FOR COLJA DAMS, taking his German-based company's event expertise international means more than simply setting up satellite offices. There's also the matter of mind-set — a factor that he says often differs dramatically between, for example, European and American markets.
For starters, he explains, European clients are much more likely to approach companies like his own with a problem — sluggish sales, for instance, or a brand that isn't connecting with its target market — and ask the company to help solve it. “We might say the best thing to do is an event,” Dams says. Meanwhile, he notes, clients in the United States, where Vok Dams has been doing business since 2000, have traditionally started with an occasion in mind, and then turned to event companies to plan the party.
But a changing economic climate, both in the United States and abroad, has brought a growing change in the way American corporations approach their events. “American companies are starting to call and say, ‘This is what we think we should be doing. What do you think?’” he says. Capitalizing on his company's business and marketing know-how, rather than simply seeking out its event expertise, helps corporate clients ensure critical ROI and justify event expenditures, according to Dams.
Each new Vok Dams office must be justified by its local event market. “Every time we open a new office, we do it in a safe way — usually we have the clients first, who are paying us for helping them locally, then we open the office,” Dams says. From its original office in Wuppertal, opened by Dams' father in 1975, the firm expanded to Los Angeles in 2000, New York in 2001, and both Bordeaux, France, and a second German office, in Munich, last year.
In the case of the New York office, motivation came in the form of Vok Dams client Volkswagen, for which the company works on global campaigns including brand marketing of the Jetta. The model's sporty vibe and youth appeal in the United States have translated into booming business, but in Germany — where the Jetta has the reputation of being “the last car you'll buy, after you retire,” Dams says — sales are subject to slumps.
With such intriguing ongoing projects, continued expansion isn't out of the question for Dams' operation, which he describes as a “boutique company,” but one positioned to compete with global powerhouses the likes of George P. Johnson and Jack Morton Worldwide. For now, though, his focus is on Vok Dams' New York office, which got a boost from January's addition of new chief operating officer Ginger Kramer and vice president Tony Timms, both formerly with Classic World Events. “We are very, very excited about it,” Dams says.
Vok Dams USA 810 Seventh Ave., 26th Floor, New York, NY 10019; 212/824-5823; www.vokdams.com
IN THE KNOW
“The hardest part of the job is knowledge management. If I'm at The Special Event and I find a vendor that I think is special, how do I distribute that knowledge to my team? I might tell one person about it, and they'll say, ‘That's great, but for the moment I don't need it.’ How can they recall this information when they do need it, without one person micromanaging? So we're creating databases and organizational meetings every Monday, where project managers say what their projects are about so somebody else can say, ‘I can be of help here.’”
“One of our biggest goals of the last five years — and we're getting there — is that we want to become a magnet for good people who want to join our team and stick with our company. And, we want clients to be drawn to us, so that if there is a global project, they can't get around us. Not that they're forced to work with us, but they at least have to give us a call.”
“My father started this company 30 years ago. In 1998, I took over the presidency, but he is still my coach and mentor. We are family-owned and-operated, which is different from other large companies, and it brings business to a very personal level.”