A well-known figure within the regional events industry for many years, Sound & Stage caught up with John Jossifakis as he begins a new chapter taking on the role of regional director at Blink Experience.
S&S: Many people in the industry will be aware of your previous role at Innovations Unlimited ME – how did that position allow you to grow and achieve certain things along the way?
My tenure with IUME was an interesting four years of ups, downs and a lot in between. I was able to grow both as a person and as a professional, bringing to the table a set of skills that allowed me expand the Qatari market and place IUME on the events industry map with the help of the IUME events team. From day one I was given free space to create, navigate, hire and expand. This created a momentum that saw a proposal success rate that ranged between 65 to 75 per cent and the delivery of 96 successful events during my tenure and also an impressive 10 nominations over four years at the Middle East Event Awards, with one win in 2012. My journey at IUME will not be just a memory for me. As director of events I was exposed to a wonderful set of professionals and I truly wish them every success in their future events. IUME proved to be a stepping-stone in my career path and I owe the guys and girls of the events team a big public thank you for their support.
S&S: How did the natural path of your career lead you to Blink Experience?
Careers are built over years of hard work, networking, passion, dedication but also a bit of luck. Blink Experience presented an amazing vision, plan and philosophy that just ticked all the right boxes for me at the time of my life when I was seeking the next step in my career and regional expansion. As a senior person in the industry you get approached a lot, but Blink’s COO Ghassan Kassab and CEO Ahmed Al-Shehhi not only proved to be amazing individuals, but they shared a true vision that was really aligned with what I was seeking. When I was presented with the possibility to become regional director and exploring the amazing portfolio of global calibre events, for me it just made sense. The product that Blink Experience has is unique, aggressive and fun. The existing client base allows me to tap in to some unchartered territory and will allow me in the future to expand and explore alongside a stellar team, with all of them being at the top of their game.
S&S: What skills and experience that you’ve accumulated at IUME do you think you will bring to this new role?
I started down this events path in the mid ‘90s and — having worked as a pyrotechnician, lighting programmer, show caller, production manager, and technical director — I have developed an array of production skills that I can bring to the sell and pitch. This allows me to be versatile and adjust and adapt to the issues, problems and challenges that occur on the ground. I am also a “go getter” character — a tangible example of which would be the Masters Degree I received in Event Management from Leeds Beckett University in the UK in 2014. This required every spare moment I had to study and work on my essays and thesis for a period of two years in parallel with my busy work schedule. Oddly enough, my thesis was published and is now sold on Amazon. Moving forward and taking the experiences I gained in Qatar, I believe that these skills will be applicable to the region and to the phenomenal Blink Experience portfolio and I look forward to the varied range of events that I will be called to assist upon.
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S&S: Tell us more about what Blink does as a company and how you will slot into the operation…
Blink Experience is an agency with presence in the region for more than a decade. It opened up in Dubai in 2003 and has been producing world-class events around the GCC ever since. Blink Experience is rooted in four core principles that memorable events must have: excitement, entertainment, engagement and enjoyment. These pillars are at the heartbeat of our agency, our motivation and our instigation to thrive. This momentum not only needs creative skills, but also the know-how and expertise of strategists, designers, and production experts to ensure perfect execution and implementation. Blink Experience has them all. World-class credentials — having staged events seen by a global TV viewership of billions, like the Red Bull Air Race in Abu Dhabi — and the local knowledge on the ground that is essential to deliver something seamless. Blink offers a fully integrated combination of experience, talent and quality service. This is made possible by a passionate and creative team of 70-strong. Blink enjoys the status of being a regional agency with specialist local experience and the ability to serve reputed international and domestic clients in different Middle East markets.
S&S: What does Blink offer to the regional events industry that makes the company stand out above the competitors?
Having discussed with the senior management the positioning of the company and what makes the Blink Experience DNA unique, Ghassan Kassab told me: “What makes us unique is the constant search for great talents who keep the innovations engine working at Blink. The culture at the agency is to keep reinvigorating the service offering in order to assist brands and clients with their live communications strategies, and deliver a product that is unique in this cluttered market place.” In other words, what makes this agency unique is the people that it invests in and grooms to deliver end results that make an impact and a difference in the industry.
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S&S: As a regional director for Blink Experience, what will your new role involve within the region?
It is my intention to assist the creation of a momentum that will follow the core values of the agency that have been well-rooted in its foundation, and allow me to bring my large-scale event management knowledge to the team. Strategy and vision are two major components that require foresight, and my role will call upon my skills to augment the Blink portfolio in all seven markets as a regional director - stemming from the work in the headquarters. Qatar is very close to my heart and has been my home for more than a decade, but the ability for me to assist on all the regional projects allows me to work with the whole Blink Experience team in every territory, learn new markets and take quantum leaps forward. This business is not about doing the same thing and Ghassan Kassab has a vision about our business that I fully align with and want to adapt.
S&S: How do you think the Middle East events industry stands right now?
I think the industry is switching from a trend where event companies did everything a few years ago, to companies having a clear niche in the market place today. ‘360 Events Agency’ is an obsolete term in 2015. Event companies should focus and excel in three or four sectors of the business and become leaders in that niche. On the flip side, AV suppliers are starting to diversify their portfolios and service offerings, because the trend to have one or two main contractors is becoming more evident on major events. Regional mergers and acquisitions have created a trend of companies joining forces to be able to give more to the client and provide turnkey solutions. I believe the industry lacks in Health & Safety standards in this part of the world and I am proud to sit on the Health & Safety steering committee of ILEA (International Live Events Association), headed by Rebecca Wilson and Bruno Marx, which recently drafted and announced the first set of guidelines that hopefully will be picked up by every event practitioner in our industry.
S&S: What did Blink’s recent win at the Middle East Event Awards mean to the company?
Blink Experience has a series of nominations and awards that go back a series of years. Winning in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 clearly attests the hard work of the team, the spirit of the agency, the vision of the management and the relationship Blink seeks to evoke with the audience. Instigating engagement in every event is crucial and our target is to win multiple event awards in many regional offices very soon. Recognition of this work that comes in a form of an award is clearly an influencer as it is just an honour to be shortlisted, but a win is a win and I am honoured to be joining a team that has multiple trophies and awards on the shelves.
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S&S: Does your new role signal even further growth for the company?
Growth is the key differentiator at Blink vis-à-vis the existing agencies in the industry, and the strategy at board level is an aggressive expansion plan. This was clearly implemented in establishing five regional offices during the last three years (Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, Riyadh, Erbil and Doha). The strategy comes in line with the regional expansion of Blink’s clients, who expect more local support in the GCC as their activities grow significantly as well, which gave the boost for Blink Experience to expand and grow. My role as a regional director comes to entertain this expansion and ensure quality and clients satisfaction, and further build my experience from Doha to the other regional markets.
S&S: What do you personally find most about the events industry and what do you find is usually the biggest challenge?
I have been doing this all my life and I would not do anything else. Events is what I live and breathe and I am a true adrenaline seeker. Having climbed through the various echelons of the events industry, I find the human factor of our business most appealing. We are here to put a smile on people’s faces. We are here to create a realm that transposes people from their day-to-day routine, into a momentary other reality, whether that is a theatre play, a concert or even a gala dinner — for that exact moment you have the undivided attention of a captivated audience.
As for the challenges, this is what makes this industry unique. From the opening ceremony of the Olympics to a concert, you really don’t know what your next event will require or how it will push you to the limits, test your problem solving skills and require you work closely with some amazing individuals that you might not meet again. Finally, what I find appealing is giving back. I have promised myself to spend time cultivating the youngsters coming into the events industry, and travelling around the world educating event professionals about our industry, fireworks, ceremonies, risk management etc. because in the end it’s not what you do but it’s what you give that matters.