Catapult, devise, design & produce events, from concept to completion, and they are design led and service driven. They have been going since 1999, and are Ireland’s longest established event production agency. They are getting more involved in the tech scene and some of their clients include the likes of airbnb, Dropbox, HTC, Intercom, MasterCard and the Web Summit. I recently caught up with Des O’Leary, Catapult’s Director of Operations.
How did you and Catapult get involved in the Irish tech scene?
We have always been pretty innovative from the early days in terms of creating interesting activations, designs and events and integrating tech into them. For instance our founder Ronan Healy managed to borrow jet engines at the first ever event he organised, a college fashion show, and put them on stage.
We have a very curious and inquisitive team who are always exploring new ideas, new technology, new materials and new ways of doing things so it was a natural move into the tech scene
Also, we were a small company ourselves with 4 people in 2007 but we had a startup mentality so naturally we gravitated towards other companies that were trying new ideas out and creating something different so there was a shared drive. We are now over 20 people and we grew up as a company alongside the Dublin tech startup scene and would share a similar ingenuity.
As we have grown so has the tech scene and we have done work for a lot of the top software companies who have come to dominate the scene in Dublin and abroad such as Intercom, Box, Dropbox, PayPal, Amazon, TripAdvisor and Hyperloop One of course.
Many of these companies don’t have a physical product and come to us looking to find ways of trying to represent their company, brand and values in a live environment – whether that’s by having an installation at an event or creating their own event, we work closely with them by helping conceptualise and realise a physical manifestation of what their company represents from start-to-finish.
Recently, we worked on the really successful Inside Intercom World Tour which was held across 12 cities worldwide, including a sold out Dublin event in the Olympia. They’re an incredibly forward-thinking company, that has a real sense of what it wants to communicate about its brand. With Dublin and other tech hubs expanding, messaging is becoming even more prominent to differentiate their offering, this is where Catapult thrives and we can help companies with the creative, strategic and executional aspects of their brand activations.
And of course we have worked aiding the wonderful in-house team at the Web Summit for a number of years since 2011 as they became the largest European tech conference. We also worked with Dropbox at Web Summit and then again at CeBIT in Hannover, Germany – the largest and most internationally represented computer expo.
As a whole, working with tech companies has been a huge growth area for us in recent years, which is great as they’re the guys we started out with and it’s been fantastic to see their growth and that we can help bring their online concepts into the physical world.
The Web Summit must be a huge challenge logistically?
Well, we supplement their stellar internal team. It certainly is a massive event with 30,000 people attending last year and 8 stages. We have learned a lot from working with them in terms of doing large scale events in Las Vegas and now Portugal. They’re certainly a loss to the local scene but it’s great to see them expand internationally and it’s an example that we follow too. We have a number of international festivals in our portfolio now like Innotrans with Hyperloop One in Berlin, CeBIT with Dropbox in Hanover and the Festival of Speed at Goodwood in the UK.
It was always great to see all the people involved in the tech scene get together once a year in Dublin.
So have you learned anything from Tech companies?
Yes certainly the ability to look beyond your own borders and I think that’s important for every growing company like ourselves to realise. Think big and beyond Ireland in terms of your market and the problem you are trying to solve. We’ve tried to internalise these lessons ourselves and as a result here in Ireland this year we have had 1 million people attend free events produced by us and globally we have produced events in London, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Paris, Berlin, New York, Boston, Toronto, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, Cork, Hanover, Belfast, New Orleans, Lisbon and, of course, Dublin.
It has also helped us think more abstractly and innovatively about creative solutions. Looking at some of the ideas we saw at Goodwood Festival of Speed and at Innotrans with Hyperloop One regarding transport it’s amazing the way some entrepreneurs look at problems and come up with real creative solutions. That’s how we approach events now, we bring our clients product to life in a way that can convey the business and marketing objectives that they want. It takes a lot of creative thought and we don’t like to do things the way they have always been done and copy+paste a solution for them – you can’t copy+paste a brand or identity and we don’t want to.
A big trend we have noticed from tech companies too is how they create a company culture for staff to really get invested in their jobs and buy in to the company’s mission. In fact, one of our big growth areas has been internal events which were first seen and used by the tech companies in Silicon Valley such as Google and DropBox and this trend has traveled globally.
Tell me more about that?
Of course, companies like Dropbox, Google and AirBnB will put on events for thousands of their employees to talk about company mission, policy and values as well as let everyone have a good time!
We have had clients such as tech companies and large supermarket chains host these events which have really high-end production values which seek to mirror the brand’s identity and culture.
It’s become a huge change in our business over the past few years and I think it’s for the better as people no longer have a “Human Resource Manager” but a “Head of People” or a “Head of Culture” – it means a more holistic sustainable approach to work. People are thought of not as a resource or commodity but as people. and work not as a place to endure for 8 hours a day during the week but as a valuable thing in your life that you can enjoy and invest in.
The internal events supplement this trend and it’s great to organise more of them here in Ireland.
Is Dublin a unique town?
It’s an amazing town full of character and a blank canvas that you can try things out in. We also work with the Dublin Commissioner for Startups which led to bringing the Dublin Makes Me campaign to SXSW and Tech Open Air which was a great realisation and reminder that we are a unique town who travel well and support each other at home and abroad.
We have an abundance of tech companies that are willing and excited to throw an event or commission a piece to get the city’s attention and creative people able to things differently.
Whether it’s some of Joe Caslin’s pieces, some of the great work done by Block T or even some of the more creative cafe’s and barista’s like Colin Harmon in 3fe there’s been a blooming of creative thought in Dublin over the past few years.
Any town that allows us to put a 250ft water slide in the city centre has to be unique!
What advice can you offer companies that are just starting out?
Remember the journey of your customer. The end user’s experience is so important whether you are a store you can walk into or not. Think about what you want to convey to your customer or market – what is your message or brand. I meet many really intelligent people who have built great companies that don’t know what their message or brand is and we have to walk them back through to the genesis of their original idea. UX is the key to success. At Catapult UX is always the end goal.
What milestones do you plan to reach in the next 6 months?
Catapult currently employ 19 people full time. At the start of 2014 there were just 7 of us so we have seen rapid growth in terms of employment in the last three years and we’ll be adding to the team before the year’s out!
Catapult currently produce over 200 events per year for a wide range of clients across the industry.
We are 17 years old this year and I started in the company when I was 27 – we have just experienced our busiest ever September and October months in those 17 years which is great and manic. And that is all down to the team Ronan Healy and I have built over the years. We have found the most diverse team with the most impressive talents and a great work ethic.
The company is expanding internationally. As part of that, our company is transforming into a place where we are now creating brand phenomena. International companies come to us and they are looking to us to disrupt their market, communicate to their target audience over PR, brand and live events – its brand acceleration brought to the next level.
The company is expanding internationally. As part of that, our company is transforming into a place where we are now developing strategy, concept, design and execution – essentially creating through the line communications.