Ben Laloux, the man behind the online event platform MEEPLE: “It’s exploded and suddenly we’re a frontrunner”.
Things are going fast for MEEPLE. The online event platform has smoothly passed the mark of 35 online events since its launch in September. The strong man behind the project is Ben Laloux, although he himself remains modest about his role. “MEEPLE is a team effort and has claimed its place,” he explains.
IN THE BELGIAN EVENT SCENE, YOUR NAME ROLLS OVER TONGUES QUITE OFTEN, BUT FOR THE UNINITIATED: WHO IS BEN LALOUX?
BEN LALOUX: “Well, I’m Ben and I’ve been working in the event world for about 15 years now, 8 of which at Sylvester. There I am Senior Event Producer, which means that I am assigned projects and follow them from the initial to the final stage. From briefing, concept, proposal, organisation to execution of the event. The latter is obviously the most fun. A very varied job too, as I deal with small-scale events as well as large public events for hundreds of thousands of people.”
BEN: (laughs) “Definitely. For example, the Tall Ship Race in 2016 was a highlight of my career for me personally. A very big and cool one to do. Half a million visitors over four days in Antwerp on a site a few square kilometres in size, that’s quite a challenge, not least because it was so unique and new at the time. Another project I have fond memories of is the event in 2019 around the 75th anniversary of the liberation during World War II. Very rewarding because both events were so complex.”
YOU SAY “COMPLEX”, I AM QUICK TO CALL THAT “PURE CHAOS”.
BEN: (laughs) “In any case, the pressure and chaos are there. The bar can and should be high. I’m also lucky that at Sylvester we just have a lot and very good people. You never do those projects alone. At least I find myself in a bit of a luxury position in the sense that the people at the office take on aspects and parts of such an event in a successful way. It is therefore important for me to be on the same page with those people. That doesn’t mean we all have to have the same opinion, but we know what it takes to set the bar high. That actually makes my job, as a liaison between our strong team and the client, quite “easy” too. But you shouldn’t take note of the latter.” (laughs)
“ORGANISING EVENTS, WHETHER PHYSICALLY OR THROUGH MEEPLE, REMAINS A TEAM EFFORT.”
LAUGH TOGETHER, CRY TOGETHER. MAYBE EVEN MORE THE LATTER IN 2020? THE EVENTS SECTOR WAS HIT IN A VERY HARD WAY.
BEN: “The year 2020 went by incredibly fast. On a private level, it was already pretty bad. We weren’t able to do much, holidays were very limited. I turned 40 in 2020, nice round number. My comrades and I had big plans to celebrate that, but unfortunately that could not happen. Professionally, we have evolved with Sylvester. In March, the lockdowns started and that was a slap in our face for a while. Then, as a company, you can give up or go into survival mode. We made a switch and invested heavily, both financially and in terms of knowledge. Sylvester – in addition to physical events – is also involved in digital events these days thanks to those investments. I find it very strange, because I can’t even remember how that process happened. It happened exactly all by itself. Before I realised it, we were actually building a virtual platform.”
MEEPLE. CAN I CALL IT YOUR NEW BABY?
BEN: (laughs) “It’s Sylvester’s baby. And in any case, it is growing up very fast. In a short time, MEEPLE has exploded and has become the leader in Belgium within the market of online event platforms. MEEPLE six months ago is certainly no longer today’s MEEPLE. Many teething problems have been ironed out. Logical too, as we have gained tons of experience in the meantime. Since September, we have been running weekly online events practically non-stop. That caused a lot of stress, because you already organise events for clients in front of thousands of participants and in the meantime you are busy behind the scenes, adjusting and improving the platform. Fortunately, I can proudly say that all the digital events so far have gone more than well.”
VIRTUAL EVENTS. SOUNDS LOGICAL TO ORGANISE THEM THESE DAYS.
BEN: “The term ‘virtual events’, I am quite critical of that. A lot of virtual events are being done through streaming. That makes sense, that’s also important. I think we were very quick to provide professional streams for companies. But still, we wanted to go a few steps further with their digital happenings. We offer a deeper experience with MEEPLE because the platform is actually a virtual event venue. And that opens new doors and possibilities. You can compare it to a physical venue where you step from one room to another, on MEEPLE you just do that with a few simple clicks.”
JUST A BIT MORE EFFICIENT, IN OTHER WORDS.
BEN: “Not only that, it also makes sense. It broadens the spectrum of such digital events. You can, like at a physical event, offer a programme where, for example, you have a plenary session and can invite people into different groups and breakouts afterwards. There again, visitors can follow other presentations. You can set the theme and connect people via video chat. All ingredients that everyone has become familiar with today due to circumstances, but we noticed that it might be useful to gather all those ingredients in the same place. Usually you have to choose, on MEEPLE you can easily switch.”
“THE EVENT WORLD IS DEFINITELY GOING TO LOOK DIFFERENT AFTER CORONA.”
BEN: “For D’Ieteren, for example, we set up a digital B2B car show. In the beginning, we were, for a while, wondering how to literally translate a physical car show into an online version. We eventually chose to run that virtual car show for a whole week, with different presentations at different times. That way, visitors could choose when they wanted to follow which presentations and performances themselves. One moment they could follow a technical presentation of a specific car brand, the next a fascinating debate about the future of electric driving. The audience that wants to follow such a debate, for example, can do so live, but there is also a significant group that watches it at a later time.”
PHYSICAL OR ONLINE EVENTS, BEN?
BEN: (laughs) “I knew that question was coming! Look, we set the bar, again and again, at its highest, through new creative infills, finishes, etc. It’s no different for the online component. MEEPLE is still very young, we’ve been at it for just over half a year and that train is still moving at a high pace. I also find that enormously interesting and really enjoy working on it. I therefore intend to continue doing that in the future. Now, should Geert, our CEO, present me with the choice tomorrow of either being 100% at MEEPLE or getting involved in setting up a public event in a big city with nice boats… I would still choose the boats.” (laughs)
THAT’S PRETTY SPECIFIC.
BEN: (laughs) “Ah, no, no. That’s purely coincidental!”
IS THE EVENT WORLD DEFINITELY GOING TO LOOK DIFFERENT POST-CORONA?
BEN: “Yes, I don’t think anyone is going to argue with that. Are there going to be physical events again? Of course, I think that still adds value. But the same goes for online events. I think that people now have become convinced that digital events can also have a specific added value. That is why I am also sure that platforms like MEEPLE have claimed their place within the event world. They’re here to stay. For the simplest and most complex of reasons.”
PLEASE EXPLAIN?BEN: “A digital event platform, in my opinion, can be compared to the evolution there has been within the television world. Linear versus digital TV viewing. People, especially young people, are used to consuming digital television. They want to be able to choose what they watch at any time of the day. At an event, we are also going to see this same movement. In fact, it is already happening now. Creating the same feeling at home as at a physical event will be difficult. But the reality is that a physical event tomorrow might be attended by 1,000 people while 1,000 people are also sitting at home watching. And that has environmental, economic and social reasons. I believe hybrid events will play a key role in this. Companies always want to fully reach their customers and employees and this will be no different after corona. It already required an incredible team effort in the past and it will be no different in the future. And so I am looking forward to it.”