We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Valerie Bihet a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Valerie, appreciate you joining us today. Coming up with the idea is so exciting, but then comes the hard part – executing. Too often the media ignores the execution part and goes from idea to success, skipping over the nitty, gritty details of executing in the early days. We think that’s a disservice both to the entrepreneurs who built something amazing as well as the public who isn’t getting a realistic picture of what it takes to succeed. So, we’d really appreciate if you could open up about your execution story – how did you go from idea to execution?
Unlike most entrepreneurs, I didn’t have a grand business idea or a plan that I then decided to bring to life. What I had was a request for help with an event, which I knew I could execute well, so I did and from that one interaction a business formed.
I started my first entrepreneurial venture at age 21. I had a staffing company. Just like VIBE, that came about when someone came to me asking me to be a hostess for their event, I wasn’t available but I had a network so I told them I would find a substitute who would bring my same energy level and solution-oriented attitude to the event. Things at that event went really well, as I knew they would, and the client and I discussed an ongoing partnership. And that became my first business.
Through providing hostess services for those events, I had the chance to be in the room with some very big players – this was while I still lived in France mind you. In one of those rooms, I walked right up to a big name at Disney, handed him my card and said, “you’ll need this,” then walked away. That led to me going full time at Disney, which eventually led me to Club Med, which would bring me to Miami in 2000.
One day I go out to lunch with a contact at LVMH and they asked for my opinion on an event they wanted to do. I threw out some ideas and suggestions thinking nothing of it but just that I was being helpful.. Sure enough, they hired me and in 2004 VIBE Agency was born.
Since then I have grown the company to multiple 7-figures in revenue, pre-pandemic that is, and produced more than 1,100 events around the world.
I may not have had a traditional path to entrepreneurship, but I guess the common theme throughout is solutions and networking. Each time a job came my way, it wasn’t necessarily one I set out to have, but someone had a problem so I provided a solution. Then it continued to evolve from there into the business I have today.
Valerie, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
Q: What problems do you solve for your clients?
I help them with their event strategy as it connects to their marketing & sales goals.
Events should be part of the marketing strategy and if the company doesn’t understand how to use events as part of that, I work with them for both internal and external events.
I really believe in the power of events as part of the marketing strategy and should account for 10% of the marketing budget. They are a great way to enhance brand awareness, engage your employees, increase revenue, build brand recognition and drive revenue.
Q: What do you think sets you apart from others?
First, my international background being from Paris and living in the US for so long. I have the European perspective but also an understanding of the US culture. I am an agency owner now with 18 years experience on the corporate side so I can truly understand how my clients operate and what their pain points are so I can address them.
I also spend a lot of time researching and educating myself on the trends in events, travel industry and destinations, and new ideas from other industries that could translate into events. About 25% of my week is dedicated to research so I can be sure I am bringing new things to my clients all the time and they are ahead of the game, rather than following steps behind someone else.
Q: What are you most proud of with your business?
Quite simply, to still be IN business after this pandemic that wiped out so much of the live events industry. I have weathered a crisis in 2008 first and now again with COVID and my business is still standing.
Secondly, I built a brand, not just a company. VIBE has a reputation for our expertise, engagement and the relationships we keep with our vendors and customers alike. They are always so happy to see us when we get the chance to work together and that makes me happy. I love to see my team so well received. I’m proud of that.
Q: What do you want potential clients/followers/fans to know about you and your work?
If I can try to catch the moon for my client I will. There is no stone my team and I won’t overturn to make it the right experience for them. Just recently a client sent us a thank you note where she commented, “We appreciate your hard work, kindness, direcito, attention to detail, ability to herd cats to help us pull off a success meeting.”
I really try to do my best to have my clients feel like a guest at their own event.
Any insights you can share with us about how you built up your social media presence?
Because of who my clients are and the roles they hold at big corporations and luxury brands, I spend a lot of my social time networking and connecting on LinkedIn. I have a dedicated practice to reach out to 25 people everyday. Each one gets a person note along with the connection request so they know why I am reaching out. It helps demonstrate how much I want to actually know them rather than just some random requests people throw out there and never get answers.
From there, I have a systematic followup every few days with additional messages or providing them resources I think would be helpful to their roles at work. I’ve found this consistently yields good results (above 30% acceptance minimum is considered good) and showcases that I am invested in their success – not just my own.
Overall I think the strategy for your social media needs to be relevant to your brand. You need to measure the content that is really resonating with your audience AND be current with what they want to hear about. I am constantly looking at the analytics for what is performing and what is not getting as much engagement so I can provide the content they want.
I also recommend following the Rule of 90 Days. Create content for 90 days, then recycle your content and repost. Maybe you need to tweak the copy or graphic a bit, then reshare it but it works. People don’t remember what they saw 90 days ago so it can seem fresh, or they get a reminder and it’s more of a sticky marketing message.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
The COVID pandemic is the perfect example. I mean, it’s the second example because my company had to weather the 2008 bust and the AIG effect on the meeting industry.
But let’s talk about COVID. The first industry to shut down was mine: events. We had no more in-person gatherings and we didn’t really know when we would be able to do so again. Immediately we had to go into troubleshooting mode and reach out to our clients to provide clear communications about what my team and I were doing to manage the situation for their upcoming events and the vendors & venue contracts that went with it.
Then when we saw that this pandemic wouldn’t be just a couple weeks and it would have a longer effect, I started working on a virtual solution. We had hosted webinars and things before but this would be a new level. I needed to find a way to show my clients how we could still be their partner for virtual events so I created the Good Vibe USA event series.
For the first event, I targeted the French market where a lot of my international brand clients are based so they could experience precisely how a VIBE-produced digital event can engage their attendees remotely. In addition to the live broadcast & entertainment elements, we partnered with a new (at the time) event technology to provide guests ways of interacting with the speakers and each other in chat rooms similar to how they would in-person.
It was my job to not only educate myself about virtual events (and later hybrid & now the metaverse) but to also educate my staff and my clients. Then the next challenge was to bring that education to life for my clients as they truly see how we would do this.
It worked. We managed to pivot some of our clients to virtual events, others chose to postpone, and even picked up new ones like L’Occitane and Porsche. We approached virtual events from the perspective of a TV production while still remembering we needed to send things to guests virtually and provide ways for them to interact with each other AND the speakers.
Now the industry is back to in-person events, or gradually moving that way, and we have been once again looking head to the metaverse. I saw this is where the technology industry had been moving so I wanted to get ahead of it for events.
We are still rebuilding, but after so many event companies have needed to lay off their staff, which I did not, and folded or moved on – we are still standing. That’s big.