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October 19, 2008
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Suzy Moorhouse-Chilcott:Put local suppliers into perspective




One of the South African experiential agency Benguela Events team offers an interesting insight into dealing with local suppliers when organising events overseas.

Sourcing suppliers in South Africa has been an ongoing project for Benguela for the past 18 months. Having come from the UK, it has been interesting, sometimes daunting, to experience the gap between the UK and the local market in terms of detail and delivery.

Recently, we worked with a local agent to propose options for live entertainment across different venues in Cape Town. The brief was clear and the initial list of options from the agent extensive. In pre-production there were the usual number of changes and as we progressed, the enthusiasm and communication from the agent faded until finally the only option was to go into the offices, sit down face to face and establish what the problem was.

There was in fact, no problem. They were unaccustomed to the evolutions a project goes through, but, rather than picking up the phone and asking why we were requesting more, they ignored all emails and calls. To get back on track, we had to explain the bigger picture.

Lack of experience
This scenario is not unique and is often perceived as the supplier not being interested. In reality, it is lack of experience preventing understanding of wider context and unwillingness to ask questions.

Agencies coming in automatically expect the same level of experience in local suppliers. The UK is a bigger market with more competition and exposure, and it is important to put local suppliers into perspective and be aware of the market context within which they operate.

There are few experiential agencies in South Africa with a track record of delivering larger-scale projects. Learning is coming in from outside of South Africa and this is boosting the local market. There are many international companies now coming in for conferences and incentives and this is quickly building the available options.

A supplier may believe they fully understand the project, but often don’t. It is essential to manage local suppliers carefully and not to make assumptions. Local knowledge is key in understanding how different suppliers and indeed cultures work. Ideally, find a project manager on the ground who understands your requirements and manages those expectations. 

It is important to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of local suppliers. Don’t assume that the turnaround times expected in the UK can be delivered elsewhere. Written communication is rarely as swift or precise as can be expected in the UK. It is very important to manage paperwork tightly and liaise closely with the supplier until they produce what you need in terms of accuracy and detail.

Valuable knowledge

On the positive front, there is the opportunity to gain invaluable new perspectives on what is possible. Often local suppliers have never applied their services in a specific way before, but once on board, will have a very ‘can do’ attitude. It is rare to encounter the sort of attitude that says we will do it like this because that is how we always do it.

An unexpected bonus has come from the corporate social responsibility perspective. In South Africa there is great opportunity to get involved with local national government organisations and it is relatively simple and inexpensive to make a significant difference by donating money or time. Again this is something local suppliers are accustomed to doing and will be enthusiastic to help you get involved.

Sensitivity to the local market is important.  The best results won’t be achieved by charging in with the “we are the experts” attitude. It’s important to approach a project as a partnership, but at the same time keep a tight reign on progress, budget and deadlines.

Trusted partnership
Benguela recently worked with Giltedge Travel on an event at Sun City. Part of our brief required over 200 delegates to visit a mine after the conference. The solution from Giltedge was to charter planes, to create a bespoke flight rotation from Sun City, to the mine and back to Johannesburg International airport so delegates could effortlessly join their international flights out that evening. It was smooth, well planned and made the most of the limited time available for a huge logistical exercise. We trusted Giltedge to use their expertise and specialist suppliers and rise to the challenge. 

We often partner with incoming agencies, working as an extension of the main production team here on the ground. The benefit being that we can keep a close eye on progress and ‘quality control’. The market is growing rapidly as it becomes exposed to external opportunities and methods.

From our own experience, South Africa offers everything – excellent value for money, special venues, good resources – combined with a unique delegate experience. Of all the delegates we have worked with in South Africa this year, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The 2010 world cup is fast approaching and South Africa will be in the spotlight.

Suzy Moorhouse-Chilcott is a member of the Benguela Events team


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