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September 19, 2008

SOURCING ABROAD 2:What services to choose and how to manage them

Following on from last week’s article on how to find overseas suppliers for your meetings, conferences and incentive programmes, Ian Whiteling turns his attention to factors influencing which types of services to source locally and how best to manage them.

When looking for suppliers for your overseas events, it helps if you have an idea of which services are best sourced locally or taken with you. This can depend on what’s available at the destination, but also on the service you require -– and some general rules apply that can help.

Source factors
“Anything that relies on local knowledge, such as transport, tour operators and labour, is easier to source locally,” says Duncan Beale, managing director of events company Line Up. “Basic technical kit is often available, but it is vital to check the supplier’s warehouse before committing to anything. You need to establish what they actually own and ask what they propose to sub hire, and if so, find out from whom and how reliable they are.”

Petra Johansson, chief execuive of events solutions company TwistedTree, agrees, adding: “Standard audio-visual (AV), catering and florists, for example, are normally relatively easy to source as the venue will, most of the time, have several recommendations or provide these services themselves. Finding a local printing company or gift company can be a little bit more tricky, and will require some more time researching unless you get a good recommendation from a local contact. Complex AV and stage production can be a little bit more challenging, as these services will in most cases require face-to-face meetings to pin down the details.”

In such cases, transporting this kind of equipment from your home country will prove expensive so, as Creative Labs’ Ian Denny suggests, it can be more cost effective with a complex presentation to hire locally, but send your own project manager.”

Destination issues

Clearly, the location of your event is also a key factor, due to distance to travel and local facilities available.

“Obviously, locations that you are unfamiliar with and those that are far away from your home country pose the greatest challenges, and a site visit is always recommended,” says Johansson. “Do consider using, or partnering, with a local  event management company's services to assist in some of the sourcing and planning of the event if this is these cases.”

Meanwhile, Denny cites labour factors as a key issue. “The problems of unionisaiton in some North American centres can be more trying than inspecting fabrications in the insect ridden jungles of Thailand when there has been a State of emergency declared,” he says.

Johansson emphasises the importance of getting to know your chosen location and the facilities available. “I organised a business-to-business conference in Dubai at the end of 2007 where we worked with local suppliers for AV and catering,” she explains. “The local caterers were experienced in catering for a mixed local and international audience and this was very important as we had to ensure all participants dietary requirements were met. We also quickly realised that there were some differences in AV set up compared to UK, so by using a local supplier we could quickly solve any irregularities before the conference started in the morning.”

Meanwhile, Justin Isles, account director at roadshow specialists Event Marketing Solutions, reveals how useful partners on the ground can be.

“We enjoyed a very successful partnership with a specialist events agency in France, which supported us on our SanDisk roadshow to showcase MP3 players in December 2007,” he says. “This was a particularly challenging project as we had to secure high-footfall venues at short notice in the busy, pre-Christmas period. Through our partner's knowledge of how to work the relevant local authority contacts, we were able to secure some very prominent public spaces in key cities across France that contributed greatly to the success of the tour.”

Effective management
Of course, there’s more to ensuring your event’s a success than simply making the right choice of which services to source locally and which to take with you. Once your roster of suppliers has been chosen, the real challenge of managing them effectively begins.

Make sure that your overseas suppliers understand your requirements and that these are outlined in the service contract you agree,” recommends Johansson. “Set up deadlines by which certain things needs to be delivered/achieved. Make a site visit with them at the venue and go through all aspects of the event where they are delivering a service.”

Denny gets particularly frustrated by local suppliers reaction to agreed timelines for events. “The understanding of deadlines is the one thing that still surprises me,” he says. “In many instances, you can emphasise the timing and agree schedules written in blood, but then, if not constantly monitored, it fades rapidly into the background. To get the best out of the suppliers, keep your project management close.”

Because it’s worth it
Offering a final tip, Johansson says: “Plan ahead well in advance as project management is key to success. Set up early deadlines to ensure that all requirements are met well in time and have a back-up plan if something should fail.”

Using suppliers based where you plan to locate your event can add an invaluable local flavour which will increase impact and engagement, while and the understanding of local customs and facilities they bring can also be critical to success. Your meeting, conference or incentive programme will also enjoy a smaller carbon footprint and will benefit the local economy more, helping support your corporate social responsibility policy. These factors, along with the obvious transport cost savings make local sourcing an increasingly attractive option.

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