Organising an event in another country poses challenges in innumerable forms, and these may develop into situations that require diplomacy and tact. This is what we learnt from a recent event we organised in Mozambique on behalf of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa:
Make friends on all sides. The control of goods leaving SA is one of the core functions of the customs authority, and it’s complex. Make sure you partner with trusted import/export advisers and transport companies on both sides of the border. Also find a knowledgeable person at the event destination to handle any hiccups that might occur when your equipment arrives. It may not prove necessary, but it helps to have someone in the know who you can call on, just in case.
Do a recce
Visit the destination and potential venues before you commit to running an international event. Armed with an understanding of the event’s aims and audience, you can visit venues with an objective eye, identify potential technical and aesthetic challenges, and propose the right solutions to the client way ahead of the actual event. This alleviates stress for all parties.
Use your reconnaissance trip to identify reliable locals who will be able to assist you during the project. Ask for recommendations while you’re there, and do some research. Think of the assistance you might need and find the right people for your event, including translators, drivers, freight forwarding contacts and technical equipment suppliers.
To prevent team travel costs from skyrocketing, only take along a focused team of multiskilled individuals. We took a core team of eight to Mozambique that was supported in Maputo by an additional eight local casual employees. Members of the casual team, identified through contacts, played a critical role, given their understanding and knowledge of the local market.
Locals can run errands for the team, operate as drivers and translate when required, and they have good local connections. In our experience, the casual team was our first port of call when we needed help.
Create an equipment schedule so you can plan multiple uses for each item you take along. For example, our screens were used at the supplier fair and then taken down and transported for use at the gala dinner. Also appoint a local supplier in case something breaks and you need a repair or replacement. Marking items per venue also helps to speed up the event set-up.
Think through the “what ifs”. You can plan as much as you like, but things can and will go wrong. In your planning meetings, talk through different scenarios around crew, equipment and power supply/compatibility. And then decide how these will be overcome – in most instances by calling on identified local contacts and suppliers who can act on short notice.
Handling cultural differences
While Mozambique’s culture isn’t too different to that of SA, it’s still important to familiarise yourself with the traditions, customs and cultural traits of the country in which you are planning an event. Even when you think you know something, you might discover that knowledge is based on a stereotype.
Culture also determines the etiquette of gifts, tipping and the role of casuals and temporary team members. Do your research or you could land up inadvertently offending somebody.
Organising an event involves a multitude of smaller business transactions, and understanding how business is done in a host country can go a long way towards creating a successful event. Always be respectful and take the time to learn about the host country in advance.
• Van Eck is CEO of Magnetic Storm