Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let's Meet in Vegas






I am getting really excited about the upcoming Idea Factory in February. Today I started putting together a schedule for the events and education I just can’t miss. The decisions are almost painful to make. But one thing I’d love to do for sure is arrange a meet-up with the people I follow and who follow me on Twitter and Facebook. And readers of this blog, I want to meet you face-to-face as well.

In January we’ll be announcing a new way to connect with people before and during the event, but in the meantime, let me know if you’d like to get together for a beverage and some good chatting about what you do, what you think of Event Solutions and what you’d like to see in 2012. Just drop me a note at ann@event-solutions.com.

See you in Las Vegas!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake




I came across this video on one my news feeds today, and thought it was worth a shout-out. It seems that an engaged same sex couple went to a bakery to order their cake. When the shop owner learned that the happy couple actually was the two women sitting across from her, she politely informed them that she did not want their business. Their “lifestyle, she said, was against her “convictions.”
According to the shop owner, she had every right to turn the couple away. They, in turn, were dismayed and embarrassed.
I’m sure that they were able to find someone else to make their cake—after all, many planners as well as other vendors are now specializing in same sex weddings.
But it begs the question: Was it wrong to turn the couple away? What do you think? Have you ever turned business down because of your personal beliefs? Tell us about it…

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sneak Peek!



I’m putting the finishing touches on the next print edition of Event Solutions and thought you might like a sneak peek at what you’ll be seeing when it hits your mailbox (or computer).  We’re talking trends, baby. But we’re putting a little different spin on it this time around. We’ll be giving you lots of eye candy, with photos of work from the industry’s trend-setters including David Stark, Cara Kleinhaut and Eddie Zaratsian.  And we’ll be offering up some delicious new ideas on the food and beverage side, sure to make your mouth water! (Can you say “edible graffiti?”)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RFID Taking Off



One of the new technologies we’re keeping an eye on is RFID (radio frequency identification).  It’s been popping up all over the place, from the early Vail ski resort applications to the Coca Cola event we wrote about in our April 2011 e:News.  Dimensional Communications took the idea even one step further with the Mercedes-Benz Performance Center at the PGA this past summer. More than 25,000 people were given VIP passes with RFID chips embedded in them. This allowed them to check-in at iPad kiosks at the event using their Facebook accounts as well as check-in for other interactive experiences, including a golf swing analysis lab and a driving game. 

RFID is in its infant stages, but we have a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this. What do you think?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Are You a Planner, or Curator?



I used the phrase “event planner” yesterday during a conversation with Cara Kleinhaut, founder of Caravents, an award-winning live events company in Los Angeles. (She’s going to be part of our upcoming trends issue, which will hit your mailboxes in early December.)

Cara took issue with the term “event planner.” She prefers the terms “curator” or “producers.” Her team, she said, curates the content of the event—what the audience will see, hear and experience, from providing an intriguing backdrop for the step-and-repeat to extending the reach of the event with RFID bracelets.
“It’s not about the linens or the lighting,” she said. “Tools of the trade have evolved.”

Those tools, she argues, are technical expertise in live video production, social media, interaction and engaging the mind as well as all the senses.

We’ll show you what she’s talking about in the next issue. In the meantime, what do you think? Are you a planner, or a curator?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Night of the Zombies

  Photo: Marija Majerle


What do you do with a broken-down bus full of zombies, stranded on the freeway late at night?
With Halloween coming up, this scenario may not be all that far-fetched for event planners who have spooky events on the to-do list.
In this case, the event was the seventh annual Zombie Pub Crawl, which took place last Saturday night in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. An estimated 7,000 undead were lurching about the streets that evening, covered in blood, gore and entrails, along with spilled beer and other potent beverages, I suspect.
My own 20-something zombie happened to be on one of the city buses that transported the ghastly groups about town, from bar to bar. And his bus happened to be the one that broke down.
As I listened to the gruesome tale the next morning, my first thought was for the bus driver, who, I was told, looked like he had been yanked out of retirement to do this gig.

The poor guy. It’s bad enough to have your bus break down. But at night? On the freeway? With a bunch of zombies screaming "WE WANT BRAINS!"
This driver took it all in stride, I am told, even when his cell phone died when he tried to call for a replacement bus. He simply borrowed a phone from one of the zombies, then went along with the flow, posing for pictures and being an all-around good sport. That’s the kind of guy I want working my events.

Especially with zombies around.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Here Comes the Bride


You may have noticed that Event Solutions has been covering the wedding industry in more depth lately. We certainly have not given up our focus on events in general, from corporate to nonprofit to association and the very special world of independent planners, who may work in all these areas.
But a few months ago, we realized that a large segment of our readership is in the social and wedding planning business to some extent. And we weren’t exactly giving them a lot of attention.
This, we decided, was not good.
So that’s why you’ve seen Preston Bailey and David Tutera gracing our pages on a regular basis. And why we’ve partnered with Lovegevity’s Wedding Planning Institute to bring wedding planners the education and ideas they’re looking for.
But we have more news. We’ve also formed a partnership with one of the most heart-warming charitable organizations in the industry—Wish Upon a Wedding. This fantastic group of wedding planners and suppliers, organized into local chapters, has the fabulous mission of making wedding dreams come true for couple who are being affected by life-threatening illnesses.
At a time when the engaged couple’s financial and emotional resources are dedicated to simply surviving, this group is able to offer couples a beautiful wedding experience, from venue to caterers to floral d├ęcor. What greater gift can there be than to give the couple a perfect day, a memory to treasure?
We’re proud of our affiliation with Wish Upon a Wedding, and look forward to bringing you stories that will touch your hearts, and perhaps even your pocketbooks or scheduling calendars. Because there’s one thing we’re sure of—event professionals have heart.

To learn more about Wish Upon a Wedding, go to www.wishuponawedding.org.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Google+ Anyone?

I finagled an invitation to join Google+, the new social networking site that’s making news. I’m not really sure why I did this, since I can barely keep up with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all the blogs and groups I subscribe to, but I always have this lurking feeling that I’m going to be left out of the conversation if I don’t have the latest and greatest toys.

So I’ve signed up, taken the tutorials and have a total of exactly one person in all of my circles. I’m dragging my heels, to be honest, because I’m not sure if I want to go through the whole learning curve again, the whole building a network thing. I already have so many, how will I cope with one more without social media consuming my life?

For now, I think I’ll hang back and lurk a bit. If the event industry embraces Google+, I’ll have no choice of course. What do you think? Are you taking the plunge? Or are you just as hesitant to get even more entangled in the web?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Make Mine Virtual?

For all the buzz about virtual and hybrid events, the rate of adoption seems to have slowed a bit. While some organizations have dipped their toes in the water, others don’t want to touch this area. So says a new study by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, with collaboration from the Center for Exhibition Industry research, and consulting companies Relate and Tagoras. The survey group consisted of executives at organizations that produce events, including for-profit and not-for-profit.

One of the findings struck a chord with me.

It seems that, although attendees say that live streaming content is their favorite type of virtual (so is mine), a lot of organizers are reluctant to go that direction. Why? Resource and technology concerns . Issues include staff time needed to execute a virtual event, cost, quality of experience, complexity of the technology and inadequate interest from attendees, exhibitors or sponsors.

That’s really too bad, but I understand their feelings. Live streaming can be cool, but also fraught with problems. How many times have you logged onto a live event, and either couldn’t see or hear what’s happening? Or you couldn’t see the slides that are being discussed? Or maybe the talent just doesn’t understand how to engage a virtual audience.

Don’t get me wrong. I think as we keep working on this, it will get better. And there will be multiple benefits for all. But I’m not sure we’re quite there yet.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Spin on SPINCon

I was really curious how SPINCon would play out for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve known Shawna Suckow, the founder of Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN) for quite a few years, and have admired her entrepreneurial spirit—she’s not afraid to break out of the box and try sometimes-daring new ideas. And I was wondering what kind of crowd she would draw to this inaugural event—a three-day conference that was intended to “hatch” innovation and inspiration with SPIN members. (SPIN began in 2008 as an online forum for planners with at least 10 years of experience, and has evolved into a networking group of more than 2,000. This was the group’s first in-person conference.)

I was able to attend portions of the conference and was impressed. (That’s impressive because I am the veteran of countless boring conferences over the course of many years, and tend to be a bit cynical.) This was a fresh, Event Camp-type experience. Lots of technology (some good, some not) and engagement activities (some good, some not). About 100 people attended from around the country. Lots of association planners, some indies and some corporate.

I really liked the room set-up in the main ballroom at the St. Paul Crowne Plaza. Lounge furniture was interspersed with traditional rounds of 10, and many people gravitated to the comfy furniture. The stage had a runway that projected into the audience, making the setting more engaging and intimate. Large monitors were set up on each table and in the lounge areas, bringing the action up close to the attendees.

No business cards allowed. We were all issued Pokens (see related story, Top Tips) to exchange contact information, and it worked pretty well. The conference had its own app and I used my iPhone throughout the conference to check on the agenda and speakers.

One piece of tech that we just didn’t get: whooznear, an app that is supposed to show you who is in the room. Just didn’t work, although I checked it every hour or so. I’m not sure what the story was, but I’ll let you know what happened.

You can read about the social activities at http://spincon.spinplanners.com. I did not attend these because of schedule conflicts, but the people I talked to said they came off just fine. A baby shower at the Mall of America and a floating tradeshow on a riverboat added novelty to the event.

The highly anticipated presentation, The Cheater’s Guide to Awesome Hybrid Events, had a great concept: have part of the group break off into another room and become “Canada,” and another group break off into another room and become “home,” plus live-stream the whole thing to a virtual audience. Sam Smith and Erica St. Angel are engaging presenters, but sadly, the hotel’s band-width couldn’t carry off the connectivity. “Canada” had a terrible experience with no slides and bad audio and “home” had to come back to the main group when their computers couldn’t link in. The virtual audience deserted when they couldn’t access the presentation.

But these things happen, especially when you’re experimenting with brave, new ideas.

I thought that, in general, it was a noble effort on SPIN’s part. I appreciated taking part in it, and offer kudos to Shawna and SPIN for taking chances and breaking new ground!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Building Business the Givner Way

I always look forward to seeing what Howard Givner has to say in his Event Solutions business column. It’s usually clever, insightful and right on. So when I had the chance to hear him speak at the May ISES meeting in Minneapolis, I jumped at the chance.

Howard did not disappoint, of course. His presentation, Best Practices for Building Event Business, was full of lessons for the event planners in the room. Here are some of the take-aways I thought particularly noteworthy:

• Many small businesses fail because the owner confuses the craft versus the business of the craft. It’s critical to work on your business as well as in your business.

• You need to manage your growth. Don’t lose focus on servicing your clients. It’s a lot easier to keep existing clients happy than find new ones.

• The number one reason for unhappy clients: embarrassment—looking bad to their boss, guests, the media and others.

The last one doesn’t surprise me a bit. Someone told me once that my number one priority was to make my boss look good. The same thing should go for clients. What are some ways you make your clients look good? Share with us, and we’ll follow up in a future issue.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Planners and Suppliers: Friends or…?

Is there a communication gap between planners and suppliers? And if there is, how do we bridge that gap so that teamwork can happen and everybody’s happy?

This was the topic of a panel discussion hosted by the Minnesota chapter of MPI this afternoon. I thought the topic intriguing, so accepted MPI’s invitation to attend. I’m glad I did. Not only did I reconnect with some old friends (and made some new ones) but I thought that taking this issue out of the closet was a healthy, honest way to help these two groups—who can’t live without each other—find better ways to work together.

The panel was composed of three planners and three suppliers. Questions and comments from the audience were also encouraged. Here’s the gist of what went down.

• In a survey taken before the meeting, both planners and suppliers acknowledge that there’s a gap. More suppliers feel the gap (by a fairly high percentage) than planners.

• Suppliers feel that planners do not give them enough information to do their jobs effectively. They want to understand the client, how they like to do business, what their meeting profiles look like, and the purpose of the event.

• Some planners, on the other hand, sometimes feel that this can be overdone. Not only does it take time to fill the supplier in on the details (and when you have many suppliers for an event, it really takes a lot of time) but some planners are reluctant to share a lot of information. They think the suppliers want too much information. IDEA: consider preparing a one-page profile to give to suppliers with information on when and where you do your meetings, the ways you like to be contacted, important points about your company and its culture, etc.

• Planners said that they want long-term relationships with suppliers, but the “fresh meat syndrome” can get in the way, with planners feeling like the buzzards are circling overhead. Planners sometimes feel that all the salesperson wants is a signed contract—next week.

• Cold calling is hated by both sides—not a surprise—but some of the suppliers felt that it will slowly disappear as both planners and suppliers discover new ways to connect and communicate.

• Planners will not work with someone who doesn’t do their homework. Know who you’re calling on and what they do. Planners will also not typically work with cold callers, or suppliers who drop by without an appointment. They will work with the folks who sit next to them at MPI or ISES meetings, attend the same seminars and workshops that the planners attend, and who network (not prospect) at gatherings.

• Planners and suppliers should consider using CVBs to research and source venues and other meeting elements. They know their cities, and they’re FREE.

I know that both planners and suppliers read this blog. What do you think? Are the Minnesota MPI folks spot-on, or are they missing the boat? Is there a gap? Is it bridgeable? How?

Friday, April 15, 2011

UNLV Shake-Up

If you’re a faithful reader of MeCo posts or follow news items about special events education, you’ll have heard that the University of Nevada Las Vegas is eliminating its meetings and events major – the first (and one the few) education programs to actually award four-year degrees in meetings and events. Note: they are not getting rid of most of the actual courses or the three instructors in the program, but students who enroll in the fall of 2011 will graduate with a degree in Hospitality Management and a “concentration” in meetings and events. That’s “a step down”, according to Professor Patti Shock, the creator of the program and long-time education advocate of higher education in our industry.

I gave Patti a call to see what was behind this seemingly crazy decision – after all, Las Vegas is probably the No. 1 city for meetings, conventions and events and it just doesn’t make sense to cripple a program that feeds young talent into the system.

“It was strictly budget cuts,” she told me – no back-room politics or funny dealings behind closed doors. State-funded schools are being hit hard all over the country, and they’re cutting everything they can just to survive.

It could be worse. At least the courses and instructors will still be there. And Patti tells me that she’s trying to work a compromise that will allow the new Meetings and Events concentration to be noted on the diploma.

We’ll be taking an in-depth look at education options for industry professionals in the June/July print and digital edition, and will update you on Patti’s progress at UNLV.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Think Small

When corporate planners are told to control meeting costs, many of them logically focus on their largest and most costly meetings because of the sheer scale of the spend. But a recent study released by Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) shows that a difference can be made by also taking a look at small meetings – those with less than 25 people.

CWT’s report reveals that nearly two-thirds of an organization’s meeting costs are the result of small meetings like these. The problem is that many companies don’t treat these meetings as real meetings. They are little independent gatherings, often arranged by organizers outside the planning department. And the related travel and meeting costs are often absorbed into other areas of the budget.

If these issues are of concern, CWT recommends developing a small meetings program that helps organizers take advantage of central sourcing, pre-negotiated discounts, service package options and established processes.

If you want to find out how to do this, take a look at the complete article here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rethink Forum

You may be surprised to learn that there’s a new group dedicated to promoting the “interactive revolution” – the industry’s shift to participatory meetings that engage attendees through technology, interaction and collaboration. (If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, check out the October/November 2010 issue of Event Solutions for an in-depth story on this new movement.)

Well, the movement is spreading, as I predicted last year. This new group, which was just conceived in December, is called the Rethink Forum, and it consists of groups of like-minded people meeting in various locations and then everyone linking together to create one big, interactive conference. Virtual attendees can join in, too. If this sounds a little like the recent Event Camps hosted by the event profs group, you’re right. In fact, some of the leaders of the ReThink Forum are event profs themselves.

The ReThink Forum’s first meeting was held yesterday morning in New York, with hubs in Paris, Copenhagen and Minneapolis as well as virtual attendees. Sam Smith of Event Camp fame organized and led the Minneapolis group, which I was invited to attend. We had about 20 people there, a nice turnout considering not many people are aware of this group yet, and the meetings are invitation-only. In total, the conference had 297 attendees.

I won’t go into the content in this blog – there will plenty of information available at www.rethink-forum.com after it’s updated. But of course, a lot of it had to do with the changing face of meetings and conferences. Most of us in the Minneapolis group had laptops (provided by Sam) so were able to give our input on ideas several times throughout the conference.

The pacing was a little frenetic. It’s hard to synch different groups in different time zones, engage them as one group, but allow local interaction at the same time. Then there always seems to be technology issues, problems with audio or video, or links. To be honest, I expected that. Nothing ever goes off without a hitch.

And the quality of the video (and audio at times) was distracting. We’re used to hi-def and hi-res, so the grainy, jerky quality of the live images detracted from the message, rather than creating an environment where we truly felt connected. This too, I expected. After all, the conference was free, so budget was a concern, I’m sure.

But it was fun watching Cheryl Kranz and Ryan Hanson use Prezi to give their presentation on a huge interactive event they produced for the local Boston Scientific group – cool stuff.

My overall impression is that we’re still at the crawling stage with this stuff. We have great ideas and creativity when it comes to engaging attendees, but are still pretty much figuring out how to make them work. Events like this are a start and my kudos to the trail blazers who are taking the lead in figuring out what it all means – and how to do it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

MPI Opens Info to Nonmembers

MPI has always been very proprietary about its vast library of resources and tools – if you’re not a member, you don’t get to get your hands on any of the articles, white papers, tools, and reports that they carry on their website.

Well, this morning that changed. MPI announced on a webcast that it is opening up many of these resources to nonmembers. You simple present them with your planner credentials (www.mpiweb.org) and you can use their new service - MPIWeb Connect, to access selected content that was previously hands-off to nonmembers. In addition, MPI announced the availability of a new mobile web tool and an app for the iPhone that allows MPIWeb Connect users to access content, MPI social media channels, tools for travelers and more.

MPI’s reasoning is that they think it’s important to “elevate the global meetings industry.” In other words, they’re not just looking out for their members, but for the industry itself. I like that kind of thinking. It’s good for all of use. Kudos, MPI!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Airlines vs. Online Travel Sites

If you’ve been following the brouhaha in the media about the war between online travel shopping sites like Orbitz and Expedia and American Airlines, you’ll be interested to hear what the National Business Travel Association has to say. American wants to stop paying the global distribution fees associated with those sites and have passengers book directly with them. As a result, American’s flights are no longer sold through Orbitz and Expedia, decreasing their value as a one-stop shopping site. According to experts in the travel industry, If other airlines follow, it could alter how travelers book their flights, and ultimately, how much they pay.

The NBTA has been making a lot of noise about the situation. They’ve published several white papers condemning the action, and added a session on the topic to their Masters Program meeting on Feb. 7-8. Their point is that American’s action is threatening competition in the marketplace, and that the business traveler will ultimately foot the cost. That’s us and our attendees, of course. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that. What do you think?