Taking an event abroad can be expensive and it is nearly impossible to plan for all the eventual pitfalls. However, doing some legwork in advance can curtail unexpected costs and issues.
"Anytime you're going overseas you have to be aware that things are going to be different," said Carol Krugman, director-client services at experience marketing company George P. Johnson. "You would be amazed at people who believe everywhere in the world everything is the way it is at home. Those are the people that run into tremendous trouble. You have different languages, customs, business practices, different hours of operation, electrical currencies, video standards, even dial tones on telephones. Be aware that everywhere you are going to be working, you must educate yourself."
The first step is to send a team ahead to learn about each of these differences and plan the event accordingly. "You need as many people as you can [to] ask as many questions [as possible]. Even basic such questions as: `Where are the bathrooms?' " said Julio Campos, president-executive creative director of Campos Creative Works, an event development company.
According to Campos, "understanding the local cultures becomes a big deal. You can offend easily if you don't understand. … You have to find out what protocols governments have. It is very important to understand how to introduce a person … how do you shake hands? All this is done during the advance visit."
Most experts recommend hiring a local partner familiar with the customs and differences inherent in the culture to assist with the planning and execution of the event. That is considered especially when it comes to the most difficult step of any international event: clearing customs.
"On general principle, the less that you have to be shipping around the better," Krugman said. "When you do ship, the important thing is to have an excellent freight folder on the shipping end and an excellent customs broker on the receiving end. This is not something you want to do by yourself; you want to have help."
Campos added: "Honestly, you can plan all you want, but in most cases it comes down to clearing customs," he said. "It becomes critical to use a local customs broker. They live there, they know the language, they know people. They will be troubleshooters for you."
Help can be easy to find—if you look in the right places. Consider contacting professional associations, embassies, consulates, U.S. departments of state and commerce, national trade organizations or even the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus.
"In those areas that are particularly complicated, such as shipping and customs, even creative—a creative campaign is going to be completely different in another country—you need to be able to bring in teams from the country you are going to. Same thing with your marketing strategy. It's going to be different—the way you reach a customer [will] be different. If you don't have global expertise, you need to find it and partner with it," Krugman said.
Ultimately, local experts can help reduce costs as well. "When you're dealing with people who work in the area a lot and who are volume buyers of goods and services in the area, they are going to be able to get much better prices," Krugman said. "The local suppliers are going to be much more accountable to their local customers than they are to you."
Finally, expect the unexpected, and account for it in the planning stages. Krugman recommended doubling the amount of time it would take to plan an event at home.
Catering to global crowds
Not all international events require going abroad. In many instances, companies can bring an international audience to the U.S. Catering directly to this audience can significantly boost attendance and quality lead generation.
Charles A. Prescott, VP-Global Knowledge Network Services at the Direct Marketing Association, said that catering to specific international groups has increased attendance and audience satisfaction at several of the company's annual events.
At the DMA's annual conference last year, Prescott said the company set up a track specifically for its Spanish-speaking attendees. "These are people who are more comfortable listening in Spanish. … We put on a whole track for the conference, [and] every morning there was a session in Spanish taught by people from Spain or Latin America," said Prescott.
The Spanish-language sessions were a huge success. "It's becoming a very attractive institution and getting a great deal of word-of-mouth," he said. It has been so successful the DMA is expanding the program to its annual Echo Awards. "We will literally create a special program with volunteer teachers [to accompany the Japanese attendees] separately within the conference," he said.
Assistance Start To Finish
Additionally, providing assistance to the international crowd from the moment they register to the time they fly home can create a bond with your company and the event itself. "It takes everybody working together," Prescott said, "from registration, to hotel, to programming. We have an advisory board with folks from overseas that help us make sure our programming is going to be interesting. I seek out speakers and presenters from around the world."
Francesco C. Leboffe, VP-marketing at the Packaging Machinery Manufacterers Institute, has also had great success generating an international audience for the company's biannual Pack Expo event in Las Vegas. With nearly 24,000 registrants, making the international attendees feel comfortable is essential—and the success of previous years saw their international attendance grow by 34% this year.
"We offered, onsite, a benefit for those international organizations called the International Business Center. Equipped with computers, TVs, fax machines and meeting exchange programs between delegates. We had a number of people there to help with any request," he said. "Whether it was housing or transportation, flights, local help—[even] recommendations on what to do and what to see—as well as getting acquainted with the show floor.
"We have gotten very positive feedback from not only the attendees but also from the exhibitor community, who felt that the benefit of the attendance was a quality audience."