October 1, 2009

In the summer of 1988, I was deeply involved in planning my first 50th anniversary celebration for the company for which I then worked. Over the next 20 years, I’ve applied the knowledge I gained then to help several clients acknowledge similar milestones in their corporate history. But none have been as gratifying as that first experience–until this September, and the golden anniversary of a long-time client of Creative Events.

We started early with initial plans, not only to celebrate, but to show off a bit with all the accomplishments over the years that had helped build the brand of this thriving company. And then, the recession took its toll.

By Spring of this year, although business was still strong for this client, we had re-visited our vision, re-established budget parameters, re-assessed what was important and were proceeding with caution. We had a budget that mirrored that of the one that guided us a decade before for a 40th anniversary celebration. That meant we had to rethink tent structures in the parking lot, food and beverage expenditures and many of the environmental elements that had come from our creative committees. Over and over through-out the summer, we altered our plans and cut, while striving not to slash the internal enthusiasm that surrounded this project.

My vendor partners rose to the occasion – we decreased not only food inclusions and quantities but linens, staff, floral, lighting and all the things we’ve grown to think of as “must-haves” to create a successful event. Through-out it all, we struggled to keep focused on telling the story of the brand. If it reinforced the message, it stayed; if not, it was suspect.

Event day came and the guests-many from major corporations in the metro area-arrived…and toured…and asked questions…and visited…and paid tribute… and enjoyed a brat and a beer while leaning on a “naked” hightop, covered only with a corrugated baseball or 50th anniversaray logo…and never once asked why the food was not cutting edge or why we were not using the latest touch screen technology to tell our story. In fact, for the last two weeks, they’ve been showering the client with accolades for allowing them to learn more about the company and its capabilities…why, they had no idea that they could get this or that service/ product here. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Another life’s lesson learned. I know why events are held; I am passionate about telling the story and message of the client. And yet, even in the midst of this challenging economic time, I was distracted with worries about the window dressings.

It’s time for our industry to take stock. We do not do justice to our clients if we focus only on the “WOW” and forget our business is to create the immersive brand experience that allows the audience to not only learn more about the client and their offerings, but also encourages an interactive dialog about those services. The emerging New Economy is a call to action: celebratory events are not dead; but they may have morphed into a more effective experience. If we re-prioritize with emphasis first on achieving client outcomes and then, as budgets allow, add affordable accoutrements to enhance the experience, we will continue to grow as a viable solution in the marketplace.

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