Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cool Colombia

Glen Cameron is one of the SweeneyVesty team who manage my speech and media programs out there on the road. He is an advance negotiator and logistician for keynotes and media around the globe, and occasionally plays onsite diplomat. We were together in Colombia for a first-ever visit. It won’t be the last. Here is Glen’s perspective.

Polls devoted to finding the world’s happiest people in recent years have shown Colombia turning up in the top 5 countries. If “relaxed” equals “happy”, then Bogotá (population close to eight million) easily lives up to the hype.

It’s just that for Colombians, that’s not the hype they normally have to live with. While Colombia has moved past the days of cartels, rebel incursions, corruption and uncertainty, the rest of the world has more trouble forgetting the not so distant past. Yet every Colombian who was asked the question “is it safe here?” answered, “Yes, Colombia is safe. Don’t worry”.

I was with Kevin in Colombia to assist with his speech to Expomarketing, and to announce the launch of Saatchi & Saatchi Colombia. This event, for over 1,000 attendees, is proof positive that the Colombian marketing community is ready to hit the next level – albeit not too early in the day! The (wildly) ambitious 8am kickoff passed without murmur and a general lull ensued for the next 75 minutes when, as if by magic, everyone suddenly felt like the conference should finally get underway. Relaxed.

Progress is key to Colombia though, and nothing gets in its way. Perhaps it was the presence of the progressive President of Colombia elsewhere in the complex that contributed to the zeal – but running a version of the All Black Haka Kevin shows at the start of his speeches to the sound of power drills and compactors, in a massive congress hall in Bogotá – was a mash-up I hadn’t predicted experiencing just a few months earlier. Under duress, those workers did stop, but this only served to refocus our ears on the preparations of the lunchtime entertainment at the other end of the hall – a band doing a sound check. Nobody seemed to mind, and after a while, neither did we.

Watching serenely throughout the morning, and indeed all the time we were there was Kevin’s security officer, whom we’d been advised (paradoxically) to retain. A clean cut, dapper, and occasionally engaging figure, he had little to do, but rarely have I seen so little done with such low-key aptitude and clarity. In more questioning times you might call it quiet menace or massive authority. Although mainly unnecessary, the key to having this security was the lack of police checking that slows down life in Colombia. It seems the security firms have a sort of carte blanche to do as they wish. This was reflected in our man’s ability to move through gridlocked traffic at some speed, without recrimination from other drivers … We moved like comparative quicksilver.

After the speech, and the generous audience, we headed off to do interviews with El Radar, El Tiempo, Dinero and W Radio. Here we must say special thanks to Claudia and her team at Newlink assisting with top-notch professionalism and a human touch. After that, it was time to leave the world’s third highest capital city. No time to see the sights (although I was told that Monserrate, a monastery overlooking Bogotá, is pretty special). It wasn’t about the sights though – it was about people engaged in progress. Looking forward.

In Colombia, positivity rules, and the future is to be won. Maybe it’s really true that the past is a foreign country. From Cartagena to Cali, Bogotá back to Barranquilla, Colombia feels like one of the most welcoming, relaxing and (whisper it) relieving experiences you could surprise yourself with. Even better, they have beautiful, clear, easy to understand Spanish, making it easier to engage. We all feel better for having been there. Happier.