TBY talks to Roger Gaspar, CEO of Talents Management, on the event business in Lebanon.

Roger Gaspar
Roger Gaspar has been CEO of Talents Management since June 1999, having previously worked as Chairman of Radio Consult ME for over seven years. Prior to this, he was Managing Director/Owner of Radio One Lebanon between 1983 and 2008. Between 2002 and 2006, he was also General Manager of Talents Records.

How did Talents Management start in Lebanon, and how has it evolved since its establishment?

After starting the radio station Radio One, we began producing creative concepts and managing entertaining events. Talents Management organized the first international tennis tournament to take place in Lebanon after the civil war. Players such as Henry Leconte, who was then ranked seventh in the world, participated. It was not until 1999 that Talents Management developed a large portfolio of talent in sports, music, and other forms of entertainment, but I wanted to launch the company in a spectacular manner. That year Talents Management held an official launch party, with a performance by Guy Manoukian and a 20-minute firework display. Management can start anywhere—from a small operation in a retail store to the Olympic Games, which is one of the largest events in the world. We started collaborating with radio by using below-the-line marketing strategies. Our first company's clients were Procter & Gamble and Nokia. The company grew considerably in size over the years, and we opened our first office abroad in Jordan in 2005, followed by Syria and Saudi Arabia in 2007. Today, we have offices throughout the MENA region including Egypt, Dubai, Qatar, and Kuwait.

What is the percentage of international companies you work with?

Lebanon is a small country approaching 4 million citizens. Around two-thirds of our customers are international, including Procter & Gamble, British-American Tobacco (BAT), Nokia, LG, Microsoft, Touch, America Life Insurance, and many liquor companies. We operate locally with a global outreach spreading from the Middle East to Europe. We consider this a very large market, especially for major events. For example, we held an event for the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and it was a very important milestone for our business. It involved destination management and a lesson in Saudi Arabian culture. Many of the women that landed in the Kingdom were not wearing the compulsory hijab, and we had to clarify certain Saudi Arabian laws. Nonetheless, the event was staged flawlessly, and solidified Talents Management's presence in Saudi Arabia.

Which country is the most important for Talents Management in terms of events?

The most important country that we are focusing on currently is Iraq. The risk is very high as is most business being carried out in Baghdad. Iraq has a population of 33 million, but the service industry is non-existent. We have recruited 1,000 employees part-time to carry out marketing for retail in places that are considered safe zones. Furthermore, we are targeting government events. There is huge potential in Iraq as a result of its new, exciting market.

What major events do you have planned for the short term in Lebanon?

We recently handled the entire rebranding of MTC Touch; from the initial concept to the organization itself. We came up with the concept of lighting up the entire building with colored lasers that changed from red to blue, and the event was broadcast via satellite. It was the kind of project that I thoroughly enjoy; large events are what I consider to be the most fun. We are currently focusing on events such as the Virgin Festival (V-Fest), which takes place all over the globe. We were supposed to stage the event at the end of August, but, because of the current situation, we have postponed it until the summer of 2014. We may also carry out joint projects with Dubai.

What sectors are you trying to attract?

We organize conferences for Microsoft, the Ministry of Telecommunications, and a number of governmental and semi-governmental events. One sector I am particularly interested in is sports. I used to be a tennis player, and ranked among Lebanon's Top 16 in 1994. Talents Management is pitching for the Arab Games in 2015. It is crucial for us to partner with a foreign-based company focused on sports.

What makes Lebanon different from other countries in the entertainment sector?

Going back in time to the 1970s and 1980s, Lebanon was the only country in the region that could pull off larger events. The Lebanese have always been exposed to Western events and music, especially from London and Paris. Lebanon has long been used as a platform to launch new ideas and new innovations for the region. We even compete against European countries on a production level.