Some entrepreneurs search long and hard to find a hole that needs filling. Others experience a flash of insight and recognize a tremendous opportunity at first glance. For Jennifer Young, cofounder and president of eVoque Event Management Group, based in Delta, British Columbia, it was definitely the latter scenario.
In 2005, Young was already a seasoned professional, with the founding of several successful companies behind her, and the last five years helming AdCentives, a marketing and promotions company.
“We carried many high-end premiums,” Young recalls. “But the more involved I became in that market, the clearer it became to me that experiences—not simple objects—have the biggest impact on recipients.”
In particular, the experience of travel. “It’s an underutilized premium, I think,” Young says—and one that offers substantial returns on even small budgets. Although employee engagement in general has dropped, travel can provide a more positive environment and spur employees to even greater performance.
Running an Event of Any Size
Engage an exceptional event-management company, even if you think you have competent in-house staff.
Develop clear communications plans for timelines and budget management.
Keep and share extensive progress notes and records of communications. It will help keep everyone on the same page.
Always have event management staff at the event itself. Things can go wrong, but they’ve been trained to deal with them.
Keep the lines of communication open, and trust the team to keep you on track.
While accompanying a client on an incentive trip, Young had an epiphany. “During this wonderful trip, I experienced firsthand how much the total experience of major events—the sights, sounds, and attractions—had on the recipient,” Young says.
She was also aware of an emerging trend: the inclusion of business meetings, charitable events, and other occurrences as a way of justifying the expense of the travel package itself.
Then it all clicked. While on that trip, Young met fellow entrepreneur Rhonda Lee, and found a kindred spirit. Within a year, the duo created eVoque, a company that not only organizes and provides memorable trips but also manages the business events that often go with them.
A good portion of eVoque’s success comes from its policy of constantly looking ahead. “If you stick with the status quo and do the same things every time, you’ll never grow organically,” Young says. Regardless of the industry, events professionals need to understand their clients’ markets and where they’re headed. “Companies count on you for excellent input,” she says. “You can’t afford to be familiar with just your own stuff.”
And eVoque’s business model reflects that idea. “We study our clients thoroughly, in order to understand their challenges,” Young says. “And then we strive to become part of their corporate culture, combining our own creativity with our relationships with resources and vendors to create an event that’s second to none.”
Moreover, her rewards packages have been impressive. For example, in 2006 she took guests of one of her clients to the World Cup in Germany. “We were there for about three weeks,” Young recalls. “And they stayed at a castle that dates from the 1300s. It was a tremendous experience, and eVoque handled everything—the tickets, accommodations, ground travel, other excursions. That was one of our first events, and one of the most memorable.”
The complexity of that trip illustrates another of Young’s key points: preparedness.
“No matter how well organized you are—in terms of housing, communications equipment, the details of the conference venue itself, spousal programs, and the like—you must be ready to deal with the unexpected: on-site client requests, problems with hotel rooms, delayed planes, overlapping events, even illness,” Young explains. Anticipating misfortune, she notes, can sometimes help avoid it.
For this reason, about 80 percent of Young’s time is devoted to strategic meetings and conferences. “It’s essential to have dialogues with clients,” she says—and that means one-on-one contact, not just exchanging e-mails.
“I insist that my staff actually speaks to our clients and vendors,” Young says. “We’re dealing with people, not corporations. Our approach might seem a bit old-fashioned, but our clients find it refreshing. They appreciate the personal attention.”
And Young can’t praise her team enough. “They’re so strong, and their synergy is amazing,” she says. “Whether they’re on location or in negotiations, they are eVoque personified.”
So what’s on the horizon? “I think clients will see more value in third-party event management,” says Young. “As they get stronger and busier, it will make more sense to delegate event planning to professionals instead of trying to do everything in-house. I see real opportunities for our growth, especially in Canada. To that end, our systems and processes are always evolving. It’s the only way to stay ahead of the competition.”