IN PERSON: John Hooker, director of event management, BI

These are interesting times at BI, and director of event management John Hooker is right in the thick of things. Formerly TMO, the marketing and event management agency has just rebranded following its acquisition by Minneapolis-based Schoeneckers (which trades as BI) last year - a move that positions the company in the international arena. As Hooker points out: "our name is just BI, not BI UK or Europe, - and the philosophy seems to have its benefits. "It means we can call on the entire sales force and use that resource to service the needs of our clients in a global context, he notes.

Asked if the name change might alienate the agency's client base, Hooker is adamant this is not so. "It's not an issue - when Jack Morton Worldwide rebranded from Caribiner, it didn't affect its business at all, he points out.

"In fact, it was more difficult when we changed our name from The Marketing Organisation to TMO in 2000 because that signified we were ready to position ourselves as a full-service agency, moving away from tying ourselves solely to travel activities. Neither does Hooker fear the buyout will result in any radical change of strategy. "They bought us for what we are, not for what they want us to be, he maintains.

Hooker has been at TMO, as was, since the very beginning, when the fledgling company was set up after its founders broke away from Leicester-based agency Page & Moy. This November marks his 20th anniversary. "I'll be part of the first wave of people to retire from the industry, he muses.

Looking back, he feels the business was a lot more pioneering back then.

"We didn't have anything like the technology that exists now, and today you just wouldn't get away with some of the things we got up to. Then again, client expectations were not as high as they are now, meaning programmes were less focused, as there was not the same pressure on companies to justify their spending. "Corporate events were seen as a bit of a 'jolly'.

Our role was almost that of a Butlins Redcoat - keeping the clients amused, says Hooker.

He recalls too, how unsophisticated tastes were in those days. "I remember you couldn't get the Brits to eat fish soup, he laughs. And he recollects an incident in pre-mobile days where his diplomacy skills were stretched to the limit. "I was in Monte Carlo with an insurance company and was seated at dinner next to a woman whose husband had just cut his head open in an accident and had had to be rushed to hospital. I couldn't contact the hospital but I kept dashing out at five-minute intervals and pretend to bring updates on her husband's progress."

Nowadays, the industry is more regulated and clients realise the benefits of motivating their employees through regular, well-planned communication programmes.

Ironically, for a man who has spent so much of his working life proposing suitable destinations, Hooker argues that if anything detracts from the overall professionalism of event management, it is the travel element.

"We create bespoke programmes, not just itineraries, because it's the event itself that's important - how it's conceived, created and executed."

Mislabelling programmes can potentially confuse and devalue their real purpose. "Even fun-filled incentives contain some kind of conference element to get across a corporate message."

To prove their worth, event agencies must "bring something to the party" as Hooker puts it. He singles out creativity and innovation above all.

"With a car launch you know there is going to be a reveal at some point.

That's a given, so it's the creative process behind it that will make the difference."

Enough food for thought there, surely, for at least another 20 years.

HOOKER ON...

...what he'd change about his job

"Unrealistic deadlines always get to me. I don't think clients appreciate how long it takes to prepare a good proposal. It would be great if clients specified what they wanted, not what they think they might want."

...his most apt expression

"One favourite phrase of mine is: 'There are two kinds of people in this world - those who can handle a free bar and those who can't.' Another is: 'Work is occupational therapy between mealtimes' - you've got to have a good balance in life."

...his fantasy career path

"I've narrowed it down to one of three - an opera singer or a jazz saxophonist both appeal. Otherwise, on a different tack, an ocean yachtsman - sailing's great and I really admire the bravery of people like Ellen McArthur."

...how he'd like to be remembered

"As someone who didn't just take but who gave something back as well.

Good people mentored me in my career, and I'd like to think I've repaid that. Anyway, when I do depart for the great hereafter, that will be one event I won't have to stage."

CAREER FILE
2002 Director of event management, BI 2000 Director of business support,
TMO
1989 Director of client services, The Marketing Organisation
1986 MD, Creative Event Management, (The Marketing Organisation)
1982 Operations manager, The Travel Organisation
1980 Trade fairs manager, Lep Group
1975 Sales and marketing executive, Saga Holidays

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