January 22, 2010

As can be expected at this time of year, trade publications are filled with predictive event trends, and industry conferences and local meetings focus on the same.

Each year, with anticipation, I try to absorb which colors will be hot, which décor elements will emerge, which new entertainment will be the hit. And yet, as I look through the tips and advice, I am usually disappointed. I find myself thinking to myself, over and over – “that’s not new; it’s a best practice we have been using for 12-15 years”…”What? Celebrity Chefs were a key element in our selling approach before the RNC!” …”Small portions and spoons, room temp food, and food stations instead of buffets–and the new twist to that is what?”

What does this feeling of “Been There, Done That” mean? Am I so old, everything is coming around again? Is my global background and experience from a past life still coming into play here? Is our industry in the Twin Cities really that parochial? Are we still battling that phenomenon of lower expectations on the home front? Is it worse today because of a perceived need to operate under the radar in a struggling economy? Am I a trend-setter instead of a trend identifier or follower? Does this have nothing to do with me? Is the answer a mix of all or some of the above? Or am I missing the point entirely?

Every year I ruminate about this, and never come to a firm conclusion. But this year, just maybe, a theory is beginning to crystallize. I think it is the difference in outlook between the strategic planner of corporate events and the tactical vendor that serves the multiple markets of corporate, social and non-profit.

Generally, I DO look at things differently than most of my friends in the industry. An event to me is not primarily about the WOW and what’s new. It is a strategic tool in the bigger world of marketing and communications. I need to get the attention of the audience, engage them, and deliver memory joggers that move them to remember the experience after the fact so that they ACT ON message. So, I include tactical trends that help me get their attention and tell the story. Likewise, I need to gather the message from the audience for further action on the part of my client. Those things can’t be the same elements seen, heard or served at an event the guest attended last week. So I am often looking outside our Midwestern world for ideas that have not yet made their way here, and then working with my event vendors to adapt ideas and inventory and to try new things not done before.

That, together with a commitment to budget and to guest comfort, is what drives the concept and design of my events. I expect that those in the industry that play the role I play in the event can relate; while those that provide the needed tactical elements of food, décor, linens and entertainment think I am nuts.

Nevertheless, our local press tends to reflect the tactical trends, and so I will continue, I think, to yearn year after year for an article based on how we in the event world tap into emerging trends such as “Urbany”, (F)luxury, “Mass-Mingling”, “Embedded-Generosity” and use them to enhance our event efforts. Until then, I’ll continue to subscribe to Iconoculture and TrendWatching and try to interpret, integrate and move forward without help from our press or our industry organizations.

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