. We designed an orientation café at the heart of the structure so that visitors could engage in dialogue, or just sit in comfort to think about what they were seeing.

“What intrigued visitors was the fact that each of the galleries was concealed from each other,” said Adrian, “We designed them that way so that visitors could feel as if they were on a journey of discovery.” Our overall goal was to put the artwork at the centre of the experience, this led our thinking, and we succeeded. The exhibition was a success, and it will now become an important part of HIPA each year.

The structure has now been dismantled, which makes me a little sad. But, in a strange kind of way, its absence makes it seem even more solid in my memory. It felt permanent when you were in it, but once you left, only the memory lived on –  like a moment captured by each click of a camera.

The HIPA Exhibition took place in Dubai Design District between 16th and 19th of March 2016 

Virtual Gekko

A VIRTUAL SALES TOOL THAT BRINGS CUSTOMERS’ IMAGINATIONS TO LIFE “Believe me, once your property is finished, it’ll look and feel great.” That’s something you hear a lot when you’re looking at off-plan properties in a sales centre for a new development.

Communicating how a property will look and feel once it’s built has always been a challenge. Drawings, blueprints and even models depend on large amounts of imagination. I’ve often wondered if there was a better way of making the pictures you’re trying to conjure out of words more tangible.

One of our engineers, Avinash Lobo, told me, with great confidence, that there was. “The answer to the problem has been solved for us – by the gaming industry.”

I asked him to explain that enigmatic statement. “Look at any PS4 or Xbox One console,” he said, “And you’ll see intricate and highly realistic worlds that you can manipulate at will. We can use that coding to build apartments or houses so customers can actually see what they’re going to get... and they can change the colours or the layouts or... anything they want, right there, in the showroom.”

It all made perfect sense. “It will also work in a car showroom,” Avinash said. “Virtual Gekko is as versatile as your colourful imagination.” He’s right. It’s a brilliantly simple approach to an age-old challenge. That’s why we encouraged him to get to work developing the idea.

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In his quiet, diligent way, Avinash, who, amazingly, is a self-taught coder, got to work creating a tool that’s set to revolutionise the way sales centres can engage with customers. The idea is a simple one: You just ask a customer to choose from a palette that’s pre-defined (room layouts, kitchen configurations or different car interiors and so on) and then it’s inputted into Virtual Gekko so that customers can take a virtual tour of the space with all those features added to it.”

The technology is really easy to use. Avinash’s insight that it’s just like gaming makes sure of that. A keyboard or a controller gives clients the ability to explore and react. That means customers can gain an immediate sense of ownership and that speeds the sale.

“It’s like they’ve already visited the space, or sat in the car, and experienced it, even before it’s built,” says Avinash. That’s it exactly. And it’s already proving effective. Virtual Gekko is being trialled in property sales centres right now, and the reaction we’ve had has been very positive.

It’s yet another way in which the team at Action Impact is taking its skills developed in the events industry and applying them to a broader sales marketplace.

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Emma Clark Achieves A First For Events Professionals In The Middle East

Action Impact’s famously energetic Event Director, Emma Clark, is known for her conviction that ‘nothing is impossible’. It has helped her produce a very long (and high profile) list of conferences, public forums, roadshows and product launches over a career that’s spanned for more than a decade. When she decided to study for, and achieve, the International Special Events Society’s prestigious global designation as a Certified Special Events Professional, no one at Action Impact doubted that she’d succeed. And she did, becoming the first person in the Middle East to be able to put the much coveted initials, CSEP, after her name.

“After more than ten years of hard work I thought it was the right time to prove myself on a global stage and get a qualification that could help me develop my skills even further,” says Emma.

Since 1993 the CSEP qualification has provided global recognition to event professionals who have successfully demonstrated the knowledge, skills and ability to carry out all the components that contribute to a successful special event around the world.

Action Impacts’ directors, Mike Wain and Adrian Bell, supported Emma’s studies. “It was a hard program, and very demanding. But I managed to organise my time and got great support from other members of the team at Action Impact,” says Emma. “I’m known for my borderline OCD tendencies,” she adds, “But that helped me get to grips with my schedule and the study materials.”

Emma sat the exam under controlled conditions in a specially set-up facility using a secure, virtual link. “I had to use both my practical knowledge gained from learning on the job, to flesh out the theory, and the exam was very tough,” says Emma. Her efforts paid off: she passed and won the coveted initials.

“I’m very proud,” she says, “Not just because I’m the first person to achieve the CSEP in the Middle East, but because it shows just how committed to quality Action Impact is as a company. The industry is maturing fast in the region, and more and more professionals will achieve this kind of global accreditation. That’s healthy for them as individuals, and for the industry as a whole.”

Emma’s achievement means that her abilities have been benchmarked against the best in the world, and it also reflects the qualities that are at the heart of Action Impact’s philosophy. “I don’t want this to sound like a tearful awards ceremony acceptance speech,” says Emma, “But I couldn’t have achieved this without Mike and Adrian’s support. I was always confident in my ability, but having those letters after my name, just makes me more determined to keep on developing my skills.”

General Motors At The Dubai Motor Show

Where the rubber hits the road for General Motors in the Middle East!

When General Motor’s global design agency, Czarnowski, showed us their designs for three huge stands at the 12th Dubai International Motor Show we knew that we had a big challenge ahead of us. It was clear that GM was entering a very important year for all their stakeholders. An unprecedented number of significant new launches meant that there’d be a lot of press attention around their presence at the world’s major motor shows. And that meant that the experiences their stands offered would come under close scrutiny. The automotive press is hard to please. Anything phoney or corny wouldn’t cut it.

Czarnowski created the right mix of glitz, polish and elegance. They designed three separate worlds for Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC, and stunning, dynamic video content was produced to support them. But the actual hands-on experience of each model was key to the success of each environment. Everything had to be just right. The quality of every fixture and fitting had to match the engineering excellence of each vehicle. GM wanted visitors to really experience their brands.

We had five days to build it all. The Chevrolet stand, at almost 1300m² was the biggest. We created a sense of forward motion with an impressively lit canopy which drew visitor’s sightline toward the cars arrayed across an easy to navigate open space, with a sweeping LED screen as a visual focus. The 900m² Cadillac stand – which was 70% bigger than at the 2013 show – boasted a circular ceiling created a pool of light that made each model glow. And the almost 500m² GMC environment, with its new models standing resolute, made a bold statement about the marque’s power, strength, stability and on-road certainty.

Each stand was a separate experience, with hospitality and sales areas which matched each design seamlessly. And I’m always surprised by the fact that, when we really get the build right, how even I can forget all that went into constructing each stand. I become a visitor, and enjoy the experience. When that happens I know we’ve done a good job.

Of course, the mere presence of each car – impressive though it may be – is not enough to ensure that visitors walk away with deep and positive impressions of the models. There always has to be something else: Something interactive and engaging. At the Dubai Motor Show we created an Engagement Zone on the Chevrolet stand which allowed a football crazy demographic a chance to match a Wayne Rooney-style long pass across a football pitch. Few, including me, could, but they all had fun trying.

On the GMC stand we gave visitors the chance to immerse themselves in an exciting virtual reality journey created by Australian agency, Isobar. The latest Oculus Rift headsets which use a gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer to take 1,000 readings a second to create a smooth, hyper-real illusion of movement. The 90 second journey across dunes from a falcon’s eye-view amazed visitors and positively linked a sense of wonder to the GM brand and its vehicles.

I think it’s clear that GM’s commitment and impressive presence proves that the Dubai International Motor Show is destined to be in the world’s top automotive shows very soon – up there with Tokyo, Frankfurt, Detroit, Los Angeles, Paris and Geneva.

Inauguration Of Qasr Al Muwaiji Birthplace Of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Action Impact, the UAE’s leading brand experience agency, successfully delivered the prestigious opening event at Qasr Al Muwaiji, on behalf of Abu Dhabi Tourism  and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi). The historic event took place at the prominent, newly-restored fort complex in Al Ain, between 15th and 21st November 2015, when Qasr Al Muwaiji reopened as a museum and exhibition, featuring significant moments of the President’s childhood, celebrating his leadership and national achievements, and as a monument to the country’s progress.

Home to the Al Nahyan dynasty and birthplace of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, the impressive fort opened its doors for the first time in over 60 years.  The symbolic entry into the fort was officially led by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region.

The sophisticated production was designed to work in harmony with the fort’s distinctive architecture and deployed a series of advanced projection and video mapping techniques across the expansive structure.  Specially-commissioned content was created by the agency and included unique and delicate combinations of hand sketches, animated illustrations, advanced video and a wealth of impressive photography.

“Our team of creatives and production specialists were thrilled to work on such an important project for the UAE” said Adrian Bell, Executive Director at Action Impact, “The end result gave us all goosebumps – it was one of those deeply emotional reveal moments!”

A series of public events followed, including workshops, cultural performances and a daily entertainment attracting over 5,300 visitors in six days. These experiences were hosted by a large group of specially-trained Emirati Ambassadors who accompanied guests through the journey.

Following the launch of the exhibition building and fort grounds, Qasr Al Muwaiji is now fully open to receive guests. It promises to become a jewel in the crown of the Al Ain UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Decade Of Difference

Time certainly flies when you’re having fun. It’s difficult to believe we’re ten this year when it seems like only yesterday when our doors first opened for business. Perhaps we’ve been too engrossed in our work; that might explain it. Like when you’re busy all day and then raise your head to realise it’s dark outside. After all, over the years we’ve put our name to some of the region’s most challenging projects. Another reason might be that we’ve always been a close-knit and talented team. So if we haven’t noticed ten years slipping past, it’s because we’ve had a great time. Our clients would certainly agree with that sentiment; some of them have been with us almost since the beginning. Be it event management, exhibitions, or brand environments & interiors – we’re well-known for the enthusiasm with which we approach our work.

Nonetheless, there’s no denying a decade has passed. It’s marked by the awards, commendations and letters of appreciation adorning our walls. By our portfolio and showreel. But perhaps most importantly, by the growth of the city and the country that we call home. We’re truly proud of the fact that we’ve tangibly contributed to the success of Dubai and the UAE.

Our own growth has at times caught us by surprise. We currently employ 13 nationalities and speak 19 languages – but we’ve managed to retain the essence of who we are and what we stand for. Perhaps it’s because five of the seven people who opened our doors in 2005 are still happily working here. Or because nearly 50 percent of our current staff have been with us for 5+ years (which is really saying something in a market where employee turnover is quite high).

And so, we wanted to commemorate our tenth anniversary with celebration yes, but also a little introspection. We turned to our creative team, and they responded with an intricately crafted ‘10’. It uses co-eccentric arcs of colour to create a vortex representing countless people, ideas and projects all coming together to create meaningful value. Not only enabling one another, but complementing each other too. We also created a special version of our brand slogan. “Experience Difference” becomes “A Decade of Difference”.

To conclude, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how old you are. What counts is what you’ve accomplished, the values you uphold and the people who choose to be with you. Well, by these criteria we seem to be doing pretty well!

A Creative Director’s Guide To Expo 2015 Milan

Expos are strange creatures. I’ve worked on several over the years, and visited others, and I have mixed feelings about them. The truth is that they are usually aimed primarily at the local population wherever they are held, so the experience of an international visitor is quite different to that of the main audience. Local residents can visit as often as they like over the six months that they run, discovering different things each time they visit, and enjoying the atmosphere, the entertainment and the many restaurants and bars, whereas as an international visitor there is a pressure to try to see everything that is best in just a short visit, and this is almost impossible to do. Many pavilions take time - both to queue to get in, but then to absorb and enjoy the content – and if you are trying to see all of the highlights on a schedule this can cause some frustration.

Your enjoyment will also depend to some extent on your interest in the theme of the Expo, as you will find yourself being told the same things a number of times to varying levels of detail, particularly if the organisers have not exercised much editorial influence.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Milan, and managed to see about 50 pavilions over two trips, and in talking about them with others I’ve discovered just how different people’s reactions can be to what they experience.

Some people get inspired by the architecture, and some by the interior design. Some get excited by the use of technology, others by simplicity. Some get absorbed in the content, whilst others just skim the surface as they tick off their list of visits.

Expo 2015 runs until the end of October, so there’s still time to visit. My advice would be not to be too ambitious. It’s hot, it’s tiring, and if you rush around you won’t really enjoy it. You won’t see all of it unless you stay for a week, so don’t even try.

The easy thing to do would be to list my top 10 pavilions, but I’ve realised that my top 10 just won’t be everyone else’s. So instead here’s a “Best for” guide, and I leave it to you to decide which ones sound appealing.

There are several country pavilions that I didn’t get to, and a series of ‘clusters’ that are groups of small country pavilions linked to particular food types, but I haven’t included these in this article.

So here’s my personal guide to help you to get the most from a short visit to Expo 2015 Milan…

Best for introducing the theme

Pavilion Zero. It’s right at the entrance. It really is a thorough introduction to the theme of the expo, and puts the rest into context. The queue might look off-putting, but it’s huge inside and the throughput is high. It’s something of a showcase for a number of Italian designers and content-creators, and uses a range of techniques. You need to read the text panels, and you will come out in the right mindset for what everyone else is going to tell you.

Best for interactive technology…and cheesy songs…and being a bit too long

Germany has way too much information, but told in really interesting ways. As you arrive, you’re given a plain square card, which turns into a simple interactive device in conjunction with some very clever intelligent projection, and the content is based around a series of hosts to guide you through their story. In marked contrast, the experience ends in a theatre with a live interactive beatbox performance that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but illustrates the range of techniques that can be described as ‘interactive’.

Japan has a long queue and is slow to get through, but has a series of interesting spaces using a variety of techniques including an unusual app that does a few clever things including image collection and simultaneous translation. However, just when you think you’ve seen the whole thing, you find yourself waiting to enter a theatre for another live song and dance show, this time with interactive chopsticks…

Best for weird

Czech Republic. Hard to know what to say about this, but if you are intrigued by the bizarre sculpture outside (a combination of car, bird and plane) then there is more of the same inside…

Best for Black and White

South Korea’s food philosophy places great emphasis on colour, and to highlight this the entire pavilion is black and white, creating maximum impact from the colour in the food imagery. A pair of choreographed robots and several other interesting techniques bring their story to life.

Best for a breath of fresh air

Bahrain is a beautifully simple pavilion. It has modular architecture that will be rebuilt in Bahrain after the expo, and houses a series of outdoor gardens showcasing a variety of plants that flourish there. It only takes a few minutes to explore, but is an oasis of calm.

Austria has a wonderful atmosphere, and is proud of it! The main theme of the pavilion is air quality, and the trees in their inner space generate enough oxygen for 1800 people. It’s an experience that transports you from the buzz of the expo very effectively.

Best for long queues

Italy. As the host country, it’s bound to be a popular pavilion, and its cost-overruns and late opening have added to the interest. I joined the queue on my first visit then discovered how long the wait was and thought I’d try again when the pavilion was fully opened. I tried again on my second visit, but they closed it down for a VIP visit by Prince Albert of Monaco, so I gave up again and ran out of time for a third attempt… hopefully it’s worth the wait.

Best for content imagery

Expos have always produced beautiful content, and these pavilions, whilst very different, are good examples of the art of visually compelling content.

Argentina draws you in with vibrant imagery on an overhead LED conveyor belt, and once you have made your way upstairs, you find yourself inside a series of silos, whose inner curved walls become projection surfaces carrying expansive imagery celebrating Argentina’s position as a major producer and exporter of produce.

Vanke is a Chinese property developer – one of a handful of corporates to have invested in their own pavilions. The striking Daniel Liebskind-designed structure houses a lovely calm space, with an 8 minute film shown on 200 screens, celebrating a day in the life of China, with a wonderful final scene that brings friends and family together in a shared love of food.

Best for learning about Expos

If this is your first Expo, then the Expo Museum is an interesting short interlude that gives you a bit of background into their history from the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Best for hanging out

Holland has the feel of an open-air festival, with plenty of spaces to relax and enjoy some unusual food (including seaweed burgers) from a variety of food trucks, whilst listening to DJs or bands. But it also has small tent structures with some intriguing content.

Best for trying food

Russia has a large imposing pavilion with one of the best ‘selfie’ opportunities in the form of an enormous cantilevered mirrored roof over the entrance. It is very spacious inside, but is reliant on the food demonstrations and tastings to bring it to life. Check the app for timings, as these are really the only times when it is worth visiting.

Best for style over substance

As with everything else this is subjective, but there always seem to be a few pavilions where the designers get carried away and the content doesn’t quite live up to the surroundings.

France looks beautiful - the whole interior is like a huge art installation inspired by food and cooking, but the majority of the content, on large screens placed on agricultural trailers, feels like an afterthought.

China takes you on a journey through a series of spaces, but it doesn’t hang together as a story. A large central space is taken up by a field of LED that is just a bit too low-res to be effective, and a very long wait for an animated film and dance performance that are OK, but don’t really justify the wait.

Slovenia also looks striking, and is beautifully fitted-out, but just doesn’t have much to say, except that Slovenia contains the word love…

United Kingdom is a striking design – a representation of a bee colony, and the whole pavilion is linked up to a working hive in the UK. I’m reliably informed that if you get a guided tour then it’s a fascinating pavilion to visit, but without that explanation it is a very underwhelming experience.

Best for avoiding if you have vertigo

Brazil is entered via a huge tensioned rope net that you walk across, over a garden below. It’s fun and unusual, and not to be attempted in high heels. The rest of the pavilion has a light fresh feel and interesting content, but quite a lot of this is delivered by underpowered projection that is washed out by the lightness of the space.

Best for unusual presentation formats

Qatar is an interesting pavilion with a lot of relevant content told in a variety of ways. The centre piece (which looks like a giant basket from outside) is a three storey spiralling walkway around a central projection-mapped feature. Slightly more style than substance, but no lack of effort!

Romania is a strange little pavilion, and the first time I’ve ever seen bi-fold doors made out of LED!

Best for splitting opinion

USA has a huge pavilion that’s supposed to look like a giant food truck. It’s impressive to be greeted by President Obama on video, and there’s some interesting content, but the main ‘show’ is a walk-through pulsed environment with a series of projected stories that to me just feel low budget and low effort. I hope they’ve worked out an alternative to the gaffer-taped arrows that were on the carpet when we visited…

Best for a sense of pride

The UAE pavilion is one of the largest pavilions in the EXPO, although you can’t tell that at first glance. It tends to have a long queue, and uses a range of presentation techniques including miniature Pepper’s Ghosts, Augmented Reality and a 4D cinema experience, as well as a huge Musion show, making it one of the most technically complex pavilions in the whole expo. The experience that we have created for Expo 2020 Dubai is at the heart of the pavilion following the main UAE story. Its main audience is VIP groups, at which point it gets closed to the public, but at all other times it’s a fascinating glimpse into Dubai’s plans for 2020. We won the project against some stiff competition, and had a fascinating six months developing and producing the content.

Best hidden gem

The European Union pavilion is tucked away among the Italian regions. Its main content is told through an animated film, which is very well made. For me it is just the right length, tells its story well, and has a few ‘4D’ effects for added enjoyment.

Best of the rest

These are all well presented pavilions in the tradition of Expos – interesting content told using a variety of techniques, telling you things about a country that you didn’t already know (or at least that I didn’t already know!)

Belgium is well designed, and takes you on an interesting journey, with demonstrations of hydroponics and discussion of the viability of insects as a sustainable source of protein.

Azerbaijan is also well designed, with some intriguing interactive elements, a variety of unusual video formats, good use of sound domes, and a lot of information about a country you may not know much about.

Monaco, is not to everyone’s taste, as it doesn’t play to stereotype, but for me this makes its message all the more effective, especially since the structure will be relocated to Burkina Faso to be used by the Red Cross after Expo.

Kazakhstan is apulsedpavilion, so always has a queue, but there is an outdoor stage to attract and entertain. Once inside, the experience begins with a live sand artist illustrating a brief history of the country. In marked contrast, the rest of the pavilion is a combination of effective multi-media installations which highlight the fact that Kazakhstan will be host to the next regional Expo in 2017.

Kuwait is also a pulsed pavilion, with a range of interesting content and some dramatic moments.

Best for food

I had the opportunity to enjoy food from Holland, Indonesia, South Korea, China, Spain, Thailand, Slovenia, Japan, Italy, Chile and the future food piazza, and there are plenty of other great restaurants to choose from!

Best evening entertainment

There was a Cirque du Soleil show that ran through the summer. It wasn’t the most spectacular Cirque show, and a shame that they simply bought in a name rather than creating an original concept, but it was an energetic show themed around food that was an enjoyable way to round off your day. There is also a ‘Tree of Life’ next to the Italian pavilion and designed by the same creative team, which runs shows through the day and slightly more spectacular shows once it gets dark, combining LED, projection, water, lasers and pyro.

Experiential Marketing Trends

It’s no secret that the ripples of industry trends, here in the Middle East, can lag a little behind those of more mature markets around the world. Much of what was the latest and greatest thinking at the end of last year is only just hitting the shores here. But, importantly, that adoption gap is ever-reducing as the momentum and sheer speed that places like Dubai move at is breathtaking.

Here’s a few important shifts that we’re seeing:

  1. Measure the Experience With ever-intelligent sales analysis techniques, marketing budgets are being scrutinized by the bean-counters more than ever before. Activations are under pressure to extend the dialogue with consumers beyond just the event and wherever possible (and relevant) culminate in a real driver to the point of sale. If the objective is not to directly increase sales, then tangible metrics need to be considered from the outset so that a return can be clearly conveyed to the client.
  2. It’s Got To Go Viral! A growing trend in late 2014/early 2015 was the demand from brands to 'go viral' online. And yes, that all-too-familiar response from agencies of “Er, yup, it doesn't quite work like that…” can be found everywhere.That said, as more and more brands achieve incredible view rates around the world on sites like YouTube, we are seeing a pattern for what it takes to go viral - and at the core is often or not an original (and genuinely authentic) experiential idea. (If I see another flash mob copy-cat idea!…”).
  3. Digital Not For Digital SakeWe’re starting to hear the expression “if you didn’t post anything on Facebook / Twitter /Instagram, it didn’t happen” more than ever before.Increasingly in 2015, if your experiential campaign isn't also generating conversation on social networks then you have simply failed to make a memorable impression on the consumer.And adding the mechanics that drive to social media may be a bolt on to campaigns - this is better than nothing at all. However, the best campaigns will be those that consider the power of social media from the outset and allow it to shape the concept.
  4. Mobile event apps are becoming the normOnce regarded as gimmicks of questionable value, mobile event apps are starting to come of age. The evolution is supported by the high rates of smartphone penetration, coupled with its outstanding mobile data speeds. Event planners are finally beginning to understand how a well-designed event app can be integrated into the event experience to significantly improve audience engagement.

Our Digital Lives In 2025

You might not have noticed, but the Internet celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2014. To commemorate the occasion, the Pew Research Centre (USA) asked 2,600 experts and technology builders to predict what our digital lives would be like in 2025. The results were striking, but perhaps not surprising. For example, a common response was that the Internet will become like electricity – less visible, yet more deeply embedded in our lives.

However, while most respondents agreed on the kind of technology change that lies ahead they disagreed about its ramifications and the effects on our lives. Nonetheless, the majority believed there will be:

  • A global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment (connected via smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centres) creating the Internet of Things
  • Augmented reality enhancements to real-world input (that people will perceive through the use of portable, wearable and implantable technologies)
  • Disruption of business models established in the 20th century (most notably impacting finance, entertainment, content publishing and education)
  • Tagging, databasing, and intelligent analytical mapping of the physical and social realms

Commenting on the report, Joe Touch (Director at the University of Southern California’s Information Science Institute) offered an insightful conclusion: “We won't think about going online or looking on the Internet for something – we will just be online, and just look!”

The human race seems to have accepted that the only constant is change. We are now adopting new technologies faster than ever before. Consider that in 1876 it took the telephone 35 years to be used by more than one quarter of Americans; the mobile phone introduced in 1983 took 13 years; and the Internet launched in 1991 needed just seven years.

But something else is happening as well. We, as audiences, are becoming hungrier for compelling and engaging content. “Television let us see the global village, but the Internet lets us be actual villagers,” said Paul Jones, professor at the University of North Carolina and founder of ibiblio.org.

Simultaneously, the Internet is also making it possible for us to share knowledge on a scale never before imagined. To reach out and connect one-to-one with the billions of humans on this planet. Not just as individuals, but also as marketers and influencers.

Are these trends and predictions something that businesses should be apprehensive about? Can companies succeed without effective online presences and the adoption of emerging technologies? But in the same vein, does doing so guarantee success?

The key to unlocking the future of communication and marketing is relevance. Content and the technology used to share it must be relevant to the intended audience. Consider TED Talks (Technology, Entertainment and Design) as an example. Founded in 1984 as a one-off event, the conferences became an annual feature as late as 1990. In 2012, TED celebrated its 1 billionth video view – equating to 17 new page views a second, and proving without doubt the power of compelling, focused and integrated content.

There’s no doubt that we will have plenty of instantly accessible digital content to choose from by the time 2025 comes around, but the real question is how much of it will we be attracted to? Entities and businesses that understand this fundamental truth are the ones that will lead and prosper.

Dubai Then And Now

As part of the content that we created for the Expo 2020 Dubai experience in the UAE pavilion at Expo 2015 Milan, we wanted to create an eye-catching moment that would form a transition between the history of Dubai and a celebration of Dubai now. We’ve all seen photos on websites comparing views of the city from a few years ago to the spectacular skyline of today, so we decided to create an interactive version of that journey from then to now. We tracked down the most iconic image of the Sheikh Zayed Road, taken in 1990, and identified that it had been shot from the roof of the World Trade Centre tower. We were granted access for our photographer to the same spot on the roof, and we commissioned two shots - one at day and one at night.

We then worked with a specialist company to create a large backlit lenticular image that was designed into the appropriate point in our story.

As visitors approach, they see the image of old Dubai, but as they walk past it dissolves into the contemporary shot and then the night-time shot, emphasising the speed and scale of Dubai’s ambition in a simple and effective interactive moment.

What Brand Experience Agencies Do

Why fight Mother Nature? Believe it or not, our minds are predisposed to the mechanisms of experiential marketing. People learn by doing and then by sharing these insights with others. Putting it simply, people remember experiences; not logos. But if it’s really as straightforward as that, then why do so many folks in our industry (both client side and agency) still struggle with experiential marketing?

Well, there’s no denying that everyone seems to have their own name and interpretation for it. Consider ‘engagement marketing’, ‘event marketing’, ‘on-ground marketing’, ‘live marketing’, ‘live communications’ and even ‘participation marketing’! Could our industry’s penchant for jargon as a differentiator be the problem?

Perhaps, but more likely is the fact that experiential marketing is a lot easier said than done. Its basic premise is to create a closer bond between consumer and brand by delivering an enjoyable and memorable experience. Unfortunately that’s the point where most practitioners set aside the handbook and rush off to create fun experiences. If only they had turned the page, they would’ve learnt that the essential ingredient is not enjoyment, but rather engagement.

Too often a slick advert makes a brand promise that falls flat on its face in actual consumer interaction. A marketing campaign is effectively a vow – fail this pledge, and consumers swiftly pass judgement. If people’s experience of your brand is a poor one, then it doesn’t matter how great your content or how many marcomm dollars you spend – your marketing, in the long run, is worthless. Nada. Zilch.

Does this make me fearful for the future of marketing? Not at all.

Just think back to the last time a product delighted you, a sales rep wowed you, or customer services went that extra mile. How did it make you feel? Did the experience align with the brand promise?

This is the future of marketing. Don’t believe me? Consider this: Consumers don’t want to hear marketing messages. In fact they do their best to block out the hundreds of messages we bombard them with each day.

However, when a consumer is using a product, talking to customer services, or considering a new purchase, they are at that moment infinitely more receptive to the brand. We have their attention; they want to listen. I’m not suggesting we hit them up with marketing messages, but this is the perfect opportunity to reinforce the brand promise by delivering a great experience.

In other words, brands must first invest in perfecting their product, sales and customer service experiences. Only then should marketing raise awareness and communicate the brand promise. “Google” any brand and the majority of results will be people on social networks, blogs and websites busily sharing their consumer experiences. This is effectively the brand’s reputation – and a new reality for our craft.

What we’re seeing now is change. Winning brands will be those that embrace it. And those who understand that product, sales and customer service shape consumer perception much more than any marketing campaign. What truly matters is the experience you offer consumers at every touchpoint.

Does any of this scale? Absolutely. But it’s a cultural and organisational challenge, not just a marketing one.

Consider Airbnb, Dropbox, Uber or any other company that has been labelled disruptive, innovative or nimble in the last decade. Buying from them is easy. They have fantastic customer service. And their products are category-changing. These wonderful consumer experiences have driven growth and created engaging brands that will thrive long into this century.

In contrast, the challenge for many established organisations is breaking down self-created barriers that inhibit delivery of promised brand experiences. Narrowing this gap between what they say and what they do is increasingly a matter of survival.

A brand is the reality of what people experience; not what the campaign tells them. This isn’t the end of marketing. On the contrary, the definition of marketing is broadening and our whole enterprise just needs to adopt an experience-led approach.

The Holy Grail of experiential marketing is to create natural, participatory brand experiences that cut through the clutter and genuinely engage – rather than just interrupt to amuse. And that ladies and gentlemen, is what brand experience agencies do. It’s all about capturing the moment!

The Five Faux Pas That Linger On

As one of the region’s most active and most awarded event management agencies, we employ many people on contractual basis – mostly visiting the Middle East for the first time. It is impossible not to derive some amusement as their preconceptions come face to face with the progressive reality of Dubai, and when they find themselves pleasantly surprised. And perhaps it is this city’s welcoming modernity that lulls our short-term staff into thinking they are visiting a western metropolis (a feeling no doubt reinforced by the liberal working environment at Action Impact). Of course we have an orientation programme, but there is usually little time – many of our consultants hit the ground running (having worked during the flights over).

In my experience however, even when we have the opportunity for orientation, it is perhaps wishful thinking to expect people to change lifelong habits and mannerisms overnight. And so, over the years I have observed our visiting staff make all kinds of cultural gaffes in meetings, presentations and while working onsite. Nothing serious fortunately, but troubling nonetheless since we hold ourselves to the highest standards of conduct. Here then is my list of the top five faux pas that seem to linger on despite our best efforts!

1. Attire There is little chance of anyone attending a meeting or visiting a worksite in beachwear, so we are well-covered on that angle (pun intended). But even in corporate attire, short skirts and plunging necklines can materialise without warning, and we must then ask people to cover up. Skin is not so much a problem with the men (although some of them sport very curious tattoos!); no, their lapse is ultra casual attire – the problem being that no one (including the client) then takes them seriously, thus defeating the entire point of flying over a specialist.

2. Hands Deliberately offensive gestures are unlikely to make their way into our corporate settings. Instead, our visiting teams find other creative ways to highlight their limited knowledge of Arab culture. A recurring favourite is attempting to initiate handshakes with Arab women – guaranteed to create slight unease that lasts for the rest of the meeting. Another common error is forgetting to use the right hand to give or take things, especially at the boardroom table. And finally, not realising that eating or drinking with the left hand is regarded as unhygienic.

3. Body language When it comes to body language, by far the most frequent blunder is pointing the soles of shoes towards someone’s face or in their general direction. Purely unintentional of course from the visitor’s perspective, it nonetheless signals disrespect in Arab culture. The lapse is usually a feature of open meeting areas where people may cross their legs as they talk to one another. Such situations become a double gaffe, because it is also considered rude to cross one’s legs when sitting in front of an important personality.

4. Vocabulary In an environment teeming with multiple cultures and nationalities (and where English language fluency varies widely), it is challenging enough to communicate effectively without the added burden of colourful vocabulary and colloquial turns of phrase. Words and terms deemed offensive are easy to list (and ask our visitors to assiduously avoid), but there is not much we can do about creative idioms and vivid metaphors that spring up in formal conversations without any warning whatsoever. The issue is not so much causing offence (although there is always that risk), but rather the resulting confusion and miscommunication that sometimes requires a concerted effort to untangle and resolve!

5. Time Without doubt, the most significant cultural challenge that all our visiting consultants and specialists grapple with is time. The concept of people being late for meetings is alien enough, but when meticulously calculated deadlines and delivery schedules fall apart because someone said “tomorrow” without actually meaning tomorrow, then the frustration becomes tangible – and vocal. We empathise of course, but there is very little we can do about it. This is the way things get done here. The important thing is not to lose one’s cool – especially in front of clients and external contractors. This instantly creates a whole new set of issues to deal with!

Procurement: It Works For Agencies Too

In February I wrote about the shroud of mystery that seems to surround procurement (the misconceptions that flourish, the key role that procurement actually plays, and the barriers to understanding that need to be surmounted) in Procurement: Friend or foe? – an aptly titled article that proved to be quite popular with our readers. Undoubtedly, an increasing number of clients are now sourcing creative services via systemised processes. But the real story is that procurement works for agencies too – especially for event management and exhibitions. As more and more clients start using benchmark criteria and scoring to gauge the value of delivered projects/events, the onus is on the agency to optimise each proposal and bid that it submits.

In other words, an agency needs to identify opportunities for smarter purchasing (from suppliers) and efficiency improvements (as an organisation) that directly impact a project’s cost to the client. By doing so, the agency also creates and maintains an edge over competitors for winning pitches, managing events and delivering success.

Perhaps the time has come for agencies to have their own dedicated procurement resources too. After all, it is procurement’s task to ask two very important questions regarding the acquisition of goods or services. First, are the specified goods or services fit for purpose? Second, are they being procured at the best possible cost – in terms of quality, quantity, time and location?

In this follow-on article I share Action Impact’s approach to procurement and the key things to think about from an agency’s perspective – all based upon our own experience of setting up an internal procurement department. As we often work to very challenging deadlines (and have over the past decade built up a well-deserved reputation for delivering the impossible), the last thing we wanted to create was an internal bottleneck!

And so, after careful analysis and much discussion, we established three founding principles to guide and focus our procurement department. These can be summed up as:

Rule #1: Support operational requirements It is vital that our procurement staff understands what we do (or rather what our clients contract us to do). And that is to deliver exceptional events and experiences. Our goal is not to save money per se – but to make sure that budget is most efficiently utilised. This means we choose the appropriate set of specifications and quality criteria for each project – not a one-size-fits-all approach. We also need to be kept updated on the latest developments in materials, technology and expertise – so that we purchase the best solution from the best source at the best price.

Rule #2: Manage the process and the suppliers It is important that both Operations and Procurement work together to identify opportunities while managing internal expectations. Adherence to the approved procurement process is essential – this involves evaluation/selection of suppliers, and the subsequent hire/purchase of goods or services. But more crucially, specifications should be reviewed at all stages of the project’s lifecycle – especially if these learnings can be applied to future projects. Thus, over time, we create a standardisation of elements that we hire/purchase on a regular basis – this in turn allows us to not only negotiate better deals with suppliers, but also forecast and pre-plan our requirements.

Rule #3: Develop strong relationships with suppliers We view our suppliers as part of our team. The miracles we are famed for performing when faced with unexpected obstacles or last-minute crises would not be possible without the close working relationships that Action Impact nurtures with its supplier network. Our procurement department must maintain this culture of trust while working to optimise our purchasing. And, it is equally important to identity new potential suppliers and develop/expand relationships to fortify our network – this can be a lifesaver when we need a hundred backlit panels or a thousand giveaways overnight!

Finally, in my earlier article I touched upon how the lack of event management and exhibitions experience can easily create challenges for client-side procurement teams that traditionally hail from industrial or construction sectors. This is why we made sure our internal procurement department is only staffed by specialists who keenly understand how procuring for bespoke events is quite an art in itself!

Five Steps To Pre-Qualify The Best Agencies

What do you think is the most common problem with the pre-qualification questionnaires that we receive as an agency? Quite simply... they ask the wrong questions! Any process that helps clients shortlist agencies before sending out a major RFP is always a step in the right direction. But these questionnaires are generally developed by procurement teams who have a very limited understanding of their company’s marketing and communication requirements – and practically no understanding of how agencies work. The result is not only time-consuming and costly for all parties, but also generates a shortlist that is poorly matched to the client’s internal teams and business needs.

Good agencies (and smart clients!) understand the importance of agency/client relationships and work hard to qualify each opportunity – a collaborative process of mutual discovery and assessment. If you’d like to make your pre-qualification process more productive and meaningful, here is a five-step approach to get you started.

Step 1: Define your requirements Invest some time in defining your company’s marketing and communication needs. Then, discuss these with various internal teams to determine what type of agency is best suited to your organisation. Do you need expert assistance with event management and exhibitions, or with brand environments & interiors? Or perhaps all of the above. This is also a useful opportunity to build consensus and fill any gaps in internal knowledge.

Step 2: Get a feel for what’s available The agency landscape is always evolving. You must do your own research to get a feel for current offerings. Look at each agency’s showcase, testimonials, awards, financial standing and on-ground staff strength. If in doubt about an agency’s expertise, speak to them directly about the services you’re looking for – their response to your query will also tell you a lot about their personality.

Step 3: Conduct familiarisation sessions Shortlist no more than five agencies and conduct a familiarisation session with each of them. This is a frank, two-way discussion for both sides to establish the basics, and should include a credentials presentation (from the agency), and a company presentation (from your team). Assess the agency in terms of services, approach and delivery capabilities, and most importantly personality – are they the kind of people you’ll be happy to work with? It’s very helpful if you can share your typical calendar of projects and estimate of your annual spend – this allows the agency to understand your scope and budgets.

Step 4: Invite sample proposals Shortlist no more than three agencies and invite them to submit sample proposals. This could be a purely hypothetical brief, or even a project you’ve commissioned in the past. Encourage the agencies to be as creative as possible, but always provide a guideline budget so that competing agencies can be compared on a level playing field.

Step 5: Evaluate and pre-qualify Form a review panel by including key stakeholders from across your organisation. Evaluate the proposals based not just on the solutions provided, but also on who has best understood your business challenges and brand. Who has shown the right level of creativity, who has looked beyond the brief and provided evidence that they can deliver… and who do you most want to build a relationship with? Try to avoid pre-qualifying based on price – by this time both parties will have an understanding of the parameters they’re working with and the final costing model can be mutually negotiated later.

This five-step approach to pre-qualification offers many advantages. First and foremost, both client and agency develop a fuller understanding of needs and capabilities. They also get a feel for what it would be like to work with each other.

Secondly, agencies are more likely to take your RFP seriously when they know they have been carefully pre-qualified. They will be happy to invest time and effort in responding with a solid proposal. In contrast, RFPs that are blindly sent to a large number of agencies are unlikely to receive as much care and attention.

Finally, while there’s no escaping the mountain of legal and financial paperwork that an RFP entails, you will save valuable processing time (and avoid overwhelming your team) if you’re accepting proposals from two to three candidates – rather than an entire directory of agencies from A to Z!

Procurement: Friend or foe?

Not everyone fully understands procurement, but everyone should – especially those of us involved with event management, exhibitions and brand environments & interiors. You see, practically everything in our world today – including the device you’re reading these words on – is made possible by the interaction of countless supply chains spanning the globe. Without procurement, this intricate network would collapse and wheels of trade grind to a halt. And yet, in some quarters, procurement isn’t winning any popularity contests. Why the dislike? Procurement is the acquisition of goods or services from an external source – usually in return for payment. And it is procurement’s thankless task to ask two very important questions. First, are the specified goods or services fit for purpose? Second, are they being procured at the best possible cost – in terms of quality, quantity, time and location?

You can imagine how complicated things would become if someone didn’t diligently address these two questions. As both parties would go back and forth to resolve a variety of shortcomings, the project and its delivery timelines would fall apart.

Because procurement asks the tough questions and confronts the realities that most people are unaware of (or optimistically ignore!), its popularity plummets. Instead of being treated as an important process, it is often regarded as undesirable red tape that slows things down, dampens enthusiasm and curtails creativity. The budgets, specifications and due diligence that procurement brings to the negotiation table are seen as obstacles and restrictions – sometimes even by team members sitting on the same side.

The situation is trickiest with marketing and creative projects, especially event management and exhibition stands. Client-side procurement teams tend to hail from construction, contracting and manufacturing backgrounds – historically, these sectors have relied heavily on procurement expertise. And what do these industries generally procure? Nuts and bolts, pipes and cables, steel and iron, and perhaps a million small screws. In other words, highly specified, measureable and quantified goods.

Thus, procurement officers have never had to spec a troupe of cultural dancers – complete with colourful costumes, singers and musicians. Or perhaps a crew of hostesses and ushers – impeccably trained and speaking several languages.

Traditionally, procurement excels at ensuring goods and services are compared like-for-like, side-by-side as part of the selection process. And, also ensuring that short-listed contenders are fit for purpose. But when it comes to bespoke event management such comparisons and assessments are practically impossible. Why does this troupe of cultural dancers cost twice as much as the one in the competing bid? On paper, they both appear to be exactly the same.

The procurement team is stumped. They have no means and no basis for comparison. And even if they did (by asking both troupes to stop by for a coffee and a sample performance!), the procurement team still won’t be able to decide which troupe is best fit-for-purpose for this particular event and its audience. They just don’t have enough on-the-ground event experience to reach an objective decision.

And so, as it attempts to negotiate across intangible and unfamiliar territory, procurement asks questions and requests clarifications that some people don’t have the patience for. A little friction is thus inevitable.

Ironically, even in the event management industry, procurement ably delivers on its promise. In fact, we’ve recently established our own procurement department at Action Impact (why should clients have all the fun, eh?) that now handles most of our sourcing. Results have been very rewarding: better negotiating power, lower purchase costs and greater transparency.

There’s no denying that procurement – particularly in the government sector – is becoming ever more prevalent across the region. All of us have a role to play here, in facilitating friendly dialogue between creative agencies and client-side teams. Educating everyone involved about the unique nature of procurement for bespoke events and exhibitions. And, working together towards the day when procurement is no longer perceived as a foe, but as a valuable ally in delivering stand-out events.

Playing Catch with Clients

Appropriate creativity. It’s a phrase I use a lot in my role as an Executive Creative Director.

It first came about when I kept hearing colleagues and clients who were pushing for ‘radical creativity’ or ‘cutting edge creativity’. These are easy terms to use, but I began to wonder what they actually meant, and it soon became obvious to me that they meant very different things to different people.

I’ve realised through experience that the same idea presented to two different clients would be greeted with wildly different reactions. One might find it exciting, scary, radical, whilst another might find it just a bit predictable and clichéd.

The point is that every client has their own perspective based on their brand positioning, their experience and their history, and that’s without getting into the relative seniority and experience of the individual client handling the pitch.

Our role as creative practitioners is to discover the appropriate level for each individual, and that’s why ‘Inquisitive’ is one of our brand values. Choosing a level of creativity in isolation leads to frustration and lost pitches, whereas time spent digging a little deeper, asking the right questions, doing the research and listening carefully to what is said and not said will result in a level of insight and understanding that enables us to pitch our creativity at just the right level.

It’s also important to remember that creativity is a way of thinking that can be applied to all aspects of a brief, and that the small idea is often as important as the big one.  I once won a pitch with the simplest of ideas – the brief was for a small gathering of customers who the client described as ‘partners’, and yet there was en expectation that there would be a stage, a set, and rows of chairs for the audience. My response was to suggest getting rid of the set entirely, and seating the clients and their customers around a large table, talking with them as partners rather than at them as customers.

A very simple idea based on listening to what they actually needed, as opposed to what they said they wanted, that resulted in a long-term relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

Given the opportunity to show that we ask questions for a reason, and that we listen carefully to the answers, the result can be work that goes beyond the expected. This in turn generates a degree of trust and loyalty that has immense value.

A colleague of mine once described the creative process as being like a game of catch with your client, in which you throw them the ball, but you deliberately throw it just a little bit short, so that they have to take a step forward to catch it. You then hope that they will throw it back and that the game will continue, with each player challenging the other to take another step forward. He then went on to describe a colleague who hadn’t grasped the concept of appropriate creativity as being one who turns away from the client and throws the ball in the opposite direction – fun for the creative, but not so rewarding for the client!

I believe that investing the time to understand more about our clients builds a stronger relationship based on trust and mutual respect. It helps us to focus on an appropriate level of creativity, and, ultimately, a longer game of ‘catch’.

7 Reasons Why Great Experiences Take Time

It’s safe to say that we’ve certainly delivered our fair share of last-minute miracles. Stared the most challenging deadlines straight in the eye, and pulled entire warrens of rabbits out of top-hats. From brand environments & interiors, to event management and exhibition stands, we’ve helped our clients achieve the impossible. And yet, it’s no coincidence that our finest work has one thing in common: lead time. You see, we’re not a “form and function” agency. There are many exhibition contractors that will build you a nice-looking stand, but is that what you really need?

Our goal is to help you tell the right story to the right people at the right time. We’re here to help you craft rewarding customer journeys and engaging brand environments. To create great experiences that demonstrate original thinking and, what we like to call, ‘appropriate creativity’.

However, one of the key ingredients in our recipe is lead time. Not too long, but just enough. And here are seven reasons why.

#1. Asking probing questions Original thinking is essentially an inspirational response to a very well-defined client need. In other words, we can’t put on our creative hats until we have a clear idea of what the client’s challenges are. The brief can be a good starting point, but to truly understand the playing field we must go back to the client with our own questions. Sometimes the answers are not easily available – the client may never have considered these aspects – and the process can take longer than expected.

#2. Building a deep understanding The great experiences that we create and the original thinking that spawns them are all derived from a deep understanding of the client’s needs, brands and audiences. Asking the right questions is certainly the start, but there’s still a lot of analysis and research to be done before we’re in a position to start thinking about strategies and solutions.

#3. Assembling the best team We’re a busy agency and assembling the best team for an ambitious project takes a little time. We first need to see whose experience and expertise is ideally suited to the task at hand. Then, we start checking availability. Our specialists are rarely unassigned and getting the perfect team together is no easy undertaking!

#4. Brainstorming There’s no doubt that brainstorming still delivers the best results. But rushing it never works. If brainstorming is to generate valuable insights and original thinking, then it requires time and freedom to explore all the possibilities. A single session is rarely enough, and multiple sessions must be sensibly spaced apart to allow a healthy gestation of ideas.

#5. Collaboration Raw ideas need a lot of careful consideration, thoughtful processing and preliminary experimentation. Different people approach creativity differently, and of course everyone works at their own pace. Collaboration between talented specialists can’t be rushed. And it is this very deliberate process that sometimes reveals exciting new dimensions that no one has considered before.

#6. Risk assessment It’s not a precondition for great experiences or original thinking to be bold and daring, but sometimes we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. It’s exhilarating to be pushing the boundaries, but we must always conduct a thorough risk assessment. Is it legal, is it safe, and is it culturally acceptable? Perhaps more importantly, what will be its social and environmental impact?

#7. Designing, building, developing and testing All great experiences are brought to life in physical settings (such as exhibition stands or brand environments & interiors), and they are enhanced by rich content (such as original film, narration, music and live performances). Physical structures need to be designed, built and tested – especially those that involve intricate engineering. Similarly original film, artwork and talent needs to be commissioned, produced and edited. All these endeavours require a certain amount of time if they are to deliver outstanding results.