For event planners of a certain stature and experience, working internation-ally is the seductive call of the siren. But, as most quickly learn, it is like the event business in any city, state or country-more glamorous than it sounds. And when dealing with large events, such as a series of corporate hospitality events at The World Cup, cultural, language and time barriers triple the difficulty of such projects. However, for a seasoned veteran of the event industry, they offer a can't-miss opportunity.
And so it was that John Daly, president of John Daly Inc. International, a full-service event design and production firm based in Santa Barbara, California, found himself on a plane to Paris, two years before a four-day event hosted by Gillette, a major sponsor of The World Cup '98, held in Paris.
"We worked for Gillette in 1994 at the Los Angeles World Cup and were hired on the spot," Daly says. "We started conceptualizing the events four years out and actually started on the project in 1996." By the time The World Cup actually occurred, Daly and various members of his crew had made 11 visits to Paris-some of them frustrating, others enjoyable, all of them educational.
WHEN IN FRANCE ... "What we found out about Paris," Daly explains, "is that the French are very stringent with their laws surrounding events. For almost everything we designed, especially backdrops, we had to buy the fabric there, ship it back here to Nashville, where Sandy Zeigler [of Zeigler & Associates] painted it with flame retardant paint that met French standards, and then ship it back to France for approval."
This was only one small hurdle to jump. During the week of The World Cup, John Daly Inc. successfully created seven events that 1,200 of the world's top CEOs attended. But years earlier, as Daly described his intentions to French vendors, his ideas were met with disbelief and, at the time, downright skepticism. Yet, as most planners who work internationally will tell you, perseverance is the one word you must know in any language.
"After all is said and done, what made me proudest of this event is that we won the French over," Daly says. "At first, they would simply look at me when I described what we were going to do. As we went on, they began to understand more, and I asked them to partner with us in getting certain things accomplished. By the end, they got it.
"Now, I get e-mails and phone calls all the time from the people we worked with," he says.
While the reasoning behind floor-length linens was lost on the French, the objective of the corporate events, which constituted a hefty portion of Gillette's marketing budget, was never lost on Daly. "Gillette works in the world market," he explains. "To it, Europe is a larger market than the U.S., and The World Cup is a truly international event, where Super Bowl, the World Series and even the Olympics are not."
The events at which the corporation chose to wine and dine its VIP clients included luncheons, cocktail parties and sit-down dinners held at sites as diverse as the Parisian bateaux that cruise the Seine, the public spaces and ballrooms of Euro Disney's Hotel New York, and a historic 16th-century chateau.
For Daly and a crew of 60 designers, technicians, riggers, carpenters, sculptors, artists, planners, historians and consultants, the final evening at the Chateau de Chantilly was not only themost logistically challenging of the seven events, but the most rewarding.
SPRUCING UP A CASTLE Research was the key to transporting guests to the 16th century. As guests entered Chateau de Chantilly, they were taken first to a courtyard where four buffets (two of which were 26 feet long) were draped with tapestry and velvet and decorated with urns filled with floral design that would have been familiar to the era's aristocrats.
After cocktails, everyone moved outside to the top of a grand staircase overlooking the chateau's extensive gardens. While Daly's crew brought the existing urns in the garden back to life with white and yellow floral, eight more urns were installed along the stairs and filled with the same flower arrangements.
>From the staircase, guests made their way across the gardens to a tent >that overlooked the chateau from across the lake. The tent's ceiling and >sidewalls were lined with full pleats of a soft yellow fabric. Thousands >of Tivoli lights were swagged between each pleat. Tables were set with >arrangements of white and yellow flowers. Halved lemons perfumed the >evening air.
Against the tent walls, oversized pieces of French furniture and accessories such as mirrors added a sense of permanence. Trees were placed throughout the grand dining room and near the rest room area, and the tent's perimeter was lined with 10-foot arrangements of fresh flowers in the event's color theme. As the sun set on the castle, architec-tural lighting-created by Images By Lighting, based in Culver City, California-provided yet another transformation of the castle. Working in a historical monument gave the designers a backdrop that needed only well-planned design treatment. However, even the simplest enhancements needed to exist almost entirely without support from the structure.
"The biggest challenge of working at Chantilly," Daly says, "is that you can't drive a nail anywhere and you can't bury cables. You can't just dig a hole because there is no telling what is under there. And, if you break the mud seal around a fountain, you run the risk of that water just draining out to some tunnel of something below."
Event planners are learning that the key to working in another country is a lot of research, patience and, above all else, perseverance.