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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 17.02.45A recent survey of meeting planners by Development Counsellors International (DCI) on destination selection highlights some very interesting trends. Somewhat counter-intuitively, social media is regarded as unimportant while email is ranked as the favoured  channel for communication. Of interest in the context of this post, however, are the 90% of respondents who regard familiarisation trips as highly influential in destination selection,  the popularity of the Dublin Convention Bureau and the prominence of Dublin amongst favoured international destinations – it’s listed up there with London, Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam.

Last week @supergreybeard and I were privileged to be part of an extraordinarily successful destination promotion undertaken in Ireland by a coalition of public and private partners. While our role was essentially peripheral – we acted as Ant-&-Dec-style MCs at two of the evening functions – this objective standpoint provided us with the opportunity to stand back and evaluate how and why the whole thing worked. Here are the four pillars upon which #MeetinIreland2015 achieved its outstanding success.

Meticulous Planning

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 17.03.58#MeetinIreland2015 was, essentially, a workshop and “super fam” targeting 100 qualified corporate, association and agency MICE professionals from Ireland’s key and emerging source markets: UK, North America, France, Benelux, Germany, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, India. The source market offices of Tourism Ireland, the agency responsible for marketing the island of Ireland, co-ordinated the invitation lists with input from all stakeholders thus ensuring that the right people were on board.

13 dedicated DMCs, all members of the Incoming Tour Operators’ Association (ITOA), “powered” the event, lending their experience and expertise both in relation to the overall programme design and its actual implementation. This meant that all key elements in the programme from practical logistics to creative vision were given that essential “DMC” touch guaranteeing an out-of-the-ordinary experience, certain to surprise and delight attendees.

The DMCs were assisted by team building, entertainment and production agencies bringing specialist expertise to the event and delivering world class levels of service. Fáilte Ireland, the state agency responsible for the MICE sector, provided no fewer than 24 staff to work across the event both before and during its operation. Overall this was a perfect example of “planning the work then working the plan” with the entire team pulling together seamlessly like Disney cast members, all aware of their roles and responsibilities.

Clever Branding

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 17.04.54With so many public and private entities involved in and contributing to the operation of #MeetinIreland2015, there could easily have been an embarrassing gauntlet of pull-up banners at each and every function for bewildered attendees to have to pass through.

Instead the whole event was operated simply as Team Ireland | #MeetinIreland2015 with lots of wonderful, clever branding in evidence from the eminently practical and eventually ubiquitous green rain jackets (where are our ones, Jenny?) to the beautifully presented name badges that included all contact details for the entire Team Ireland crew. Dublin Convention Bureau’s excellent Dublin Delegate Map was re-purposed and re-dressed for the event to include the event itinerary and the Social Media hashtags.

Naturally the branding was carried over to the social functions too with effective use of gobos and lighting at the Workshop and at both functions in Dublin along with attractive souvenir-style printed menu cards at the Gala. This approach ensured the destination was always front and centre in the minds of attendees and avoided unnecessarily confusing them by over-emphasising the separate graphic identities of each of the stakeholders.

Exceptional Execution

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 17.04.41#MeetinIreland2015 was executed exceptionally with Ireland’s DMC community involved significantly in both the overall creative design of the event as well as its actual live implementation. Working with event producers Susie Sheil for the opening night at the Powerscourt Townhouse and with John Brady for the Gala Dinner at Christchurch Cathedral, spectacular event experiences were delivered on both nights, moving many attendees and, indeed, members of the Team Ireland crew, to tears!

At Powerscourt Townhouse, a magnificent historical venue dating from 1771, Susie Sheil presented a refreshing contemporary take on Ireland’s robust traditions in music, song and dance. Using the height and scale of the venue, Susie delivered both drama and intimacy in a 20 minute show that included traditional bodhrán playing, sung ballads and heart stopping, foot stomping hard shoe dancing. This was a fitting aperitif  both to the dinner parties that followed it and to the entire #MeetinIreland2015 event.

At Christchurch Cathedral John Brady staged an unforgettable post-dinner show that fused sacred and profane, old and new, traditional and contemporary, sending attendees back to the comfortable cocoon of their hotel guest rooms or, indeed,  onwards to the nocturnal delights of Café en Seine with glowing hearts and soaring souls. First Choristers processed through the nave of the Cathedral intoning mediaeval cantus planus or plainchant, their stirring performance ending with a glorious rendition of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Then Afiniti, a trio of voice, violin and harp, astonished attendees with re-purposed versions of well known tunes including stunning finale of Katy Perry’s Fireworks during which the Choir joined the trio and the production crew provided amazing projections and mapping.

Public | Private Collaboration

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 17.05.27The indispensable, sine qua non success factor of #MeetinIreland2015 was, however, the unprecedented levels of collaboration between the public and private sectors with both sides working together seamlessly in support of a common goal. In our work around the world with destinations @supergreybeard and I have come to expect varying degrees of difficulty and dysfunctionality in this important relationship. It’s rarely a question of whether the relationship is dysfunctional and more a question of degree, that is, how dysfunctional is it?

For #MeetinIreland2015 the various government agencies and the  MICE corporate spectrum laid aside whatever normally causes division, disunity and disharmony between them and worked to a common vision. That doesn’t mean it was all plain sailing. Of course there were issues and problems along the way. This time, however, the issues and the problems were cast to one side in order to deliver a unique, extraordinary destination experience to the 100+ attendees. Feedback from the event from an attendee perspective has been phenomenal with many highly experienced MICE professionals declaring it to be the best fam they have ever attended. But this is no fluke or accident. When planning, marketing, execution and, most importantly, collaboration collide, success is the natural by-product.

Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney run SoolNua, a boutique consultancy working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training.



One thought on “How to run a brilliant fam trip – lessons from Ireland

  1. Paddy says:

    Primary task is to identify the objective of the event – ” showcase Ireland”then who will do this – great team work private and public participation – then deliverance meticulous planning. suppose all was achieved…..Thanks for sharing ….

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