Special Events

Obama Inauguration Shows Power of In-person Events

A few years ago, I had a long conversation — OK, it was an argument — with a woman who was angry that Special Events wouldn't write about a project she had worked on. It was a demonstration she made to a group of potential clients showing the benefits of her company's copiers. I told her that her project didn't fit our definition of a special event, to which she promptly replied, “Well, it was a special event to me!”

All manner of special events come my way, from product launches and incentive trips to parties celebrating a child's first communion and a grownup's latest divorce.

Just as the range of event occasions has grown, so has their sophistication. As Angela Pennington, Classic Party Rentals' vice president of inventory, notes in this month's “Guest Room,” events today demand an innovative, exciting array of products. Events are no longer “right out of the box,” she explains.

Not only do events demand more professional production, but they are more firmly rooted in our lives. When looking at the sour economy and its chilling effect on events, rental veteran Jack Luft urges the industry to take heart. “All the events we participate in are now part of the fabric of our culture,” he says. “They are not considered just luxury items.” Turn to our cover story on page 27 to read more.

And if there was ever a validation of the power of events, just consider the slate of parades, parties and ceremonies surrounding U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration last month.

The Obama campaign was widely praised during the election for its savvy use of online communications. (I signed up to receive e-mail updates from the Presidential Inaugural Committee to stay abreast of inaugural plans and must say I've been startled several times to see messages sent directly to me from Mr. Obama. I opened every one every time.)

With thousands of attendees shooting photos and creating text to share online — not to mention the wall-to-wall TV coverage — it would have been easy to indulge in the inaugural events from the comfort of home.

But then why did nearly two million people traipse to Washington to stand for hours in massive crowds and biting cold? Because they knew history was being made, and they wanted to be there in person.

Special events harness the power of technology and the virtual world. But nothing will replace people joining together to celebrate, to commemorate life's milestone events.

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