THE BRIEF The Gucci Group needed an inspiring heritage setting to host its biennial conference. Beijing was chosen from a shortlist that also included Athens and India for an event that brings together 150 senior figures from the group's nine brands, travelling from the UK, Europe, the US, Asia and Australasia.
CHALLENGES As Gucci is a luxury brand, the programme needed to be carefully fine-tuned and high on prestige. Some 18 months of planning went into getting it right, with an emphasis on generating an 'East meets West' flavour and sourcing a memorable gala dinner venue. There was a great deal of red tape to contend with. "The overall event required 63 different approval stamps," says Richard Bridge, creative director at agency Top Banana. "The government was great though, and we got clearance for what we needed."
A further challenge lay in the host venue itself. The conference was initially booked into the city's St Regis Hotel, but over-running refurbishment resulted in the agency having to change its plans just three months ahead of the event.
SOLUTION Fortunately, the conference coincided with the recent opening of the new Ritz-Carlton property, which was able to accommodate the group and proved itself a capable host. In terms of a high-end location for the gala dinner, organisers managed to secure exclusive use of the most iconic Beijing landmark, the Forbidden City. "We worked closely with a ground agent, Pacific World, which understood what we were trying to achieve with regards to wow factor and attention to detail," says Bridge. "It's not a cheap place to hire, obviously, but you can't put a price on that kind of experience."
EXECUTION Delegates arrived in China in time for a welcome cocktail evening on 15 April at Beijing's flagship Gucci store. The following day saw a full day of meetings at the hotel before delegates convened for a police-escort transfer to dinner.
"They didn't know where the gala dinner was, so it was quite something," continues Bridge. "It wasn't just the Forbidden City, it was the lighting and the whole atmosphere. We had the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra playing and 150 waiters parading the food in military-style formation. Even just standing at the back watching, it was one of the best experiences of my life."
The evening also included entertainment from a 30-strong dance troupe. The next morning, delegates were presented with T'ai Chi outfits and treated to a head-clearing outdoor lesson before a further day of meetings. Dinner on the last evening was held at The LAN Club, a chic, Philippe Starck-designed bar-restaurant.
VERDICT "I can't put into words how utterly thrilled I was," says Karen Lombardo, executive vice-president of global human resources at the Gucci Group. "Top Banana made what I wanted to achieve a reality."
Client Gucci Group
Group size 150
Agency Top Banana; Pacific World
Date 15-18 April 2008
Venue Ritz-Carlton, Beijing