Hue Robertson

Operating overseas and the value of local knowledge from an event delivery perspective

By Robert Price, Group Production Director, RPM

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For a sustained period RPM has enjoyed significant growth in its global operations offering and we have consulted on and/or delivered a broad range of activations outside the UK from the US to Russia and more recently across a range of African markets, each market of course presenting it’s own fresh challenges.

An industry conference I attended recently held an open forum to discus the topic of ‘the Challenges of operating overseas’. The session started well, all 3 panellists laying down their CSR cards early on and emphasising the importance of doing their bit for the local economy. After some light interrogation from the audience however, it seems that truth behind their overseas operations was quite different and summed up perfectly by one panellists closing statement ’Suppliers in local markets tend not be that reliable, so we ship everything in when we operate overseas, from senior management staff and operating procedures, to crew and physical assets. Basically, be as self contained as possible’.

Agencies should not muscle their way into a new market place with their tried and trusted best practices and assume the same game rules will apply as in the UK. Delivering an overseas event independently without the support and consultancy of a local agent/agency is a needless risk and can leave you exposed, particularly in frontier markets. Partnering with a local agency or integrating an experienced local fixer into your project team from the outset will allow you to identify the challenges and hurdles that lie ahead and will enable you to prepare for them. A local partner agency/fixer will help open doors to a whole new network of local suppliers, contractors and event services.

It’s not imperative to be part of a global business network to connect with and recruit a suitable partner agency/fixer. When taking on a project in an unfamiliar market place try and pay a visit at the earliest opportunity and arrange to meet with as many potential partners/fixers as possible, ideally at their work place. It will give you an idea of the scale of their operation and how well established they are. There’s nothing more encouraging than seeing first hand a work place buzzing with action, employees behind desks, items being manufactured etc. Don’t base your decisions to partner with anyone on creds alone.

With the right agency/fixer on board, there’s no reason why you can’t then start tapping into their own network of suppliers. Use the contacts introduced to you by your agency/fixer as a platform to sound out the capabilities and quality, find out who their competitors are and engage with them simultaneously to establish who really is best in class and fills you with the most confidence.

RPM have recently conceived a project for a global sports brand which will involve a 3hr live broadcast from a venue in Berlin that will also host 3000 live spectators. Confident in our approach to operating overseas and the partnerships we had forged locally, we will deliver the event with a skeleton management team operating from our London based HQ who’ll collaborate with local partners and suppliers to help facilitate our requirements on the ground. Our only imports will be our laptops and a small box of Yorkshire Tea.

Other Tips and Watch Outs when operating over sees and in frontier markets:

  • Depending on your campaign duration, consider locking down a currency exchange rate with your client and suppliers from the outset, particularly if you’re paid in £’s yet spending in a 3rd currency. Fluctuations in currency valuations need to be factored into all budgets.
  • Due diligence around local laws and regulations is essential – never assume that the rules in a foreign territory will be the same as within the UK or indeed even foreseeable or reasonable by UK standards.
  • Be aware that many insurance policies providing international operators with ‘worldwide’ cover have exceptions for certain countries.
  • Local H&S standards may be lower than in the UK – don’t jeopardise the reputation of your agency or your client by falling below the standard expected in the UK. The local social and physical environment may require special attention beyond official regulations.
  • Taxation regulations can vary even between regions/states within the same country, and all tax implications must be understood in order to avoid unexpected liabilities that could impact budgets, or in the worst case even lead to the risk of prosecution for violation.
  • In some cases it is worth exploring whether it is beneficial (and feasible) to operate out of a locally registered company.
  • Timings – we tend to work at a more intense pace in the UK than most other markets. Your project timing plan should compensate for slower response times, especially for the red tape items.
  • Security – Contract a specialist to carry out a comprehensive assessment of all risks associated to your company’s operations in each market. This should not be limited to a security review for your event itself, but should cover you and your teams operations while on the ground for the duration of campaign planning in each specific market, and your operational procedures as a whole.