Dominique Douay: “what counts in the event is the emotion we bring”
Dominique Douay is a figure in corporate events. On the counter: More than 1000 events organized for the largest companies in the sector of temporary work and finance. However, this former buyer in perfumery did not intend to such a career. The chance of the meetings allowed her to be spotted for her sense of relationship and to take ever more important positions in the positions of Director of Communication, until the day when the desire to be independent took over. With 30 years of experience in corporate events, it was impossible for the blog YEMP not to collect its valuable testimony on the profession of event organizer through its career path. Interview :
You began your career as a buyer in perfumery, before becoming public relations manager of ADECCO (then ADIA Interim). Why this change of sector and activity ?
During my experience in perfumes, I had the chance to meet people with profiles completely different from mine but also complementary that led me to want to discover other opportunities and develop my relational dimension. So I joined the job of public relations officer in a temporary work company while being dubious about this new challenge. In fact the transition took place naturally and the adventure lasted 10 years.
During this period, you organize major professional events, including through sporting events. Is sport, in your opinion, an important event sector to convey a message and achieve its objectives ?
In the interim there is a very strong human relationship. It was important to be able to federate around major sports event at the time such as boxing, basketball or tennis, for employees as well as customers or prospects. The goal was to discover or develop passions in some. All that has been done with these sporting events has created a strong link between the values of sport and the commitment of people in the company, that it is the customers, the collaborators. And it works, since this partnership with major sporting events or clubs – like the Racing Club de France – has lasted more than 10 years. We were also a partner of the Formula 1 Larousse-Calmels team (note: French team present in the world championship from 1987 to 1995). This sport is by nature much more “upscale” and therefore very different from the values of basketball for example, but it allowed to bring a fairly large selection of choices to our customers and prospects.
In 1996, you arrived in the financial sector, particularly in the Communications Department of the Paris Stock Exchange. You organize what types of professional events and for which types of society ?
It should be known that at the time there were 11 million individual shareholders, against 3 million today. There was a very powerful step to develop and publicize the stock market. It was a way of educating those shareholders. The Internet was starting to grow, it had to meet customer demand. I participated in the creation of the site for shareholders and institutional investors. We started organizing “educational” events to introduce them to listed companies or issuers of new financial products. Tons of events have been created in Paris and in the provinces that have federated thousands of people. In-house events or press conferences were organized in parallel.
After the merger of the European stock exchanges that gave birth to Euronext in 2001, you are entrusted with communication actions within the NYSE Euronext group, in particular in 2007. You then organize European-wide events ?
Yes ! Exclusively. New York has a very large number of individual investors and education means that in the United States, from the age of 6, you have a stock market, which is far from being the case in France or anywhere else in Europe. It was therefore necessary to educate the investors of the old continent. These events took place on the European stock exchanges: Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Lisbon, London.
After 25 years at the service of the biggest companies, you set up your own operational communication structure (L&D Communication) and organize conferences as well as fairs, forums, roadshows. Why this need to be independent ?
There comes a time in his life where opportunities arise. This long experience has made me feel strong enough to help and serve those who need it. It’s a happy circumstance contest.
What do you think are the qualities to have to organize (and succeed) events ?
Understand the client’s request Do not try to look for the 5-legged sheep: if it is not possible it is because there is necessarily a reason. It is necessary to have an approach of accompaniment: to help him in his choice, to make him understand certain things. Once everything is stalled, you must have a great rigor, do not hesitate to validate several times. We learn from this profession by making mistakes. Even me, after 25 years of work, I happen to have problems with my clients because we are never 100% sure. There is always the small grain of sand that will come to break the machine. The key words are rigor, understanding, listening to the customer. Never act in a hurry.
With the advent of new means of communication and digitization, do you think it is easier to organize events, even when this is not our core business?
The job changes. There will always be on the place of Paris the big agencies of events with which the “big companies” will work by what it reassures them, and because there is the image that it returns. But in this business, today, we always ask for more support. We also face small structures that will ask you more than to mount an event. And in parallel, companies like YEMP appear and it has the merit of existing: for limited budgets, there is a beautiful palette of proposals.
What is the biggest crisis you had to deal with in an event ?
In 2005, I had to organize an event with 1000 guests. The place called me two days before saying “we can not leave you the room because the people who occupy the place do not leave at 17h but at 20:30”. Me, my conference started at 18:30. Before calling my client, I said instead “what do you offer me as an option? “. The invitations were gone, we were waiting for 1000 people who had been contacted by mail. This is not the internal but external guests, how could one do? My provider found me a fallback to another place that was not in the heart of Paris as originally but in the 13th arrondissement. It was therefore necessary to warn people that the place had changed. all in 24 hours. Once everything was stalled, I called my client to explain the problem. In his defense, I will have to anticipate! Knowing that there was an event in the afternoon, it could be complicated, but the customer really wanted this place, so I did what was necessary. So I took charge of 16 hostesses on the place where the event was to be held initially so that they redirect people – or they call taxis to take customers to the other place. In the end there were 800 people in the room but it was a real crisis cell because when it happens internally, it’s easy to get the message, but for external guests we really ask ourselves the question “how are we going to do it? “. Especially since when we know that in Paris the rate of “no show” (note: rate of guests who do not come despite their confirmation of attendance at the event) is relatively important, we thought we had just 100 people in the room.
Feel also an evolution in the quality of the service of the providers of the event (caterers, hostesses …)
It’s very difficult to say, but from my experience, I would say that at the service level, people are less qualified. We have more students looking to make ends meet. There are, however, people whose business it is certainly. I know people in the provinces who are 30 or 40 years old and who make it their profession and who have the job in them. At the level of the caterers there is a very big competition. There are the very good ones … and those with whom I do not work! There is also an environmental and behavioral evolution: we see appear organic or vegan caterers, it is in the movement.
Today, to find a place in Paris, we go to sites that reference thousands for the event. 30 years ago, how was it?
At the time I had a steering wheel of places that I worked in Excel or cardboard, sorted by genre: rather festive, congress, capacity, location, etc. On the other hand, to discover new places, I used most often the caterers with whom I worked. It was a gold mine! In general, we also took advantage of the period called “low season” to do dozens of visits. And then when the events approached, we spent a lot of time on the phone and we did not hesitate to make several physical appointments with different suppliers to stall the details to a few days of the event, which I still continue often to do.
After several decades of activities, are you able to tell us how many events you have organized so far ?
At one time I made up to 30 a year. In times of peaks it could go up to 40 .. whether it is small or big. I’m close to the 1000 events!
what is the most beautiful professional event in which you participated ?
Joker! I have lived many beautiful things. What a pleasure to attend a Formula 1 Grand Prix on the circuit of Monaco for example! Events of 1000 or 2000 people to meet big bosses with strong messages … but each event is something unique, strong, to be treated in the same way. What matters is the emotion that comes with it. After, when you receive congratulations on the place for example, it is a small satisfaction of which we are very proud and of which we would never want to happen!