The growing trend towards mega mergers brings with it a need to communicate the values and direction of the new organisation. The act of merger gives those companies a chance to take the best and discard the worst aspects of previous organisations. But unless this is effectively communicated to staff, the opportunity is lost.
This challenge was set recently for live communications specialists Caribiner, which had the task of handling PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) first major get-together since Price Waterhouse and Coopers Lybrand merged last year.
The objectives of the meeting were, according to Caribiner project director Rupert Evans: “To reinforce the new brand, to generate a common vision for the future and create integration awareness and a feeling of ‘one firm’ among its most senior members. This then had to cascade down the organisation using stimulating and powerful media across the world in the shortest possible time.
“One of the first challenges was to find a suitable venue; PwC was keen to use a venue that reflected its global outlook.
“America was out of the question because the organisation’s headquarters are there and it would have suggested a US operation with activities in other countries. This meant that Europe became the obvious choice being halfway between the US and Asia.
“This narrowed our choice because we had less than four months to plan the event. Given the number of delegates and breakout sessions required, there are few attractive locations in Europe able to handle such an event. Many were already booked, so the choice of the Palacio Municipal de Congresos in Madrid was made for us, to an extent.”
In many respects the pressure to produce a flawless event was greater than for other events that Caribiner has handled, because those attending were highly influential, successful and entrepreneurial partners. These people have a stake in the future of the organisation and it needed a strong justification to take them away from a demanding schedule.
Caribiner had the added pressure of having to deliver in two areas logistics and production.
The logistical side involved getting over 1,200 delegates from all over the world to Madrid, arranging their accommodation, food, transport to and from the venue, badging and attendance at break-out sessions. Also to provide IT support by installing 135 PCs with full e-mail facilities as well as secretarial support so that partners could keep in touch with their day-to-day work.
From the production and messaging side, the task was to communicate clear information and motivate partners rather than wow the audience with technology.
PwC had a clear idea of what it wanted to say; Caribiner’s job was to ensure this was executed in an original and memorable way to the highest professional standards.
“It was more content driven than live action,” says Evans. “PwC is an organisation with high standards of service in dealing with its customers and we had to reflect that in the production values to help get the various messages across.”
The need to present the organisation as global was underlined by the choice of David Frost as facilitator. “He is perhaps the obvious choice as someone who is internationally known and capable of handling such an event,” says Evans.
The choice of guest speakers included futurist John Naisbitt, who spoke about changes expected in technology and how to best exploit them, and international news photographer Susan Meiselas, whose talk concentrated on the importance of planning, capturing the moment and creativity.
These two areas complemented the themes discussed in the plenary and breakout sessions. In a further example which highlighted the importance of technology, a live satellite link to Finland was used to bring Nokia’s chief executive, Jorma Ollila to the plenary session.
Using guest speakers helped inject a different angle on the subjects and also helped break what could have been long periods of intense presentation.
Indeed Caribiner and PwC were aware that proceedings could become tedious if delegates were subjected to three days in darkened rooms listening to speeches.
To put across some key points Caribiner spiced up the production using dramatic metaphors. As part of the opening module, the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by a voiceover and visuals, emphasised the importance of working together. A specially written play highlighted how IT could solve business problems, while jugglers and acrobats showed the importance of teamwork, communication and acting with agility.
Lengthy breaks were also introduced but not just to help break the sessions into more manageable chunks.
“It was very important for delegates to get the chance to network with colleagues from around the world,” says PwC senior partner Fred Laughlin.
“Our ability to communicate with technology was not a problem. The challenge in Madrid was to promote interpersonal communications. We wanted partners to spend time with their counterparts from other countries, to understand the challenges they face and the business culture they operate in.”
An exhibition called “The Knowledge Fair” was produced, which provided another area to network and learn about aspects of PwC business.
The exhibition was designed to match PwC’s new corporate identity, which was reflected in all event branding and stage designs in both the plenary and breakout sessions.
The significance of the visual approach was that there were no big banners to say this was the coming together of two organisations, instead the emphasis was on the present and the future.
“We have established certain global models, which allow us to communicate clearly and allocate resources efficiently anywhere we operate in the world,” says Laughlin. “Madrid gave us the opportunity to give personality and culture to those models. The event provided an extremely effective platform for delivering our message. Although it certainly met the objectives we had for it, the full measure of Madrid’s impact will not really be known for several years.”
Caribiner creative director Richard Cuthbertson observes,
“One of the biggest challenges involved in creating an event for a global audience is deciding how to pitch the style and tone.
“Caribiner had to produce 39 video modules, some on-site, as well as sophisticated speaker support, including enhancing presentations from 75 speakers from across the globe.
“This meant creating a consistent style under the global umbrella ‘Together to Change the World’ which directly linked to an advertising campaign due to break after the event.”
Although the event was in English and the delegates spoke good English, “We were aware that those for whom it was not the mother tongue might have some difficulty following speeches,” says Evans.
“For this reason we used speaker support a bit more heavily than we would perhaps with an English audience.
“It is difficult to pitch a presentation to an international audience, because they are used to different standards and styles in both presentations and on TV. Inevitably you can’t please everyone 100 per cent, but comprehensive audience research, carried out by PwC, shows consistently high scores across all key measures.”