For Sebastien Tondeur, the CEO of the MCI Group, running a global event management company means really focusing on what global means. “We are by strategy building a unified organization — respecting, of course, local culture and differences,” he says. “But we are building a global value proposition for our clients. The key job of MCI, I believe, is defining what business we’re in, building the culture, and balancing.” We sat down with Tondeur to discuss his best advice for building a global brand and creating events in an ever-changing world.
In round three of our Sparking Change series, we interviewed some of the top event planners in London about how events can spur people to take action.
In our Sparking Change series, produced in partnership with BizBash, we’re exploring the nuances of this question and the methods top event planners use to approach it in their work.
Each installation explores a city known for its impactful events, through conversations with a select group of people behind some of the best events their city has to offer. Our first stop was Washington, D.C., and then we headed to Toronto. This time, we’re focusing on the other side of the pond and taking a look at London.
Sebastien Tondeur | MCI Group
Leveraging Heritage Values in an Evolving World
Build it and they will come
A powerhouse today, the MCI Group began with modest goals and a simple guiding philosophy. “MCI was founded on a simple business model. My father was working in the travel industry, so his bosses at the time were interested in how much commission he was making from selling airline tickets and booking hotels,” Tondeur says. “He quickly realized being involved in meetings was the wrong business model.”
Instead, Tondeur’s father set out to start a company based in the power of building a team — one motivated not by commision, but by results. “He believed you need to be like a consulting firm, helping clients to achieve a business objective.” These are values that remain at the MCI Group’s core today. “We have as part of the DNA to work as a team to make decisions. We don’t go in, you know, top down rollout. We really work collaboratively.”
And while building the company, it helped that the Tondeurs brought one of the essential pieces of their heritage to the table. “You know, we’re Swiss,” Tondeur says. “We like to run like clockwork and I think this diligence is part of the approach to the quality of project management.”
In an increasingly globalized world, that also means being flexible to each client’s unique cultural perspective is essential, notes Tondeur, “We know how to adapt ourselves very well globally,” he said.
That means taking local customs and traditions into consideration. “I believe you have to respect every country’s culture,” he says. “We like to do 80% the same, and then 20%, we have to adapt to the local culture. A recognition of tradition and culture needs to be respected.”
That means acknowledging differences and planning ahead when it comes to who is attending your events. “Attendees from two different countries don’t experience an event the same way based on their language skills, their background, history, culture, depending who you put in front of them, what kind of content you put in front of them. So we’re looking more and more with some of our customers how to globalize, but maybe a local activation.”
This goes back to the MCI Group’s Swiss heritage. “We are very cosmopolitan. There’s also no history of any conflicts with other nations. So there was this part of our DNA that allowed us to be credible and accepted everywhere,” Tondeur says.
Strategy is key — especially with regard to data
For Tondeur, the key to managing events in an increasingly complex world is strategy. “We’re getting into a phase where it’s much more of the consultative work that will be valuable to clients more than execution,” he notes. “Although execution is very important, I think clients will value the creative and strategic work, and even more the ability to proactively add value to their businesses based on our knowledge of human interactions and human capital engagement.”
And that means using data to your advantage. “The new phase we’re entering is the age of data,” Tondeur says. “We’re able to track biological data, physical data, and the coming together of all these data points allows us to discover new findings.”
But ultimately, that also comes back to people. “There will be a lot of different businesses that have to review how they’re going to have to change their business model. So that requires change — and who drives change? People, right? So, the human capital of companies drive change.”
Anna Davey | Quintessentially
Making Change Personal Through Bespoke Events
When it comes to thinking through events, Anna Davey is all about creating experiences. “We use the word experiences, which I think is overused in many ways, but for us, it’s really what we do,” she says. As the Director of Bespoke at Quintessentially, a luxury lifestyle management company, Davey and her team bring together events, travel and concierge services to create unique experiences, be it a gala, a conference, or a series of activation events for brands and companies. “We create lots and lots of memorable moments that are often not focused around sales at all, but they’re focused around growing relationships,” Davey notes. We sat down with Davey to get her best tips at cultivating those relationships through events and helping to spark change.
Pay attention to the personal
First and foremost, centering the client is central to Quintessentially’s philosophy. “The level of service has always been the beating heart of what we do,” Davey says. Her team become experts for each and every client: “We know how they like to be spoken to, how they like to be sold to, what they spend their money on, what they’re interested in, where they travel to,” she says. “And that information is so valuable.”
It is especially valuable when it comes to creating an event that will impress — and creating the kind of personalized experiences that the team is known for. “We can help you create an event that is going to really impress them. We can help you create a strategy to reach a new group of people you haven’t reached before because we understand them so well from working with them every day,” Davey says.
That goes back to Quintessentially’s organizational belief in understanding the personal needs of each client. “Our guiding light is: how do we make these people feel so valued, so supported by us as a business? Our job is to make their lives easier,” Davey notes. “It’s the combination of all those things together that makes them leave an experience feeling like that was something really special and something they couldn’t have done on their own.”
“The magic is in offering these people access to something that they can never get on their own,” Davey says. “It’s about creating moments that are so incredibly tailored to their individual wants and needs.” That can mean finding the common threads that tie people together in small groups, which can be essential when it comes to sparking change. “What’s binding them together? Why are they there, what are they really interested in? What excites them?” Davey says. “And then we’ll build an experience from that.”
Be ready to adapt
When it comes to creating events that spark change, Davey notes that paying attention to industry shifts — and adjusting quickly — is key. “The luxury market is changing so much, and it is getting so much younger,” she says.
With that change, Davey has seen a marked change in her clientele. “These people are much more interested in self expression and access to experiences that will grow them as people, that will give them access to new networks,” she notes. And for Quintessentially, that has meant adjusting to new needs. “We now spend a lot of time focusing on creating experiences that bring individuals together,” Davey says.
The changing audience has also brought new concerns to the forefront — ones that are helping to spark change within Quintessentially itself, according to Davey. “Sustainability is a big thing for us at the moment,” she says. “It’s something that’s really important to our clients and we’re trying to weave that into everything we do in events, from the water bottles that are in the cars to the set we’re using and how we can reuse things.”
Understand cultural differences
When it comes to planning events for an increasingly global audience, it’s essential to keep cultural nuances at the top of mind during planning. “People are people in that they have the same needs. Everyone wants everything to be well organized, things to be done on time, and not having to ask for anything twice,” Davey says. “But of course, there are huge cultural differences that are really, really important.”
For Davey and her team, that means doing their homework. “We have offices in 65 countries. We have an incredible network and audience of experts,” she says. “We really take the time to work with those people to understand what are the things we need to consider with each environment so that every person is thought about in advance.”
And when it comes to creating inclusive events, it’s always best to go straight to the source, according to Davey. “I would say, try and find somebody in the place that you’re interested in that you can connect with in some way,” she says. “I would say the best sources are always people.”
Russ Lidstone | The Creative Engagement Group
Building on a Professional Creative Identity Step by Step
To Russ Lidstone, working as an events professional was not a foregone conclusion. “Did I plan on ending up in events? No, not really.” After a career primarily spent in marketing communications and advertising (“I didn’t even plan on ending up in advertising, to be honest”), Lidstone became the CEO of The Creative Engagement Group, a group of four agencies. “You can have a five year plan, you can have a ten year plan, you can have a career plan. But I think if you stick to a plan too much, you can miss sometimes things that are in front of you.”
We sat down with Lidstone to get his best advice for remaining flexible while pulling off events that have the potential to inspire change.
Harness your greatest assets
Recognizing your key assets is essential to any organization’s success, and for Lidstone, the Creative Entertainment Group’s best resource is its employees. “I think it’s very much about the people. We’re a human capital organization. We’re nothing without our people,” Lidstone notes. “Employee engagement is so fundamental.”
That means walking the walk — not just talking the talk, as Lidstone sees other organizations doing. “There’s a massive gulf between the ambition and the recognition that this is really, really important to believing that they’re delivering as well as they could do,” he says.
For Lidstone, an important component of keeping employees engaged means inspiring them to take chances and try new projects. “Our philosophy is that if you’ve spent your last five years working in the events industry or you’ve worked in digital for ten years, you get the opportunity within our group to work on projects that you won’t have worked in before,” Lidstone says. “Underpinning it all is the opportunity to do new and exciting things in areas where you may not have done it before.”
And those opportunities allow for a more dynamic set of employees. “Our work touches many of the other disciplines, and so people are getting exposed to or excited by it, and that’s what drives them, I think,” Lidstone says.
Think beyond your big ideas
While big ideas often get the spotlight, Lidstone believes it’s the smaller ones that are key to your ultimate success. “I think much more creative and strategic content needs to be delivered in what you might call micro moments,” he says. “Your ability to serve up bite-size content that reinforces a point of view or delivers new news, whether it’s in learning or training or events.”
As technology shifts, there are new opportunities to think about these micro moments. According to Lidstone, “We’re seeing changes in the way that you might deliver content and breakouts and plenary sessions to make sure that people are able to engage with the content and take it on board in ways that are comfortable for them.”
And while big ideas should still be considered, Lidstone believes that their value is increasingly limited if you want to have a successful event. “Yes, you need a north star as an organization, you need to deliver that. But ultimately, the way the content is being disseminated is broken down much more now than it ever has been,” he says.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
But while technological innovations have created opportunities for events professionals, Lidstone believes that the fundamentals remain the same: “For me, it’s always about evolution rather than revolution.”
He continues, “I think the real truth is that you don’t necessarily need to be about reinvention and changing something wholesale. But it does mean learning from previous experiences.”
While incorporating new data into evaluation and strategy, according to Lidstone, “I think, as ever, the devil’s in the details.” Despite advances, cultural engagement with the client remains essential. “There are lots of reasons why the event industry and the digital industry are successful, and a lot of those things still remain true. So, it’s not necessarily that events need to be completely reinvented.”