Archive for January, 2011

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That SLOW 1st QTR, 2011

January 30, 2011

One of the benefits of the Minnesota events world has traditionally been a slow down mid December after holiday events, that extends into January and often bleeds into early February.  For me, it has been a time to recharge, reorganize, and regroup and thus a time I look forward to.  I clean out my office and prepare for the coming season; I curl up in front of the fireplace in my “library” and read – attacking the ever-growing stacks of trade publications and books that deliver not only inspiration and “what’s new” but food for thought as they challenge me to examine my own “best practices “ and incorporate new thinking. 

But here I am on January 30, surrounded by chaos.  An almost stripped Christmas tree stands abandoned in the living room; the dining room filled with crates and containers waiting for all that decor still strewn across the table and floor; stacks of books and magazines remain in my office and covering the fireplace hearth; papers and files are everywhere, and my last THURSDAY’s unfinished to-do list sits before me – where it has kept me occupied three days and promises to hold me captive all day today as well.  WHAT HAPPENED?!!!

Coming off my best year ever for Creative Events, I don’t have the excuse that the down-turned economy allowed me to get into bad habits and work less efficiently over the last couple years, and now I am out of practice…so as I headed towards that awful place of mental whining and complaining, I have had to stop and take stock.

Oh yes, we kicked off a new season for the riverfront Visitor Experience this month, and I’ve been spending some time absorbing the results of the design competition for short and long term plans for the river “above the falls” that were unveiled this week…

Oh yes, we celebrated my brother and sister-in-law’s sixtieth wedding anniversary, as well as their birthdays…acknowledging I now have siblings in their 80s…really?  I still vividly remember them both before they were married!   It’s comforting to see that my pledge to remain an active player in my own industry “until I am 80” has some credence, as they both are active in maintaining their antique store!…

Oh yes, I have devoted some fun time traveling memory lane as I have reconnected with college friends, and some BI friends, and several CMG friends via Linked In, Facebook, and several meet ups for coffee, drinks or lunch, and along the way, I’ve squeezed in some time to keep connected with new faces I met over the summer…

Oh yes, we are in the final countdown now for the Catersource/Event Solutions Conference and Trade Show in Las Vegas, and I am absorbed in overcoming a bad design problem in the construction of this hotel  as I struggle, along with the Dock scheduler to figure out how we can get a load in for both conferences attended by several thousand persons, all accomplished in ONE DAY with one or two docks available only from 10Am to 4AM…

Oh yes, I am still spending time telling our success story of CRV 2010, with two new articles due out in March, as well as preparing for a live telling to influential corporate executives -TED-style -at RETHINK which launches simultaneously February 14 in Minneapolis, New York City, Paris and Copenhagen …

And oh yes, the Creative Events opportunities!  We submitted our CRV entries for the MN-STAR Awards  and now await the announcement of finalists.  We have already begun preliminary planning for CRV 2011, space is secured and we’ve begun initial discussions on design as the I AM CRV communications campaign came to a close at the end of 2010 and has been replaced by BE CRV.  This will lead us through to the second all-employee meeting in which we will reflect on how well we did and what’s still to be done to keep this new division of Boston Scientific moving forward; we’ve concentrated on looking for new opportunities and are excited about our positioning for a couple.  We have started the movement to increase our collaborative team of independents to include a few key support vendors and are polishing our collaborative skills together as we tackle some significant RFPs that have come our way.

And oh yes, the personal growth!  FINALLY, I have made the jump from talk of leaving the 20th century behind and personally started the immersion into the 21st century.  The purchase of the MINI began the process; the acquisition of not one but TWO flat screens and DVDs came soon after and this month I have now acquired a smart phone…with conversion to a new computer and probably an I-pad in the plans before the quarter ends.  I am determined to prove that even I can adapt without too much angst – a couple years late, but better than never! (Although I admit, I made the conversion only so I could personally experience the impact of its use within the meeting and event environment; as I was perfectly content with my old flip phone that allowed me to call people and people to call me  with no other complications or distractions!)

So as I review this list, I understand why my life is in chaos and realize it is all due to very good things.  I will try not to complain going forward, as I think about another Award entry due shortly;  meeting with my tax accountant on Feb 10; presenting at RETHINK; a possible trip to Boca for the NSM for CRV; and the approaching departure for Vegas on Feb 25 for Catersource/Event Solutions.  Maybe in March, I will get that Christmas evidence put away and be able to bring out the tulips and irises of Spring…and crack open some of the books still waiting.

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HAITI, BABY DOC, & LESSONS LEARNED

January 19, 2011

This week we have all watched with horror and sadness as one year after Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, news media revisited to capture progress towards reconstruction…and found little good news to report.  Instead we find a country on the precipice of total destruction, unable to right itself, and apparently proving to be too big a challenge to those in the international community that rushed to its aid.  One year later, Haiti is a nightmare.

And the horrors of that nightmare intensified this past weekend, as Baby Doc returned to the scene of his crimes 25 years after he was overthrown and departed.

For most Americans, this is, at most, an interesting twist to the story.  For some, like me, I presume it conjured up memories of our own nightmares of Haiti and interactions with Baby Doc.

Some years ago, a client wanted to hold their dealer meeting and new product introduction aboard a cruise ship.  The ship was bought out, and because of the size of the new product – a major line of massive recreational vehicles for self-contained camping, touring and partying – the decision was made to stage the actual reveals in a port-of-call along the way.   After site visits by us and our client, we recommended our best option, but the client had fallen in love with the pristine beauty and charm of Haiti, and unfortunately for all involved, we succumbed to their wishes – against our better judgment.

The logistical challenges of getting RVs just off the assembly line to Miami and then Haiti ahead of the dealers so that they could be placed in the display area prior to the dealer arrival was only the beginning of our many challenges.  But eventually, the team and travel staff headed out and the cruise commenced.  I breathed a sigh of relief, as back in the office, I received confirmation of product arrival in Miami and then, the sailing of the ship out of the port of Miami.  And that definitely was a “not so fast” moment on my part!

The afternoon of the Product Introduction, I received an emergency call from the cruise line:  Baby Doc had confiscated one of the new RVs and it was now locked up within his compound.  They had been negotiating locally with him all afternoon, to no avail, but in order to stay on schedule, the group had been transferred to the port, had re-boarded, and the ship now needed to sail without the RV. Did they have my permission to do so?  After ensuring that the cruise line would work on the client’s and my company’s behalf to outline options to both the client and our travel personnel, we agreed the best approach was to sail, and then continue trying to get the product released…which could then be scheduled as cargo on a subsequent cruise and would ultimately be returned to the US and shipped back to the client.  With that, I okayed the plan, the ship sailed and stateside, we picked up the effort to reason with Baby Doc.

The next day, I got another call from the cruise line.  No, they were not confirming we had convinced Baby Doc to stop being childish; they were calling to report one day later, we had another disaster brewing.  A significant number of the guests and many of the travel staff had become ill in the night.

By the time the ship reached Cozumel, we had a full-blown medical disaster, with most of the guests and staff very sick and all captive on what had now become a floating first aid station- and one that was running out of meds.  Of course, the culprit was the two-hour Haitian buffet of seafood set outside in the sun, with little provisions to keep the food at temp.

Sadly, this second disaster gave us leverage with Baby Doc – and we were able to convince him that releasing the RV was warranted in view of the consequences of dealing with negative international press about him and his country in view of health crisis caused by the food poisoning.  Overall, it was a situation from which we could not gracefully recover.  Fortunately, all recuperated-some after being hospitalized and battling the illness for extended time, but of course, that client no longer trusted us to handle either their dealer meetings or their incentive programs.

So memories of Haiti and Baby Doc represent a nightmare to me; and to all those on board that cruise, I am sure.  The only redemption was this became a significant teachable moment for me.  First and foremost, the client is NOT always right, and it is our responsibility, holding firm to our principles, to convince them of better alternatives; and secondly, it began my commitment to the process of Risk Assessment and Emergency Action Plans that I am still passionate about decades later!

Over the weekend, those memories combined with the news that Baby Doc had returned to Haiti, triggered a survival instinct within me that has been signaling “fight or flee”.  That man is deranged and dangerous! I caution all to watch him carefully as the world decides what to do about whatever he is up to.

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FROM CRAZY TO INNOVATIVE

January 18, 2011

I don’t purport to understand at all the article in the STRIB this weekend that featured LVX Systems and the founder’s theory that lights are a better way to transmit data.  But as I read that he has been called crazy, I was reminded of something from my own long-ago past.

A wonderful Minnesota jazz group, Flim and the BBs, were among the first –back in 1982- to record their music on a CD.  Even three years later, after a recording session for an industrial show for Coke, when one of the “BBs”, Billy Barber, offered me a copy of that recording – I chose the audio tape version, not the CD.  Not only did I not have a CD player yet, I had never heard of CDs.  And yes, at the time, I was in the media production business.   I am sure I thought he was crazy despite being told the CD would replace tapes. It was only several years later, when the tracks were re-mastered in 1992, that I became a proud owner of the CD TRICYCLE- as well as several others that captured the music of Flim and the BBs. 

Little did I think then that CDs, as well, would become obsolete with the invention and popularity of the  I-Pod-yet another crazy idea that has changed our culture.

A good lesson, I think, for all of us.   It seems like most successful innovation starts with someone who is committed enough to their new ideas to push them forward-even when their peers discount or drag their feet.    That is a comforting thought to me as we continue to push for a new meetings and events model and are often met with criticism, misunderstanding, and fear of change.

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JOBS

January 18, 2011

Mn Federal Reserve Bank president, N. Kocherlakota, gave voice a few months ago to something you may have heard me say as our country continues in this discussion of unemployment and jobs.

He suggested “the nation’s high unemployment rate might reflect a structural mismatch between the jobs that were available and the skills of those looking for work”.

Although at the time, it was “politically incorrect” and many disagreed, I say YES!  Over and over we hear laments that government needs to get the factories filled and working again.  This is a major disconnect to me-we have long since moved from an industrial society through a period known as the service society to what is now emerging as a technological world based on using innovation and collaboration to solve problems.  Along the way, we absorbed the Entertainment Economy, invented the Experience Economy and then gave birth to the brand culture.  

Of course, we will continue to manufacture products, just as we continue to farm. But we have long since let go of the idea that our country was based on exploration and acquisition of lands to support our farming economy.  But just as successful farms depend on current technology and education, so, too, does US manufacturing.  Unless we stop looking back to the “good old days” and start looking forward towards what we can do to recover and move forward, the BRIC and then the world, will continue to challenge and eventually pass us by.  We need to RETHINK, not REGRESS.

Let’s look to educational changes that encourage creativity and innovation instead.

In the meantime, it was good to see that at least here in Minnesota, our economic recovery seems to be moving forward from survival to thoughts of employee retention.  But business needs to remember, those employees will return gratefully, but wrapped in a cloak of distrust.

And for our industry, that’s a good thing.  An event can help.  Only this time around, let’s not get caught up in depending on that “feel good” theme party of old – let’s look at continuing to trump the push out from organization with the pull of  interactive discussions that give all a voice in the collaborative effort to rebuild.

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SUSTAINABILITY:governments pass;businesses lead

January 17, 2011

Yesterday I read in the Strib that Sustainability was finally now emerging as a megatrend. The confirmation of this was not necessarily news, as client after client I interact with focuses on sustainability or at least “green” as part of their stated Corporate Social Responsibility program.

What I had given no thought to was WHY this was happening.  I had missed the connection that it has become a rich strategy in a global economy.  It lowers costs and boosts efficiency.  But what caught my eye was that it acts as a driver of innovation; creates new markets; and leads to new profit despite the recent downturn in economy.  In short, it increases corporate competitiveness. The article suggested businesses adapt and innovate or be swept aside, and ended with an interesting thought:  As scientists continue to make progress, companies and citizens are filling the void until government wakes up and catches up.

As I pondered that, it occurred to me that there is a message here for all of us in the events industry-not just for our corporate clients.  Oh yes, we recycle an event’s trash, we are big on bamboo serving utensils, we attempt to go “paperless” and occasionally, we give some effort to developing menus that include local, fresh grown products, or incorporate LED lighting to save energy.

But is it time to move the conversation up a step from a one day seminar we attend once in a while as a “refresher” to those we participated in a few years ago, and really spend some time thinking about how we can be thought-leaders in this arena?  The argument that it is often more costly may be short-sighted if in the long-term we become more competitive, grow our client base, and find new ways in which to stimulate our profitability and grow our businesses.   What do you think?

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A NATION IN MOURNING…AGAIN

January 15, 2011

It’s been a week since the tragedy in Tucson.  We’ve moved from shock and fear through blaming both the rhetoric of politicians and gun laws; we watched models of good behavior and models of bad behavior react as we all struggled with the emotion and impact of this sad, sad time.  Personally, I even had a fleeting moment when I shamefully advocated adding Arizona to Texas in my list of states that perhaps we as a country would be better off letting secede.  We were comforted to have Boehner and Obama on the same page for at least a moment…as well as other Republican/Democratic political and media combinations.  We watched and participated as the country moved through the many conflicting stages of grief that most of us have experienced on an individual personal level.  We cried, were angry, questioned why, memorialized, eulogized, celebrated the lives of those victims who lost their lives, and buried so many.  We called out those wounded who have gotten medical treatment and have bravely returned to their own worlds and we continue to wrap Gabby Giffords in our thoughts and prayers as she struggles in her recovery.  We stand on a precipice, hoping the experience can heal national wounds, allow consensus and collaboration to grow as a means to reconcile strong political differences, and question whether even this will be enough to allow that to happen.

We demonized the shooter, then questioned his parents, and finally, slowly, the real culprit in this tragedy-mental illness-rose to the fore.  A feature article in the STRIB, and some excellent discussions on MPR yesterday, reflected a shift in emphasis. By evening, mental illness as an explanation was slowly emerging and actually rose to the talk show level – at least on public television.  Despite statistics that show that some 70-80% of all mental illness comes to fore in adolescents, the lack of recognition of symptoms, an unwillingness to intervene, the stigma associated with it, all complicated by laws insuring and governing one’s individual rights, mean that treatments often are not given a chance and tragedies stemming from mental illness, continue to occur over and over – both at an individual and family level as well as those, like last Saturday’s tragedy in Tucson, that find their way to the national spotlight.

Last weekend as I followed this evolving tragedy, I tried hard to objectively listen to how it was handled by the “Fourth Estate”, our national press.  And I was disappointed. In the first interviews, I saw the press immediately focus, with their leading questions, on placing the blame on our national political divisions.  As that argument crescendoed and then leveled out, only to be replaced by the next controversial topic- gun control, I questioned whether these tactics were sincere or were part of the continuing race for sensationalism and ratings.  And I was ashamed – first of myself for even thinking that, and then for the press, for using these tactics instead of legitimately seizing on an opportunity to bring mental health to the fore as a significant issue and teachable moment.  As we reached Tuesday night and the President’s address to the hurting masses in Tucson and the nation, I was irritated with the press, first at the speculation on whether Obama could step up to the task as past presidents had done in times of tragedy …and then at the immediately post-speech self-righteous critiques of not only the speech, but of the audience reaction to it.  In the end, I think Obama was vindicated, and the press looked foolish, but the losers-after the actual victims, of course- remain the adolescents of our nation and their families, who are struggling with mental illness. 

Please let this finally be a lesson learned, and let us together find a way to address this issue. Let meaningful dialogues begin, so we can somehow reach a consensus that allows us to treat the diseases and help the victims – not simply guarantee them the right to privacy and the right not to be held and treated once diagnosed.  We as a nation are better than this…it is time to demonstrate it.

As for the press, they, too, can be vindicated in my mind, were they to put aside the battle of ratings and help carry the banner of mental illness through knowledgeable, researched stories about this devastating situation.

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SIX WORD STORIES

January 8, 2011

Experiential Events are all about telling stories that resonate with the audience. So an article in the STRIB caught my attention today. The Headline read: WANTED: SIX WORD STORIES, WITH ART

The legend goes like this:  Ernest Hemingway once boasted that he could write a complete story in just six words.  His finished masterpiece:  “For sale:  baby shoes, never worn.”

This inspired two local friends, an ad copywriter and a graphic designer to launch a year-long personal arts project to write and illustrate 365 six word stories.  They did it.  Some featured in the Strib were amazing. I was inspired…and NEEDED to be.

 I am not a person of few words.  Indeed, it’s quite the opposite- which I am proving once again as I struggle through composing a couple short and meaningful entry binders for the MN STAR AWARDS-despite receiving a wonderful tip from a good friend yesterday on how to reset my brain to make that happen.

II am filled with angst over those entries and with the challenge put to me by Sam Smith to develop a 10 minute story of the CRV Experience to present at the RETHINK Forum.  The thought of four sites, Minneapolis, Paris, New York, and Copenhagen, connected globally is daunting enough.  Then add the task of condensing the story of working with a fabulous collaborative team to deliver 5000 stories for 5000 people on behalf of a well-deserving client to just 10 minutes…and I could easily panic!

So I made a commitment.  No, in 2011, I am not writing one a day; but maybe two a month.  So here is not very good first one:  Interact, Experiment, Learn, Change:  Achieve Success.

We shall see where this takes me.