Archive for October, 2009

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GOODBYE, GOURMET MAGAZINE

October 6, 2009

Robyn Waters, formerly VP of Trends at Target, and today a reputable trend specialist, once explained to me that her success was due to constant global travel combined with reading some 40+ magazines in-flight as she winged from place to place.

Absorbing the content of more than 40 monthly magazines seemed a great accomplishment to me—until I took stock and realized I, too, was a magazine freak!

A weekly news magazine, 8-12 trade publications, Arts from MIA, and Minnesota History from MHS, Metro, and that AARP one for good measure and today, after weeding out many of the design and culinary publications as subscriptions expired, my mailbox is still stuffed monthly with almost 20 welcome “windows on the world” that provide me with hours of education, entertainment, and good creative ideas-plus a fabulous visual experience.

And yet, hardly a month goes by that I don’t spend a Sunday afternoon with a cup of coffee at Barnes and Noble, looking through a stack of Metropolis, Met Home, Creative, Traditional Home, Wired and 3-4 food magazines – all of which were once conveniently delivered to my house – trying to decide which ONE treat I can buy!

So I am sad today to say goodbye to Gourrmet. Although it has not been a monthly visitor for perhaps 30 years, it was my first culinary subscription oh so many years ago, and I am sorry to learn of its end.

And yet, I understand it is a sign of the changing times as the print media world continues to fade and is replaced by less costly and faster means of communication with Web 2.0. As the News Service so aptly pointed out:

“Gourmet’s demise…illustrates how the ability of print media to make—or break—anything is waning. Increasingly, it is the viral aspect of social networking and blogging, that gives rise to new faces, places and flavors. ”

So be it. RIP, Gourmet.

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GET OVER OURSELVES

October 5, 2009

As I read the title of Garrison Keillor’s Sunday column this week on healthcare reform, I anticipated I would be reading a humorous account of his time spent in my medical mecca, the Mayo Clinic, after he suffered a recent stroke. I scanned his view – waiting for the punch line. When it came, it connected so strongly to something I have been mulling over, I had to sit up and take note with my yellow high-lighter.

“Old men shouldn’t be allowed to doze off at the switch and muck up the works for the young who will have to repair the damage. Get over yourselves. Your replacements have arrived.”

First let me explain – I was born on the cusp of the Boomer Generation – technically a Traditionalist, but with a nod to them for saving our country and for instilling guiding values in all of us that followed them, I thought it was time for them to get out of the way-particularly in the workplace. I bonded with the Boomers, ignored the barriers, worked harder, out-strategized, built a collaborative network of support and succeeded. And I was blessed with results. I became a corporate director at age 28; and became a VP in a second company before I was 40. I left the corporate world as part of an executive team that had taken a sleepy $20 million dollar company to an industry leader with almost $1 billion of sales in less than 15 years. And what was among the motivators for my departure? I had no time for that generation entering the workforce in the early 90s- Generation X – after all, what did they know? Sound familiar? Different times, different terms, different outcomes, but it continues to happen throughout the centuries and we are in the midst of it happening yet again.

Event Marketing became my next life, and to succeed, I had to be open to new ideas, new technologies, and new thinking. Our industry is one of change and new trends and a continual search for what’s new. Most of the stars in our industry, like event marketing itself, are young-with little need to protect how we have always done it because it has not always been done. We all understand, as our objectives and audience change, so too, must we.

That discipline spills over into other arenas – so I have often found myself bothered by the disconnect that is happening in our world today.

After 9/11, we all heard and used phrases such as: “the world has changed”, what is the “new normal”. That, coupled with the exponentially increasing technological advancements in the last ten years, along with the arrival of the Millennials in the workforce, gave rise to “move forward in the 2lst century” and “21st century thinking”. And the devastating recession of 2008 accounts for another major shift as we “reset in the new economy”.

Generally, I tend to be a moderate. I don’t have any right answers to all the issues we face today whether that be the economy, the wars, healthcare, or anything else – all I have is a viewpoint, based on what I hear from the opposing sides. But like every other citizen in 2008, I had to make a decision between Obama and McCain. And I passionately chose change-away from the traditional-to collaboration, citizenship and community. Those were methods of success I had learned in the corporate world which are reinforced in the world of event marketing today. And with that choice, I understood success would come in small steps and would be hard to judge, as we were entering new territory. To achieve change, we would need to monitor and evaluate, adjust and continue to move forward, without digging in with yesterday’s out-dated thoughts.

Yet just eight months into a 4-year term, our hopes for change are being judged harshly, We are quick to question progress and find it wanting, justified because “WE KNOW FROM PAST EXPERIENCE”, as I heard this morning on Meet the Press.

What do we know from past experience? None of us have experienced this before. Nothing we have read, been a part of, or lived through can replicate this new world that is just emerging.

We have become the old men; is it time to get over ourselves. get out the way, and give hope and change a chance to play out?

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OUR ECONOMIC VALUES

October 2, 2009

The morning paper today was filled with economic discussions– from the announcement of Michael Moore’s CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY opening in theatres today; to the Business Section lead story of “Saint Nick-o-Less” and a re-evaluation of gift-giving based on need and necessity; to reports of stock markets falling and financial legal suits; to an opinion column David Brooks wrote for the New York Times which hit home to me.

Because yesterday, I received a general announcement to all card-holders of the credit card company I use-explaining the latest new interest rate increase. My immediate reaction was USURY!

So I was especially interested to learn what Brooks had to say about our economic values. I found I was nodding in agreement through the entire column, as he described our economic values slide and advocated for a restoration of those values with a “goal to make the US again a producer economy, not a consumer economy.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/29/opinion/29brooks.html?_r=1

As I entered my office, my usury complaint about the credit card company, and Brooks’ column merged together. I wondered why I react negatively to a rate increase that impacts me, and yet I try to show tolerance for those in our industry that utilize a pricing policy that is equally usurious.

A small part of me, says good for them if they can continue to win business while doing that, and a larger part of me waits for them to be impacted as our customers demand more pricing transparency AND accountability and realize how much more message value they would receive if expertise pricing from vendors was reasonable.

Some meeting/event companies have taken three separate pricing strategies of the past and combined them; assessing charges for employee time, commissions from hotels, venues, and other vendors AS WELL AS a 20-40% profit made from the work of others-without whom we could not deliver integrated services. In fact, recently I heard of one example where a company does not even want to be involved in concept or production at all. Taking advantage of the recession’s impact on our business, they hope to hire the entire team from the independent free lance pool and expend no internal time or expense. Do they expect profit with no investment and recognition and industry awards, with no sweat or financial equity?

I don’t profess to be the expert that knows WHICH pricing methodology is the best; I just know I want it simple. In my past professional life, I have often spent more time discussing our pricing strategy vs. that of the competitors’ than is spent on understanding the client’s needs and brainstorming ways to meet them. So as I started CEK, I chose to establish a price for my expertise. Almost 20 years later, I still believe customers are willing to pay well for expertise they do not have internally; they just are not willing to pay a premium to get a service from us they could purchase for less dollars if they went direct.

But the real question in this discussion is: WHY are those triple-charging event companies often the ones that run into financial trouble – go into bankruptcy, or have one reorganization after another- without any change in the product or level of service?

I used to think it was weak leadership and lack of business acumen, but perhaps there is a lesson here that we can take from financial institutions. Do we need showy offices, a new car every year or two, weekly golf outings, out of sync bonuses and other perks we have grown to feel we are entitled to? Are we charging more than we are worth simply to maintain our sense of ballooning entitlement as reflected in all that we “have”? Are clients impressed with what we have or do they return to us for assistance because of what we DO for them?

This may be a topic to think more about as I expect there is not an easy answer.

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CORPORATE CELEBRATIONS IN THE NEW ECONOMY

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.