23 January 2017
Case Study by MCI Group:
IPVS | ESPHM 2016 – Two Global Congresses Join Forces in the RDS
When something new is formed, it is often the tried and tested solutions that make it work. When the 24th International Pig Veterinary Society and 8th European Symposium of Porcine Health Management Congress decided to run a joint congress for the first time, all sorts of questions were raised - not least the most basic, how many people will come?
The simple answer was no-one knew. There was no history to base figures on, and no firm indication of how the major sponsors of the respective meetings would react. This made planning and budgeting an exercise in mitigating risk and exploiting opportunities. It also meant flexibility across the board was needed, and so the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) and their team came to play a key role through the entire event life-cycle.
For a project such as this, there are lots of site inspections. Initially, the local committee are brought to approve the venue before bidding, then the international committee arrive to stamp their approval, before finally the major sponsors are brought on-site. Each has different needs, each has a different focus, and each has a different fear.
Barriers have to be overcome at this stage. The RDS, a beautiful venue, can seem very empty and hard to fill when it’s not a show day, and requires experience to know how the space is transformed so quickly. One sponsor demonstrated this transformation in the post-congress survey, saying;
‘This is the best exhibition hall I’ve ever worked in – the flow of people is perfect and the whole area gives off an impression of space, and a space with a history’.
For IPVS|ESPHM 2016, we used Hall 1 (the hall you enter from the main front entrance) as our central area and exhibition hall, expanding out in each direction in a cross shape for our main plenary, breakout rooms and catering areas*. Here is the map of the venue as it was laid out:
The main feature of the congress was undoubtedly the main plenary room (Hall 2 on the left as you walk into the main entrance). As the numbers that were attending became clearer as the early-registration ended and the dates drew nearer, the resounding statement from our team to the RDS was ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat’.
It was obvious we were going to need a 3,000 seater plenary with a 40 metres wide screen to allow for every member of the audience to follow each presentation with ease. The RDS team worked tirelessly to create a seating arrangement that would allow for that level of comfort, while also ensuring all health and safety regulations were met and also, put simply, so that thousands of people were able to enter a room and leave within minutes.
It gave delegates that extra ‘wow’ factor that the RDS can provide. From its central location and classical architecture, the building has huge appeal to incoming delegates. The wrought iron railings that span the upper tier of Hall 1 reinforces the feeling within the crowd that you don’t get in a generic conference building, and we used this balcony to place the poster presentation. It became an excellent place for delegates to bring a coffee and silently peruse the posters while thousands milled below them in the exhibition area.
Catering was held at the back of the exhibition hall in Hall 4.
Again, this set-up allowed for two things that are pretty unique to the RDS in Dublin and can’t be done anywhere else in the city-centre. Firstly, we fed 3,500 people within 20/30 minutes with space enough to stand at a table and talk to their colleagues and, secondly, every delegate had to walk through the exhibition area to get to the catering.
The breakout rooms themselves needed to be significant in terms of capacity; even when the main plenary was in use we needed three additional rooms with capacity for 300/400 in each. We used the rooms leading to the Concert Hall, and the Concert Hall itself, as the main breakouts. As you can see on the map, we actually created a walkway around Hall 3 and used heavy piping to shape the breakout room within. We were concerned at the beginning in terms of noise coming into the room, but the RDS team sourced the heavy drapes that ended up being as soundproof as any walls.
The Concert Hall itself is also a real selling point of the RDS. Steeped in history, it’s always fun watching visiting delegates stop as they enter the room and look around at the tall bookcases, hardwood floors and the carved reliefs on the ceiling and walls. It’s the sort of impact you don’t see in other, purpose-built conference centres.
One problem we came across was a worry about the capacity of one of the breakout rooms – specifically Hall 6. We didn’t want the issue of people not being able to attend a session they wanted to see, so we set-up a screening area at the back where people could watch the session live on a big screen. Again, the flexibility of the RDS is such that these decisions can be made mid-project and based on real live data that you have.
The Modern Conference in a Historic Venue
Although the RDS is 250 years old, it’s also got some of the finest technical equipment in the business. It has been the host of some of the largest IT shows in the world, and the WiFi – such an important factor nowadays – is genuinely robust. Our Congress App alone had 3,220 users and we had no complaints. One exhibitor got disconnected from their WiFi (in the RDS exhibitors get access to a more secure, hard-wired internet portal) but the RDS team was there within minutes to fix the issue (as usual, someone had unplugged the wrong wire).
As you can see from some of the pictures below, the AV in each room was flawless. As you aren’t forced into certain set-ups in rooms, you can shape it to your needs and we used that to our best advantage.
Something we had not envisaged was how the delegates would use the space as a backdrop to pictures for social media. It was hard to walk by the front entrance without seeing at least one delegate having their picture taken. In these days where it is so vital to use your congress to build its brand online for future events, this was an added bonus in helping to expand into the online community.
We also ran a highly successful experiment in digital voting. In the past, IPVS had used its closing ceremony as a chance for the delegates to vote on the next destination. Unfortunately, many delegates had left by this final session meaning only a small percentage had their say, and even with the reduced numbers manual voting would often be a long, drawn-out process. We shifted this onto the congress app, allowing people to vote on their mobile phones. By the closing ceremony almost half of all the delegates in Dublin had voted, and the process took minutes.
And it was close! At the third time of bidding, Brazil beat Leipzig by a mere thirteen votes for the right to host IPVS 2020.
From a Plenary into a Party
Where can you have a banquet for nearly 3,000 people in Dublin under one roof? What can you possibly do to create a spectacular but intimate experience?
In reality, there are very few options. In fact, the RDS is probably the only place in Dublin to pull off such a feat. Where did we do it? In the plenary room of course, where 3,000 people were sitting in 3,000 seats just a couple of hours before.
As you can see in the pictures, Hall 2 was transformed from a spectacular plenary room into a spectacular gala dinner venue. The massive wide screen was now showing images of Ireland instead of presentations, and the stage was filled with a classical piano and traditional Irish entertainment. The torrential rain outside was forgotten over a three course meal of the highest quality before jumping into taxis to enjoy a night socialising in the city centre.
IPVS|ESPHM 2016 was universally hailed as the most successful in either association’s history. It was a relatively unique experiment – two large association’s coming together – and through its success there is a strong possibility it may happen again in the future rotations (IPVS rotates around the world while ESPHM is a purely European –based association). The congress achieved:
• a record breaking attendance of 3,552 delegates
• an increased return on investment for the 5 partner sponsors, 50 exhibitors and 10 media partners
• high engagement with 3,295 delegates using the app, accumulating over 160,000 page views
• strengthened associations’ profiles in the community with 1.3 million impressions on social media over the duration of the event
• Unparalleled coverage across national and international media channels (dozens of publications on veterinary sites, magazines and journals)
This success was built entirely on the teamwork between the respective associations, MCI and their suppliers and the RDS itself. Working with the RDS team is a true collaborative effort, and each project is always indicative of that Irish spirit of ‘we can make this happen’. Building a project where you welcome over 3,500 delegates to your country, feed, house and educate them for five days, requires flexibility at every stage and the infrastructure and experience to find the best solutions – the RDS has all these components in abundance.
It’s always hard to put a project that took over six years to design and complete into words. If you are planning a similar event, or just want to talk through the process we went through, please feel to drop us a line at Dublin@mci-group.com or contact me directly at Jean.Evans@mci-group.com
Words from the organisers
‘The RDS was always our first choice. The teams’ professionalism from the outset gave that sense of security to both ourselves locally and the international committee’ said Pat Kirwan, Chairman of the LOC. ‘The flexibility of the venue allowed us to create a congress that would meet the needs of all our stakeholders – particularly our delegates, speakers and sponsors. Since the congress has ended, I’ve had nothing but praise from each of these groups and, let’s be honest, that incredible screen in the plenary made a few of them feel like celebrities!’
Pat Kirwan, Chairman of the Local Organising Committee, IPVS|ESPHM 2016.
‘I’ve worked in the RDS and with the team there on countless occasions. It’s my favourite venue to work in from an Exhibition and Sponsorship point of view because, basically, you can always find a way to make people happy. The spaces are unique for the city and the culture within the team is one of constant helpfulness and finding solutions.’
Deirdre Quinn, Exhibition and Sponsorship Manager
‘The RDS is a blank canvas framed with history. As a production team, you can’t find a better space to create designs that will ‘wow’ delegates without emptying the bank account. It’s always a good morning when you’re heading into work in the RDS.’
Rob Allidine, MCI Managing Director and Production Lead for IPVS|ESPHM 2016
‘From a marketing perspective the RDS does three things. 1) Gives you great images and content for promoting the congress, 2) Allows you to promote the city of Dublin as part of the congress experience and 3) Execute your plans on-site through the IT systems in place. At IPVS 2012, less than 20 people downloaded the app, in 2016 3,295 did.’
Hugh Torpey, Marketing and Communications Manager, IPVS|ESPHM 2016