Special Events

The Last Word: Anna McCusker Has the Last Word

EVEN AS A LITTLE GIRL, event designer Anna McCusker appreciated life's little details, a trait she attributes to her European upbringing. "At the market, the first place we would stop at was the floral stand," she says. "My mom or dad would ask me, `What colors do you want for the dining room?'"

After receiving a business degree from Ryerson Polytechnic College (now University) in Toronto and completing some floral design courses, McCusker parlayed her design savvy into her own company, McCusker Floral Concepts, in 1983. Originally a flower and gift shop serving the corporate client in downtown Toronto, the company has gone through many stages, she says.

At the start, she and her staff designed themed pieces for open houses in the Victorian-home-turned-shop. "I would give each designer a room and give them a concept to design their room in a different theme," she says.

One day, she saw a copy of Special Events Magazine in the lobby of a caterer's office. "That's when I discovered the special event industry," she says. "I booked myself to attend the next The Special Event," the trade show sponsored by the magazine. Also, "I became very involved in ISES."

Her hard work paid off in 1994 when McCusker won a Gala Award from Special Events Magazine for theme decor. "It gave me the strength and the desire to move forward and work harder and be more innovative and better-educated."

Last January, McCusker changed the company name to McCusker2 & Team when her daughter Natalie joined as full partner. Rounding out the mother-daughter team is one full-time employee. "Now we solely design and produce special events," McCusker says. "We focus on the corporate market and a lot of social events tied into [that] market."

In 1999, the producer of "The Occasion," a Canadian television show about the special event industry, asked McCusker to appear in the pilot. "I appeared on 13 episodes," she says. "I tried to involve as many special event experts in this area" as possible. "We are looking at selling it and making it an international show."

What's next for McCusker? "I am researching talent to bring in and use more technology in special events," she says. For example, she sees new opportunities in videography, "like having an emcee that is a cartoon.

"I want to take everything that is out there today and apply it to special events."

"We constantly give to our corporate clients, our organizations. There's not a way of producing without giving. I strongly recommend a sabbatical to anyone who works in this industry. A sabbatical gives you the opportunity to plug into what it is you need. Music or cooking for your family and friends, or just sitting down and putting your feet in the sand."

"The best advice I can offer is not to forget the business side of the business. We are great designers and producers, but the key to success is to make sure the organization and structure of your business - the essence of a business plan - are there before you step into designing and producing special events. You have to have someone, whether a great mentor or accountant, to keep the house in order."

"My mother had a friend, Natasha, who was an artist in every sense. I would do little drawings, and she would pose questions to me about them. I was given the opportunity to provide input, instead of being told what to do, and that gave me the ability to open my mind and be accessible to ideas."

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