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Special Events


IT was The Special Event conference that brought Will Holditch, CSEP, CERP, of Austin, Texas-based Austin RentAll Party, together with Hersey Cao of Across China, a 14-year-old event marketing agency based in Beijing. At the 2005 conference in Miami, they decided to swap employees for two months. Here, Holditch shares portions of the diary he kept while doing event work in China.

June 29 I got in last night at 5 p.m. local time. Lots of cab drivers wanted to take me somewhere. After a few minutes, Hersey saw my cowboy hat and yelled out my name. It was good to see a friendly face. My worst fear was to be left at the airport by myself. I met Victor Hu, an employee of Hersey's. Victor has been in Europe working for the BBC; he is the creative director for Across China. They took me to dinner at a “hot pot,” where a pot of soup is put on the table and set to boil on a hot plate. Then you cook your food in the boiling soup. I was doing OK with the dinner until they brought a live turtle to the table to eat.

Today, I had a good morning with Victor. I worked with him on a creative design for an HP event in September — a media event for about 100 members of the press. The main theme from HP is “unlimited,” with sub-themes about color and speed, etc. The group came up with a treasure hunt and “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme to go along with that. The press will use all the new HP printers and scanners to find the treasure.

July 3 Albert Cao {of Across China} took me to the Great Wall of China yesterday; it was incredible. We went to the section called Badaling; it has the “hero's tower.” I was amazed at all the graffiti that was on the walls, mainly in Chinese. I saw a lot of Olympics construction going on. The Olympic Village is about half done. The government is completely focused on the 2008 Games; you can see references to them everywhere. It looks like construction is going on seven days a week.

July 4 I was reflecting that the highway construction workers are the same here as in Texas — I saw one working and everyone else leaning on a shovel. I was watching CCTV 9, the only English language channel I get, with a guy talking about being a foreign businessman in China for almost 15 years. The cheap labor in China, which the West sees as a human rights issue, China sees as the fuel for the economic engine, and if one worker gets hurt, there are five to replace him. He talked about New China versus Old China, modern versus traditional, the urban east versus the rural west.

July 7 I worked with {Across China's} Joyce Song a little bit yesterday. She is working on an event for Nokia celebrating the 200,000,000th phone made in China. I listened to her plan and then played 20 questions with her. I helped her expand on her ideas and then started looking at the flows and gaps in her plan. I gave her several questions to go back and ask her client. I learned from Victor that they pay on the fifth of every month and everyone is paid in cash, which is amazing. I would say 90 percent of the economy is running on cash.

July 27 It is interesting to see how the culture works; there is a caste system. Certain people will do certain things; other things are below them. In the U.S., it is fun to have management cook for and serve the workers to show they are appreciated. Here, that would be unthinkable. At most you might get a manger to do something in a ceremony, but not in a real situation. I have learned how to use to call home through my computer; it is less than 2 cents a minute. I talked with {wife} Susan for over an hour for $1.25. That is amazing considering I am on the other side of the world.

July 28 At dinner I talked with Hersey about starting a group that focuses on social events, and how that will feed off the corporate work they do, and the social work will help support the corporate work. We also talked about event rental and how the Olympics will bring a bigger need for tables and chairs.

July 29 I got to the office at 6:30 a.m. so I could talk with Hawaii, they are 18 hours behind us. This living and working in multiple time zones gets old. I have put together a basic plan for Client X, and the techno-geeks upstairs are taking my Party CAD design and making a 3-D, professional-looking drawing, showing lights and everything. It is cool, but a very slow process. I went to my 5 o'clock meeting with Victor and Hersey to bring them up to speed, and the client has changed everything. They want us to put the plan together and basically give it to them to do. And do that for free. Hersey would like us to put together a presentation as if we were doing the whole event and then have just a basic list to give them if they still want to do the event. I am planning to go to Tiananmen Square on Sunday; I will do that in the morning and probably come into the office in the afternoon to do some more work on this event. I would like to win this one for the team. I am the lead on this project and it is my time to shine.

Aug. 2 What a day. I started on a high of having sold Client X on a major event. And it ended on an amazing low. At 4:30 pm we started a conference call with the client. As the meeting went on I started having flashbacks {to an event where} the client had no idea what they were doing and had come up with an unrealistic budget, which doomed the event from the beginning. At 7 p.m. we walked away from the table. The ball is now in the client's court. They wanted us to do $161,000 worth of work for $16,000, and that was not going to happen.

Aug. 3 The ancestors are crying today. The “Hero's Gala” has now turned into the “Loser's Luncheon.” Client X wants the entire A/V and entertainment budget to be $26,000. There is no way; the client has us back to Square 0. It is too bad when a client trashes their own event because they have no clue what they are doing. I spent most of yesterday working on the Client X budget and revising it. Across China wants to make a healthy profit on the event, Client X wants the same “Hero's Gala” for $26,000, and I am in the middle. I went through about nine different budgets yesterday.

Aug. 5 Met with Client X last night at 4 p.m., and was there a couple of hours. I think we have most of the details worked out. I would say we are down to getting paid in renminbi {Chinese currency} or U.S. dollars.

Aug. 13 Walking home I figured it out — Beijing reminds me most of Houston. Hot and humid.

Aug. 16 Made it to the airport {to go back home} at 10 a.m. The whole process was insane. I got to the airport, which was a zoo, and had to find the “exit” form. The first one I found was in Chinese, and it took a while to find the English version. Once through, I went to the United Airlines counter to check in, only to find out no alcohol can be brought on the plane. So I had to go down to C counter to get a box and then from there back to the UA desk to get it marked and then back to C counter to check it, where they sent me back to UA desk; that all took an hour. From there I went to leave, and stood in line for 15 minutes to stand in another line to go through the security checkpoint. I was hot and tired when it was all done. Somewhere over the western U.S. I was the next to the last person on the plane to Austin. It was murder trying to get through all the checkpoints. I would get through one and then had to wait on my bags to come through. I was able to call Susan in San Francisco and let her know I made the plane. She was watching on the Internet and knew I was running an hour-plus behind. She is always on top of things. It will be nice to be home.

Austin RentAll Party's Web site is; Across China's Web site is For more of Will Holditch's China diary, visit

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