Her events are so famous that even the media previews are mobbed. Cheryl Cecchetto is the architect of such landmark galas as the Academy Awards Governors Ball and the Emmy Awards Creative Arts & Governors Ball, achievements even more remarkable because she has held on to these clients for years. Here, the founder and president of Los Angeles-based Sequoia Productions shares the backstage story behind her star-studded events.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: When we run our annual preview of Sequoia's plans for the Governors Ball, it is always the most popular article for weeks. What makes this event a touchstone for the special event industry?
CHERYL CECCHETTO: We always try to come up with designs that are cutting-edge and unique to the event industry, e.g., new furniture designs that can be used as rentals afterwards. Also, the fact that high-profile guests will be in attendance really adds to the excitement.
SPECIAL EVENTS: The 2008 ceremony will mark the 20th year that Sequoia has been creating the Governors Ball. What is your secret recipe for keeping a marquee client for so long?
CECCHETTO: I believe that there is no great secret on securing this most prestigious, fabulous client for 20 years, although here is how I look at it: You must work really hard, giving it 120 percent. Always be available for your client — 365 days a year. Make sure each year's work is unique, and do not take a repeat client for granted! The fact that we really love what we do adds to the magic.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Are the pressures of designing and producing such a huge, publicized event getting any easier, or does the ante just keep going up?
CECCHETTO: I think the ante needs to increase every year. I look back at the event industry from 10 years ago and think, “We were doing what?” Our palate has become more sophisticated. I always worry to start, which gets my thoughts and ideas activated, and then I dive in and get lost in the process. The process takes me away from the fear.
SPECIAL EVENTS: You took a bold move with the 2007 Governors Ball by having the mix of wait staff and buffet dining — and it was a hit. Were you ever nervous about making this change, or did professional planning make all the difference?
CECCHETTO: Professional planning always makes the difference. The audience was begging for a change; they were restricted for so long, and they just wanted the freedom to mingle. All risks and changes are exciting — within reason, of course.
SPECIAL EVENTS: The economic forecast for 2008 is still unclear. How is business shaping up?
CECCHETTO: I can't let the economy faze me. I will roll up my sleeves and become stronger from it. We need to assist in any way we can by encouraging our peers to support each other in L.A., nationwide and worldwide.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What do you think are going to be the big trends facing the event industry in 2008?
CECCHETTO: First, the event and the theatrical world have really merged. Who would have ever thought that Tony Bennett would perform at the Emmy Ball? Second, every event element is detailed, with much more precision and a more permanent design. Third, branding — but subtle branding — has become common ground for all events. The TV commercial seems passé; therefore, marketing dollars are being redirected toward high-profile special events. Last is the awareness of the contribution we can all make and are making as a conscientious community. Going “green,” getting involved with charities — an all-around community-consciousness.
SPECIAL EVENTS: You are always generous in sharing credit with your creative team. Why does this matter to you?
CECCHETTO: Everybody needs to be acknowledged. If everyone is empowered to do their best and receives the accolades from the audience, then it makes for a more successful event, a happier team and a strengthened working relationship.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Any last thoughts?
CECCHETTO: Events to me are the celebration of life — we all need to take the time to do just that. Be clear why you are providing a particular event. Never lose sight of the mission statement or the big picture. I continually circulate and direct our events to make sure that the guests are connected to each other, to the event, to the experience and to the purpose for which we have come together.
To contact Sequoia Productions, call 310/836-3685 or visit www.sequoiaprod.com.
Photo by Nadine Froger Photography