Throwing events might seem like the dream job for lots of us, but as the crew behind Events Plus explain, there's a lot of dirty work.
This week we got the whole crew behind Events Plus in for an insiders-look at Egypt's event industry. Headed up by Garo Varajabedian, the blossoming events company have pulled off everything from big corporate bashes for the likes of Mobinil, Opel and Vodafone, to stealthy on-ground activations with Heineken and Pepsi, and even huge gigs like The Scorpions at the Giza pyramids. We sit down with Garo, GM Ahmed Khatab, project manager Mina Olta, account manager Chris Morgan and account executives Angie Ibrahim and Sherine Karam to talk Tiesto, Ikhwan and Ali El Haggar...
How did Events Plus start?
Garo: It started in 2004. We started a private sports magazine, before moving into sports events and marketing, working with companies like Mobinil and Opel for corporate projects. We then moved onto entertainment events, the first one being The Scorpions' big gig. The event was a success, but we ended up losing quite a lot of money because we were new to the game and didn't know too much about taxation and how much equipment would cost. We paid like 200,000 LE for the sound and light systems! Now, we have connections and contracts with these suppliers and are able to negotiate great rates. The same set up only costs us about 35,000 LE now.
So if you lost so much money on the first event, what gave you the incentive or the nerve to keep going?
Garo: It was a challenge for us to try and understand how the events industry works in Egypt but we got lucky in 2006 when we organised a high-value event for Mobinil. This helped us refinance and restructure, and officially start up Events Plus. We had to keep working to be able to afford to keep working.
Did you plan from beginning to do events for corporate clients?
Garo: It just so happened that the first big Mobinil event went so well, that we fell into the corporate world.
Which Events Plus events are you most proud of?
Garo: One event I was really proud of was the African Football Players of the Year ceremony. It was a very, very challenging event because it was broadcast live in 22 countries all around the world and we had to be really precise with everything. It was the first time they held it here in Egypt and it was a great experience for us.
With the current economic climate, are there a lot of events happening at the moment? What to you guys do on a day to day basis?
Garo: Day-to-day, we have a lot of activation campaigns for clients and lots of small corporate events like anniversaries and trade events especially outside of Cairo.
What would you do if a corporate client wants their daughter to sing at the event, but her voice is terrible?
Garo: We had a client recently, and I don’t want to mention the name, who had an event for 1,200 people at the Fairmount Heliopolis; a huge set up, nice entertainment options, and a great attendee list. But they wanted Ali El Hagar! With all due respect to him, he's a mosalsalat singer and doesn't really get a party started.
Over the years, with all the artists you've booked, who was the biggest asshole you had to deal with?
Garo: Usually, we don't have problems with any of the talent but when The Scorpions came we had some difficulties. They were supposed to have a gig in Dubai before the Cairo show but it was cancelled so we invited them to Sharm El Sheikh, ahead of their performance. As soon as the arrived they said "we want drugs and girls," which we didn't know how to access! We told them it'd be hard and they threatened to cancel the show! The best we could do was call our contacts in the Sharm El Sheikh clubs and get them VIP treatment and stuff. They went to Pacha and got wasted and came back to the Four Seasons and started trouble with the manager, asking him for drugs and girls. We even got a formal complaint from the Four Seasons! Luckily, it all passed and the gig was great.
You must miss the thrill of these big, live, high-profile events. Do you have any plans to invigorate that market in Egypt any time soon?
Garo: Actually, our last signing was Maroon 5 and it was reschedule three times due to instability. And it was actually the problems in Libya that put them off, it was nothing to do with Egypt. The day NATO started to bomb Libya they cancelled 7 shows and this was the final, official reason as they'd been issued warnings from the American and British governments.
Anything else coming up?
Garo: Were planning, as a start, to test the market with some family show. We tried it a few years ago with foreign shows like Abracadabra and Hocus Pocus with proper magicians and illusionists. We're planning a few more in the future, so stay tuned.
If you could invite any artist in the world, who would it be?
Garo: I would like to bring Madonna but it’s impossible! I've met her agent couple of times and it’s very hard as she travels with around 35 containers. They set up exactly like Cirque de Soleil and it’s very hard to pull that off in Egypt. She needs 135 rooms in one hotel and her own room needs to be up to her very specific requirements. Plus you need a space like the Cairo Football Stadium and no one has the funds to sponsor that. But the artist which is feasible and we really looking forward to doing is Bon Jovi. Maybe at the end of the year.
What advice would you give to people who start up an event company?
Garo: I've seen kids who, after graduating from university, go ask their parents for a ton of money and say, "I'm going to bring Tiesto." They have no idea what they're doing, spend thousands of dollars without knowing the processes and the taxes on these kinds of things then ends up cancelling the event. This has put the whole events industry in Egypt in jeopardy since international acts have stopped taking request from Egypt seriously. So the advice I'd give is to build up your experience, work for events companies and really learn the industry so you don't make a huge financial mistake.
What do you have to do to prove to a sponsor that you're a genuine and professional events company?
Garo: Your event has to fit the campaign that the company you're pitching too are doing for the year. You also have to show that you're organised, experienced and capable. When it comes to convincing them of an artist, again it depends on their campaigns and how a certain artist or genre can be useful for them. A lot of corporations are now linking their sponsorship of events to their CSR activities so you have to feed into that too. Shakira at the pyramids was the last concert we had in Egypt where the sponsorship budget exceeded $1 million. After the logistic errors of that event, no one wants to pay more than $300,000.
So, what’s next?
Garo: We're continuing to work with Stella, I.D Vodka and Heineken for on-ground activation and sports-based events. We're also working closely with some tobacco companies, and we might have something coming up with byGanz soon. Our offices are right next to each other, and we've known each other for 25 years.
If the Ikhwan came up to you and asked you to organize an event for them for a fee of $10 million, what would you say?
Garo: Luckily, they will not come to us. I am not against them; my company and life is not affected by them. We have never dealt with any previous political clients in the past and don't plan to.
Is there anything you want to tell everyone out there about your events?
Garo: Yes. We will never do weddings.
Find out more about Events Plus on their website http://eventsplusegypt.com/ or follow @EventsPlusEgypt on Twitter.