Featured in this weekend’s Sunday Times was an interview with Jane, talking about award wins, Green Light Events’ beginnings, and where Cogs & Marvel is headed. Check out the article in The Sunday Times online or read on…
Events queen living her fantasy
Interview Gavin Daly
Cogs & Marvel’s Jane Gallagher organised a Game of Thrones banquet for Google, and she’s hungry for more
Jane Gallagher points to three new additions to the trophy cabinet at Cogs & Marvel, the Dublin events agency she founded with her business partner Roisin Callaghan. There’s one for best event management company of 2016, one for team of the year, and one for the best corporate event of the year.
The recent Event Industry Awards at a Dublin hotel were undoubtedly less glamorous than the events for which Cogs & Marvel gets recognised for organising. They include a leadership summit for 800 executives of DoubleClick – a division of Google – featuring a Game of Thrones-themed banquet in a glass marquee at Luttrellstown Castle.
“It was great,” says Gallagher, beaming. “In this business, you have to keep coming up with new ideas.”
That was a medium-sized event in her world. In September, Cogs & Marvel is taking over three Dublin venues – the 3Arena, Convention Centre Dublin and the RDS – for a Google sales conference that will be attended by 5,500 people.
The company is organising flights for most of those, putting them up in 29 hotels and booking 10 pubs in Dublin. A fleet of 80 coaches will have to run like clockwork over the three-day event.
Gallagher seems unfazed, perhaps because she has done it all before. Google has been a customer for a decade, and Facebook, Uber and Twitter are all on the client list, alongside Irish companies and government agencies.
“We did 168 events last year,” she says. “We’ve done events in 22 countries. A lot of it is repeat business.”
From a brightly decorated office in Sandyford Industrial Estate in Dublin, Cogs & Marvel is on a growth spurt.It is targeting revenues of €23m this year, up from €18m last year, and there is a plan to get to €36m in the medium term.
The newest Cogs & Marvel staff member joined last week, bringing the workforce to 50 people, including 10 in a new San Francisco office headed by Callaghan. In the past year, the company has also brought in a chief executive and changed its name from Green Light Events to better reflect its mix of logistics and creativity: the cogs and the marvel.
“I’m the cogs and Roisin is the marvel,” says Gallagher. “Roisin looks at a room and can see a Game of Thrones banquet; I see how many people we can fit in.”
From Greystones in Co. Wicklow, Gallagher’s late father was director-general of the Institute of Public Administration, and her mother is a retired stenography teacher. She studied hotel management in the early 1990s and went off to work in London for about five years with the Tower Hotel group there.
Back in Dublin in 1998, she went into Jurys hotel in Ballsbridge, one of the capital’s busiest hotels. Over six years, she went from operations to conferencing and banqueting, and then hotel revenue manager. A chunk of her job was matching room availability with events in the hotel, which brought her into contact with Callaghan, who worked for an events company. “I remember thinking, I’d love to get into that,” she says.
Gallagher enjoyed the hotel work and praises her former Jurys boss Dick Bourke, but had had enough by 2004.
“I was working six days a week, up to 12 hours a day. I had no life.”
For a change of pace, she upped sticks to Co. Clare and went to work for Fitzpatrick’s hotel at Bunratty. She had just bought a house in Quin, in southeast Clare, when Callaghan came calling.
“The company she worked for was looking for people, and I really wanted to get into the events business,” she says.
They spent two years working together at Beacon Conference & Incentive, which became part of Platinum One, an events and sports management business owned by Fintan Drury. It had big clients including the Ryder cup but, by the autumn of 2006, Gallagher and Callaghan were ready to do their own thing.
“Google had just set up in Dublin and we noticed this boom in tech companies doing cool things,” she says. ” We wanted to offer something young and fun.”
She pauses and laughs. “That was 11 years ago. We were younger and funner.”
Green Light Events started with the pair working in Callaghan’s one-bed Dublin apartment. For Christmas 2006, both of them got gifts of new laptops.
“We didn’t have a penny, we didn’t have a client, we didn’t have an event. But we did believe in ourselves.”
They were doing a start-your-own-business course when a friend mentioned Google was looking for someone to organise an event for 800 people, with a brief that it should be “in the sun”. They tendered for the business, including an offbeat suggestion of Seville, and were asked to London to pitch to Google.
“The call came back: ‘They are going to go with you, and they are going to go with Seville.'” says Gallagher. “It was like, ‘OK, how are we going to do this?'”
Six days a week for a number of months, Gallagher would collect Callaghan at 6.30am and drive to Google’s Dublin office, where they worked until 9pm. On Sundays, they met at 8am. “We worked so hard,” she says. “It was all new to us and new to them.”
With no real systems in place, the registration and organisation had to be done manually. They chartered planes and organised fibre broadband in the Seville venue. Friends and family pitched in to help and the three-day event in the summer of 2007 went without any big hitch. “At the end, we were in this little cupboard and we burst into tears. We did it.”
Over the next three years, they organised several more events, all outside Ireland. Callaghan had her son in 2011 and Gallagher’s son was born in 2012 but they didn’t slow the pace, she says.
By 2014, they had six staff and were doing 40 events a year. Gallagher recalls dispatching one new employee to Dublin airport on her first day for a US flight. “It was great but we were killing ourselves. We didn’t have time to think.”
In 2015, they brought in Killian Whelan, an experienced businessman and husband of a good friend, as company chair. He advised that one of the duo should focus on events and the other take a step back to look at strategy.
“He said, ‘If you want to build a company, you need to build the engine room.’ We wouldn’t be here without Killian.”
Gallagher kept the events focus and Callaghan drove strategy, including setting up a travel agency in-house in 2015. The company also began hiring specialist creative staff, including a production director and graphic designers. “Recruitment was the scariest part,” says Gallagher. “You could hire people in January and not know if you would have enough work for them.”
The work clearly did come. In the year to the end of August 2016, pre-tax profits almost trebled to €2m, accounts show.
Dave Smyth, a former head of ad agency Ogilvy & Mather in Ireland, joined as chief executive last September with a plan to double the size of the business. Two weeks later, Callaghan moved to San Francisco to set up the US office.
“American companies love the way we operate,” says Gallagher. “We’re quick because those companies are quick.”
It’s not all glamour, however. There is travel, weekend work and late-night phone calls. “We did a five-day event in Singapore and didn’t step outside the hotel and convention centre once. We had to buy coats because of the air-conditioning.”
The name change came after they hired consultants to look at how the business was perceived. THe message was that they were well regarded for logistics but less known for creativity.
“I thought we might change our logo,” she says. “When they suggested changing the name, I said ‘Over my dead body.'”
It grew on her, however, and the rebrand was launched in January.
Gallagher and Callaghan own 40% of the company each, and Whelan and Smyth own the balance. The relationship with Callaghan is “like a marriage”, she says. “We’re lucky because we have each other. We’re both perfectionists but we clash at times, don’t get me wrong.”
Having taken seven years to get to 10 staff, the company will hire up to 10 people by the end of the year and is also looking at acquiring events. It bought the Social Media Summit last year and ran it for the first time in April for 600 people.
“By next year, there might be something else we own,” she says.
A base in Asia Pacific could also be on the horizon in future but Gallagher is in no rush to get on more long-haul flights. “I’m not going,” she says, smiling.
Since the name change, some people have mistakenly congratulated her on selling the company, but there are no plans. “It’s too early. Give it another five years, when I’m hitting 50, and we’ll see.”
At Cogs & Marvel, we believe that every time you get a group of people together, whether they be staff, customers, partners or consumers, you have an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with you. You have an opportunity to turn passive admirers into an army of advocates for your corporate brand. Cogs & Marvel is an event agency that creates brand experiences to delight in the moment and inspire lasting change.
Want to inspire change in your audience? Get in touch with the Cogs & Marvel team.