The 3 Legs of Event Planning: Essentials for Event Business Success
Sometimes three legs are better than two: a three-legged race, a three-legged stool and a three-legged approach to event planning. After sifting through the complex matrix of problems and solutions, creation and destruction, meticulous detail, and big-picture ideas, three essential “legs” of the event planning business rise to the forefront: creativity, business savvy and relationship-building. ISES spoke with three very different members to learn more about these essential elements. These industry veterans share their tips and tricks to navigate these areas of event planning, as well as how to buff up on areas that aren’t necessarily your strongest suit.
How to Build Your Business Savvy
When it comes to running a business, understanding the day-to-day operations is integral to staying afloat. David Merrell, CEO and creative director of AOO Events Inc., says (photo at left), “The only way to survive and, more importantly, thrive in a creative business is that you have a complete grasp of the business side. And if you can’t do it [yourself], you must have a business partner who does have a complete grasp.” Merrell explains that, having earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting, he was fully comfortable with the business element before he began AOO Events, and he warns, “Business isn’t something you learn from just ‘being on the job'; it takes some schooling to really understand it.”
Carol McKibben, owner of McKibben Consulting in addition to being a writer, editor and published author (photo at left), emphasizes, “I think for most beginners, particularly those who are creative and charismatic with others, it is difficult to put the business aspect of your company in clear focus because there is so much to learn, including regulations, permits and licensing, taxes, managing others and more.” She recommends pursuing formal education, while also speaking to the importance of surrounding yourself with industry experts in operations and administration. Merrell also adds that whenever he has questions regarding business decisions, regulations and laws, he turns to his lawyers and accountants, in addition to his peers in the industry.
How to Create Your Creativity
Perhaps the flashiest of the three categories, creativity is what immediately comes to mind when many people think of the event planning industry: lavish parties with perfectly arranged hors d'oeuvre and a colorful light show to cap off the night. However, Craig Tolliver, owner and founder of Craig’s Crew (photo at left), thinks about creativity in a different way.
“Creativity comes in two forms: problem-solving or turning a ballroom into a gala," he says, "which is amazing.” Certainly it took creative inspiration to turn a coffee plight in the VIP hospitality tent at this year’s Rose Bowl into a complimentary tour of the stadium, which served the purpose of bringing the caffeine-less guests to the coffee’s location inside the stadium. Tolliver adds, however, that the creative side of event planning was never his top forte. Instead, he surrounded himself with creative people and learned this art form, bringing creative problem-solving into every aspect of his work.
While learning creativity can be a very difficult feat, McKibben advises, “The best way to approach it is to intern with a highly creative person to see how they work. ISES is a great resource for this.” For example, in her position as publisher of Special Events magazine some years ago, she has had many marketing responsibilities, which required tapping into her own creative reservoirs, as well as contacting experts in the field--rental dealers, caterers, designers and event planners--for advice and guidance. If you’re starting to sense a common theme, you have caught on to a not-so-well-kept industry secret: Relationships keep the ball rolling and events running.
How to Grow Your Network
When it comes to event planning, the relationship side is two-fold: those that you maintain with clients and those you have with other industry experts. Merrell explains that he is frequently reminded of the importance of relationship-building. He recently had a top-notch year with a client, resulting in success for both sides. However, when the client’s producer left, its business with AOO Events moved on, too. “While amazing work is important,” Merrell says, “the most important thing is that the relationship with you and the client is a stronger bond than good work.”
Beyond building relationships with clients, it’s imperative to retain strong ties with team members and other industry experts. Tolliver explains, “Draw on other people’s talents and gifts, and you can make any event the best it can be. I do nothing without my team--they are as close as a pair of socks! You have to have that ‘3 a.m. friend’ who you can call when it isn’t cool for anyone.”
Combine and Stir for Success
While it’s nice to think of these three aspects of event planning as neat little boxes to check off during the planning and execution of an event, it’s not quite so simple. In fact, business sense, creativity and relationships are integrally interwoven throughout the entire process, bleeding into each other until they are almost indistinguishable. Merrell elaborates, “None of them can survive alone. They all need each other to thrive. You cannot have an amazing creative product and make it in the event world unless you have relationships with folks who want to work with you. You cannot be an amazing partner yet have a really bad product, and you cannot have a business full of integrity and not retain relationships. None of them will survive until they all exist and thrive.”
Tolliver uses the example of his annual event the Greek Festival, which he has planned every year. Because of his relationship with the group, he is called back to plan the event, and for every year he works with them, that relationship grows. Then, he has to secure all the contracts, from health department permits to contacting the fire marshal, and ensuring all safety measures are in place. Finally, the creative aspect comes to play to transform the venue and solve all problems that arise along the way.
The world of event planning moves quickly, and keeping in rhythm is essential to staying above water. Tolliver compares it to juggling; at any given point each of these three aspects of event planning are in the air, and if you drop one, the rest will fall. By connecting with extraordinary people, you not only have the support you need to succeed, you also have the inspiration to pursue your passion--no matter how fast you have to juggle to keep up.
Come Alive Through Creative Education Sessions
Finding the time to re-energize can often get lost in the chaos of day-to-day work. However, in order to remain innovative and produce cutting-edge work, pressing "pause and refresh" is essential. Sometimes, the best way to improve your work is to step away and learn from others, and at ISES Live 2015, taking place August 20-22 in New Orleans, attendees can surround themselves with creative professionals from the world over. ISES Live Education Chair Terry Shields, director of catering and events at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek (in photo above), speaks to the educational programming that will be available at ISES Live.
How will the conference educational sessions be set up?
The conference sessions all start in the general session ballroom, with each speaker giving a 15-minute TED talk, known by ISES members as Thought Talks. From there, the speakers break off into what we call Deep Dives, or break-out sessions that last about an hour. These Deep Dives give that speaker an opportunity to provide more insight into the topic, and they are very interactive.
What are some key themes ISES Live will discuss?
ISES Live is about realizing and developing your creativity, learning how to collaborate, and getting inspired. To this end, all of the educational sessions are built around creativity, collaboration and inspiration, and the conference is definitely for the experienced professional. Because ISES feels that there are plenty of conferences that address the “how to” in event planning, as well as focusing on all of the disciplines within special events, ISES Live is not set up to address event planning as its primary topic.
What speakers do you have so far?
The keynote speaker will be Frank Supovitz, president and CEO of Fast Track Events and Entertainment. He has produced 10 of the last 11 Super Bowl Games. To date, we also have a journalist, a music composer, a radio personality, a ballerina and a news anchor, for just a few examples. We have a lot more exciting speakers in the pipeline, and as the website for ISES Live gets set up, we will post more information about upcoming speakers.
What are some of the benefits of attending a conference, and how will these educational sessions help someone in the day-to-day?
Think of coming to the conference as a way to recharge your batteries. Not only will conference attendees have the opportunity to network with many of the leading people in the event industry from around world, they will attend educational sessions that are meant to build on existing creativity in the event industry and to inspire them and their own work.
What are you most looking forward to at ISES Live?
I am always most excited to hear how the education is received and if the intention of creativity, collaboration and inspiration are experienced by all of the attendees.
ISES Goes Global with International Partnerships
The creative event planning industry continues expanding beyond regional markets into the global sphere. In response to the growth of the industry, the ISES community has initiated a Global Partners Program (GPP) to harness the collective buying power of its members. Through the GPP, ISES is teaming up with top international corporations in key disciplines--audiovisual and production; hotels; venues; destinations; food and beverage; air travel; and insurance and financial services, among others.
These partnerships benefit creative event planners around the world by exposing them to global corporations, opportunities and resources to help them develop their own businesses. In turn, these international companies are connected to the approximately $21 billion of buying power represented by the ISES global membership. The ultimate goal of the GPP is to increase the influence and further promote the creative events industry and the medium of live events. For additional information on how the GPP is structured or to initiate a conversation about participating in the program, please contact ISES Headquarters at [email protected].