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WHERE'S THE PARTY? Denise Dornfeld, executive vice president of the San Diego, Orange County (Calif.) and Los Angeles offices of Carlsbad, Calif.-based PRA Destination Management, offers tips on putting your event in its place.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What are some of the issues that event planners should keep in mind when selecting a venue for a particular group's program?

DENISE DORNFELD: Age is a major factor; you don't take an older crowd to a rock-climbing wall. Also gender and the ratio of men to women; you don't want to take an all-male group to a dance club. Is the group well-traveled, or is this their first trip? What has worked in the past? Also, you've got to react and readjust accordingly. If you have a swing band that you think is the cat's meow yet everyone is still sitting at their tables, then you'd better arrange something else for the next two nights.

Q: So planners can take a program that is going downhill and turn it around if they are willing to tear up their original plan?

A: Yes, if they are observant and proactive. The mistake is stopping observation mode and getting stuck in fulfillment mode.

Q: What steps are smart venue managers taking to attract DMCs and their clients?

A: They figure out what their own needs are. For example, if you are a restaurant with a great water or city skyline view and are open only at night, then sell me on holding an event such as a spouse luncheon during the day. Also, it's advantageous to invite me down to see one of your events in action so I understand what your needs are; if they are different from my client's needs, it may not work.

Q: Do you ever have to talk event planners out of a venue they want?

A: Yes. If we know that the last two or three events at that venue have had the same flaw and the venue cannot guarantee that it will be corrected, then we will suggest that we change venues. Also, we could blow an entire week's worth of budget on one event if the planner is hell-bent on having it at a certain venue on Saturday night. But rather than eliminate that venue, maybe we could move that event to Monday night, when costs are lower. That way, we are still able to use the venue, meet the planner's objectives and do it in a cost-effective way.

Q: Can a smart, resourceful event planner put an event anywhere?

A: I would say that a smart and knowledgeable expert in the destination can work with facilities, venues, parks — whatever — and put a program in their space. What doesn't translate is someone who is not as knowledgeable and is trying to do it long-distance. You're at the mercy of the venue's salesperson, and what if that person started the job only last week? Someone from out of town may not know that the park's water sprinkler comes on at 5 a.m. during their setup. And they are now drenched, and their event is ruined. But I know — because I'm the local community expert — exactly when that sprinkler comes on. When planners have to pick the venue long-distance without a local expert, then I suggest they go with the tried and true, something they know has worked in the past.

Q: What mistakes do you see event planners make most often when choosing venues?

A: No. 1 is not knowing the territory. By not knowing all the limitations a venue has, you could pick it for all the wrong reasons. Also, don't pick on price alone. The venue with the cheapest proposal may not meet your objectives. If you choose an outdoor venue, have a discussion about what your backup plan is in case of inclement weather. Finally, too many clients don't want to be forthright about what their budgets are. If you ask me just to send you a bunch of ideas, I can, but they may not meet your objectives. It's the trust factor. If everyone will be honest and communicate in the beginning, then we can create the most exquisite program, and your boss will pat you on the back and say, “Well done.”

Denise Dornfeld can be reached at 619/234-9440 or via e-mail at [email protected].

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