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LONDON-BASED event producer Imagination Group — with clients including Ford Motor Co., Time Warner and Lloyds — took a big step last year: It received its certification from the International Organization for Standardization. ISO is a body that guides businesses in more than 125 countries in developing quality-control programs. The goal is to ensure that a company consistently and verifiably delivers what its customers want. Here, Richard Foulkes, Imagination Group's director of special events and productions, and Mark Hider, CEO of the company's American arm in New York, discuss why ISO certification will grow in importance for event producers.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What prompted Imagination to initiate the ISO certification process?

MARK HIDER: First of all, we wanted to improve our own operational efficiency. One of the things that ISO enables you to do is to look at how you are operating in reality. It's been very valuable in identifying areas in which, perhaps, we weren't as effective and efficient as we thought we were. Second, some major clients have started to take quality very seriously as part of the way they present themselves. They then look at their supplier base to see if it is consistent with their policies and practices. About 60 percent to 70 percent of RFIs [Requests for Information] and RFPs have quality-assurance sections. We wanted to get ahead of the game and differentiate ourselves.

Q: What was the cost — in time, money and manpower — of certification to Imagination?

RICHARD FOULKES: We had one person full-time doing this for a year because of the size of the company — we have more than 400 people across five countries. In hard cash, we've spent several hundred thousand dollars, because you have to have consultants, and the actual certification process has a charge. The significant cost, though, is not the hard cost; it's more the amount of management time. And it's not middle management; it's board-level representation. But we believe that the cost-savings we have already made by making ourselves more efficient have been beneficial. And more fundamentally, we believe that because of the way the markets are changing, the cost of not doing it would be greater.

Q: Could you give an example of how Imagination handles some aspect of an event differently since you've gone through certification?

MH: One of the things that this encourages you to do is to become even more diligent at making sure you understand what the client's needs and wants are, and that those needs and wants are more proactively circulated amongst the team members, which I think is a major benefit.

RF: What we discovered is that in any company, there is always somebody who always gets it right. You actually work though all this and find the best ways of doing things. You're drawing on all the wisdom inherent in the company. Everyone shares the benefit of everyone else's knowledge.

MH: You're getting the consistent best practices shared across the company, but you're doing it continuously. What's been interesting is that after getting to grips with what the requirements of ISO are, a lot of people have come to me and said it's actually made their jobs easier, because they have a much clearer idea of what their options are at any one time.

Q: It appears that having the system in place could reduce the potential for errors.

RF: Inevitably, every company, no matter how good it is, will make mistakes. But [with the ISO process], you hit it quicker, and you hit it at the right time. You don't realize that the room is too big only when you're going to build the set. You realize it when you're at Stage 1, when you're specifying what the room should be.

MH: As a diagnostic and a corrective tool, it's much more powerful than just saying at the end of a project, “We went wrong somewhere, but we don't know where.”

RF: The whole concept of [the] ISO [process] is that you focus on the customer, you try to satisfy them, and if you don't in any regard, you go back and look at your systems. And you are constantly doing that.

Imagination Group can be reached at +44 20 7323 3300;

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