Eventful times

Carnival is big business in Trinidad and Tobago — and not just during the “season,” as festival entrepreneurs move into year-round event coordination

Soca star Machel Montano, performing as Monk Monte, at the Heat Wave event during Carnival 2015, produced by Eventology. Photo by Mark Phillip-Simpson, courtesy Eventology

Few things have a hold on the Trinidadian — and, dare I say, the Caribbean — imagination like Carnival. For people playing mas, the investment in a costume to parade on the streets is not just financial, it’s also emotional. Every year, masqueraders demand the “Wow!” factor on the road. They want better food, more drinks, and the best music.

Masqueraders may grumble the following year when costumes get more expensive, but the memory and the promise of a great experience on the road keep them going back. It goes without saying the biggest and most popular bands succeed because they are well managed.

All the top bands in T&T Carnival are led by teams of people who also have years of experience in the field of event management. In fact, once Carnival is over, they go back to organising parties, corporate events, and even concerts featuring international acts.

Long before they became a Carnival band, Island People was known for throwing parties with a difference. So when the principals decided to venture into mas in 2006, they had an instant following. “The team felt it was a natural evolution,” says executive team member Colin Greaves. “The Island People brand was a big draw.”

Island People took a great party on the road. But the band has had mixed reviews over the years, because of a number of logistical shortcomings. Unfortunately, this began to affect the event management arm of the organisation. “Looking back at it, we found that the negative feedback from the road was having an impact. The tickets for our parties weren’t selling as quickly and people moved away from us,” says Greaves.

To make the different parts of the business separate and distinct, they created Unlimited Functions in 2009 to deal with corporate events. These included Eventology, an event management conference that proved extremely popular. In 2014, the Island People management rebranded Unlimited Functions as Eventology, run by a core team of nine.

“Our events arm does a myriad of corporate events. We work with many companies in the private sector and government agencies as well,” Greaves explains. Last year, for example, Eventology worked with the Caribbean Premier League cricket tournament, and provided services for one of the main sponsors, Caribbean Airlines. “We contracted our mas team to design and make the CAL mascot, and we were able to provide a special experience for patrons in Trinidad, Barbados, and Jamaica.”

While Island People started by throwing a fete and evolved into a Carnival band, Ultimate Events evolved in the other direction. It was formed by the people behind the ultra-popular Carnival bands Tribe and Bliss, and has moved into event management. “Carnival is the most challenging and difficult type of event to plan, co-ordinate, and execute,” says Ultimate Events managing director Dean Ackin. “It has all of the elements of any other event, but is ten times as challenging, because of the logistical requirements.”

The company consists of a core team of eight, led by UWI economics graduate Kendal Latchman. He believes Ultimate Events is the definition of project management. “We serve the client from invitation, to breakdown, to post mortem,” he says. “Our clients have made some outlandish requests, and we’ve managed to fulfil them.”

Ultimate Events has been in business for seven years, and Latchman has been the lead project manager for four. One of the key elements of their operation is the principle of “no unnecessary complications.” “We take an analytical approach, and use the principles of project management,” Latchman explains. “For every event, we delegate a specific person to manage each area. They are briefed and given clear instructions about what is required, and we also have good contingency plans in place.”

The event management industry has grown tremendously in T&T in recent years. There are more and more companies involved, and there are even postgraduate courses available for those who want to sharpen their skills. Lisa Ghany has been in the profession for over twenty-five years. She has worked in the corporate sector, the cultural sphere, and is much sought after for her experience in setting up international conferences. She feels many people regard event management as a largely creative endeavour — but she sees the creativity as just a small part.

“Event managers must have proper training,” Ghany argues. An event manager is the same as a business manager, and they must understand finance, accounting, and human resource management. “An event is about a team. Too many creative people who get into event management get lost, because they don’t know how to meld the creative with business.”

Ghany believes the industry has grown quickly, but outstanding event management companies like Ultimate Events and Eventology are still in the minority. And with T&T bracing for an expected economic downturn because of depressed energy revenues, Ghany thinks it’s up to the event management companies to convince their clients they can still get bang for their reduced buck.

Latchman and Greaves both say their companies are working closely with their clients to advise them how they can cut costs but still deliver quality events. And, going forward, Ultimate Events is looking at conceiving and promoting its own events. Meanwhile, Eventology is planning to bring back their hallmark event management conference to meet the demands of the market.

Over the years, the two companies have been committed to developing more young event managers and building capacity in the industry. “Some of our interns come from the Arthur Lok Jack School of Business” at the University of the West Indies, Greaves says. “They bring enthusiasm and energy to the company.” At Ultimate Events, they’ve trained five university grads under the age of twenty-three. “We think this is important, because they provide us with a unique perspective, new ways of seeing things, and even new ways of incorporating technology in what we do. The challenge is to keep it fresh.”