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by Padraic Gilligan, VP, Ovation Global DMC and VP, Industry Relations, MCI

How do you create demand?

Previously on this blog I’ve stated that you need to know weird and wonderful people to be truly successful as a destination management company. DMC legends like Laurie Sprouse in Dallas/Fort Worth or Patrick Sullivan in NYC are inextricably linked to the frame and fabric of their destination through an eclectic network of contacts. They leverage this network to provide exceptional service and extraordinary experiences for their clients. But that’s on the operations / delivery level when you’ve already awarded the business to them. How do good destination management companies create demand for their services? How do they market themselves so as to create awareness of their difference, their uniqueness, that elusive “je ne sais quoi” that separates them from the competition?

Enter Ovation Bear

This is the challenge that faced us 5 years ago when we began the process of transitioning from a single destination DMC (Ovation Ireland) to a multi-destination, global entity, Ovation Global DMC. Most DMC’s pivot their marketing outreach and activity around their destination and build brand personality by piggy-backing on the assets and attributes of the physical location in which they’re based. But when you have a rapidly growing network of hugely diverse and divergent destinations – from world cities such as Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Berlin to havens and hideaways like Sabi Sabi, Sarawak and Sri Lanka – you cannot do this so easily. And we wanted something that would work globally as an objective correlative of the very essence of the Ovation brand; something tangible, tactile, three dimensional. Enter Ovation Bear.

The Bear Parade

We auditioned many teddys over quite a lengthy period of time but, like Bono before us, still couldn’t find what we were looking for. We’d like the feel of one bear but not the face; we’d like the goofiness of another bear but the feel would be wrong. As a corporate entity Ovation had evolved from two contrasting yet complementary leaders – both Patrick and Pádraic (that’s me!) are pathologically unhinged but one is intuitive while the other is logical – and we wanted our bear to encapsulate that duality too. He also needed to incorporate the physiognomy of his parent company, MCI, and to convey the dynamic service ethos that is the very DNA of good destination management. In the end we made him ourselves taking all the bits we liked from the scores of bears whom we paraded before us.

The Black and the Pink

So Ovation Bear is schizophrenic, a true Gemini with two personalities. He’s black for background, back office, back of house, back stage – the organisational, logistical dimension to destination management. He’s pink for profile, projection, punchiness, prominence – the creative, high energy side to destination management. He’s black and pink too because these are the pantones of his parent company, MCI. He’s also restless, dynamic, ever-changing and, like all great destination management companies, can turn himself inside out to “make it happen”. He has been the unofficial spokesperson for the Ovation brand for 4 years now and has taken to social media like a baby to a breast with his own Facebook and Twitter accounts. He had a Linkedin account too but that was closed down by the nice people at Linkedin because Ovation Bear, apparently, is not a real person (have those geeks at Linkedin not read The Velveteen Rabbit, for God’s sake?)

Cub Club

Ovation Bear is CEO of a very prestigious and elite organisation called the Ovation Cub Club. Membership of the Cub Club is strictly by invitation only and involves a very formal process during which initiates are inducted into the deep symbolism of the Bear and presented with their very own bear whom they are obliged to name. All members are listed in the vellum bound book that remains at Bear HQ in Dublin. Ovation Bear is an Award Winning bear too thanks to a great campaign dreamed up by Doris and Ian, the marketing magicians at Ovation. You can read the story of how he scooped the prestigious MIMA Award at last year’s ceremony in London on


Ovation Bear also presides over the Huggability Award. Now in its 4th year this is a fun, informal award that is just an excuse to hug someone and congratulate them for a great achievement in their life or for simply being a lovable pain in the ass! It’s perfectly aligned with the touchy-feely personality of Ovation Bear and the company he represents. Winners to date are Rob Davidson, Senior lecturer in Business Travel and Tourism at the University of Westminster in London; Barbara Albrecht, Managing Director of the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau (SCIB); Samme Allen, Head of Sales, Business Events at the Barbican Centre London and President of MPI’s UK & Ireland Chapter. All pezzi grossi as the Italians might say.

IMEX America 2012 – Huggability 2012

Ovation Bear has just published the shortlist of nominations for the 2012 award which will be made at IMEX America in Las Vegas on Tuesday, 9 October. Over a thousand nominations were received from all over the meetings and events industry and this is the shortlist:

1. Bobbi Landreth, Manager, Sales Planning FedEx Corporation

2. Eduardo Chaillo, Executive Director of Meetings, Mexico Tourism Board

3. Faye Bennett, Sales Manager, IMEX Group

4. Jeff Hurt, Executive Vice President, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

5. Kathy Roche, Manager, Meeting & Convention Planning, Western & Southern Life

6. Riccardo Pizzuti, Event Manager, ega professional conference organisers, Italy

7. Rick Lambert, President, Destinations Inc, USA

8. Sharon Chapman, CMP, CMM, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America

9. Sue Pelletier, Editor/ Blogger, Penton Media

10. Thayer Phillips, Director of Transportation, Capitol Services Inc (CSI)

All nominees will be inducted into the Cub Club but only one will be selected as the 2012 winner.

Padraic Gilligan is VP of Ovation Global DMC and VP of Industry Relations at MCI. He can be contacted at [email protected], on Twitter @padraicino and on this blog at




3 thoughts on “Building a Brand with Teddy Bears and Hugs: the Ovation Story

  1. I’m so honored to make the shortlist! Though I have to admit that Jeff Hurt is awfully huggable…nice to be in such good company.

  2. Martin Lewis says:

    I think this is an outstanding example of how marketing needs a ‘story’ in order to engage with an audience and the power of it. This is a simple truth that most people – most marketeers included – do not comprehend. The primary message in this case was never a sales pitch for Ovation – it was always about bears and hugs. The secondary messages (and the subconscious messages) were about the warmth, friendliness and thus the great service included within the brand image. By ignoring the boring and much harder sales messages of product and price, Ovation has persuaded the market that it offers a tactile, customer-friendly solution. And Ovation it did it with a great ‘story’. That’s why they won our Meetings Industry Marketing Award.

  3. aoife says:

    really enjoyed this article, some valuable tips for other companies for their marketing for the future too!

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