Special Events

WHIRLWIND TOUR

HOW WOULD YOU react if asked to produce a series of events in 10 cities in little more than three weeks? When auto maker Mercedes-Benz asked Jeffrey Moss, creative director for Park Avenue Productions in New York, to produce the pre-launch of its new S-Class 2000 luxury auto line, he was "stunned," Moss says. "But just for a second. Then I heard myself say, 'This is very scary-but potentially awesome.'"

Moss' concerns quickly turned into action as he realized the S-clusively Yours tour would need to premier in Washington, D.C., in just 72 days in order to introduce the line before its public launch in March 1999.

Moss took the roles of the event's executive producer and creative director. He partnered with Patti Coons, CSEP, of Patti Coons & Associates International in Orlando, Fla., to produce the extravaganza. The goal, according to Coons, was "to reintroduce the luxury line to prospective clients. Today's consumers are purchasing a lot of sport utility vehicles. Mercedes wanted to reintroduce a luxury automobile line and show how it is the most advanced technologically."

The guest list included 15,000 potential Mercedes clients (1,500 in each city) representing the 10 most important markets for Mercedes-Benz: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

The biggest obstacle? "Logistics," Coons says. "My concern was how to move everything. We had four audiovisual systems, four lighting systems, and two sets of 200 silver panne velvet linens that had to be moved between the cities in trucks."

DIVIDE AND CONQUER To organize the challenge before her, Coons grouped the 10 cities into three regions. She then asked Andrea Michaels of Extraordinary Events in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and Rob Hulsmeyer, CSEP, of Empire Force Events in New York to join as asso-ciate producers to help coordinate the 300 team members.

The team decided to create identical, "intimate" cocktail-party formats set within 35,000-square-foot venues. They set an overall budget to be split equally among the 10 cities.

ON WITH THE SHOW The tour kicked off Feb. 16 in Washington, D.C., with a three-hour event beginning at 6 p.m. Guests enjoyed live jazz, cocktails and hors d'oeuvre in a space creatively divided by New York-based Transformit's free-form structures. Next came a fashion show, with models sporting designs from the houses of Escada and Brioni. At the same time, 400 feet of Pane custom-designed projections, provided by Southwest Showtech of San Diego, captured the images on the various Transformit shapes. Appear- ances by such sports greats as Boomer Esiason, Walter Payton and Jimmy Johnson led to a performance by legendary musician Ray Charles.

Finally, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its S-Class 2000 line. Guests could roam around the new line of eight luxury automobiles and sit behind the wheel.

New York chef Daniel Boulud created the same menu for all 10 cities, while his chefs worked with the different caterers and chefs in each venue to ensure consistency.

Lighting designer Shawn Richardson of Richardson Design in Orlando created the surreal surroundings, using equipment from New Jersey-based Bash Lighting. Stage manager Randy Post of San Francisco created the stage design. A&A Travel of Houston coordinated travel for the planners and entertainers. AVR of New York provided video.

Coons, Moss, Michaels and Hulsmeyer attended all 10 events, which was, in Coons' words, "quite challenging, because I was the accountant and artistic director at the same time, moving from city to city." But would she do it again? "In a heartbeat!" she says.

Although the tour went smoothly, it had its inevitable surprises, Coons says. "When we played San Francisco, it was the night that Monica Lewinsky's interview with Barbara Walters aired, so everyone left an hour early." Fortunately, she says, the guests left after the cars were unveiled.

Coons credits technology for creating the biggest stir in the crowd. "The general public isn't usually exposed to this level of technology; it's usually reserved for corporate events," she says. She calls the tour an example of "innovative event marketing," a trend she believes will emerge in the industry.

Michaels adds: "It was creative. It was beautiful. And tasting Daniel's fabulous food in 10 cities couldn't be all bad, could it? Foie gras mousse 10 times-make me suffer some more!"

As it turns out, Moss' initial reaction to the project was on target. "When one guest walked into the room, he simply said, 'Awesome,' and I think that pretty much sums it up."

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