Posts Tagged ‘experiential events’


REST IN PEACE, Tom Langlais

April 27, 2012

Forty years ago, I met a hotel man that  inspired me to become who I am today.  This morning, I am saddened to learn of his passing. I am flooded with memories of what I learned from him-not only about hotel operations- but more importantly, he taught me to follow my instincts, deviate from expectations, and most of all, have fun!

We shared some great success stories at the Radisson South, beginning in the early 1970s with Winnebago Dealer Days and continuing well into the 1980s when I returned to Minneapolis and was employed at Carlson Marketing Group. The Radisson South was still the flagship hotel at Carlson Hospitality in those days, so our paths crossed frequently from company and departmental  holiday parties to internal meetings, and of course, the South was the preferred site to house and entertain visiting clients.

One ocassion in particular stands out.  We had just been awarded the Control Data 100% Club – a long-time client of another local incentive house (and my first travel coordination project as I began my journey in the world of incentives and performance improvement when employed by that same competitor).

So I knew the client personalities well, had hosted them in that favored suite overlooking the pool, and was not looking forward to more of same to celebrate not only the holiday season, but also the signing of a three – year agreement with them. I instinctively knew the client would not be looking forward to yet another cocktail hour mingling on best behavior with their new vendor any more than I was going to enjoy it.

So off I went to meet with Tom, having explained I was on a mission to find someplace NEW and EXCITING to hold this celebration.  We started at the top of the hotel, in what was once Mr. C’s, and looked at every empty space, every restaurant and bar, every ballroom and meeting room from the main building to the newly opened annex and “new” lobby area. Since chef’s tables in facility kitchens were an emerging trend at the time, we even wandered through the kitchen.  Nothing was clicking.

We finally sat down for coffee, to discuss how we might be able to make the new lobby area work, and yet still have some privacy…and in the course of the conversation, I mumbled something about I wanted this to not be the same old, same old – that  I wanted the evening to demonstrate that CMG was different, good things were ahead, and I wanted to demonstrate we were starting with a clean slate.

That triggered an “epiphany”…I believe it was Tom who mentioned the hotel laundry room and as they say, the rest is history!

We were off to tour the space and within minutes “The Clean Slate” Laundry Room party was born…we quickly had a plan and both of us had some work to do – to sell the idea at the hotel, and at CMG. On my end, this was no easy task…the account executive agreed, but the CMG president, although he followed my logic, was not totally convinced.  So permission came wrapped in a threat – if this was not a success, I would no longer be a CMG employee!  Undeterred by the doubts, and with Langlais encouraging me, we went forward.

Invitations went out for holiday cocktails at the Radisson, and as expected, we got the RSVPs- most with caveats that the person would “stop” but had another commitment that evening.  This fed into my original  instincts and encouraged both Tom and me to do all possible to make this surprise location become the background for an experience all attending would long remember.

And yes, considering it was the 1980s, it was a little too “themed” but it communicated our message – CMG was not going to be content with the same old, same old  and we would be a great partner for CDC.

Did it work?  I can only say that at midnight, Tom had to ask me to shut down the 6 PM gathering so that the hotel could get the laundry done and be ready for business the next day!  Who knows what happened to all those commitments our guests had for later in the evening.

Was it memorable?  Many of the 30-40 guests assembled that night in the laundry room at the Radisson still are in town, many still in the business, and whenever we cross paths, once the greetings are over, the first topic of conversation continues to be the Clean Slate holiday party!

And yes, the event’s success ensured we both kept our jobs at Carlson Companies!

Thank you Tom Langlais for the memories.



December 7, 2010

Sixty-nine years ago today, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and changed our world as we knew it.

Thirty-two years ago today, I was in Honolulu, standing in front of the Sheraton Waikiki watching a sea of Japanese – just arriving on the daily 747 from Tokyo-walk to the hotel from Kalakaua where their buses had dropped them.  We joked that we were witnessing the second invasion of the Japanese-this time as tourists, immigrants, and future business leaders whose influence would be more lasting than that day in 1941 when they staged their surprise attack and launched the Pacific Theatre of WWII.

Since today is also my older sister’s birthday, December 7 is a date that does not slip by unnoticed for me; and today is no exception.

As I was reminded of Pearl Harbor (and Pearl City and my favorite hang-out, the Pearl City Tavern) and that day I witnessed the crowd of 300+ Japanese tourists slowly moving en masse up the side street, blocking all traffic, I was suddenly struck with another thought.

I was in Honolulu December 7, 1978 on a site visit with my BFGoodrich client…waiting for Dusty Rhodes to pick us up for a meeting to finalize the BFG incentive program  that included a one day “experiential marketing event “– the first ever BFGoodrich “Buying Opportunity” for dealers.

A new idea; a gamble; a shot in the dark with no knowledge of how it would turn out; simply a gut feel hatched between the client team, our account executive and me…that changed MY world long before Events became an industry.

In February, 1979, as part of the “Great Life” dealer incentive trip, we instinctively engaged the BFG dealers on the lawn between the Sheraton and the Royal Hawaiian and that afternoon, they were motivated to buy sufficient quantities of TA Radials to finance the entire annual incentive program for a year – including the diamonds they won, based on points earned on purchases-as gifts for their spouses!

Back then, it was proof that Motivation 2.0 worked and was the beginning of a reroute in my career from incentives to performance-improvement meetings to interactive product expos that emerged as our point-of-difference in Carlson’s Meetings Division in the 1980s and led to Carlson’s first attempt at Event Marketing in the early 1990s…and eventually led me to leave that corporate world and launch Creative Events in 1993.

The pioneering journey took 15 years of trial and error with no supporting industry to tap into to learn how to do it, why it worked, or how to do it better.  We simply instinctively continued to build on past experience –with results improving little by little throughout the years.

So why then am I surprised that as the industry was born and grows up, it is taking what seems like a lifetime to move from adolescence to adulthood?

It was 37 years between the Day of Infamy and that first BFG inspection trip where we witnessed the “second invasion” of Honolulu by the now-friendly Japanese.  We marveled that day on what a significant change had occurred in such a short period of time!

So, I guess that means, I should have patience – it may take the events world 37 years as well to accept the power of experiential marketing and move forward with us into the 21st century.  Instead of the Day of Infamy, I should look at today as a Day of Hope!



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.