Amway China – the Asian Insight
Working within Asia and Australia, we’ve become well aware of the strategic and tactical differences in western and eastern event styles from an event company perspective, but what about from the corporate client perspective? We were curious to discover what desirable vendor attributes and event experiences an Asian-based client commissioning events globally valued most.
With that I took the opportunity to sit down in Hong Kong recently for a coffee and a chat with a long standing friend and business associate – Bert Li from Amway.
Bert has for the past decade plus been charged with the responsibility of delivering a series of annual events throughout the world, many of considerable scale, on behalf of Amway Greater China.
In doing so Bert occupies a unique position in being able to comment directly on the experience of engaging and working with a variety of diverse event company partners, large scale and boutique, not only in Europe and North America, but also with companies like ourselves operating within Australia and Asia.
Are there any significant differences in the working style from region to region?
In a word – yes. According to Bert, he has found that event companies stationed within Asia are more flexible in their overall approach. They display a greater willingness to accommodate his organisation’s very specific needs and have a greater appreciation for his guest’s expectations.
On the other hand, he found that working, for example, in the United States and in many parts of Europe, that it was more a case of an ‘Our Way or No Way’ position being adopted.
Many seemingly creative event outfits were often hamstrung by their own process ‘sophistication’ rather than being focused on being more client-centric showmen. This was often further compounded by their lack of knowledge discovery and empathy for the host organisation’s culture and event legacy. Not surprisingly, many proverbial wheels have had to be reinvented over time.
Bert was quick to add however, that despite Asians being more accommodating with their working style, they still functioned with a different set of standards which often translates into an inconsistency in terms of delivering fully on their service promise. He nominated China as being particularly challenging, Thailand and Malaysia as being challenging, and Hong Kong and Singapore as being less so. He conceded that this was not as big an issue within western businesses.
By way of an example, Bert shared with me an occasion where a number of high-end projectors were ordered for an event in Southeast Asia. Technically they had the capacity to be very bright as promised, however no allowance had been made for the actual age of the bulbs inside. Turns out the projectors were not so bright at all but the vendor felt they had delivered, technically, on what was promised. It is often said that it’s the devil in the detail and this is certainly the case in some parts of Asia depending on your vendor.
I asked Bert for his take on events within Australia. Bert describes Australia in pre-and post-Olympic terms. He believes that the games contributed to the local event industry adopting a more mature international outlook.
In doing so this event helped transform Australia into a nation open to adopting an attractive blend of Western and Eastern practices that makes it well suited to Amway Greater China.
This led me to ask – so what makes a good vendor for Asian events?
This is difficult to determine but Bert lists three personal must-have points – the person, the culture, the creative.
Bert places a huge amount of stock in the creativity and energy of individual event personalities, their ability and leadership, and their collegiate manner.
The event lead needs to be someone who is easy to work with, brings value and expertise to the table, and proves to be a quick good fit with Bert and his team.
Ultimately Bert and his vendor need to share, as Bert puts it – a ‘You Die I Die’ shared outlook on the event outcome.
Naturally the event company needs to demonstrate its capacity to deliver on what are at times very complex events. Just as importantly, it needs to also be seen to inhabit a real creative culture that is passionate and energised about designing and delivering a uniquely memorable event. This is no small challenge when one also has to allow for and overcome the massive creative legacy of guest experiences already in place from previous events and the competitive nature these sort of big scale events attracts.
Bert tells me that as part of his duty of care, he often counsels his fellow colleagues sitting on the tender selection panels not to be taken in by too much overt displays of creativity. He cites extensive animated 3D rendering as an example – pretty but often without substance. Instead he advocates concentrating on what the key creative thread running through the entire event concept actually is and how this will translate into achieving their primary goal.
That goal is to generate unique and enduring Amway event memories. Ensuring guests feel valued and have enjoyed a unique event memory that will excite and “incent” them along with their colleagues, friends and family into the future.
This sits at the heart of any good event and we agreed that the keys to a successful Asian event rest with an acknowledgement of audience identity and the application of considerable showcraft expertise.
An Amway guest list is drawn from across all the provinces of China. There is a huge degree of diversity at play in terms of language, cultural and social mores. So it comes as no real surprise then that Amway events pragmatically place a huge amount of importance on the creation of a compelling and visually rich event environment above anything else.
This then translates into a programme featuring the universal appeal of music and dance. The creative also tends to favour audience favourites such as special effects, including pyrotechnics and stage mechanics, as well as innovatively embracing new show technology applications.
In terms of identity, guests do not travel from Asia with the expectation that they will then engage in what is for all practical terms a common Asian event experience. They don’t want same same, they want different. An example of this, and a common mistake made by event companies catering to Asian guests, is to try to emulate a Cirque du Soleil styled event programme which would normally go over very well with a western audience. It’s just not that effective in the east.
Incredible costumed performances with awe-inspiring feats of strength, acrobatics, and aerial skills are… well commonplace and just not as special within Asia. If you manage to secure the opportunity to attend either the Red Theatre’s Kung Fu show or the Tiandi Acrobatic show – both in Beijing, you’ll never look at Cirque the same way again. Better to remain true to the event hosts’ cultural strengths where possible.
Identity however, can be utilised well with some tweaking. Bert tells of the time he staged an event in Austria that featured a massive temporary ice rink featuring a Chinese national skater. One of the other highlights of the show was a performance by the world famous Vienna Boy’s Choir. By all accounts they were sensational but unfortunately the Chinese audience was left feeling indifferent. There was no cultural reference and it apparently lacked showcraft in terms of how they were presented – which was simply so as not to detract from the voice.
Bert returned to the choir concept in Melbourne.
This time around however, a new choir was assembled and featured two important additions. The application of identity and showcraft.
To the delight of the audience, the choir were schooled in a number of Mandarin language songs and importantly the performance was also given a stronger showcraft treatment – cascades of dry ice fog and an artful lighting design. Not surprisingly, the reception second time around was hugely positive from the audience.
This checklist of the person, the culture, the creative makes good sense to me and could or should be applied to most client-vendor partnerships within the Asia Pacific.
The other key learning take-away from our catch-up was to never underestimate the importance of cultural identity and to never forget that an event is all about business theatre. These two factors were certainly in place when Bert and I first met. He engaged me to produce Australia’s largest inbound corporate event series on his behalf.
This memorable event featured iconic Sydney event sites where we entertained and mesmerised over 13,500 guests. This event has since served as a quality benchmark for both our organisations. Since then Bert has revisited Australia with smaller events on the Gold Coast, Melbourne and a return visit to Sydney is currently being mapped out and planned for. Knowing Bert and his team, I have no doubt it will be another amazing event that innovates and motivates and will, without question, require Bert and I to share another Causeway Bay coffee together into the future.
Darren Kerr is a partner and producer at FACTOR168 Creative Event Company. He has been delivering creative, strategic, and tactical event services throughout Asia and across Australia for almost two decades for clients as diverse as Amway, Westfields, NCR, The Walt Disney Company, EMC Corporation, Swire, and Oracle.
For the published version in the September issue of Micenet Asia – please click here.
Editors Note: Micenet have archived this Magazine issue so the links in this piece are no longer live. Sorry gang.
FACTOR168 Creative Event Company delivers creative, strategic, and tactical event management services throughout Australia and across Asia.
Sensational Events through Powerful Experiences – www.factor168.com