In this podcast, Michael McKay talks with renowned global events producer Richard Attias.Richard is the founder and former CEO of Publicis Events Worldwide and Publicis Live, a former Executive Producer of the Davos World Economic Forum, and the founder and current chairman of Richard Attias and Associates (RA & A).
Having built a company that has gained global acclaim in the services sector, Mr Attias has a wealth of rich insights to share with us today on how to grow a career or brand in the hospitality and events industry.
Richard Attias has achieved extraordinary success in his lifetime. Through his firm and other organizations, Richard strives to inspire, lead, and act on initiatives that drive impact by igniting conversations that lead to change. It's not easy to build such a powerful brand that helps realize the visions of governments, corporations, and civil society.
Richard shares his ideas on what it takes to succeed in the extremely challenging services sector.
The services sector is incredibly large and diverse. Many brands do a bit of everything, ranging from restaurants and bars to lodging, tourism, event planning, and recreation. It's important to understand the underlying goal in all these segments that truly satisfies client needs.
Richard says that he was able to understand from early on that he wanted to help brands build their influence. He identified trends in the hospitality industry and realized that communication would shape the future of the industry, and that's what enabled him to build such a powerful brand in a niche market.
He gives the example of a school like EHL whose goals are to attract students, build a strong reputation among corporations to get those students hired and satisfy stakeholders while building a strong influence in that ecosystem.
All these stakeholders need to communicate and stay in touch, and this need applies to major brands such as governments and international corporations. They all need to have tangible cross-platform communication and marketing activation plans.
It's no longer enough to connect through professional societies. Instead, Richard says, brands should build platforms such as national conferences where representatives can share ideas and find solutions to common problems.
This has become easier today with the availability of virtual and hybrid platforms. For brands to achieve effective communication and marketing across all these platforms, they need to define a communications strategy as well as goals, main objectives, and outcomes. From there, brands can partner with experts like RA&A to build those platforms.
The word "ecosystems" has become very popular lately, but what exactly does it mean in the hospitality industry? Richard thinks it revolves around people. He's been very passionate about empowering people throughout his career and getting them to work together to solve problems.
There is not a single issue in the world which (sic) cannot be solved with dialogue. This is why we're talking about communication." - Richard Attias
In this spirit, Richard says that his first step when working with corporations is to get them to open dialogue with employees, such as through conferences.
For example, an automobile production brand might hold a sales conference for its sales team, everyone from the sales president to the dealers. The company would use this event to help sales agents understand the product they're selling and convince them that their cars are the best in the industry. That way, the sales agents will also effectively convince customers to buy the car.
The same logic applies to a tourist destination trying to boost bookings. It would need to talk to travel agents and convince them they're the place to be.
There are numerous success stories of this strategy. Many countries that were unheard of 20 years ago are now top destinations, such as Morocco and Saudi Arabia. These countries organized events within and outside their borders to explain who they are, what they do, and why tourists should consider them.
In the same way, corporations need to open sustainable dialogue channels with employees and other stakeholders. People are the common factor in any organization, and that's how you build a strong ecosystem that spurs growth for all stakeholders.
After Richard graduated from university, he first worked as a sales engineer for IBM France. He says that he moved from the IT industry when he realized how communication would become more important as technology evolved.
Rapid growth was being made in telecommunications that transformed the world into a small and borderless planet in the sense that suddenly people could talk and interact without regard to geography. Suddenly, you could organize events and conferences all over the world, sometimes at the same time.
Even before COVID-19, technology was a vital part of the industry. We all knew that hospitality hybrid long before the pandemic, but technology accelerated growth and change over a span of two decades.
For example, EHL exists to teach hospitality management to world-class standards, of which a core part is promoting hospitality brands. How can you promote a hotel, restaurant, destination, or conference center without access to the media, social media, and influencers? Modern platforms have made it easy and affordable to market brands on a global scale.
This kind of change led to massive disruption in the industry. It was once unthinkable to hold a conference in Namibia, for example. Thanks to technology, Richard and his team realized that Namibia isn't just a country in the middle of nowhere, but they in fact had the infrastructure and talent required to host global events.
Twenty years ago, Namibia had world-class conference centers and major players in the events industry that allowed it to host its first-ever global business conference, which was a huge success.
Today, countries like South Africa and Dubai are prime locations for global conferences. How do you navigate the wildly different geographical and cultural factors in such locations? Richard thinks it's easier with technology.
"The whole world today is almost at the same level of facilities and infrastructure … If you want to organize an event in South Africa, you will find exactly almost the same level of facilities that you can find in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Lima, Montreal, Toronto, Dakar, Marrakech, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Vietnam, and multiple cities in China." - Richard Attias
The main difference is the level of hosting experience that you will find in the workforce. Some emerging markets lack the experience that major destinations have built over the years.
A city like Dubai has been hosting many important events over the years and has perfected its experience in terms of food, equipment, infrastructure, and talent. The same applies to South Africa, which has previously hosted the World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, a G20 Summit, and multiple international events that helped them learn a lot and mature in the process.
On the other hand, some countries like Senegal have recently built amazing conference centers, but they lack experience. They need more time before they can host large international events successfully.
Richard adds that education is key in leveling the playing ground. In particular, highly educated young people are helping to break down cultural differences and create a truly global world and open up new opportunities for the hospitality and events hosting industry.
Richard's advice to young people just entering the industry is to be audacious, courageous, and to think outside the box. He tells them to go outside their comfort zone and explore other countries, discover new ideas, and get rich experiences
Becoming global is about sharing with other cultures and finding new perspectives about the world and its people. When they go back to their home countries, these young people will bring back these rich experiences and ideas and help to transform the hospitality industry.