Q&A: Working in New Zealand’s Major Events Industry

Two leading figures in New Zealand’s major events industry – Verve Consulting’s Terri van Schooten (TvS) and Mayo & Co’s Tom Mayo (TM) talk to MEI’s editorial director Rachael Church-Sanders about how they ended up in this industry and what the opportunities are in the growing marketplace.

Please explain what your company does and who you work for/have worked for?

(TvS) “Verve is a leading New Zealand event management agency. We produce bespoke events that get results - public or private, business or pleasure, large or small. We have been involved in setting the template for many iconic events including New Zealand’s Lord of the Rings premieres. Our clients range from City Councils to major corporates. Verve’s current portfolio includes a number of corporate experiential initiatives including highly successful driver fatigue roadside stops for an insurance company.”

(TM) “My company organises major events in New Zealand but our demand at present is with guiding and supporting event companies overseas in the 'money' hunt. New Zealand has incredibly small sponsorship budgets and a relatively small population so New Zealand has always had to be very creative when trying to raise capital and attract spectators. Our major events here will have 10 or 12 different business models operating at the same time to raise funds. We currently look after the Volvo Ocean Race Auckland Stopover and we own a variety of other event related businesses - last month for example we opened Auckland's first pop up restaurant called the Hamptons, a 300msq white picket fence house temporarily constructed in the heart of the CBD - it is due to head to San Francisco later this year. Previously I was the CEO of the World Rowing Championships in 2010 and prior to that COO of Triathlon New Zealand.”

How did you personally end up in this industry?

(TvS) “I set up Verve with a business partner in 1999. I came from a background of corporate and business management with my last role managing a team delivering 100 corporate meetings a year. My business partner had extensive experience in large scale public events and festivals. Together we set up an agency that manages all types of events from corporate retreats for 50 to public events for 100,000+. I bought my business partner out in 2003 and have managed Verve with my great team since then.”

(TM) “I ended up in New Zealand because the lifestyle is fantastic and I am about to marry a Kiwi! I used to be a middle distance athlete competing for Great Britain and in 2004 I realised that I needed to start building a career as running around in circles was not going to pay the bills for the rest of my life. I had always travelled to New Zealand and had some colleagues here and after a few months of holiday started up a sports magazine. The magazine was aimed at all the Olympic Sports in New Zealand and became the New Zealand OC official sports magazine quickly thereafter. One year later I was approached by the then CEO of Triathlon New Zealand to help the federation build on the Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty era of success. (Gold and Silver Medal Athens 2004 Triathlon). At that stage they were an office of three staff without any commercial assets. We built the country’s first ever national triathlon series and brought an ITU World Cup to New Zealand. The race series and ITU World Series still run to this day. The sport became commercialised for the first time ever and is now a flag ship sport here. It was interesting to watch British athletics in the Coe and Ovett era and despite their popularity the national athletic federation was not necessarily better off. I realised that when Triathlon New Zealand was blessed with similar talent the national federation had to own its channels to market in order to survive and the income has ultimately helped support the sport for the future.”

What are the qualities needed to have a successful career in event management?

(TvS) “Event management is an industry which requires passion and persistence; it isn’t something one does nine to five or as a ‘day job’. Events are one of the few projects where the goal posts can’t be shifted so problem solving, working under pressure and thinking outside the box (clichéd as they are) are all qualities one needs.”

(TM) “Sales, brand experience, patience and a good sense of humour!”

Is event management a thriving industry in New Zealand? Is there enough work for companies such as yours and who would you say your main domestic competitors are?

(TvS) “New Zealand is a small economy and therefore it will always be a small industry (comparative to the USA). We have been somewhat cushioned from the full effects of the global financial crisis but it has still made an impact in areas such as events which are seen as ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity. Verve manages the impact of the global financial crisis by concentrating on continuing to deliver outstanding event solutions to our clients rather than chasing new clients and projects. Currently our portfolio is increasing and we see a bright future. Because we manage such a large range of events we have different competitors for different projects.”

(TM) “Survival of the fittest! The industry is relatively small here and we all push each other to deliver better events. The industry is ever changing so it is hard to pin point a competitor, the competition really is for the discretionary dollar from the public.”

Are there opportunities for overseas companies to find event management work in New Zealand?

(TvS) “There are always opportunities – but as the market is small we would like to think that domestic companies will be the ones working on major projects.”

(TM) “There are opportunities and whilst it might sound like I am putting them off, people have to realise that New Zealand has the same number of radio stations and magazines as there are in the UK with 1/20th of the population. The fight here to find a dollar is tough but I think it equips you much better to head back to other countries.”

If so, what hurdles if any would they need to overcome? How should they best source business in this industry?

(TvS) “Anyone working in a new market needs to overcome the issue of local knowledge and the ability to gain local credibility. The best option, in my view, would be to acquire or merge with a local operator who is working in their field of expertise.”

(TM) “I think they should expect to take part in a wider variety of jobs than in other countries, everyone has to roll their sleeves up here to put an event on. For someone coming to New Zealand - register and look through the New ZealandAEP - New Zealand Association of Event Professionals. The New ZealandAEP has a great events newsletter, jobs, roles and events coming up. We have just had an influx of British ex London 2012 people coming here for the lifestyle.”

Do you feel that hosting the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup has provided a boost to the event management industry in New Zealand?

(TvS) “The RWC definitely left an event management legacy for New Zealand. Producing an event on the scale of RWC and ensuring that New Zealand gained the benefit from the investment was the focus for the New Zealand RWC management. As far as skills go, many people gained experience at an international level giving the industry a greater pool of talent to draw from. We also increased our volunteer numbers exposing many to the event experience meaning they will become available for domestic events.”

(TM) “Absolutely it has been fantastic for all event managers who were involved. It broadened the talent pool and introduced lots of new ideas and raised the professionalism of not only event managers but also event contractors. I hope it has shown the world that New Zealand can deliver an event to such a high level in a unique and creative way.”

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