Archive for March, 2010

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SERVING IS THE NEW SELLING

March 30, 2010

March has been a whirlwind of learning opportunities that has my mind stuffed full of new ways of looking at things and new discoveries of experts in many fields in which I am interested- from experiential events to new trends in connectivity and community; from better means of communication and education to the efforts taking place in our industry to clearly define what event design is and means. After all, who knew that Twitter is about to (or has) peaked in effectiveness; and will fade away at some point to make room for emerging new social media such as Foursquare and Gowalla? Books, magazines, blogs, and stacks of paper surround me, just waiting for me to give some quality thought to each so that Creative Events and I can continue to evolve and provide value in a world of event production that is changing exponentially by the day.

This morning, the latest Trend Briefing (see http://www.trendbriefing.com) caught my attention with its current brief – “Brand Butlers”. I read that serving is the new selling; our job is to assist customers to make the most of their daily lives versus an out-dated model of broadcasting and selling them new lifestyles and identities. Although Trend Briefing is consumer-based, I always discover some application that applies to business to business transactions, and how we can assist our clients to better connect with their consumer audience. And so I read on.

After a reminder to define our own brand essence and understand that of our client’s, the article moved to creating the ideal Brand Butler Omnipresence that mixes being there when customers want you to be there and pleasantly surprising them with your presence when they least expect it – through both online and off-line activities. And then page after page, example after example, I saw how companies around the world have developed and demonstrated service to their customers – in eight major service categories of Transparency/”In the Know”, Saving Money, Finding, Connectivity, Health, Skills and advice, Eco, and Tools and Amenities. Little did I know that I and my clients were so far behind!

The scope of this was initially daunting, but as with most trend briefs, I was then directed back to Opportunities and how I could capitalize on this – one of the most important branding trends currently out there.

And so another project is added to the To-Do piles but I know what I already gleaned will “percolate” for a while and then I will be able to find the right application to make CEK and me more valuable to my clients. If you are not a follower of Trendwatching, check it out and subscribe (no cost).

You’ll soon understand why I get frustrated when our industry insists on focusing only on the surface of color trends and furniture style when there are so many impactful trends that support our efforts to provide value and make a difference to our clients.

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HAPPY SPRING

March 29, 2010

A March in Minnesota with no snow is unbelievable, but with predictions of 70 degrees this week as we leave March and welcome April, I do think we are about to see that become a reality! That along with KARE’s feature this morning asking if I have a Severe Weather Plan for my family, convinced me Spring has, indeed, arrived and we can put thoughts of those winter storms of December and January behind us.

And, I am surrounded by many signals that indicate that we may be experiencing a spring thaw in our Great Recession as well.

This week, I am juggling priorities between two clients – one who is opening a new event venue for 400-500 persons in June, and a second that is exploring the feasibility of holding from two to twelve outdoor events in downtown Minneapolis this summer.

I’m off to purchase a Spring bouquet to help keep those good thoughts and hope alive- and maybe this afternoon, I will begin the semi-annual reversal of seasonal clothes in the closet. HAPPY SPRING Everyone!

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KUDOS TO THE RITMO CALIENTE TEAM

March 28, 2010

Last spring at an ISES social, I had a conversation with Pete Nelson about the 2008 Star Awards. Although I did not agree with his perspective that it was a universal disappointment to the attending audience, nor was I excited about his plan to return to a hotel ballroom and good levels of alcohol, I did try hard to remind myself that those within our industry that provide the accoutrements those of us with focus on client message, brand, and measureable results all use, simply have a different perspective. And of course, they would, as they provide the trimmings that accessorize our work, and thus need be less concerned about payback to audience and client.

So throughout the year, as plans developed, and committee chairs and teams gave of their time and talents to create a wonderful party, I tried hard not to be judgmental. Knowing I over-emphasize authenticity, I was a bit concerned when I learned the focus was on Brazil, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Having spent a great deal of time in two of those three countries, I feared I would find fault with the team’s interpretation of their cultures. But I made up my mind not to obsess – it would be what it was and it would be successful in meeting Pete’s goals to “throw a great party”.

So by Friday night, I had done much to revamp my expectations, tried my best to support the party brand – at least in my color selection of ORANGE , as so many others had done as well – and headed off to the Hyatt – almost reconciled to the return for a night of the well-worn theme party.

And I found much to praise. Immediately, the command of space was impressive. As I walked through the curtains at registration, I entered an environment that had no anchor to the tired old foyer of the Hyatt hotel. As we moved into the Awards Ceremony, the screen sets on the stage drew me forward to find a seat at the welcoming arrangement of tables. I was momentarily dismayed by the din, as I knew it was a result of a cocktail hour that went past its prime, but the opening number certainly re-captured our attention and got us engaged. A small hitch came in the last opening comment that conveyed the disrespectful feeling that recognition of the work of the finalists was a necessary evil to get out of the way so that we could resume the party. But, I took a deep breath, and turned my attention to the work we had gathered to honor.

True to the promise, the show moved smoothly and fast although I left with no feel for what was considered good works. Since I had already one more than my “two drink” rule, I chose to accept that this was my own fault, and perhaps not that the message was not adequately conveyed. However, the audience continued to talk through most of it, and tuned in, it seemed, only when their own work or that of a favorite colleague was featured. There was no doubt it was party time and the awards were not necessarily the reason we had all gathered together.

And then it was over, and the party began in earnest. The minimal food offered reconfirmed this was a marketing event about décor and entertainment, and there were some interesting new things on display. It was great fun to see so many people engage with the entertainment and fill the dance floor. And for me, it was very refreshing that the sound levels of the band were controlled and still allowed good conversation among the attendees. Even though one of those conversations I had was with a proud but inebriated committee member still spewing vitriol over the 2008 awards evening. Having had a bit too much to drink myself at that point, I did not have the common sense to just smile and walk away and instead tried, to no avail, to make the point that each approach had merits- based on the objectives – but there was no doubt to this person, the only objective was free flowing alcohol throughout, so I moved on.

All in all, the after-party paid tribute to the Event Lab brand and I expect it will serve them well with profitable business in the future. I need not have worried about culture, as I saw little that reminded me of Brazil or Puerto Rico. And for the audience, there is no doubt, I think, that we all had FUN. It’s Sunday and I am still suffering through the aftermath of that!

So congrats on a great party, Pete, and to all those that supported you and worked hard to create that dream you shared with me last spring.

As for me, I have sworn off my bloodies for a while, and am sitting here pondering how the success of Ritmo Caliente impacts a national discussion I have been privy to participate in among event professionals across the country. We’ve been debating how members of our industry learn and grow. We’ve resolved, I think, that the 20th century model of classrooms and speakers pushing out data or showing “aren’t I great- see what I’ve done” pretty pictures in seminar sessions is passé. We’ve moved on to accept we learn by experiences and are debating how valuable our evening experiences at TSE , Event Solutions or other conferences are as a strong educational medium. Ritmo Caliente did not do that, nor was it designed to do that. It was all about just having fun with friends and colleagues. And that’s ok, too.

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FROM MY PERSPECTIVE

March 24, 2010

There are reasonable Republicans with philosophical differences from the Democrats. Cutting through the scare tactics rhetoric, their biggest concern, I believe, about the health care legislation is cost and the impact on the national debt. Putting the historical perspective of the last two administrations aside – when in one we saw improvement of our nation’s fiscal health, and in a second, we were pushed to the brink of disaster- the concern regarding national deficits is a legitimate one. Unfortunately, who is right in that issue will only be proven with the implementation of the legislation just passed, and I certainly understand that from the viewpoint of those who wanted the legislation curtailed, it will be “too late”.

However, that concern regarding fiscal responsibility, energized by the loss of power, has led this reasonable group to follow, like sheep, those members of their party driven by the need for revenge and a belief in power at any cost through any means-and perhaps a self-righteous mindset that borders on divine right that mostly disappeared in the 19th century. To achieve their goals, it appears reasonable Republicans are willing to transfer leadership of their party to the angry, petty, ego-centric , regressive members of the flock that have been able to move a legitimate philosophical difference between states rights and the role of the federal government into an acceptance of any reprehensible action and violence as long as it gets attention, can be justified by their illogical arguments, is accepted as truth and gains support.

This is the group that emerged into public view early in the Clinton administration when we witnessed the beginning of the new “Great Divide” between the two parties. At that point, honor and respect among our government officials began to erode, but to some, was justified because they were strong believers in the “end justifies the means”. These folks recaptured power under the Bush/Cheney administration, felt the pain of “what you give may be given back” as some Democrats mimicked that model set by the rebellious Republicans during the previous administration. However, this third iteration of disrespect visible to us today, upped the stakes to a dangerous level as they unveiled latent philosophies expressed in childish tantrums of racial slurs, power to the states, muskets, revolution, permission to destroy personal property in disagreements, threats of bodily harm and death to those that oppose them, and threats of another Civil War. This is the American way?

At the same time, I can relate to the anxiety felt by those reasonable Republicans whom I think are still buried someplace in this muddy scene. They legitimately believe we are headed in the wrong direction and much fiscal harm will come to us as a country.

I can relate to that sick feeling because, as a student of history with some surface level knowledge of the Middle East, and one that does go on line and search for the facts, I, too, have felt this anxiety. It was nine years ago when the initial ramp-up of public support for another confrontation with Iraq “to finish what George Senior did not get done” was given great impetus by the tragedy of 9/11. At first, I presumed the truth and a sense of reason would prevail to keep the focus on Afghanistan; so I tried to present the “other set of facts” in discussions with friends. Soon those friends followed the lead of the administration and picked up the “unpatriotic” chant to make me feel guilty and be quiet. And quiet I was, but with that same sinking feeling of doom, that I presume rational Republicans feel today, as we raced headway into a war that we track only by the number of Americans that were sacrificed – generally dismissing the impact on their fellow soldiers, the families of veterans and the MILLIONS of innocent Iraqis and citizens of neighboring countries who lost lives, were maimed for life or became refugees because of our actions. And, this does not include the RUN UP of the deficit to unmanageable amounts that has been strongly impacted by an unbudgeted war that is still not done-nor yet proven to be either justified or a disaster.

Believe me I feel no sense of self-righteousness as my worst fears materialized during this past decade. I only regret for the good of our country that those of us who had these premonitions of what was to come, were not able to make our voices heard; did not try harder; and thus our prophesies were fulfilled.

And I felt that sick feeling again this past weekend, as I watched angry dissenters encouraged by Congressmen from the balcony of House as all respect for personal opinion of anyone but themselves were trampled to the ground. And that feeling increased as I learned some members of this group now feel justified to launch a physical attack on Democratic offices, destroying property around the country. I was appalled to learn of threat messages left for various Democrats that supported this first step in health care reform. And my stomach churned as I watched the one-time presidential candidate for the Republican Party in the 2008 election – in what can only be described as a tantrum because he did not get his way again- pout and declare he was through legislating (even though he wants his state to elect him again- go figure)

However, under no circumstances do I think that my personal beliefs are so omnificent that I could act out in the manner we are seeing now, and put our very country at risk. The United States has given its citizens the lives envied by others and been a respected global leader because of our form of government. That government maintains a healthy balance between diametrically opposed parties and provides for disagreements and transfers of power. And it works over the long term – as long as its citizens do not decide that personal satisfaction, wealth, gain, and a need to win as an individual is more important than the common good of the country, and the citizens that reside within it. As we witnessed in the late 1840s-1850s, our country is threatened when one believes one has a right to maintain personal life styles at all costs including slavery, and fights for this right under the banner of states rights.

Many of us feel we are in a time of RESET in our economy – one that has happened because we put personal wealth and importance along with immediate rewards ahead of financial security. Perhaps it is time now, before a civic meltdown begins, to consider a RESET of our political practices as well.

Of course, from my perspective, I think Obama has been trying to do that – but I recognize that the opposing side sees things far differently. And yet, I am not ready to give up and accept that we need to live through yet another period of violence that will tear us apart and weaken our ability to continue to lead ourselves, let alone show leadership in the 21st century global arena. Somehow, someway, we need to engage those reasonable Republicans in meaningful dialogues going forward, so that, together, we can rediscover the path to working towards the common good of the country.

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DICHOTOMY OF THE RECESSION…

March 23, 2010

Over the last 15 months, I have continued to be puzzled about what seems to be a dichotomy inherent in this recession we are all moving through.

Early in 2008, I tried to counter the sad faces at my-then place of employment with facts to support that with some innovative positioning, one could weather the downturn, grow as a company and increase on the other side of the schism with increased market share. With a flicker of hope, we then authored a white paper – “Do or Die” which you most likely can still find posted on that company’s website. Nevertheless, within a month or two, survival of that employer meant lay-offs, re-orgs, and a start-over marketing story.

And yet, as one of those displaced workers, I started hearing within a week of my departure of new opportunities in our marketplace and would I be interested in helping with this or that project. So as I continued my job search, I free-lanced where I could, and survived quite well in this economy– without a company, website, marketing plan or even a business card – after I had been out of circulation as an independent event designer and producer for about three years.

I’ve previously shared my experience of a small event that went viral in July 2009, and the corporate anniversary last September with a long-time client whose budget was cut 50%; and yet we produced the best customer event to date.

All around me, the meetings and event industry was hit hard. Industry trade publications seemed to write about nothing else; every industry discussion focused on how to cut costs to retain clients; The Special Event Conference and Show lost exhibitors and attendees; and even a recent ISES chapter meeting report on the State of the Industry survey was bleak, with reports of planner vs. vendor discussions on how to best lower client budgets. The message of nothing left to give was heard loud and clear.

And yet, the Catersource/Event Solutions Conference grew and the energy there was phenomenal. In spite of a 60% reduction in budget for the evening event we worked on, the attendance increased almost 40% and vendor generosity was overwhelming as we worked together to accomplish our goals.

As I continued through the months to ponder these apparent misconnects, I wrestled with several theories, but for the most part I was stuck in the “just keep pushing forward and you will emerge at the head of the class.”

Until this morning, that is. Then reading through three different approaches in the Second Opinion column of Corporate Event Magazine, I finally put it together – I think.

The question was posed by a corporate planner concerned that “pinching pennies” was not sufficient so was looking for effective budget cuts that would not endanger the brand or lose customers to competitors. The magazine responded with three widely different approaches all demonstrating non-traditional, innovative and collaborative thinking to create win-wins for all involved.

• One levered the power of a single venue across three previously separate events. Although they remained separate events, they took place in the same city at different venues, and shared a single evening venue, creative, thematic, entertainment elements over course of three days. The result was a savings of $80,000.
• Another chose not to cut costs, but to add new revenue streams – all nonintrusive to attendees, inexpensive to implement, and all improved the attendee experience.
• And the third used an approach of cutting behind the scenes – one step eliminated the conference binder but posted it for download and supplied a free CD on site. Those that wanted a binder, purchased them online for $45-$75 each – creating a savings of $100,000. Another step dealt with almost invisible changes in the meal inclusions to cut per person meal charges up to $20 per person per day. One example shared did not cut items, merely restricted the number of a specific item to choose from.

In all cases, each response represented value as the responders found a way through innovation and collaboration to break through the barriers of traditional thinking. Each set out to approach their situation in a new light, put aside old paradigms, take risks, and break the rules in order to accomplish their goals, provide value and carefully balance audience needs with that of their internal or external client.

I submit this challenge to all of us: If we find ourselves consistently offering variations on a theme that worked ten years ago, we need to stop and self-police ourselves. Only if we can respond that our proposed reworked solution is still viable, applicable, and will yield desired results, should we go forward. If we proceed because it is comfortable and easy to implement, we do not produce value in the marketplace. We need to tirelessly pursue every option open to us as we look at our world differently.

As this economy continues to slowly improve, we will not find ourselves back in the familiar world of excess of the late 90s and early 2000s. This is not a RETURN it is a RESET. Those of us who cannot invent, discover, and implement new approaches during this time of experimentation will not be long-term players in the future.

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EMERGING FROM THE RABBIT HOLE…

March 22, 2010

Forgive the Alice in Wonderland reference, but that is exactly what I feel like today–What a whirlwind last week was or maybe it’s just the impact of the coming of Spring and the experience of that last 14 inches of leftover snow disappearing from the courtyard in just a few days!

While still basking a bit in the inspiration gained by attending Catersource/Event Solutions, accolades for Ryan and his awards night vision, and trying to structure some thoughts on “where do we go from here” for consideration of the show owners, I started another set of classes at Hennepin Tech, juggled proposal development for three potential new clients, “lunched” a lot to catch up with industry colleagues, took a break for some quality time with a couple dear friends on Saturday, was extended- and accepted- an invitation to sit on the Advisory Board for Event Solutions, enjoyed dinner at La Belle Vie with my niece (what a treat- thanks again, Julie!) and still had a few anxious moments here and there as I observed the countdown to the passing of the healthcare bill.

And, in my spare time, I checked on the perfect outfit for the Latin American theme for the upcoming Star Awards, learned it was sold while I was gone, and convinced myself that some new combination of what was hanging in the closet would just have to do for my appearance at “Ritmo Caliente” this coming Friday night…as time to plan or learn the cha-cha had disappeared!

But best of all, I made an invigorating pilgrimage to the central riverfront to bask in the full power of the Mississippi River. I stood for a half hour on the Stone Arch Bridge, mesmerized by the river – filled to its banks with raging white caps, sun shining through the mist from the turbulence and the pale rainbows promising hope and good fortune. I returned home to the ‘burbs- inspired once again with that gift of living light the river always bestows upon me.

I got up this morning exhausted!

So for the rest of the day, I will gather and organize my thoughts on innovative things I heard and learned last week to help weather the continuing impact of this recession and will check back in tomorrow!

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PUSHING BEYOND FOUR WALLS

March 13, 2010

If one reads my credentials or listens to me talk about my business, you may hear me reference experiential events with some frequency.

To some event designers, this term reflects another way of saying “interactive”. We often witness a “make-your-own” food station or an included game or entertaining option in events we attend. And there is nothing wrong with that – it certainly is a step away from the passive events long past- it just does not represent what is meant by experiential events.

The experiential movement began, some believe, as long ago as the early 1980s, but for me, I first felt a need to go beyond the emphasis on desired outcomes, communicating the message, and reinforcing that message through social interaction in my events sometime in the mid- 1990s. That quest for a better way and more impactful results led me towards the concept of Experiential Events.

As “brand” emerged as an action step in our business, I followed it from its visual applications, through the emotional branding, sonic branding and “be your own brand” phases, and learned how and when I could effectively bring a client’s brand to life within an event. I watched mobile marketing emerge and thrive. I followed Gilmore and Pine on their journey through “the Experience Economy” and “Authenticity”. I watched early pioneers like Jack Morton, George P. Johnson, Shaz Smilansky , and Eric Hauser; was inspired by Shiffman’s “The Age to Engage” and eventually joined Eric’s Experiential Marketing Forum. Although I still consider myself a novice, learning more each day, I also am learning that within the Experiential Event Marketing realms, there is still a ways to go to reach consensus about what it is and how to do it.

So, I attended a session called “Experiential Events…Pushing Beyond Four Walls” at Event Solutions last week. And I had an“EUREKA!” experience.

Branden Chapman, Vice President, Production and Process Management for The Recording Academy and Annual Grammy Awards provided me with an essential key to understanding. He defined an experiential event as:
• Creating a one-on-one connection between consumers and brands via an event
• Translating a “brand” into a results-focused and results-driven event experience
• Providing guests and consumers with an “interactive experience that requires active (not passive) participation
• Creating an open-ended connection with guests to reinforce event/brand strategy

From those four basic points, he went on to provide examples of how to break out of the four walls of our event, how that benefits our clients, and how breaking through the walls will work to the advantage of each of us. And then he laid out a challenge that we each need to change our approach and thinking because this is the future of all events.

Note I did not say that he then showed us pretty pictures of the Grammys as evidence that he is a wise and celebrity event producer! Instead, he thoughtfully showed us how to incorporate this shift into our own events, and how our clients and we will benefit from doing that.

If you have an opportunity to hear him speak – take advantage of it. You will be motivated to go forth as a committed proponent of experiential events and both you and your clients will be better off for doing so.