Mission Impossible: How To Make Your First Business Event In A Foreign Country

    At the beginning of May, we held a meeting in Dubai called “ Winning in omni-channel retailing ”, which gathered twice as many participants as we expected. The entire preparation took 3 weeks. Not everything was perfect, but overall we are satisfied. I tell you what to be prepared for and what to consider when organizing an event in a foreign country.

    Where to begin

    In March, we organized the IDRF - International Digital Retail Forum conference in Moscow , which brought together 400 participants. With proper organization, such events bring good returns - new customers and potential partners. With IDRF it was the same - as a result, many companies turned to us.

    Our agency specializes in solutions for online retail and is located in Moscow and Dubai, so we decided to hold an event in Dubai after Russia - a meeting dedicated to the implementation of omni-channel solutions in retail. Today, many brands understand that they need to use multi-channel strategies, because consumers expect a holistic interaction with the company. However, most do not know what technologies to use to get full omnichannel. This is the current pain of the business, so we had no doubt about the theme of the event.

    We started preparing the mitap with an analysis of the local event market and we advise doing the same. This will help to understand the popular formats, popular topics, the average number of visitors and get the right idea about the local market. Sometimes it seems that you know the local specifics quite well, but it’s easy to miss. For example, in Dubai, the vast majority of payments are made for cash, so initially it can be assumed that the topic of online banking or electronic payments is not interesting. But in fact, on the contrary, these are development prospects that attract professionals and individuals.

    In our case, it turned out that in the middle of April the Seamless Middle East exhibition was being held, and on May 5, Ramadan was already coming, and professional activity was stagnating. Therefore, we had to dramatically accelerate in order to manage to conduct a mitap between Seamless and Ramadan. The time is very important, because inexperienced organizers can put the event in the local dead season. For example, speakers from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Leo Burnett did not come to speak, because together with Ramadan, large advertising campaigns will start in the UAE, and this is an increased burden on the local corporate offices.

    Seamless Middle East Exhibition

    How to organize

    Four basic questions must be answered: “what?”, “Who?”, “For whom?” And “where?”. The most important is the theme of the event, on which the composition of the speakers, the target audience of the participants, and even sometimes the platform, depend. We chose an online retail and held a meeting for representatives of brands and marketers.

    Speakers. They attract participants, so choose experienced, charismatic and popular. All speakers who speak for free can be divided into two categories: representatives of brands and startups, including owners of medium-sized businesses. It’s hard to negotiate a performance with brands because they’re always invited somewhere. Only personal connections will help here. Our regional director, Marina Litvinova, engaged former colleagues and organized a presentation by representatives of Mercedes and the cosmetic brand Jardin de Parfums.

    Speakers Winning in Omni-Channel retailing

    It is much easier to negotiate with startup representatives and business owners. As a rule, they are active, like PR and in any event they see opportunities for promotion and networking. Therefore, when working with them, you need not to persuade, but, on the contrary, to weed out in order to find really interesting personalities with strong expertise. Ideally, if the founder of the startup used to be a top manager of an international brand. Such a person has great experience and is ready to share it.

    You need to look for speakers as soon as you decide to hold an event. Many have a busy schedule, and they will refuse only because they have to perform elsewhere. There were six people in our program, but in order to find them we had to negotiate with twenty. There were many more calls and correspondence. As a result, in the final version we had seven confirmations instead of six, and on the eve of the event one speaker could not. Therefore, be sure to have spare speakers who can insure.

    Also choose speakers strategically - those who have a lot of networking. So, they can offer themselves a worthy alternative if they refuse to speak. And if they agree, then they will bring along some of the participants. Half of those present at our meeting came at the invitation of the speakers.

    Members. We did not sell mitap tickets because we wanted to find new large customers with it. And, looking ahead, I will say that it was possible - we received several promising leads from international consumer electronics brands in Dubai. If participation is free, then finding people is much easier. I don’t think that we could assemble a full hall in three weeks if we had to pay for participation. In this case, it is better to start in about six months.

    At first 30 participants were expected, and there was just a suitable conference room. But at some point, we realized that there would be more visitors, so we started looking for a site with a capacity of up to 60 people. As a result, almost as many participants were there. Moreover, we could not choose a place solely on the basis of the capacity of the hall, because the status of the site is crucial in Dubai. Only on it, many participants decide whether to attend the event or not.

    Playground. When the event is non-profit, it is advisable to save on everything, including renting a room. It is best to use the conference room of the accelerator, industrial park, local administration - any organization interested in developing business relations in the region. When you agree on a site, immediately discuss the cost of renting equipment. Sometimes it happens that the hall is given away for free, but the projector, microphones, furniture, etc., are billed separately, which is comparable to the cost of renting a room. Together with the site, we were able to get a free projector and technical support.

    The conference room was provided by the Astrolabs accelerator, in which we are a resident. But there was a nuance: the hall accommodated only 30 people, and we have already decided to invite more. At that time, the accelerator had a new platform for 60 people, but it had not yet been commissioned. We persuaded Astrolabs management to provide this room to us for 10 days. At the same time, we came up with a scheme on how to get another site for free, if it does not work out with this one.

    For this, barter was offered to hotels in two versions: simple and advanced with our increased obligations. With a simple package, the hotel provides a room for free, and in return advertises itself among the participants. This is an advantageous offer, because we collected marketing budget managers who also hold events and look for venues. Hotels could show their level and meet potential customers.

    The extended package also included catering, and we promised to invite local media, social media and influencers. Over the weekend, we talked with four hotels, and they all liked the offer. But in the end, this option was not needed, because Astrolabs confirmed a large site.

    Catering. The food for the participants was also organized almost by barter, and its cost was five to six times lower than at the usual price. Catering was organized by the Hotel Cartagena restaurant located at the five-star JW Marriott Marquis. Marina met his representative at the event just a couple of weeks before ours and agreed on a service.

    If you can’t agree on a meal, organize it yourself. Mandatory minimum: water, coffee and tea. It is advisable to consider minimal snacks: sandwiches and pastries. You can try to buy at a wholesale price at a local bakery. But manufacturers of water, coffee and tea brands are unlikely to go for discounts. The conference should be large enough to be interesting to them.

    How to attract participants

    We took advantage of the international service Meetup.com, through which they organize all the events in Dubai: from yoga classes to business breakfasts. It helps to widely announce the event and quickly collect visitors, but does not provide user data. Because of this, a part of the hall was occupied by a non-target audience at the meeting.

    Of the other free promotion methods, we used announcements on our website, groups and pages on Facebook, including IDRF conferences, news on the accelerator website and an invitation through its newsletter. Free methods will not give a big return if you do not have several thousand subscribers, but still contribute. We also launched paid ads on Facebook and LinkedIn at $ 500 per channel, and the latter turned out to be several times more expensive.

    Facebook did not bring good returns, because, according to the sensations, it is only used in Russia as a business network, in other countries it is a place for communication with friends. Next time we do not plan to use it at all, but focus on LinkedIn. It is truly a working tool that helps networking. If you are planning events abroad, be sure to create a LinkedIn page in advance and regularly fill it with content. By the time the participants are invited, you need a pumped page and a wide circle of friends.

    A total of 110 people registered for the mitap, and 56 came | The conversion was 51% | For a free event, this is not bad. As a rule, if a participant has not spent the money, then a visit is considered optional. This must be taken into account and try not to restrict registration, otherwise there may be too many empty seats in the hall.


    1. When an event is free, it can be organized quickly. If the main points are clear: speakers, platform, catering, then two weeks is enough.
    2. Think over the general theme of the event. It should resonate with the main focus of your business, but not be its advertising.
    3. To gather relevant participants, it is best to use personalized invitations. Send letters or call on a pre-compiled list. Ask speakers to invite participants. So you get the target audience and save on advertising. It is advisable to contact new participants after their registration in order to filter out random people.
    4. Call more speakers than necessary so as not to depend on force majeure: illness, urgent business trips and the like.
    5. Upgrade your networking because it simplifies organization. In the same Dubai, personal ties always come first. Even a cap-like acquaintance will give more returns than a cold call. If we did not have a trump card in Dubai in the form of our main organizer, Marina with strong networking and a wide range of contacts, we would hardly be able to meet the deadline. Therefore, before starting, make a list of those who can help in an unfamiliar country.
    6. Open your LinkedIn page in advance and fill it with content to attract members for free.

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