Presenting Qatar to the UN

Delivering the best of the best was the challenge for Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) Communication’s team when the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO) performed to mark Qatar’s Presidency of 66th General Assembly and ‘UN Women’ initiative.

Preparations for such an occasion, which was held in June 2012 and attended by a list of dignitaries, usually take a year, but the QF team was given just one month’s notice. Ramez Jaber, Head of Events Production, said: “Working within the UN approvals process takes time, with several different levels of protocol to go through.” It was time the team did not have.

Rapidly requesting a meeting with the regular UN events committee, QF was able to identify what was needed to put together the event. Regular meetings, conference calls or in person continued throughout the build-up. This helped to develop a sense of trust between the organizations, leading to a smoother process.

Aside from the actual event, the team had to secure visas, procure flight tickets for the QPO musicians, and arrange hotel rooms. Accommodation was booked in the Hilton Hotel on Sixth Avenue, which was not easy during high season and in close proximity to the UN.

“Everyone had their part to play at QF, whether they traveled or not,” Jaber said. “The team here really pulled together in a sense of pride at the opportunity QF had been given to present its message to the UN.”

Ensuring that details of this prestigious event were made available to the public around the world in a timely fashion required meticulous planning and a high level of adaptability. Tariq Al Sada, QF Head of Press, said: “I started working on a media plan with my team as soon as we were notified the event was going ahead.

“We created interest in the American media as well as back here in Qatar, highlighting the unique way that QPO’s music blends East and West, thereby demonstrating the international language of music.”

Al Sada was part of the team that travelled to New York. “We worked with US-based media professionals to co-ordinate the release of information effectively,” he said. “We had to produce versions of our press releases that were tailored for different markets. For example, it was not necessary to explain about QF to the Qatar media, but it was important to include key information about QF in the press releases that went to foreign news outlets.”

Behind the scenes in New York, Jaber’s organizing team realized that a two-day rehearsal in the General Assembly Hall, where the performance was to take place, was needed. “We met with the UN-authorized companies and decided that, if possible, we would like to have the rehearsals. We were keen for the musicians to be familiar with the venue. The rehearsals also gave us the opportunity to check the technical elements of the production – the lighting, sound, and position of the stage.”

The logistics of getting visas for 100 musicians, belonging to 40 nationalities, at short notice was also of concern.

Eid Al Sayed, Acting Events Manager, added: “Thanks to the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Her Excellency Susan L Ziadeh, the US Ambassador to Qatar, we were able to secure the visas in just two days.

“His Excellency Mr Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser, President of 66th session of UN General Assembly, gave QF huge support in the co-ordination of all logistics and meetings with UN officials. This assistance from his team made it easier to overcome many challenges,” added Al Sayed.

Despite it being UN policy for only them to produce material in official brochures, for the first time they agreed to QF producing and printing an event program in Qatar, which was then shipped to the US.

For the first time, the UN approved an external organizer to use their own pop-up. This was for QF Radio to conduct interviews with VIPs attending the post-event dinner in a nearby marquee.

Nabil Hossam Gaber, QF Radio producer who was at the event, said: “Covering the event at the United Nations was not only a pleasure, but an honor. It was a delicate coverage considering the amount of VIPs we were so lucky to interview.

“Starting from the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon himself, to Mr Nasser Abdulaziz Al Nasser, to the multitude of ambassadors, officials and UN goodwill ambassadors. It sure took a lot of research to get everyone’s background right and to ask the correct questions given the limited valuable time of each, but overall it was an absolute delight.”

Meanwhile, the QF Press team had to work within the constraints of time differences in getting the story out. Al Sada said: “We had to work quickly to get news of the event into the next day’s media because of the time difference between New York and Doha. We spoke with editors to let them know that information would be coming to them in the early hours of the morning so that they could reserve space for inclusion of news of our story.”

Shipping the QPO instruments, which weighed some 5.5 tons, was a fairly smooth operation. “We made sure the Qatar Airways flights were leaving and arriving at suitable times for the instruments to be loaded and offloaded immediately,” Jaber said. The logistics team also attended the unpacking and assembly at the venue.

Performing to an audience of 1,400, the event was deemed a success. “We’ve since received positive feedback from our counterparts at the UN,” Jaber said. “They were particularly impressed by our follow-up in getting the event put together. The QF team has set a high bar we now need to equal or even surpass in future events we put together.”