Anupa White is the Director of Principal Global Events, a creative boutique agency that has built events and experiences for the corporate sector all over the world for more than 20 years. And Anupa’s busy lifestyle couldn’t reflect the nature of the business more. I manage to catch her in between back-to-back events – she’s just returned from Marbella, launching straight into preparing for a pitch for a well-known management consultant, a product launch for Dell EMC on 5th Avenue in NYC, followed by a summit meeting in Monaco. “Our work is never the same. Every event is different – every country, every client, every experience,” she says.
The nature of Principal celebrates those differences, in that every experience is unique and exclusive, from high-pro le product launches to intimate high-end events. “Our clients and their delegates are well travelled and cultured – they’ve seen it all and done it all. In a competitive industry you need to instantly excite and intrigue them with the memorable and unusual experiences you create, and that’s the service we take pride in – we never offer the same thing twice.”
Principal has come a long way since Anupa started the company in 1994 alongside co-director Takis Kyprianou. The partners initially started a marketing company in a tiny room hired from their accountant, with just a rotary dial telephone, pre-dating email and even (gasp) social media. “My background, along with my partner’s, is marketing, contracting and group travel, so we set up Principal to market overseas independent hotels in the UK. From there we grew organically as we started arranging events at those hotels; eventually we were doing that all over the world. We had the interest, the passion and the aspirations to make a success of it,” she says.
As with starting any business there were challenges. “Starting so young is hard in events, as experience is everything and the more you are exposed to it the better you are at your craft. So when we started out it was all down to quickly building trust and instant rapport with our clients. I exuded the confidence that I could deliver just as well as any of my competitors, and people could sense my enthusiasm, and bought into my creative ideas and ambition. I’m all for thinking out of the box, leading and directing clients into achieving what they set out to do while having fun on the way!”
After building a solid client base and reputation, the company re-branded in 2013, with Principal Global Events specialising in events all over the world, and Principal London DMC bringing overseas clients to the cultural melting pot of London and the rest of the UK. “We did that to separate the two brands. With Brexit and more business coming to the UK it has worked in our favour. As far as people are concerned, the UK is more accessible and cheaper, so the Principal London brand is doing extremely well.” In addition to the two brands working out of offices in Camden, they have a Greek office, and Confec, a joint venture between Principal Global Events and McLean Events, was sold to American company Questex eight years ago.
The variety of their work is fascinating, as are the situations that they face day-to-day when running events. “We’re put in very highly stressful scenarios – the team has to deal with anything that comes their way. Everyone is trained, from food and wine, to being a first aider, because ultimately we’re responsible whether on site with 20 delegates or one thousand.
“People only really see the glamour and glitz in the end product, not what’s behind it. In live events you’re on call 24/7 because anything can happen. People collapse, projectors go down, there are accidents. You’re working in a foreign country so you have language and understanding issues. The communication between the languages, culture, venues, and the different aspects you have to deal with are so complex. If you get what you think you were going to get, you’ve done well!”
Anupa’s most exciting and challenging task in her career to date was for major client MailOnline in Cannes 2016. “MailOnline wanted to showcase their brand through celebrities, parties, and panel discussions, so we created the most amazing series of events and I was so thrilled with how it worked. We produced no less than 31 events over four days across a luxury yacht, quayside terrace, villa and sail boat, taking four days of set-up, 25 security guards, 20 hour days and just four hours sleep a night. My team needed stamina to keep up, lots of sun cream, and a good understanding of one another! You can’t help but form strong bonds with your clients, as well as your internal team when working so hard and for so long on one project. It’s hard to describe the feelings of executing such a complex event; tiring, exhilarating, satisfying, emotional. You step back at the end to appreciate how everyone has reacted to what you’ve produced, and you can’t help but feel so much pride in what’s been achieved.”
These challenges seem to drive Anupa, literally. She recalls a client summit for EMC during the 2015 Monaco Formula One based in a hotel overlooking one of the most infamous hair pin bends in the F1 series. “Given that our hotel was based on the track itself, getting people, luggage, equipment, and catering in and out required accurate planning. There was no room for mistakes. If our timing was off, we ran the risk of the entire event being compromised. The stress on our shoulders to organise the event from start to finish required months of planning, logistics, meetings, licences, favours and good ground contacts.”
It is this hands-on and meticulous approach that has gained Principal yet another prestigious accolade, the M&IT Gold Award for Best Intermediary Agency in March this year. “It is the main industry award, so to even be nominated, let alone receive the gold award is such an achievement. For us it’s really important because the awards are not decided upon by a panel or industry experts, but by clients. The clients have to feel that they received good service, that you have done a good enough job, and feel strongly enough to vote for you.”
Anupa attributes some of their success to the fact that Principal have stayed true to their core. “We haven’t grown too big – we’ve kept to a size which allows myself and my co-directors to be fully involved, to show our clients we’re there and even at director level, we still care about their event. I am on-site and run events with my team. I’m very visible, not just when projects go live, but in the pitching and planning stages too. Understanding our clients, being creative and coming up with something interesting and different and being able to operate it smoothly and consistently is essential. But you have to get your clients to buy into not just your brand but you in the first instance, and that’s through building strong relationships.
“You’re in a people’s game and you represent your company and those services to the end client, and if they don’t like you, they’re not going to buy from you no matter how many awards and accolades your company might have.”
Photographs by Leo Johnson