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Foreign Affairs

When is a trunk not a storage chest? Possibly when you're at the Cannes Film Festival and your vendor thinks you are talking about a tree trunk. Craig Howard, vice president of international development for Extraordinary Events in Houston, says that during a special movie promotion, his company almost ended up with a tree trunk at the site.

  1. LESSON NO. 1: Be sure your message is understood

    “Invest in interpreters,” Howard advises. His company uses one for each key player on any event in a foreign country.

    Bear in mind that translations can still miss the mark, warns John J. Daly Jr., CSEP, president of John Daly Inc., International, in Santa Barbara, Calif. “I have had peers look at me as if I had two heads while I explained what it is I wanted to do to a room,” he adds. But once he completed the project, they asked, “‘Why didn't you tell us you wanted to do this?’” he says.

    Another tip: Show instead of tell. “When you are communicating about an event in a foreign country, give visuals as well,” suggests Martin Van Keken Jr., chief executive officer of MVKA Productions in Vancouver, British Columbia.

  2. LESSON NO. 2: Return shipped items as you use them

    Rather than wait until the end of an event, send back items right after you use them, says Shari Hirsch, CSEP, chief financial officer of The Event Marketing Group in Orlando, Fla. This practice lessens the chances that items can get lost, and “It can be very difficult to back-track shipments once you've left,” she says. Linens require special handling: “If you have wet linen, have the hotel dry it for you, so it doesn't get moldy in the container,” she says. Such shipments can be stuck in transit for weeks, and “One moldy piece can ruin lots of linens.”

    Hirsch recommends using only reputable freight companies with experience in international shipping, but she also urges keeping an eye on costs: “If it's cheaper for us to give something to the hotel rather than ship it back, that's something we look at.”

  3. LESSON NO. 3: Make sure that the destination suits the delegates

    An exotic, isolated locale may sound like fun, but not if it requires a tedious trip to get there. “If delegates find that a destination is hard to get to, they won't come,” warns Sally Webb, managing director of The Special Event Co. in London. Bear in mind too that your attendees may neither want nor be able to leave the outside world behind. Ensure that the destination is accessible with various means of transportation and communications tools.

    Sometimes attendees can have too much fun. Webb recalls an event she produced in France: “We were in a small town two hours from where we had to get the boat back to the U.K. We lost two people who went shopping and had to make the decision: ‘Do we leave them in France?’” All parties eventually made it home safely, “But if you don't clearly lay down the rules where everybody has to be when, it can jeopardize your program.”

  4. LESSON NO. 4: Make site visits mandatory

    “Never trust a plan given by a venue,” says Van Keken. “In nine out of 10 cases, it's not accurate.” Find out specifics about a venue's power capacities, load-in/out scenarios and rigging points. Van Keken recommends getting important details in writing from a certified qualified engineer.

    Don't ignore the workplace culture of the venue. “In the Caribbean, island time is island time,” Hirsch says. “You can't make it go any faster; prepare for waiting.” On the other hand, if the precise Swiss arrive at 12:01 instead of noon, “they are ‘late’ and apologetic.”

  5. LESSON NO. 5: Research everything — again!

    For an event he produced in France, Howard contacted the French consulate in Houston to get temporary work permits; authorities there told him he didn't need them. But he did a little more homework and discovered he did. “If you are taking work away from a worker of that citizenship, you need a permit to replace him,” he explains.

    When taking music groups and acts across a continent, make sure the act fits the audience culture. Webb brought an act she'd seen many times in the United States to two different events in the United Kingdom. The first was for an older audience, which went fine. But the second had a younger audience, and “it wasn't what they were used to hearing.” Webb explains, “It was OK, but only OK.”

  6. LESSON NO. 6: Use a planning checklist

    Special Events compiled this checklist based on experiences from seasoned pros Daly, Hirsch, Howard, Van Keken and Webb.



  • Will local holidays affect the venue or our access to it?
  • What's the climate like during the event? Are weather conditions predictable during that season?
  • Could festivals, local events or holidays become a factor in attendance, parking and access?
  • Will there be an influx of tourists?
  • What is the impact of cultural differences/work ethic of the area?
  • What are the conditions of the venue?

  • Access to amplification?
  • Elevator/room access?
  • Air conditioning?
  • Limited menu?
  • Ceiling heights?
  • Telephones with dial-up capability?
  • Accessibility — how isolated is the venue? Can both the event team and attendees get in and out easily? Are various modes of transportation available?

  • Can vendors be paid through the hotel/venue?
  • Are we comfortable with metric or English measurements?
  • Are we prepared for different electrical voltages?
  • Is there enough equipment for a change in venue or theme?
  • Is there enough time for setup?


  • Does the contract/letter of agreement include a clause to refigure the exchange rate every two to three months so we don't lose money?
  • Should we wire-transfer money to a foreign bank to convert for the event team on site?


  • Does the event country require temporary work permits?
  • Does the event country require agricultural permits to bring in floral?


  • Have we solved communication barriers? Do we have interpreters and visual aids?
  • Should we ship walkie-talkies from home if they are cheaper?
  • Should we rent cell phones from a vendor in the destination city/country?


  • How long is the flight for attendees? Will our client's party arrive refreshed?
  • Are immunizations required in advance for the destination?
  • Are we prepared to travel on military time/24-hour clocks?
  • Are we planning to carry important computer equipment, event plans, schedules and production details with us when we board airplanes, rather than checking them?
  • How easy is it for our client's party to get to the location?


  • Is there an import tax in the country we are entering?
  • Is there an artist tax on entertainment that must be paid before entering the country?
  • Is the venue in a country where we need to budget and prepare for value-added tax (VAT)?
  • Do we need to hire a VAT specialist to help reclaim certain taxes?


  • Did we select a reputable experienced freight/brokerage firm for shipping?
  • Should we consolidate supplies in one warehouse to ship at the same time?
  • Do we have a contingency plan if props/supplies arrive damaged?
  • Do we have a supplier on hand to fix any damage at the site?
  • Is it cheaper to give away a set or props than to ship them back?


  • Does the entertainment fit with the audience culture?
  • Did we pay proper music or entertainment union fees?
  • Did we add a clause to our entertainers' contracts in order to prohibit dangerous sports/activities before the performance?
  • Do our entertainers speak the language?
  • Do we have access to contingency/replacement entertainment if we need it?


  • What insurance does the venue require?
  • Does medical insurance cover us in this country? Do we have access to health care?
  • Do we have to buy insurance in the country in which we are working?
  • Do we have an emergency medical plan and forms filled out on all staff?
  • Does our liability insurance cover our company, staff and client in the city?
  • Did we notify our broker/carrier that we are working in another country?
  • Is repatriation covered?
  • Did we offer the client cancellation insurance?
  • Did we offer the client terrorism insurance?


  • Would we benefit from using a destination management company (DMC)?
  • Did we consider a local vendor partner in the destination area?
  • Did we contact trade association (e.g., ISES and MPI) members in those countries for recommended vendors/venue information?

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