10 Minutes with: Lucy D'Abo

S&S sits down with Lucy D'Abo to discuss the UAE events industry
Lucy D'Abo
Lucy D'Abo

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S&S sits down with Lucy D’Abo to discuss the obstacles of being a woman within the industry, how DABO & CO came to be and why a region-wide online diary would cure the industry’s “clash” problem.

As a woman who holds a high position in a very male dominated industry, what obstacles have you found and how have you overcome them?
It’s so interesting because we get asked this a lot--from finding a business to the day to day work. It’s interesting being in the Middle East and, more specifically the UAE, we’ve never had varied instances where we feel our gender has been a stumbling block.

The big difference has actually been the client experience with the agency. When we look around at the kind of customers we have, it’s actually a very mixed bag. Very frequently there will be women within that cluster of clients.

So for example, with the recent JW Marriot Marquise event, we had a variety of different clients--some from the US, the technical team, we had the regional team and property team. And in amongst that was actually mixed male and female.

Honestly, I haven’t found it to be a challenge and I think it’s all about the approach. You can go into it feeling like the underdog, but actually everybody brings different qualities to it.

Our driving focus is the overall customer experience and the finer, finer details. In a stereotypical world, that focus aligns with the male to female divide, which certainly isn’t an ideal scenario. But yeah, it’s never really stood in the way for me professionally.

As an agency we don’t work with government and I think that is a definite defining factor as government is predominantly male run. That said, the Emirates are doing a wonderful job bringing women into the work place.

Interesting enough, part of the three day strategy for the JW Marriot Marquise event was the Power of Women conference. The Emirates, over all, are really trying to push the female message and I’m truly happy to be part of that.

What was your journey to creating DABO & CO?
Well, events is a very new industry, globally. While it’s following on from advertising and PR, events, as an industry, is evolving very fast. I moved here 11 years ago working in advertising.

And at that stage, advertisement was the overarching communications platform. And under advertising, PR developed in its own right--I’m talking about in the Middle East, not globally, because obviously we’re a bit further behind here.

So I was working with an ad agency doing mostly product launches for a variety of brands. And with the product launches, the client would ask, “What do I do to launch this brand?” And so the ad agency would say yes to the product launch, and then meet back in the boardroom, wondering, “Right, so what’s events?” (Laughs).

I actually had a lot of hands on experience, especially with hospitality, as I had previously worked with horse racing. So it was a very natural fit to step into events and guide it. So with this agency, I was taking on all of events. At that stage, they weren’t any events agencies, all of these events were being directed towards the advertising agencies.

And generally they didn’t have any expertise in house, so they had to find someone else to do it.

I then moved into another company who approached me to setup the powerboat racing, which was co-sponsored by Emirates and Dubai Duty Free. This was back in 2002. And so I created that event with them-finding the sponsors and putting on the biggest music festival to date (at that point), where we drew 15,000 people.

We created an event called Life Styles which was all about bringing the luxury aspect of powerboat racing to life. This was a huge success and our margins went up. And while we were doing a wide range of events, again, this was an agency that did exhibitions, it wasn’t a dedicated events agency.

During this time, my sister was doing a PR job. We were both complaining about how there were no expertise in the area and it was down to luck of the draw. People would either deliver an event and just get away with it or they would deliver it and it would be a complete disaster. Nothing was being strategically thought through.

So we were convinced we could do it and pulled together a business plan. We were convinced that there needed to be dedicated resource that specialised in events. We invested our own money as well, which was slightly scary and officially opened in 2004.

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How would you describe the current events industry within the MENA region?
Now? It’s very impressive. There’s a rich diversity in competition, which is the best thing you can ask for in an industry. The more competition and the more the industry matures the harder it drives our team to keep delivering.

2008 was an amazing year and it didn’t matter what or who you were, everyone was going with the mentality of “make hay while the sun shines.” But if you really love your profession and are driven by excellence then competition is a really healthy thing. The better the competition, the better the quality of delivery and the better the industry.

The quality of the vendors has exponentially improved, from what was available then to what is available now.

A lot of what happened during the recession helped to drive excellence as well. Everyone has to define what they offer, now more than ever. Of course that can only be a good thing. Not to mention the type of events taking place are drastically evolving.

There was a trend for a while with events having a load of “bells and whistles,” but now it feels like people are actually working on content. “Fireworks” aren’t always the answer to everything.

Where do you think the industry needs to develop?
While it’s still in the early days, ISES-ME is a brilliant edition to the industry. Even the idea of this Dynamic Events conference is extremely exciting. As an integrated agency, we have MEPRA and is an amazing resource for the PR side of our team. It’s about learning and sharing information and improving the industry across the board.

But the events industry hasn’t had anything like that. Being able to share information and more networking opportunities, all of which are imperative, because historically, it’s been a very closed industry here.

Most large cities across the world that deliver the kind of events found here, as an industry, would be much closer. That’s across the board as well--we’re talking about Health and Safety, fees, sharing entertainment and pulling resources.

There are currently incredibly effective practices which are done regularly on a global scale. It’s very common in the UK, for example, where there’s a diary, and everyone loads their events onto this diary so that no one’s clashes.

This is a huge issue here, the clashing of events, and it’s not a smart way to invest your clients’ money. It’s rather difficult to launch something when there are three other events going on during the same evening.

What can we expect from DABO in the following months?
We’ve done quite a few impressive events recently and now it’s just about breathing. But really, we’re looking to get bigger and better. The key to what we do is the talent and the talent needs to keep improving, internally speaking.

That said, while Dubai is very transient, we’re fortunate that our staff, if they do leave, tends to leave the country or go off to setup on their own, rather than going to our competitors.

There is that cycle and every time someone leaves, we invest more into the people we bring in. And that’s allowing us to do more and deliver more. So that’s going to be the big change--new faces coming on board and a bigger and stronger team.

Digital is also a large focus, currently being the newest division in our business. And it is also the most exciting, figuring out how we can integrate that with events--there really is just so much opportunity there and you can’t even begin to touch the sides of that.

This being the case, how we bring the whole “guest experience” to life through digital, and integrating that with what we deliver, is currently a huge focus of ours now and in the months to come.

Digital means we need to engage more during the event. It’s not okay to come, watch, and leave. How do we engage with those guests while they’re there. Whether it’s utilising Instagram live or live SMS Q&As during conferences, there’s just so much more we need to do in order to leave long lasting impressions with our guests.

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