C2-MTL hits Montréal and explores the relationship between commerce and creativity.
IF JEAN-FRANÇOIS BOUCHARD, PRESIDENT OF SID LEE AND THE VISIONARY BEHIND C2-MTL, HAD IT HIS WAY, this newfangled global business conference exploring the relationship between commerce and creativity would have grandstanded an airplane, decked it out in lights and parked it at the outdoor plaza like an aircraft-as-art showpiece.
Instead, the three-day event’s plaza became a giant sandbox by day, decked with umbrellas and Adirondack chairs; by night, the setting transformed into a stage for exclusive performances by Cirque du Soleil, Moment Factory and electronic music legend Moby.
These were just some of the surprises of this brand new annual event that took place in Montréal this spring.
The other surprise was the plethora of corporations that wanted to hitch themselves to C2-MTL through their own worldwide exclusives. The highly anticipated IBM 2012 Global CEO Study was released. The Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington launched her mobile app “GPS for the Soul.” Cirque du Soleil demonstrated some of its jaw-dropping R&D discoveries through scintillating performances. Then there was Fast Company’s release of its latest “100 Most Creative People in Business” list, of which 30-plus of the listed mavericks schmoozed the crowd at the magazine’s highly anticipated launch party, which coincided with the opening of the city’s new smart building, Phi Center. And that was just the start.
Coincidence, or were these extraordinary launches by design?
More than 1,200 business and creative leaders from more than 40 countries gathered in Montréal’s up-and-coming Griffintown neighborhood, dubbed the Quartier de l’innovation, mere blocks away from the formidable cobbled stones of Old Montréal.
“We see this event as a three-way conversation,” said Nadia Lakhdari, content and editorial director at C2-MTL, describing some of the strategy behind the sold-out show’s edgy concept. “At a lot of business conferences, there is the content and the speakers prepare their presentations, then the people arrive and they give their speech. People go home, and it’s a one-way conversation, no dialogue. So we wanted to create a dialogue where the attendees help it evolve during the three days.”
For instance, there was a panel devoted to burning questions.
“We gathered a bit of inspiration from the conference world where people arrive and want to know what to talk about,” she said, describing the impetus for the Burning Questions panel.
For audience feedback, an onsite editorial team honed in on tweets, devised hashtags and polled registrants on topics via social media.
“The editorial team was like a voice of the delegates,” Lakhdari said. “Creativity is not something you can talk about rationally, you have to experience it.”
Before heading into the event, attendees passed through Moment Factory’s installation—a cave of flickering lights harkening to the Stone Age, with a glaring red button as the centerpiece. When pushed, a pre-recorded voice expelled the one-liner: “Be prepared to reset your mind,” a subliminal message that radiated during the city’s newest annual event.
The other discovery was how client and host worked harmoniously. The city’s tourism office is eager to capture the hearts and minds of the meeting and event industry by showcasing the abundance of local talent. Nearly 50 public- and private-sector partners rallied behind C2-MTL, which became a vehicle to showcase Montréal’s burgeoning creative talent. Meanwhile, the client has never been more ramped up to hit the meeting industry spotlight.
C2-MTL is a recently created non-profit organization, but its board of directors is comprised of 14 significant institutions, including the city’s economic and urban development division. Tourisme Montréal, Bouchard says, hopped on board instantly, and partners Cirque du Soleil, HSM Global and Fast Company followed as the conversations began with these astute business leaders discussing how this event could be an industry game changer.
“About five years ago, we decided to make this ‘creative city’ concept come to life,” said Charles Lapointe, president and CEO of Tourisme Montréal. “Tourisme Montréal is not the only one. We had been listening to what leaders in our business sectors had been saying. There is a tradition in Montréal of being a little original, so this contributed to the creative concept of C2-MTL. From this decision, that’s when we decided to look at creating this creative conference called C2-MTL.”
“Everybody wanted to get in on it,” Lakhdari said, admitting delegates who registered wanted to explore the relationship between commerce and creativity while businesses were curious as to how the whole show would pan out.
The C2-MTL conference has even spearheaded urban development in gritty Griffintown.
“When we saw this area, we said, ‘Yeah, this is what we want,’ but event planners would normally have steered clear away from this place,” Bouchard said about the emerging district.
“We love the symbolism. We’re lighting up Montréal in a whole other way,” Lakhdari said, explaining the main meeting venue called New City Gas. These days, Griffintown’s biggest draw is this historic industrial structure, which, in its previous life, was the city’s first gas light building that illuminated the entire city in the early 19th century.
Now the industrial building’s been repurposed as a special events venue, which opened exclusively for C2-MTL, and in the process, has joined what local meeting organizers hope is Montréal’s roster of other leading-edge meeting products.
Inside the New City Gas, originally designed by Canadian architect John Ostell—the principal who gave the city’s skyline McGill University, the Grand Seminaire de Montréal and Notre-Dame-de-Toutes-Graces—the building’s main floor emanated a dark brooding N.Y.-gallery-meets-a-trendy-Montréal-bar.
Hung on the walls were handmade posters crafted in real time illustrating the guest speaker presentations sponsored by Autodesk. Overlooking flat screens streaming the conference live were bar tables that became hubs for overzealous laptop users typing the latest sound bites. By the bar, it was chatter between delegates with the majority texting that chatter in Wi-Fi sound clouds.
Business was everywhere.
That’s how Canada’s hottest ad agency likes to do things. Give them a zinger and make them want more. Overall, 10 themes were explored from new age-type ideas like thinking patterns and creative spaces to the more mainstream such as start-up mentalities and corporate culture.
“Our dream for C2 is to make an amazing sandbox to have people come and play; so let’s make an event in Montréal, invite the biggest names in their industry to talk about creativity and commerce,” Lakhdari said about the hefty speaker list that saw the likes of Google CFO Patrick Pichette (a former Montréaler), hotel impresario Ian Schrager, former Disney head Michael Eisner and legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, to name a few.
Was it easy?
“Sure,” said a satisfied Bouchard, who shared how Google’s Robert Wong was the first speaker to accept the invitation—and for the great Coppola? It was Montréal.
“He knows a lot of people in Montréal and the city has a vibrant movie industry,” Bouchard said.
Montréal is a hotbed for creativity. Home to Canada’s most revolutionary high-tech design firms, animation studios and ad agencies, not to mention the exported wave of artists like Celine Dion, Guy Laliberté and Arcade Fire, you only begin to scratch the surface to this island city.
Designated by UNESCO as a “City of Design,” Montréal boasts more than 25,000 designers. Now enter the push for C2-MTL.
“We’re hoping to present a different experience, and at the same time, we want people to be immersed in creativity and experience the whole village we set up,” Lakhdari said. “Essentially, we want people to bond with each other on a personal level, not just in a traditional business sense.” One+
business of meetings,
One+ September 2012