From time to time we get the urge to put pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to the keyboard) to share our experiences. Whether we’ve worked out a new way of doing something, we’re pleased with a particularly successful event, we have a funny story to tell or just want to share an anecdote, we now have blog space to do it!
Elaine Dellar, Managing Director
Dellar Davies is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It doesn’t seem so long ago, but when I started the business in February 1992 (Everything I Do) I Do It For You had already come and gone after a record 16 weeks at the top of the charts, the Premier League was still the old First Division and Ed Sheeran, Emma ‘Hermione’ Watson and Jennifer Lawrence hadn’t even been born…
In business terms, things were also very different back then. When I took possession of our first office, it was without a mobile phone (the average handset would have set me back by a whopping £1,499), without voicemail, without email and without the internet (the WorldWideWeb had only gone online in mid-1991). And when working on a computer, the only Windows I might have found useful would be those I’d look out of to find creative inspiration!
Our initial investment in PCs simply offered one-colour text on a black background, yet in our first year we delivered several sophisticated business events ranging from a VOICE Conference and Exhibition at Olympia – developed by a Texas-based publication to educate the UK about voice and email technologies – to a three-day Amadeus CRM User’s Conference in Seville, attended by over 600 delegates.
I have to admit, at that time I didn’t believe email would catch on. It would take 10 minutes just to log onto our email account, installed by our American client – since we’d never heard of such a thing and still thought sending a fax was the way to deal with an urgent communication. All of us had to share a single business email account which was both time consuming and frustrating, not least because we would forget to log on to check whether our ‘you’ve got mail’ message was flashing!
Clearly the world of business and events has changed beyond recognition during our first 25 years. Whilst we would often work extremely long days and seven day weeks when setting up the business – most event and production tasks were dealt with manually – now we can work 24/7 ‘on the go’ with the aid of portable devices. Yes, it means we rarely switch off, but the freedom to work from home, from a hotel, while flying at 37,000 feet or on a train (oh yes, we pre-date the Channel Tunnel too!) is welcome liberation for an event organiser.
Since our first ambitious but tentative steps in 1992, Dellar Davies has organised events – large and small – all over the world, from London to Cairns, Ras Al Khaimah to The Azores. ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition’, but if Michael Palin could have filmed ‘Around the World in 80 Events’, we’d have been able to provide footage for a series or two with the many unexpected challenges (we call them ‘opportunities’) that we’ve encountered and resolved along the way.
I’ll be back in the coming weeks with my personal 25 year highlights – watch this space!
Ian Benjafield, Content Director
He’d been invited at short notice to host the awards, makes a living through stand up, is a household name and – sigh – is married to one of our most beautiful TV presenters.
But… Mr Comedian! What have you done to the – sorry, MY - script?!
This was my first ‘gig’ for Dellar Davies, having recently joined to work on event content and scriptwriting etc., so expectations and tensions were running high.
It was around 8.30pm on Awards night at the London hotel, and there I was, sat in the corner, headphones on. The curtain was finally up and the show was on.
And our erstwhile host opens proceedings with: “Let’s hope tonight is like Whitney Houston in the bath...
Full of good craic!”
Eh? That’s NOT the opener he suggested on the phone on last Friday’s conference call!
“I’ve done this type of awards show a million times,” said the batphone. “You want me to play it fairly straight, embellish the awards ceremony with the odd joke here or there, and do a bit of stand up at the start and after the break, yeah?”
“Exactly,” I’d replied. “But just so you know, we’ve had newsreaders and, erm, ‘traditional’ presenters host this event over the past few years, so we need be polite about the awards and the winners, otherwise it may not go down too well with our masters.”
“OK understood. Never knock the awards or the winners. And I’ll keep it clean, no need to worry.”
Three, two, one, back in the room, it’s a couple of days later, and he’s making jokes about Whitney Houston’s CSI.
“And here’s your reward for your work this year,” he went on, as the first award winner came on stage “A cheap bit of yellow plastic with your name stencilled on it! Hoo-bloody-ray.”
Erm, that wasn’t quite what the Awards owners were expecting I thought, wondering whether my first Awards show would be my last.
“They’re more interested in getting @&*%-faced than paying attention,” confided the host during the break, realising that a bunch of marketeers in a room, drinking the place dry and hoping to win a prize, isn’t your typical stand-up crowd.
“But I’ve got some ideas on how to make this thing better. You’ve no need to worry.”
But! Whereas other presenters might have just gone with the flow, this one was willing and able to react on the night in an effort to make the wheels of the event go round and round more smoothly – especially when it came to sets two and three of the Awards. Yes, there are quite a few! And it was a case of all’s well that ends well.
For the remainder of the show, the audience’s attention was well and truly grabbed, the energy levels rose and all the boxes were ticked. Even the sponsor notes were played - albeit not necessarily in the right order. Our compere’s bits, bobs, expert presenting technique and risqué jokes to get the crowd ‘on side’(including a sing-along-a-porn version of Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’) turned the night into one of love, laughter and – fortunately for me – a happily ever after.
To sum up, the Awards ceremony was a resounding success and a night to remember for all the right reasons. So thank you Mr Comedian. On behalf of Dellar Davies, it was a pleasure doing business with you…
…and definitely good craic.
Emilia Berni, newly initiated Event Executive
When I joined Dellar Davies, there was nothing in the job description that could have prepared me for an encounter with a semi-clad Maori Chief in the middle of the coldest London winter for years.
To be fair, the Chief wasn’t shivering in London’s sub-zero temperatures. He was in the warmth of the penthouse suite at New Zealand House to do an interactive demo for luxury tour operator Journeys of Distinction. This was part of an experiential evening for customers to sample the kind of activities they could enjoy on a JOD holiday.
Apart from being my first event, the biggest challenge was that I only had two weeks to organise everything. The speakers for each of the interactive ‘experiences’ had already been booked by the client, but they needed our help to turn a potentially good event into a great event.
Unfortunately, for the first week of said fortnight I had a bit of a problem – I was snowed in at home! Despite this minor handicap I had to source 30 dragon boat paddles; find Argentine Tango dancers; buy a job lot of pestle and mortars; get a good deal on a real diamond plus 100 matching cubic zircona; hire a diamond expert for the ‘diamond in a glass of fizz’ game; as well as organising the catering, room decor, audio/visual equipment, goodie bag ‘goodies’, special prizes and name badges!
Thanks to 21st century technology I was able to achieve all the above from the comfort of my own living room, whilst the rest of my family were outside making a snowman!
Thankfully the snow melted, the roads cleared and life returned to normal just in time for the big day, which is why I found myself looking after a Maori Chief demonstrating paddling techniques to JOD’s customers – all of whom eagerly followed his actions – your average night out at a cocktail party!
I’m also happy to report that the guests were able to grind their spices to the Chef’s satisfaction; everyone enjoyed the demonstration of South American love and lust as interpreted through the medium of dance, and one lucky woman was delighted to find a real treasure submerged in her glass of fizz thanks to my truly authentic ‘diamond geezer’. In fact, everything was even better than ‘alright on the night’ despite the short notice and the snow!
I may have missed out on making a snowman, but a delighted client and equally happy guests concluded I’d passed my event management initiation test. Whatever will they line up for me next time..?!
Tracy Phillips, Event Swan
Organising events isn’t for the faint-hearted. For one thing, there are never enough hours in the day even if everything’s running smoothly. So when things go pear shaped, you’ve really got to pull out all the stops.
Last year we organised a Convention for ABTA and its thousand delegates in Gran Canaria. We organise overseas events all the time so we know the ropes as well as the possible pitfalls. The only thing about the Canary Isles that causes a mild headache is getting our equipment there. Things are slightly more difficult with the Canaries than mainland Europe – mainly because the road runs out in Cadiz and then there’s a lot of sea to be crossed! Our vehicle has to be ready two weeks prior to the event to make sure it makes the weekly direct ferry service in order to reach the venue at the right time.
This is OK for us, we’re used to it. But the event’s sponsors and exhibitors also take out a lot of materials and these are generally flown to the Canaries via a freight handler.
So yes, you’ve guessed it, on this occasion something went horribly wrong. Whereas in the past our air freight arrives at the venue at the same time as we do, this time, the entire consignment went ‘missing’. This coincided with the weekend, which meant that whilst we should have been setting up the Convention, we spent countless hours on the phone trying to locate the materials…or rather, the company that had them who had shut up shop for the weekend.
It was only with the intervention of our local hosts and their bureaucratic wizardry, that finally the elusive freight was delivered to us at midnight on the first morning of the Convention. Phew! Just in the nick of time! We had to work well into the night to check that everything had arrived, but at least our sponsors would be happy and we would be ready. Except…
…except that not everything had arrived! One pallet was missing and it transpired that it didn’t make the connection between Madrid and Gran Canaria, so there was no way we were going to retrieve it in time. We were holding a football match that afternoon, but to our horror, we only had one team kit…so we were 20 pairs of identical shorts, tops and socks adrift! And that wasn’t all - we were also missing a thousand promotional postcards we’d promised to distribute to delegates hotel rooms for a major sponsor, so we needed to find a local firm that was able to do an urgent reprint. And if that wasn’t enough, we were also missing hundreds of branded turquoise balloons another sponsor needed for one of the events that evening.
I guess whizzing around the shops ‘Apprentice’ style to get all of the above in one morning would be OK if you were in a large city, but we were in a small tourist town on a holiday island in the Atlantic with a major Convention about to start! It really was a case of all hands - and credit cards - to the pumps. Thankfully our local hosts rose to the challenge with us, providing staff to interpret - whilst we phoned every sports, printing and party shop on the island to find what we needed - then dashing out far and wide to collect our hasty purchases.
And yes we made it! Granted, it was by the skin of our teeth, but as far as delegates were concerned, the events that day went like clockwork and both football teams were fully clothed! So maybe ‘Event Manager’ is the wrong job title, surely a better description would be ‘Event Swan’ - serene on top of the water, but paddling furiously underneath!
Sally Clayton, ITT Event Manager
Event recces can be fun, but they usually follow the same sort of pattern. You visit hotels, conference centres, restaurants, bars and golf courses to see if they’re suitable for your client’s event, ask a few questions then decide whether it’s worth taking any further or not. All nice and straight forward.
But never take recces for granted, as I learnt on a recce to Benidorm last year. My colleagues and I were looking for a venue for a glamorous gala dinner for travel industry people who have seen and done everything, so it has to be really special. We were invited to dinner at a new luxury property located half way up a hillside, which we assumed was a Hotel. It turned out to be a luxury wellness spa, where people pay a lot of money to revitalise their bodies and spirits through an ultra healthy macrobiotic diet, exercise and relaxation in sumptuous surroundings.
At first we thought we were on to a winner. The all white property was stunningly designed with amazing views. When we arrived, we were greeted with champagne and rose petals. We all thought, great! and started giving each other the thumbs up, but alas too soon. After that fleeting first impression, everything went just a bit strange!
Once all the dinner guests were assembled, we found we were surrounded by 30 impossibly good looking young men and women. I mean, if you think the Dellar Davies team has been blessed by the Gorgeous Fairy, then you can’t imagine how high the standard of workmanship this lot’s Fairy had achieved! And what did the Spa do with all this wondrousness? They blindfolded everyone so no-one could gaze adoringly upon each other and proceeded to pile guests into a lift – not an experience for the faint hearted!.
At this point I was abandoned by my pusillanimous colleagues who decided to opt out of the fun and games – not that we knew what we were letting ourselves in for, which was probably their main reason! I was led away to who knows where and taken into a room where I and the other non-wimpy guests were told that we were in for a night which would excite our six senses. Still blindfolded, we were ‘shown’ to our seats.
The Spa’s event team proceeded to feed us without telling us what we were about to eat. Unfortunately all the food was so ultra-healthy that none of it actually tasted of anything, which was a bitter disappointment for the taste senses! Happily the nutritionist must have been looking in the other direction when the Somelier turned up and we were plied with lots of different wines. It was either a deliberate part of the whole experience, or no-one was quite sure whether red or white complements bland cuisine best, but everyone was fed both – and not necessarily in any order!
In commenting to the person next to me about confused taste buds, I quickly discovered that if you started talking, someone would rush over, tell you off and massage you. Never known for my quiet manner, I soon found my shoulders wonderfully relaxed…
After dinner, things got even stranger. At one point someone put coconut shells over my ears. I’m not sure what effect this was supposed to produce, but I didn’t hear the sea. Another time we all tried out blind ballroom dancing – I doubt if Len Goodman would have been impressed with the results, but the experience was certainly different! Later on, I was lifted up in my chair and carried around the room – I suspect it was supposed to be a lesson in trust, but I was too busy laughing to ask.
At the end of the night we were all lead outside where we were finally told we could remove our blindfolds. And what a sight met our blinking eyes! We found ourselves at the top of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean and the view was simply breathtaking. Even if I hadn’t have been blindfolded for three hours, it would still have been incredible.
It transpired my colleagues had seen the whole thing through a gap in the restaurant door leading into the ‘senses’ function room. Although they had declined food in the restaurant after the first mouthful, made do with chairs that stayed firmly grounded and the only aural experience they had was to listen to themselves complaining about spending an evening in Spain starved of Tapas, they did say they preferred it that way. But I’m not so sure I’d have wanted to miss out on such a bizarre experience!,
At the beginning of the evening the beautiful people assured us that “this will be the best night of your life”. Well, I can’t honestly say it was the “best night” I’ve ever had, but it will certainly rate highly as one of the weirdest and most memorable…the things we do for our clients!
PS After a long and intense discussion lasting approximately 1 second, we decided that this would not be an appropriate event for our client’s Gala Dinner.
Les Eastaugh, Production Manager
If you were a visitor to the 2009 London International Boat Show, you’ll may have seen one of the many shows and presentations that Dellar Davies organised on the Main Stage-powered by Fairline. (By the way, if you were at the Show and didn’t see The Mermaid’s Tale, start kicking yourself now, you missed a treat!)
It was obvious to everyone that a lot of work had gone into arranging the content of the stage shows – after all, we managed to fill 100 hours of stage time with entertainment, fashion shows, presentations, videos, face to face interviews with boating heroes and talks by experts in various sailing disciplines.
But what about the stage itself? By the time visitors saw it, it was a fully functioning theatre, with a stage, auditorium, lighting, sound, a huge screen with a centre split for dramatic reveals, Dolby 5.1 surround sound, and live cameras. But when the Dellar Davies crew arrived at ExCel a week earlier, we were presented with 1200 sq m of very empty space!
Turning that void into a theatre with dressing rooms and technical control areas in time for the opening day was a monumental task which absolutely had to be done in a certain timeframe. In the events world, there are no opportunities for builders to scratch their heads, tell us they have an urgent job on and promise they’ll be back next Monday. Even if everyone has to work through the night, the show must go on, on time.
So problems like the freezing temperatures that chilled the country over Xmas and the beginning of January had to be dealt with as no more than a minor inconvenience. Exhibition crews delivering the boats and stand equipment were coming and going all the time, so the outside doors of the hall had to remain open. In those circumstances it would have been hugely wasteful for ExCel management to put the heating on…so they didn’t!
Do you remember it was colder in the UK at that time than it was in the Antarctic? We were certainly more than aware of it… we were in it! Nonetheless, nails were hammered, bolts tightened and lighting rigs raised as planned - but by a gang of ‘Arctic explorers’ wearing an eclectic and often strange assortment of hats, coats, gloves and boots which rendered even the most familiar colleagues unrecognisable!
So a huge thank you should go to the unsung, non-boating heroes who uncomplainingly (mostly) worked their frosty socks off in horrendously uncomfortable conditions to make sure everything was ready on time. But when a slip of a girl is doing 7m high back flips onto a wobbly pole held between two men, you’re too busy willing her not to fall to wonder about the work that went into making sure the stage was built to maximise the space available and allow her to do her act, that everyone in the audience could see the acrobatics, the performers were well lit, the sound was good, the background not too distracting and the performers’ safety was paramount.
So next time you see a complex production like the Main Stage, take a moment to think about all the planning and hard work of the individuals who got it there..!
Sara Biggs, Accountant
As an accountant I’m used to counting, logic and ticking boxes – it’s what we number crunchers do best! So I was happy to volunteer for the task of making sure that the right people were given the right awards at a recent event run by Dellar Davies.
The Travel Marketing Awards was a high profile, high energy evening to celebrate the very best in travel marketing, advertising and integrated campaigns. A three course meal was interspersed with a three-part ceremony where the Awards – fabulously shocking pink cubes – were presented to the winners. And because the awards themselves were pink, we gave the ceremony a pink theme.
The task I’d volunteered for wasn’t – as I’d hoped – a backstage role. I had to be dressed in the colour of the night and up on the stage in full view of everyone… which meant looking the part as well as being in charge of 26 pink cubes. But how could I make sure the right awards were given to the right winners when I was concentrating more on not letting my knees knock so loudly?! Is it really possible for glamour and common sense to successfully co-exist in the same body?
Pinking myself up for the occasion didn’t deplete my brain power after all and, to be honest, once I’d got in the swing of things I stopped being nervous and everything was fine. Every winner was presented with the right award, and I even made it up and down the stage steps three times without tripping over! Not the sort of role you’d normally associate with accountancy I know, but it really isn’t necessary to wear a beige tank top and thick rimmed glasses if you’re in to double entries!
Michala Scott, Head of Operations
One of my first tasks at Dellar Davies was to organise a summer party as a thank you from the company to the team for all their hard work during an extremely busy first six months of the year. As the business has its fair share of event experts it would have been a doddle for them to do it themselves, but organising their own party would have been too much like a busman’s holiday and they were too busy organising our clients’ events, so the task landed in my lap – no pressure!
As the recently merged company was two and a half years old at the time, I decided to theme it as a kiddies party. So, with the input and silly games expertise of Les, our Production Director, I had to come up the perfect mix of games, competitions and general frivolity plus a suitable venue, great food and drink, combined with appropriate amounts of organisational perfection to please the experts!
Thankfully everything came together beautifully – I even managed to arrange a steamy 32 degrees of sunny weather for it! The venue was a marquee in a local country pub garden, where we spent the afternoon eating a quite stupendous BBQ which came with lashings of summer drinks - it was definitely Pimms o’clock for the Dellar Davies gang! They actively participated in twists on traditional party games including a Trick or Treat version of Pass The Parcel, a cryptically fruity Treasure Hunt, an hilarious Pinata bashing exercise and a Guess the 2½ Year Old photo competition (who knew there were so many chubby knees in this company!)
What I found was that it isn’t so much the big things that make organising an event challenging, but the small touches that make all the difference. The highlight of the afternoon for me was the look of shock and horror on the faces of my joint managing directors, Dellar and Davies, when they saw themselves sat (holding hands) on top of a branded 2 ½ birthday cake – a moment to treasure!
It was really good to see everyone relaxing together for the first time this year – helped by the pub being in such a remote location that they couldn’t get a signal for their mobiles and BlackBerries! Seriously, I never realised how much hard work goes in to making a successful event. The DD gang definitely deserved their party!
Carlie Taylor, Head of Design
As I stepped out into the December sunshine at Nice Airport, I was greeted by a six foot Italian chauffeur asking if I liked fast cars. Slightly odd small talk I thought to myself as I followed him out of the arrivals hall.
But...all became clear when I was presented with a bright yellow Lamborghini, parked so obviously that everyone else was forced to look on enviously as the door was opened for me and I slid down into my seat. The chauffeur revved the engine and off we sped towards the Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes.
No, this isn’t a transcript of wishful thinking, it actually happened!
This pleasant surprise came about when I arrived in Cannes to assist Reed Travel Exhibitions with the set up for their International Luxury Travel Market event – ILTM.
Dellar Davies was contracted to assist Reed to transform the look and feel of the Show by redesigning the public areas to give the exhibit areas a luxury feel. After several meetings with the client and a recce to the conference centre in Cannes, we developed an idea – code named ‘Glow’ – which would transform the space from a dark underground exhibit floor into an attractive space using light, tassels, graphics and furnishings.
As a way of thanking me for my work on the project, when I arrived in Cannes to oversee the implementation of the redesigned areas, I’d been given VIP status – usually reserved for VIP visitors like Sir Rocco Forte – hence the chauffeur-driven Lamborghini complete with rather attractive six foot Italian!
Unfortunately it was a one-off occasion, but it proves that this business can throw up some very nice surprises indeed. And it was a lovely treat to be a member of the ‘Other Half’ for a while. Sadly on my return to the airport I had to downsize to a bog standard luxury Merc..!
Sarah Wragg, Speaker Manager
At Dellar Davies, my job can sometimes be a bit of a challenge and we’re sometimes called upon to do things above and beyond the call of duty. But this has never been so sorely tested than at the recent ITT Conference in Cyprus. (http://www.itt.co.uk/ITTConference2008.html)
The guest speaker, The Rt Hon John Prescott MP, had to leap into a cab at the end of his session in order to catch a plane to get him back to the UK in time for an important Parliamentary vote. We were already pushing things timewise, but calculated that he’d have just enough time to get on the plane.
After an entire hierarchy of people checked and double-checked that his cab was headed for Paphos Airport, we waved him off and I sauntered down to the poolside café for lunch with Elaine. But just as we were patting ourselves on the back for a flawless morning’s conferencing, my phone rang.
“Hello” said the caller. “It’s John Prescott here. I’ve just realised the cabbie was going to Larnaca Airport. I got him to turn round but he reckons it’ll take another twenty minutes to get to Paphos. Check-in closes in fifteen. Is there anything you can do about it?”
I knew it would be undiplomatic – not to mention rude – to vocalise the real answer that was inside my head. But as I was about to politely explain I’d left my blue tights and red cape at home, it occurred to me that there might, just might be a way.
Hermes Airport was one of the sponsors at the Conference. The day before, I’d written a few words for the Moderator to read out on stage, including the fact that Hermes was the company that ran Paphos Airport! We called Jenni, our contact from Hermes, explained the situation and agreed it was a big favour to ask. Thankfully Jenni not only understood the problem but was also willing to help out. She said she’d call her boss to see if there was anything to be done.
Then everything went quiet for a few nail biting minutes. I even had long enough to mentally rehearse how to give bad news to a man unafraid to use a right hook…
Finally though, Jenni rang back to say the Airport Manager would personally meet John and escort him on to the plane, which he’d already delayed especially for him. Success! I must have packed my superhero hosiery after all.
The strangest thing about the whole incident was a report in The Telegraph the next day. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/celebritynews/2113127/Late-John-Prescott-delays-EasyJet-flight-from-Cyprus.html) The report claimed that the people at ITT had actually phoned the President of Cyprus who’d personally intervened on John Prescott’s behalf. So in addition to blue tights and red cape, I apparently also have a batphone with a direct line to the Cypriot equivalent of the ‘Oval Office’. Either that or the Fourth Estate needs to brush up on its facts…
Kevin Oldcorn, Tournament Manager
Golf tournament organisation and management – How difficult can it be?
Even if you’re not a golf enthusiastic yourself, you can easily set up a tournament – all you need to do is bluff your way with a few basic rules and a little bit of terminology…
Every hole on the course has a stroke index numbered 1-18, with 1 being the most difficult hole and 18 being the easiest. A player with a handicap of 10 would be ‘given’ a shot on holes with stroke indices 1-10 and a player with a handicap of 28 would be ‘given’ two shots on stroke indices 1-10 and one shot on all the other holes. Please note: This would not be the case if the tournament rules involved playing 7/8 handicap and not full handicap.
This means that on these holes, the player takes one shot off the number he finishes the hole in, i.e. a gross 6 becomes a net 5. If the hole is a par 5, this would therefore mean that the player scored a net par which, under the Stableford points system, would be worth 2 points. If the hole is a par 4 the player scored a net bogey which would only be worth one point.
If however on that same par 4 hole the player scored a gross 3 – a birdie – it would become a net eagle by taking off the one shot allowance. This would score four points.
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