The Big Interview: Showman Pat

Patrick Delaney is about as big a personality as you can get in the international MICE market, with his trademark humour, joy of life and boundless energy.

He claims to be a straightforward man at heart, and wishes to be portrayed “as a simple human who enjoys life, the people around and the work I do”.

The meetings industry, he says, is truly unique. “Where else can you say that during one day you have helped cure a disease, invent a new product, build houses and improve government?

“Meetings and events are far more than a tactical method of bringing people together, they are a way to effect change and I am privileged to be a part of such an industry.

“Some people see the privilege in the travel, the fine food, the unusual venues and different experiences. For me it is for the fact that in just a short period of time we can bring about transformations on both the micro and macro levels. It is a big responsibility but one I have delighted in time and again throughout the whole of my career.”

Delaney is soon to be inducted into the Convention Industry Council Hall of Fame. “After double checking I didn’t have to be dead to receive the accolade I was really chuffed to be placed alongside the likes of Ray Bloom, Roger Tondeur and Fay Beauchine, people I have looked up to throughout my career. Our industry associations are the life blood of what we do, so recognition from the largest and most influential is a real treat,” he says.

Delaney has had a multi-faceted career, admitting to having been an industry ‘poacher’ and ‘gamekeeper’, having worked for DMOs, DMCs and agencies.

He started out as a sausage maker, going on to spend time as a hotel manager, a hotel inspector and a tour guide, all roles (sausages aside) that were hugely influential on his later work in meetings. “They gave me an understanding of people, of customer needs and a wider perspective on the world,” Delaney explains. 

“Being a tour guide showed me that if you want to deliver knowledge and information, engaging your audience is critical to success. It is how you make people feel.”

Being a hotel manager, he adds, gave him a grounding in the importance of detail and how to structure complex projects and operations. “A mixture of late night drinking and my role as a hotel inspector is also the closest I ever got to being arrested, but a mixture of Irish fast talking and knowledge of the local law enforcement thankfully saved the day and my career in government employment.

“From there it was the usual industry story of waking up one morning and realising I had accidentally moved from one job to another and was all of a sudden a meetings professional.”

Delaney is, indeed, a fast and spellbinding talker, but also a great listener. “Be interested, not interesting,” is his advice. “Good listening rather than talking is the more important skill. I would also tell someone new to the industry that someone else probably has the solution to whatever challenge they are facing, so stay quiet and listen and ask for help. 

“Find the right combination of people and resources to achieve whatever it is that needs doing. And, whatever you do, do it with passion, commitment and a desire for excellence but with a sense of humour. The meeting planner’s role is really stressful and a sense of humour helps give everything a sense of perspective.”

After the large agencies and MCI/Ovation, the past three years have seen a focus on his new start up Soolnua.

“We have survived the first three years which can make or break a company, and have learnt what not to do and how not to do it.  We are focused and confident in delivering to our customers (destinations, venues, hotels and organisations) practical advice on how they increase their MICE business through our marketing, strategy and training services. We have also learnt to say no, which was an important lesson. Now we continually seek more of what we love doing.”

How did his time at MCI/Ovation impact his current role?

“After a time selling Ireland in the US I decided to move back to Ireland, and I helped set up a classical music festival for 27,000 people. It was a great success but after the financial backers stepped down I set up Delaney Marketing Consultants – DMC. That led onto the development of Ovation along with Pádraic Gilligan, my business partner and friend, and constant provider of support and inspiration throughout my career.

“Joining forces with MCI was then a pivotal moment as we were the biggest fish in the Irish pond. With MCI we saw a 200-strong workforce become 2,000; we opened Ovation offices in more than 100 countries and truly learnt what it takes to work in a global multi-service organisation with scale. After seven successful years, however, I wanted more freedom than a large corporate environment could provide.”

Delaney says the need now is to find the right balance between the diverging nature of the large and small businesses in the industry.

“We are seeing continuing consolidation versus specialisation. The market is dominated by a handful of scale-driven, wide spectrum agencies, AMCs and DMCs who battle against niche specialists for client budgets. The trend towards transparency and the desire for authentic experiences is making the battle fairer as the need for value and tangible results becomes ever more important. Our buyer and end user community is also more intelligent and educated than ever before, driving greater professionalism from the industry as a whole.”

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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