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Niki McKay

Behind the Blue: Event Industry Trends for 2016

Niki McKayThey say the best leaders surround themselves with other great leaders. Creating a team of superhero-smarties is exciting and motivating--at least it was for me. So, when I began thinking about the trends for 2016, I obviously wanted to consult the Blue Danube Productions crew. They shared brilliant insights on several topics, so instead of me blabbing, I decided to hand the mic over and just listen.

Rebecca Abram, CSEP, has been with Blue Danube Productions for a year and a half and loves making ideas come to life. Then there’s Josh Hamon, who's worked with us for a little over three years and loves solving weird problems. Both of these rock stars thrive for the moment when a client says, “I didn’t know it could be like this!” i.e., referring to (A) no stress, (B) smooth, (C) a dream and (D) easy for them. Yeah, my team rules.

We sat down for lunch and silenced our cellphones for a sweet reflection on what stood out from 2015 and what lies ahead in the new year. Excluding the many jokes and laughs, here’s everything we discussed. Pull up a chair!

Question 1: What AV/event trends did you notice in 2015?
: Many of the RFPs we received indicated the desire for “corporate events” that didn’t scream “corporate.” So, we found ourselves designing landscapes more often than traditional sets. We were also using newer technology, like projection mapping, and steering away from standard screens. We loved bringing more technical elements into the conference space. As a result, the line between special events and conferences became fuzzy.

Josh: Galas or special events that would typically have a theme were opting out in 2015. Often, there was a bigger idea at play, which served as an inspiration point, but allowed us the flexibility to do more beyond the parameters of one particular “theme.”

Q2: What trends do you predict to see more of in 2016?
I think we will see more unconventional and experimental meeting styles to improve attendee engagement. Organizations are capitalizing on a dynamic opportunity to present information. With that being said, the “corporate” versus “incentive” line will also begin to blur, while the divide between “work” and “play” will come closer. Conferences and meetings may not consist of exclusively one or the other. For example, we might suggest an interactive session during 3 p.m. hour when everyone is falling asleep. Hopefully, events can catch up with augmented reality technology, too.

J: I see a desire for more experiential aspects to make attendees feel important--so exclusive portions of an event agenda or access, etc. The recession made organizations feel wasteful for throwing a quality event, but I think we’re finally past that. The reincarnation of quality event spending will be through the “experience.” Clients may allocate budgets for that extra perk or customization for attendees.

Q3: What outside factors could you attribute to these trends?
: In general, people’s social habits are evolving. There’s more interaction happening online and over the phone versus in person. That being said, people still crave human interaction. Designating time in an event agenda to interact with people will become increasingly important because of this. We are encouraging our clients to incorporate a collaboration of experience and interaction--which should be tailored to the client and what they like to do, of course.

J: When the economy went sour, events became very commoditized and “vanilla.” Now, people are realizing that events are part of the business strategy, the marketing strategy, and can be budgeted as such. Also, events are pulling information off paper: taking real numbers and putting them in front of teams. Events are a different dimension and add gradient to the mundane.

R: Year after year, we see the events industry closely follow the box office. For example, once "The Great Gatsby" hit, we saw themes around Prohibition and the Roaring '20s--even trends from “Into the Woods,” “Mad Men” and “Star Wars.” Storefronts also have a surprising impact on event design. The store windows in New York City and other fashion capitals of the world can inspire event trends, as well. Across the board, creative industries heavily integrate into the events world. Event professionals have such a unique and special opportunity to take from other creative ideas and make them larger than life and completely immersive.

Q4: How do you, as leaders and a brand, stay inspired and on the pulse of the trends?
Ha! We make them. Yet, we all get our inspiration differently. Niki is often inspired by storefronts and Rebecca looks to fashion events for inspiration--like the Victoria’s Secret runway show. So we’re able to take elements from all different areas and give it a whirl, or new twist, in the events world. For example, neon had been invented years before it was used for neon signs. Ideas can be reincarnated for purposes they were never originally imagined for. We constantly think: What can we do that’s different or cutting edge? What else could we bring to life?

R: Ask the “what if?” question. What could happen if we did X and what could it deliver? That’s the way the culture is here; we snowball all kinds of ideas--almost to the point of ridiculousness. When the idea is almost unrealistic is when we have the best “aha” moments. Other times, the ideas come up when brainstorms happen, or even in the midst of a silly pinball match. We constantly challenge the norm.

See? I told you. I have a brilliant team. Amazing ideas come to life when you have all of these people in the same room—talking, envisioning, building. As we reflect on 2015 and ramp up for 2016, I’m more excited than ever.

Niki McKay is owner of Seattle-based Blue Danube Productions, an AV and event production company. "We are the bridge that connects the ideas to flawless execution," McKay says. "We do what we love while serving thousands of events throughout the nation--from corporate to social to conferences to concerts."

Photo by Mike Nakamura Photography


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