James Ngugi's first major assignment as a professional events organiser came in 2009, in Kenya. That assignment was the wedding of a daughter of prominent minister in that country.
As the event organiser, he was also tasked to provide the bride and groom with their wedding attire, besides securing a suitable venue.
“I gave them a very unique, yet simple garden wedding as opposed to church, which my client had wanted. I had to convince my clients that, being a one day event not to be repeated in their lifetime, it had to be as memorable and unique as possible.”
As an events organiser though, Ngugi had more selfish reasons for opting for a garden wedding. “As the man in charge of the event, I wanted to bring costs down as much as possible, but also to showcase my creativity. A garden wedding would make it possible to do the church service, photography and after party at the same venue, which made lots of economic sense.”
The need to save money aside, Ngugi also had more strategic calculations. He says: “At that time, marquee stretch tents, which can be set up in any format had just hit the Kenyan market, so I wanted to showcase this as well.”
He adds that; “When all this went according to plan, I knew immediately that events was my thing. It was my first major assignment, and it still stands out today, because it was a minister’s daughter involved, which attracted a lot of media and public attention.”
After that initial success, Ngugi took to organising more events, particularly weddings.
Then he decided to organise an event that would bring together other events organisers to showcase their services. “I was looking at ways in which I could network with these other companies.” He explains that this particular event helped him know which events organiser to contact for what –be it tents, chairs, ushers etc.
However, he regrets one thing: “I didn’t achieve my aim of unifying events organisers in Kenya, but I got vital contacts in the industry.”
Coming to Rwanda
In 2011, two years after his entry in the events arena, Ngugi travelled to Rwanda, where he was to share his expertise and vast experience with the team at a local events company.
Speaking of this first job he says: “Our major challenge was that we had good ideas, but nobody to fund their implementation, so most of them remained just that –concepts. After doing our research, we understood the market better, and as I speak now, that company has made a contribution in redefining the events scene in this town.
In June 2013, Ngugi packed his bags from his first job and headed to another events company, Bracknell Executive Services, where he has been the Business Development Manager to this day. As B.D.M, Ngugi explains that his role is to “basically grow the business in terms of marketing strategy and concepts.” “My role is to see if there is a market out there that is prone to our services, to ensure that the company’s activities get a reward and the company grows.”
Events management, says Ngugi, “is a huge concept that incorporates both corporate and private events. The corporate events may include conferences, seminars, and meetings. The private events can be birthday or anniversary parties, weddings, anniversaries and concerts.”
He stresses that his approach is to handle each client as they come: “Each of these events have their own character, for instance, a meeting usually has a limited number of participants, so we may need to only arrange the venue and provide conference facilities and protocol. However, conferences are bigger undertakings in terms of numbers and logistics like transport, hotel bookings and meals. At a conference, we make a point to devise a theme that reflects the mood of the particular conference, because this too has a huge impact on the outcome of a conference. For instance, if it’s a women’s event, you have to create that feminine touch to suit.
He reckons that music concerts are the hardest of the lot to organise. “Concerts call for a more radical approach, because usually, you are dealing with a star, be it local, regional, or international. If, for instance the concert is at Amahoro Stadium, people going in must all be safe, and it’s all in the work of the events organiser.
“True, we work in liaison with security, but at the end of the day, if something goes wrong, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the event organiser,” he says.
What it takes
Creativity, creativity, creativity! “You have to think outside the box.” “An event basically needs to be memorable, and no ordinary event ever stays on people’s minds for long.
One also has to strike the delicate balance between being firm and resolute on the one hand, and extremely patient on the other, because you are dealing with a long chain of suppliers and contractors. “I have learnt to be extremely slow to anger, because for any successful event, there’re underlying challenges and black spots. Things like unexpected change of weather, suppliers and sponsors not delivering on time, and power outages, and bad time keeping, so one must always have a Plan B in mind.”
Here, he cites the issue of corporate sponsorship as one of the industry’s biggest stumbling blocks. “The real value of sponsorship is still not fully appreciated here,” he rants, adding: “Either they (corporate sponsors) feel that they are throwing away money by sponsoring an event, or they just don’t see the power of branding. I think that sponsors should embrace more events, because in the end, it’s their company, not event organiser that will put up their banners at the venue they get more mileage in terms of being felt than in traditional advertising.”
He laments the fact that “companies look only at the money angle when dishing out sponsorship and this is killing the industry. If an events company is hiring the artistes, securing the venue and other logistics, it becomes a costly venture.”
“Events should not be just a trademark for companies to be seen, because it is never enough to be seen. You could have been seen, but were you felt? What sticks to people’s minds is usually something they felt, not just saw.
“Being in Events Management has made me see life in a different light,” Ngugi reveals. “I don’t live like I used to any more. I’m now more open to everything around me. It has made me come to the realization that my life has no rehearsal or Side B. Whatever I do, whoever I meet, I must make things work. There are no scripts here, because it is the real thing. It has also made me more cautious in my dealings with other people.”
“Everything has a reason, and everyone coming into your life must impact it, either for better or for worse. I need to grow, as indeed I’m still growing, and if you can’t help me grow to what I want to be, or I cannot impact your life, then what use is such a friendship? This job has enabled me to socialize with different people who ordinarily I don’t think I’d have met.”