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Colja Dams: The New Face of Face-to-Face Marketing

Colja Dams: The New Face of Face-to-Face Marketing

Global brands — Coca-Cola, BMW, Microsoft — demand partners who think globally. And these three, plus scores of others, have found that with Vok Dams Group. From its original office — founded in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1975 — Vok Dams has blossomed into a worldwide marketing and events agency, with other operations in Germany as well as in Bordeaux, France, New York, Beijing and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Here, chief executive officer Colja Dams looks at the changing face of face-to-face communication.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: Vok Dams had a great year in 2007, with revenues at year-end of €23.5 million [$37 million]. How is business shaping up in 2008?

COLJA DAMS: The year 2008 will be even better than 2007, not only due to the Beijing Olympics but also because we are expecting higher demand from the automotive industry. And, our financial industry clients are increasing their demand again after the credit crisis.

SPECIAL EVENTS: With technology giving us freedom to work anywhere, why does your company make the financial commitment to open offices around the world?

DAMS: We are in the live-marketing business; face-to-face communication is what we sell our clients. Therefore, our clients expect us to be close by as well. Also, it helps to compensate for slower times in one country with the booming economy of another. Every Monday morning we have a live videoconference with almost all of our head people worldwide to keep in touch and talk about the status of their projects. We also started blogging a couple years ago. Every morning when I turn on my computer, our intranet shows me what great projects we did. Everybody — from intern to board member — can post on our intranet. We also get together regularly, and we keep corporate apartments close to our offices to enable our staff to move temporarily close to the office where they are needed.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Your staff grew by 17 percent by the end of 2007. Where do you find talented people?

DAMS: This is by far our most interesting challenge. Most of our senior people started their careers with Vok Dams. We also created a Vok Dams alumni network with almost 300 former employees whom we stay in touch with. The most important skill — after that they know what they are doing — is that our talented people need to be entrepreneurs.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Vok Dams has long served major automakers at the biggest auto exhibitions worldwide. How do you keep their exhibition stands exciting and newsworthy?

DAMS: The key here is our creative people. Our creative teams get their inspiration from the arts, theater, architecture and so on. We regularly have new fresh people coming from all kinds of professions joining our creative teams. This guarantees us that whatever we come up with is state of the art.

Three years back, we opened the first Institute for Live Marketing. Here we have researchers studying the social trends and anticipating how we can incorporate these trends — just before they become mainstream — into our concepts. The idea behind the institute was easy. We have clients coming up asking for a trade-show booth, a launch event, a press conference or something very specific. These clients usually do not have the time to worry too much, “Are we getting the right communication measures?” They just want to get the job done. They want to be creative, but fast and efficient as well. Other clients come up with questions such as, “We are doing 400-plus events a year; could you help us develop an ROI scorecard to help us choose which events to invest money in?” or “We are investing X million into our Olympic sponsorship; could you evaluate the success of this investment for my board?” and so on. These clients were looking only for consulting services — no production involved. So we decided to split off our consultants into the Institute for Live Marketing.

The Institute is our fastest growing company; it attracts more and more clients. Some of the clients we are supporting with Vok Dams anyway, but also a lot of new clients. Most of the work, unfortunately, is secret. But we are dealing with very interesting projects here such as, “Where do we find the target group for a specific new product, and how can we approach this target group most effectively?” And, “I am now in charge of events and trade shows doing X projects a year and spending Y; how many people should be on my team?”

SPECIAL EVENTS: Do you plan to open more offices?

DAMS: Yes! We will be opening another office in China, and we plan to open an office in India.


Contact Vok Dams and the Institute for Live Marketing at www.vokdams.de.

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