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Special Events

Event producers make the China connection

With a population of 1.3 billion, the fastest growing economy in the world and its role as the host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, the People's Republic of China has stepped into the spotlight of special events. Here, two American event producers share their insights into working there.

Peekskill, N.Y.-based S+A Creative Services was part of the creative team behind the opening night ceremonies for the Fortune magazine Global Forum, held in Beijing last May. The forum brings together some 600 business and government "thought leaders" to examine world economic and political trends. The setting was Beijing's 580-year-old Temple of Heaven, a park-like setting consisting of manicured grounds and 10 architecturally distinct areas.

In January, San Jose, Calif.-based Ellen Michaels Presents created a networking reception at the Grand Hyatt Beijing for 300 China- and Asia-based business associates of a California venture capital firm. The event heralded the opening of the venture capital firm's Beijing office.

Q: Which event tasks were easy to accomplish in China?
Christine Somers, president, S+A Creative Services: In China, corporate events are an emerging industry. Our team needed to develop a common "vision" so that we could understand the expectations from both sides. Unlike in the West, labor is the most inexpensive line item. The Chinese are willing to build or create many elements that in the West would have been cost-prohibitive. The registration signage was embroidered silk, and the set pieces were handcrafted. The workmanship was beautiful.

In designing our set, our team followed standard Western procedure by creating multiple drawings with meticulous measurements of the venue, stating size and placement of set pieces, stage and screens. One evening, our Chinese government partners brought in a large Chinese crew that put the outdoor screens in place without consulting our drawings. When the safety committee conducted their review, they said one of the screens was too close to one of the ancient buildings. That evening the Chinese crew returned and moved the setup two inches. In the West, we would never think of doing that because of the cost of labor.

Q: Which event tasks were tough to accomplish?
CS: The lack of a common event language played out over the floral centerpieces. Our team requested upscale, elegant centerpieces for the opening night event. Our Western vision was one of floral pieces designed with bold colors, possibly with roses, calla lilies or orchids. When the local vendor returned with the samples, they were created using pastel colors such as powder blue and pink. They had used peonies, which is the national flower of China. While these arrangements were lovely, they did not meet the need of a Western corporate event.

Patti Fortunati, CMP, program manager, Ellen Michaels Presents: I wouldn’t say that any part of planning is more difficult in China if you know what you are doing. Basically, to be successful in China or any international location, you need to have extensive international experience and great local partners. Ellen Michaels Presents has both, so there really aren’t any obstacles.

One challenge is the time zone difference. From the West Coast, there is a 15- to 16-hour time difference depending on the time of year, so the end of our day is the start of their next day. This sometimes requires late-night calls, but it’s workable.

Also, sometimes certain menu items don’t translate especially well from Mandarin to English. An example: A Mandarin menu may be translated to read, “hand-pulled noodles with stewed fungus.” "Fungus" is the correct term, but we would of course use the word "mushroom" instead.

For the complete story, see the June issue of Special Events Magazine.

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