You see, this is not just about me and my business, it is about 20 years of relationships with wonderful clients from around the world, 20 years of working with professional and creative partners and suppliers across Scotland, and 20 years of watching our country grow into a global bucket list champion that people cannot wait to experience.
This week, I will be sharing some of my favourite client stories and acknowledging people who I have been fortunate enough to partner with along the way. To kick it all off, I want to share a little of the background behind my company by highlighting important milestones and giving thanks to everyone who made them possible.
In the beginning, there was golf
I had built a successful career across multiple high-profile Sales Management roles before taking the plunge and officially launching Andrew Burnet & Company in May 2002. As much as I loved the buzz that came from fostering new business relationships (and nurturing existing accounts), I would watch Event Organisers come and go and think, “I could do that, I want to do that!”
One of the first large events that I remember organising was with Glenvarigill Motor Group and their Marketing Director, Miles Duncan (now a highly sought-after LinkedIn Expert Trainer). We set to work putting together the ‘Glenvarigill Golf Challenge,’ 12 tournaments showcasing luxury cars at various high-end golf clubs across Scotland, offering members and players the chance to win a Porsche, a Ferrari, an Audi, and many other luxury marques.
I would like to think Miles approached me because of my reputation and connections to the golf world; from the very first meeting, I could already visualise the clubs that he was mentioning and how each location would look. The event was an enormous success; however, I took away so many learns, the first being that doing it on my own was a mistake! I did not have any contacts in the Events world in terms of Freelancers or know that they even existed. It was a proud moment, but I was exhausted at the end.
A step in a new direction …
It was in 2005 that my ambition encouraged a step away from the usual conference and dinner experiences with which I was familiar. This really dropped me straight into the multi-layered programme world I am in today. We call it MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences Exhibitions). A very large London-based bank had international clients that they wanted to entertain with a top-end, money can’t buy, 5-day programme.
I had to consider everything, from the moment they stepped off the plane until they were back onboard heading home. Being able to put my flair into the programme, alongside the fast pace of it all, excited me and set my direction off on its new path. I am still doing that now, seventeen years on.
Now, our projects usually average around 4 days, with between 50-70 people. Whilst other DMC’s sometimes prefer large 1000 delegate events, my enjoyment comes from high-end programmes, with smaller group numbers.
… and a wardrobe change
I used to think I always had to wear a suit, and I think I pretty much did so for the first 4 or 5 years. However, this trip was about to change all that. I took a group to the top of Edinburgh’s iconic Arthur’s Seat for a photo opportunity. There I was, at the summit in the freezing cold, in a suit. It was a spring morning, they were having a beautiful photo with the city in the background, and I was off to the side shivering with a clip board, looking completely out of place. I still look smart when I do events, but I am much more practically dressed now.
Entertaining the world
People always want to know if there are specific nationalities that I work with, but the truth is, I work with people from all over the globe. Of course, I have target audiences (especially those with strong business tourism markets). I build many programmes for Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Scandinavia. Pre-Covid, I had started to hear from organisations within Italy, through recommendations and word of mouth. Across the waters, North America and South America are very important to me.
It is this diversity of people and personalities that keeps things exciting. Over the years, it has been great to work around the mix of attitudes that different cultures bring to the programmes. For example, I have found that German groups, much like the Swiss, are very fond of a set itinerary. Once they have bought into your programme. They are often so briefed up on it, that they could almost run it themselves!
Not too dissimilar, whilst American groups also like an itinerary, they are happy to move away from it a little based on the mood of the group that day. It has taught me to be adaptable and have Plan B (and Plan C!) ready to do that. Meanwhile, South American groups are very relaxed. They like to arrive, look over the itinerary, and just have fun. The variety keeps me from ever getting bored.
Behind the scenes of Scotland’s promotion
People also ask what the draw to Scotland is for these groups, and many do not realise that it can ultimately come down to the way I pitch the destination. Invariably, they are looking at three or four destinations to place their programme. You weave the programme into what they are trying to achieve from the event; research the client, look at the profile of the attendees, consider the budget, and then put Scotland forward to meet those objectives and expectations.
A client will come over once, twice, sometimes three times, for site visits before they sign a contract. This gives them the opportunity to meet me and enjoy a ‘dummy run’ of their event (that is why I wore a suit for so long!) I quickly learned that people wanted to understand your personality, your professionalism, and what you can bring to the table.
Career ‘Wow’ moments
I have so many stand out events and clients that the list could go on forever, so I am going to try and narrow it down to just a few …
Alongside the previously mentioned Golf Challenge event, a couple of key milestones include a programme with Bentley, and enormous event for Boeing, who took over most of Gleneagles for five days in 2016! Inviting all the owners of airlines that use their aircraft, this was a massive (high-end) occasion, hosted as a thank you from Boeing. This was their first time presenting an event in Scotland, and it took about a year and a half to put together.
I could not have delivered this as smoothly as I did without the help of golf fanatic Rob Phipps (Business Director of Boeing), who I have fond memories of testing out the iconic courses at Turnbery, St Andrews, and Gleneagles with. I loved it. We are still friends, and I am very proud of what was delivered.
I have also been fortunate enough to work with partners that truly embody Scotland’s culture; it doesn’t get much more traditional than the ‘Mini Military Tattoo’ that I organised alongside the team at the Dewar’s Distillery in Aberfeldy for 4 years. Inspired by Edinburgh’s spectacular Royal Military Tattoo (and starring many of their performers), this was an unbelievable contract and another huge learning curve.
The commitment from the team was incredible, with the performers giving up one of their Sundays to travel up to Aberfeldy and do a mini performance of the capital’s main show. Running from 2004-2007, this event took place every August and each year grew a little bigger and a little slicker. I was responsible for all of the event’s logistics, from building the 2000-person arena and arranging catering, to coordinating marketing and security cover.
Lifting the lid on my favourite hidden gems
The Scottish Events market is still so Central Scotland based, for obvious reasons. Big airports, big cities, etc. However, there are a few locations I would love to see groups explore more. The Scottish Borders, Aberdeenshire, and the Southwest of Scotland in particular.
I have always had a soft spot for the Southwest of Scotland. I have a few favourite venues and people, all providing incredible services down there, and I would love to bring a little bit more business to them. In particular, Jill Chalmers, Managing Director for Glenapp Castle, has been a pleasure to work with. She is a driving force behind the Glenapp name and works hard to ensure the Southwest of Scotland has a place on the business events radar.
What’s next for Andrew Burnet & Company?
In 2022, I am looking forward to working the business back to pre-COVID levels and I am eager to see how our industry fully adapts to the future as so much has changed. Scotland has a lot of the classic selling points. We speak English, we are pretty easy to get to, and it is a beautiful country with incredible rural space. It offers a lot of nature, history, and culture and (most importantly) we’re known for our fantastic, warm, welcoming people. Scotland is also a leading proponent of green tourism, CO2 offset programmes, and recycling.
I am keeping in touch with great people from larger tourism bodies, such as VisitScotland. Their Head of Business Events, Neil Brownlee has been a great support over the years and is working with the rest of his team to get our destination back to where it was. I really enjoyed their ‘Scotland is Waiting’ campaign, that simply focused on a return to Scottish tourism. I appreciate it will take time, but I am optimistic, and I cannot wait to play a part in that.
Finally, there are so many people who have helped me along the way, but I would like to say a special thanks to a few names that have played an integral part in the success of my career …
Stephen Walker (Director of Sales & Marketing at The Balmoral). Stephen has been a great mentor to the business and a good friend.
Diane McRae (Senior Hospitality & Events Manager at the Royal Yacht Britannia). I would like to say a big thank you to Diane for being so very patient with me, my stress levels, the crazy demands, and interesting clients I have brought to Britannia! You have been a true delight to work with.
Simon Rae (Managing Partner & Head of Corporate for DLA Piper Scotland). Simon is a wonderful friend who has trusted me with organising and delivering many of DLA’s high-profile events, dating back as far as 2011.
Andrew Wolffe, Owner of Wolffe Design. For producing my first ever branding. As the business has grown and transformed, he has been there to help develop the designs, alongside supporting with many other marketing projects.