Angeles Moreno is the founder of the Creative Dots, a company that helps corporations design their customer journey and create a culture of customer-centricity. Angeles has been in the events industry for over 30 years and possesses international experience with a large network.
Entrepreneurship is in her DNA. She has launched and run two companies during past crises and was able to overcome the obstacles they presented to her. Now running her third company, she is faced with a new crisis—COVID-19—which has unique components. But her previous experience has prepared her to navigate through the uncertainty.
I interviewed Angeles about her industry experience, specifically going through the uncertainty faced in the past, and I asked what event professionals should do now to remain resilient and come out stronger from this crisis.
‘My vision was to change tourism’
‘I studied law, and I initially wanted to become a lawyer, which was my parents’ dream. But I had a different plan. When I was living with my family in the Canary Islands, where I grew up, my father was a managing director of a hospitality company, so my dream was to set up the tourism company of the future. My vision was to change tourism. Therefore, I started with law, but in a clandestine way in which I was studying tourism and business management. When my parents found out, there was a big discussion, but I said it was my dream and that’s what I want, I was working for about four years for major companies in the tourism industry before setting up my own.’
‘In 2000, I decided to found a company, something that will change the industry, and I established the first marketplace to organise events online. Although it was exciting at that time, almost no company had a webpage. It was a great learning experience working with technology and international partners. We then closed a fantastic agreement with a telephone company that bought content to launch smartphones. It was a big contract, which took six months of negotiations to come to an agreement. And then, the dot-com crisis came, and my company unfortunately disappeared. But at that moment, I already had entrepreneurship in my DNA, so I was thinking about how to start the next business.’
‘I decided to set up an event management agency in 2001, and I was the owner for 16 years. The business model was fascinating and, therefore, we were approached by many companies that wanted to acquire us.’
The learning from this business was that Angeles made bad partner decisions that brought many legal problems. Everyone who manages a business that becomes successful needs to be particularly careful to protect that because some people will use legal tricks to take the business away. Angeles commented, ‘And you are not used to it, you are just the person who had a dream to make it big. Therefore, you have to be surrounded by good people, which is the biggest challenge. Now, I would never again have a big structure in my business. For me, that was a great learning experience because otherwise, I would never have decided to leave a company because you are in a comfort zone, it’s your company, and you get good payment. And if I had never made this decision, I would never be where I am today, and this has been an incredible journey.’
‘Thanks to this situation, which was challenging at the time, I started with the Creative Dots (my third company now), and it is a dream. It’s not only a company but also provides enjoyment in every project and every conversation.’
‘I took a one-week break before launching the Creative Dots. Before having my new company, I already had a one-year contract signed for our first project for a hotel company. I had a lot of support from everyone. From the very beginning, I had offers for job positions, so it was extremely difficult to decide what would be next. But it was clear to me that I want to run my own business, be independent and make my own decisions. At that time, it was 2017, and I knew that the best you can do is to start moving as soon as possible. It was also the right momentum—not just disappear and then come back.’
The core business of the Creative Dots is designing stakeholder engagement strategies. Creative Dots has its own method—CX Design Playbook—involving five steps in the process of rethinking strategies of stakeholder engagement (internal and external stakeholders); how to engage with them and how to create human centricity culture about a project or a company.
You had an event management agency during the 2008 crisis and lost 50% of your business in one week. Can you talk about this period? How did you feel? Did you take any action? How did you recover from the financial loss? Did you pivot?
‘I’ve been an entrepreneur since 1999. I went through the dot-com crisis, 9/11 and the financial crisis in 2008, which impacted us significantly in 2009. We had a strong year in 2008, and in January 2009, we began getting cancellations one after another. And we had never been in that situation. Because 2008 was a good year, we had a lot of staff and a large office that required major cost investments. I was lucky at that moment because I had very good clients—everyone paid the maximum and respected the contract. I know that many people struggled with this, but we had particularly strict rules with contracting and payment, so that was a healthy business.’
‘The decisions were to begin negotiating and find the ability to get paid the maximum, negotiate well with all the suppliers and try to find a win-win situation with everyone. This was a big decision that I needed to make in one hour. And once the situation was finalised, my decision was to reduce costs to a minimum, keeping only what’s necessary to continue running the business. I decided at that moment, and that was also a significant learning experience for me—to make decisions thinking about the longer term. And that became something that has helped with future decisions, specifically my personal branding.’
‘By the end of 2009, things were recovering. We spent around six months with lower numbers. We also lost a certain client segment— all the national clients—because of the financial crisis. Therefore, we became focused on international clients, and there was a subsequent shift in business in that regard. And since that moment, we have been focusing on international clients.’
How is this crisis different from the previous one?
‘In this crisis, we have two new ingredients—uncertainty and distance. In 2008/9, the biggest problem was a lack of money; so, the biggest decisions of governments and regulators involved how to put money back. They had to rescue the banks, lower conditions for loans, lend money at low-interest rates and “get the ball rolling”. But then, we saw the end of the crisis. Now, no one knows the end of the crisis. Uncertainty is a big element currently. Anyone you talk to, experts or not, or when reading a newspaper, no one knows.’
‘For me, it’s a system reset. We’re focusing on health and confidence, questioning how the future may look. Do we have to think in new models? Are we targeting new buyer types? How can we integrate the new digital platforms? What are we missing?’
Digital transformation is now a reality, so how can we use the online platforms and integrate humanity into that process? We don’t know how to do this yet. Angeles commented, ‘All these new elements make this period for me extremely exciting because we can ask ourselves, “what do I want to be”. The most significant element to be impacted is globalisation. Now, in every country, region and city, you live in a different reality. We as individuals probably want to return to a certain normality, but it’s really a question mark regarding what to do with the system. Distance is a new word that wasn’t in our lives before. We were previously doing the opposite, attempting to mingle together.’
Now, with everyone working remotely and collaborating, can you define what a good collaboration means to you?
‘Think long term, and analyse very well with whom you’re collaborating. I’m highly conscious about how I enter collaborations, what kind of messages are coming from outside and what people are getting from the collaboration. I think that anything should commit to your future, a collaboration has to always be a win-win. In such a win-win you need to understand where you want to be in five years from now—how you want to be seen, hired, paid a certain amount. Collaboration needs to help you go that way. The only reason I go into a collaboration is that is where I want to be five years from now. If you see that a collaboration is not fruitful, you stop it as soon as possible and maintain a good relationship. You put it on the table and say that “it’s not a win-win for both, and it’s better to stop to keep our friendship”. With experience, you will know better when you realise, “Oh, I’ve been here before”.’
How can companies ensure excellent MICE customer management during these unprecedented times?
‘A lot of active listening, a lot of empathy, understanding what the MICE customer needs to decide to create/bring/attend events. Agile thinking and making decisions fast. Companies should bring a unique and differential added value proposition. And lastly, passion. It’s not that the MICE customer doesn’t want to do events, it’s that they are not allowed, and there isn’t an appropriate environment to do it healthily and securely. MICE customers and participants want to go and do events, but we need to give them the right frame so that the client recovers the confidence to create and attend events.’
What do you think is the pathway to ensuring that the industry comes back stronger than ever? What should event professionals do now?
‘The first thing we need to do is to build an industry. We don’t have an event industry as such right now. What is the event industry? Now, many voices are saying that the government is ignoring the event industry, but the problem is that the government doesn’t see the event industry. Everyone organises events. Even if they do it once a year, they are allowed—they don’t need permission, a licence or insurance. Then the question is whether it is a good or bad event—that’s another discussion, but anyone can organise an event.’
‘We are an incredible mix of different industries, and we work with an event at the centre of our strategy. This first thing that we need to do is to create an industry. This will help us to elevate the value of what an event is.’
‘Having a clear definition of the event industry will bring a clear definition of what the event professional does. This will bring light into the education required, job descriptions, roles, promotion etc. Now there’s significant potential, more than ever to rethink this process. Event professionals should take the mission to articulate the value of an event. And once you can say “this event was measured like this, this is the impact, this is the legacy, this is the value and the clear strength of an event, and this is a must for a company to do events because of what they bring”, then we can begin talking about an industry.’
‘We have the mission to take the event from the logistics component (which is a cost) and bring it to the strategic thinking (which is an investment). This approach will also help the industry to be more ready for future crises.’
Are there any other creative/innovative event ideas besides going digital that could shape the future of events post pandemic?
‘I think that there’s substantial potential in demonstrating the value of events. Suppose we never had the opportunity before to articulate it because event professionals were too busy delivering on the logistics in an impressive manner. In that case, there’s the potential right now to have the space to think about an event as the next step: what an event is, its value, legacy and the impact it creates for individuals.’
‘In the digital world, which I think will continue, human engagement has more value and more power than ever. Human interaction is occurring at an event, where people meet to connect, learn, evolve and share businesses, knowledge, experiences and enjoyment. So, if we can articulate this value of an event and elevate that process into a tool that really impacts change, I think we can be proud to place the industry into the next level.’
What are some measures you think should be put in place to ensure that the industry will survive any other global crisis in the future?
‘It depends on the crisis, whether that be financial, security or pandemic related. If it’s a health-related crisis, then pivoting online or having the ability to transport the live to a digital event, it’s great value for everyone. If the next step is hybrid, it’s a great learning experience for the entire industry. For a financial or security crisis, we’ll need to implement different models. It always has to be very agile business models, being able to pivot easily, listening to the world and being ready before problems come.’
‘Be very human centric. We need to create a lot of value for humans; that is our biggest advantage—that we bring people together. So, it must be very customer-focused, strategic thinking. We now realise with all that is currently occurring that logistics is not crucial for the events industry; that must give us some food for thought. If all the hotel, catering, venue, transportation are not there, we need to ask ourselves: What is an event? Is it the platform? Not necessarily; take it out and think of a new model. Now there’s an opportunity to take the event and say, “this is an event”, and these are the types of professionals that an event requires, and the rest is commodity. All the other elements can be taken in or out, depending on the crisis, without impacting what an event is.’
You have a new book coming out. Can you speak about your new book?
During lockdown, Angeles finished writing her first book, which is called ‘The Time Is Now ’. According to Angeles, ‘it’s a promise I made to myself three years ago when I went through the process of losing my company, which also impacted me personally. I made this promise to myself to put this experience black on white because that will help others. I’ve been through that because no one told me, and now I can help other people not to go through that.’
‘It has been a great pilot test on how to write books. Now, we are starting to write a book on the method we are using at the Creative Dots—the CX Design Playbook. I’ve mentored entrepreneurial projects, individual professionals and professional associations, and I have the feeling that I owe that to the people. I see a lot of people and projects that, because they don’t embrace transformation from a positive perspective, or they are hesitant in the decision-making process to make strong decisions, the projects fail. For me as a mentor, this is a suffering stage. By reading this book, you will see how to face transformation. I explain what transformation means for myself and Creative Dots, and I also share other examples of people I admire who have been through professional transformation due to different reasons. I owe this book to the many people and organisations that put their trust in my current company and our transformation processes.’