Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Changing Shape of Meetings

With evidence pointing toward a gradual improvement in the economy, meeting and event professionals continue to remain in a state of cautious optimism (something we’ve gotten used to over the past few years).

Mike Lyons, Event Director for AIBTM, the America’s Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibitions, recently released his take on 2013. Here are some highlights:

Meetings will be smarter: Attendance at events will continue to be penny-wise, not pound-foolish. The decision to attend events in 2013 will be based increasingly on ROI metrics. Only those events that truly deliver value will be on the travel docket. This continues to be in line with the cautionary decision-making that will take place in 2013. The smart meeting will deliver value, innovation and proven tactics to succeed.

Technology won’t replace face-to-face: We are social beings. Technology can never replace the actual sharing of needs, opinions and experiences. Face-to-face is the catalyst for business growth and shortens the sale cycle – despite what technologists and the digital marketplace would have you believe.  Business is more than ever an industry of building relationships and word of mouth influences . . . that will never change despite social media, online meetings software and streaming media.

Word of mouth will drive sales: In the new book by the Keller Fay Group, “The Face-to-Face Book,” the most effective way to drive business is through word-of-mouth conversations. With social media being the new tool for marketers to reach audiences and communities, it is the combined Social Voice (online conversations and offline Word of Mouth recommendations) that will influence buying decisions and deliver positive business results. Meeting planners (and their strategic partners) will benefit from learning from influential stakeholders who utilize both online and offline mechanisms.

Innovation: Meeting planners will have to be more creative to survive the austere mentality of 2013. Developing cooperative relationships with vendors and increasing pressure to negotiate tough and hard will be expected. But that’s not all bad. One of the things we learn from economic downturns is that a new normal emerges. Innovation is the by-product of doing more with less.

Creating value for all stakeholders: Meeting planners’ jobs will continue to be in jeopardy as attrition rates continue to rise. To accomplish what needs to be done, many corporations will look to outside consultants and part-time meeting planners to get the job done. The ability to prove your worth and deliver value, not only for your external customer, but your internal stakeholders as well will be the reward of keeping your job. Driving those personal interactions between customers and prospects and buyers and sellers will be the hallmark of success for 2013 and the future.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Company Parties on a Budget

Like many of you, through the years I’ve been recruited to pull together the annual company holiday party. Whether I was working for a large, international corporation or a Mom and Pop shop down the street, my bosses always had the same request: “Make it nice, but don’t spend a lot of money.”

Well, here are some tips I came across recently, courtesy of Linda Ferone, director of catering for The DoubleTree by Hilton Tarrytown in New York. Linda has some great ideas how businesses can host a fun celebration that employees will appreciate and remember, without breaking the company bank. 

Timing is everything. Host a luncheon instead of a dinner, but don’t make your employees go back to the office afterwards. You can go lighter on the menu, and not have to spend precious dollars on extravagant d├ęcor or entertainment. Plus, your employees will love the extra time off.

Go straight to the meal. The traditional heavy hors d’ouevres reception with various cuisine stations can actually cost more money because you need so many stations to make up for not serving a full dinner. Consider cutting back on the cocktail reception or dessert and keeping the primary focus the main meal.

Do-it-yourself centerpieces. A collection of elegant candles purchased at discount stores can easily become a centerpiece. During the holidays, small poinsettias are often discounted heavily at big box stores. Start with a decorating committee. You will find hidden talents in your associates while developing camaraderie at the same time.

Ask your vendors to contribute. You purchase from your vendors all year long, so why not utilize that relationship for your holiday party? Vendors can sponsor the open bar or the dessert reception, provide a favor for guests to take home or donate a nice raffle prize. Be sure to brand what they are providing with their logo or name prominently on display, making it a great advertisement for them.

Play games.  Trivia is extremely popular with guests, whether it’s tied to the holiday or company. Or, organize a scavenger hunt. For example, the first one to show an out of state driver’s license wins $5 or an extra raffle ticket.

 Bundle items. If you are getting a DJ and also want a photo booth, try getting them both from the same vendor in order to save money. Many vendors will offer discounts for buying more than one service.

Save on the bar.  It’s smart to cut the bar off at least one hour before your party ends. Switch to desserts and coffee before your guests depart. Not only is this providing a more responsible party, but you will save money on the bar tab at the same time. You can also limit the drinks you serve, such as offering only beer, wine and soda. Another option is to offer a special cocktail of the night that relates to your party theme.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sneak Preview: F&B for 2013

Via Flickr Fifth World Art

I love F&B forecasts, because it allows me a peek into what I can be expecting from my favorite restaurants and trendy hot spots in the coming year. This week I sat in on a trends preview webinar from Andrew Freeman, a consultant and strategy guru for the hospitality industry. He specializes in restaurants and hotels, but what’s happening there often migrates into the event and catering worlds. Here are some Freeman forecasts that you can apply to your own trend-setting events next year:

1.     We’re really open. The walls between front-of-house and back are continuing to break down. Open kitchens, chefs delivering their creations to the table and guests being invited to participate in the experience all have applications to our industry.  Consider asking the chef to come out of the kitchen to introduce the menu to your group, or even passing a tray and chatting with guests. They’ll love it, and remember more than just the food.
2.     Blow out the bar. Yes, bar food is becoming even more important. Casual, sharable food, either simple or sophisticated, is the new expectation. Hand in hand with this trend are all-day menus and snacking. Think about mixing up the traditional 10am and 3pm breaks with all-day snacking stations with fruit or other healthy snacks available throughout the meeting.
3.     Don’t be a “locowhore” (Freeman’s words, not mine.) Folks are getting tired of getting hit over the head with all the details of what local farms the food came from. Freeman suggests that rather than making a big deal out of an established industry practice, you simply walk the talk. Don’t overpromote. Planners, keep the verbiage simple.
4.     Of course, healthy food is always in, but today you need step it up a notch. Gluten free is a must for any event menu. For 2013, expect to see more juice bars with fresh pressed and cold pressed beverages.
5.     Food trucks. This trend has pretty much played out in terms of innovation and the element of surprise, but Freeman says they’re here to stay. In fact, the new trend is having permanent sites for them around the city or meeting venue.
6.     Reuse, reinvent. We’ve reported on this trend before, but it continues to be mainstreaming into social and corporate events. A trip to the flea market or estate sales can uncover treasures that will make your event shine.
7.     Wedding in a Box. Think an entire package for the engaged couple—from tastings and cooking demonstration to a plated reception and first anniversary dinner. The San Francisco Stanford Court launched a new promotion Oct. 18 that is all inclusive. Is this what engaged couples want? Only time—and trends—will tell.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Backstage in the Bedroom--NOT.

A flurry of recent posts about the new “trend” of morning-after wedding photos certainly has made people sit up and take notice. And the general consensus appears to be a resounding “yuck."

In case you missed it, there's a small bunch of wedding photographers out there pushing the idea of selling couples a morning after photo session, dropping in on their bedroom after their first night of wedded bliss to capture the love and passion of the connubial bed.  Think rumpled bed covers, entwined bodies in various stages of undress lolling upside down in the bed, shots through wet, blurry shower doors with butt cheeks pressed against the glass.

Of course the reality is that the majority of newlyweds don't wake up the next morning ready to audition for 50 Shades of Grey. They're more likely to look like the poor girl at the top of this blog.

Well, you can leave me out of this one. I don't want to see my sister or best friend in her most private, intimate moments. Not any more than I want to look at myself naked in a full-length mirror. Some things are better kept private--even in a world where every bit of personal trivia seems to be fair game,

But maybe I shouldn't get too upset. The "trend" does not seem to be catching on. People are talking about it, but few are doing it. Here is one of my favorite blogs on this topic.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Backstage at the Blu

How do you create an elegant setting in what is literally a construction zone? With great creativity as demonstrated by Event Lab in Minneapolis.

Event Lab is one of my favorite teams. They consistently do fantastic work, but more than that, the people are friendly, warm and really down to earth…not a prima donna in the bunch, from owner  Jack Noble to Becky Harris to Pete Nelson to Lauren, Scott and Susan. They’re heavy hitters in the Minnesota event industry, but you’d never know it.

I’ve had these photos on my computer for awhile, looking for a place to show them off. They haven’t really fit into any logical spot in the print magazine or the eNews, so rather than keeping them hidden forever, I am letting them out of the box and sharing them with you here. They’re just too awesome to keep under wraps.
This is the new Radisson Blu at the Mall of America (I know you’ve heard of the MOA) in Bloomington, 

 Event Lab pulled off an elegant dinner party in this construction zone last spring. The use of color (blue, of course) texture and bling really makes this setting stand out. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there? Nice work, gang!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mind-Blowing Design

I’ve had more than one event designer tell me that some of their greatest inspirations come from the world of design, whether it be fashion, architecture, furniture or art. They visit museums, tour exotic cities, go to the New York or Paris runway shows, and visit the trendiest, cutting-edge boutique shops around. For those of us who don’t have the time or budget to do any of this, there’s Interior Design magazine, which regularly features stunning designs from around the world. I subscribe to the online email newsletter they send out on a regular basis, which takes you to their website, which is a rich resource when you’re looking for inspiration.. Their latest feature on outdoor spaces is amazing. Take a look and let me know what you think. What ideas do these photos spark?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Allergy Alert

Judging from the excellent turnout at the recent ISES Minneapolis/St. Paul chapter meeting, food allergies are a hot topic. The speaker was Tracy Stuckrath from Thrive Meetings and Events, a company she formed to educate the hospitality industry on how to successfully accommodate special dietary needs at events.

The ISES meeting was held at a new club called the Pourhouse in downtown Minneapolis, and Chef Richard worked with Stuckrath to serve each of the seven tables either a gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian or  pescetarian (fish only) meal. Seafood-loving me was lucky to get the shrimp, but the other dishes looked pretty appealing as well. The point was to demonstrate that special meals need not be tasteless or unattractive, and it worked.

The ISES members I chatted with all agreed that they are getting an increasing number of requests for special meals. It makes sense: Stuckrath says that there are nearly 15 million people with food allergies in the U.S. and the number is on the rise.

Why? There’s some speculation that our immune systems aren’t as robust as they were 50 years ago, but I suspect a better reason is that increased awareness of allergies is leading to more diagnosed cases. You can’t go to a restaurant or a grocery story without seeing gluten-free and vegetarian dishes and ingredients, and I suspect it will become even more common.

The lesson for planners is to pay serious attention to the issue. Talk to your caterers and chefs; make sure they know how to handle special requirements. Ask your attendees before the event if they have any specific dietary requirements. Follow up and let them know their request will be honored. And learn as much as you can about these allergies and what to do if one of your attendees has a reaction. In other words, be prepared.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Backstage at the Gaylord Palms

When I was offered the chance to spend last weekend at the Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee FL, I jumped. It wasn’t just the prospect of a few days of luxury basking in the sun. They were offering far more…a chance to tour back of house, a stint in the pastry kitchen and some good schmoozing with meeting planners from across the country, one of my very favorite things to do.

On their part, Gaylord Palms wanted to show off their $50 million renovation and let planners experience the hospitality they’re famous for.

The property is a smaller, more-easily-navigated version of its big sister in Nashville. Its signature atriums and gorgeous floral and landscaping is just as impressive as the larger properties, however, and I spotted a new flower or architectural feature every time I wandered the meandering pathways.

The events they planned for us demonstrated that they “get”planners. Planners like to know how things work, so we got a tour of the underbelly of the resort, a city within itself, where the “stars” (staff) have an awesome cafeteria ($1.50 for a complete meal), a free laundry for work-related clothes, a convenience store and a horticulture department with seven full-time gardeners.

Then it was off to the pastry kitchen where executive pastry chef Sergio taught us how to make truffles (“What do you do with your mistakes?Eat them!”) and gave us a quick lesson in chocolateology. Hint to planners: the interactive cooking/tasting/chef personality gig is still really hot—and it really works to loosen the crowd. The champagne doesn’t hurt either.

Other highlights were a flash mob performance by the sales staff aptly titled “We’re Awesome and We Know It,” (use your imaginations), a Kentucky Derby party complete with betting, prizes and make-your-own derby bonnets at the new, awesome Wreckers sports bar and of course, Shrek ogre ears for everyone at Villa de Flores, the charming Italian restaurant in the main atrium. (Yes, even I wore ears.)

But the most impressive part of the trip for me was witnessing first-hand the “stars” in action behind the scenes…just normal folks going about their business but in a very special way.

Case in point: Imagine feeling your eyeglasses slip from the top of your head while sitting on your ninth floor balcony, and realizing with dread that they’ve disappeared over the railing. A “star” searches them out the next morning, and attempts to repair the cracked frame before returning them to you. (Confession: Yes, that was me.)

Case in point: a member of the group accidentally tosses out his name badge in the trash along with his truffle-making apron. Gaylord“stars” sift through the garbage in an attempt to retrieve said badge.Unsuccessfully, but they tried.

And there’s more: a gardener noticing a child’s interest in the flowers she’s potting, so she invites the child to help choose which flowers to plant. A housekeeper who smiles and says “hello” every time we pass her in the hall—four times in 15 minutes. A management type in a suit walking the halls stopping to pick up a food tray outside a door.

Now, that’s the kind of star quality meeting planners love.

Disclosure: Yes,Gaylord Palms did pay my way for this trip. But they did not make any attempt to influence any of my coverage, nor did they even ask if I was going to write anything at all. As always, my blog is my honest opinion about my experiences in the wonderful world of events and meetings.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Before You Pin...

Along with all the excitement being generated by Pinterest, there are also some serious questions being asked about copyright issues. Can anyone grab any image on the Internet and pin it to their board without getting permission from the copyright owner?

This makes me very nervous. I always take extreme care to credit photographers and/or designers for their work, whether it’s for our print or digital publications. Sure, it’s extra work to hunt down sources, and make phone calls seeking permission, but it’s the right thing to do.

A number of articles have appeared recently trying to sort out the issue. The legal waters are murky, but the main points of agreement appear to be:

·         Pinterest knows this is an issue. Their original Terms of Use makes it clear that they are not liable for any damages for copyright infringement—the user is. Still, they recently updated their terms to make this even more clear. If a photographer feels that his copyright has been violated by a pinner, he can legally go after said pinner. Be warned.

·         If you want to receive credit for your original work, watermark your images. This is fairly simple to do with software such as Photoshop and Digimark.

·         If you are downloading a photo from a website, include the website link  in the photo caption to show readers where you got the photo, and who owns the copyright. 

·         Do not try and profit off others’ work. For example, don’t try and sell an image that is not yours, or use the image to promote the sale of one of your own products.

These simple rules of thumb should keep you from getting into big trouble. But when in doubt, it’s best to play conservative. (Of course, I am not an attorney and my opinion should not be taken as legal advice in anyway whatsoever.)

For added insight into the issue, click here to read “How to Use Pinterest Without Breaking the Law.”