TAKING A CUE from the meeting and event clients who now more than ever are making ROI their MO, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide's Larry Hanson keeps a close eye on the effectiveness of his events.
The director of special events, North America, for the White Plains, N.Y.-based hotel organization says such an approach is critical in today's increasingly competitive group-sales market. After each of the 25 or 30 client-appreciation and sales-related events he plans annually for Starwood, “I have salespeople submit information on clients they're meeting with, business booked, revenue, room nights,” he explains. “You want to make sure the money you're spending is well spent, and that it's being allocated correctly.”
Fortunately, Hanson says, his sales staff's satisfaction with Starwood's events has been on the rise in his four years with the company. That kind of positive response is particularly important when it comes in conjunction with the large-scale events that Starwood stages at such trade shows and conferences as the Motivation Show, the Travel Industry Association's Pow Wow and MPI's annual World Education Congress — major sources of new business, Hanson notes.
Of course, to keep attendees coming en masse to Starwood's parties, Hanson has to keep coming up with intriguing ideas to attract them. His recent concepts include a “Tokyo a Go-Go” bash featuring a 20-by-10-foot ice-sculpted sushi bar in the shape of an Asian dragon, and an “'80s Prom” party complete with plasma screens showing the decade's “brat pack” teen flicks.
Though his background is rich in event experience — his jobs have included catering and convention services positions with Ritz-Carlton and an event director's position at Universal Studios — Hanson says turning his good ideas into great events can be tricky. For one thing, in his Starwood role, he is the sole member of his department, responsible for every aspect of event budgeting, design and coordination.
And that's where exceptional vendors make all the difference. “I couldn't do my job if I didn't have the right vendors,” says Los Angeles-based Hanson, who tends to work with a core group of suppliers spread across different regions of the country. “They know what I want, they know what I like, and I don't have to reinvent the wheel.” Such relationships are critical, he contends. After all, with his full schedule of event planning, not to mention his new role as a Special Events Magazine Advisory Board member, “I don't have time to bid out at all,” he says.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide 1111 Westchester Ave., White Plains, NY 10604; 914/640-8100; www.starwood.com
NO AVERAGE SHOW
“I usually like non-corporate types of entertainment. I like to find a unique singer or DJ or band. There are bands out there that do corporate events, but don't feel corporate, like Boogie Nights or Bjorn Again. They're not doing the kinds of things people think of when they think of corporate bands.”
DOWNS AND UPS
“We cut back some after 9/11, but it seems that business is coming back, and we're doing more events. Trade shows are really important. Because so much of what I do is for sales, you don't want to cut that back.”
“The hardest part of my job is budgeting. Revenue isn't necessarily the problem. We sell out the majority of our events. Every year the response rates keep going higher and higher. You don't want to turn away customers, but at the same time, you do have limitations on space and event budget.”