What takes an event professional from competent to creative? From average to outstanding? It's often the ability to set trends rather than follow them.
In her standing-room-only session "Predicting the Trends of our Industry" at ISES Eventworld three weeks ago, Special Events Magazine publisher Lisa Perrin turned the tables on her audience. After presenting her resources, she asked them to share what skills, techniques and approaches make them trendsetters in special events. Here, some trendsetting thinking:
Stacey Paul Barabe, CSEP, Hello Florida, Orlando, Fla.: "We are maximizing our online tools to give more options to our clients 24/7 with shopping carts and order fulfillment. We offer 500 centerpieces, 325 linen choices, 200-plus entertainment acts, foliage, balloons, etc. We commoditized anything that we felt was deliverable without 'planning' involved."
Lori Bodkin, Table Talk Inc., Calgary, Alberta: "Become a magazine junkie. Network with international colleagues to learn about new products and events with a different cultural twist—it opens you up to a world view. Take ideas, identify what might work in your market, and make them your own. Create your own sense of style. And stay in touch with the youth market."
Josie Littlepage, CSEP, Cosmopolitan Events, St. Louis: "We hire a group of interns every spring and autumn. Now in addition to their everyday work, we also include them in our brainstorming sessions for design. They help us to get to another level in design; we all come up with fresh ideas from many perspectives."
Ashley Capra, Paula LeDuc Fine Catering, Emeryville, Calif.: "We host a monthly 'chef's table' event in our kitchen, with the dual purpose of showcasing and creating new food and marketing."
Cher L. Przelomski, CSEP, Planning Factory International, Wilmington, Del.: "Be willing to take risks—and encourage clients to do so as well—even push them past their comfort level."
Jaclyn Bernstein, DMCP, Empire Force Events, New York: "Know there is no shame in repetition. Everyone wants to do 'what's next' each time. We focus on improving it and innovating it each time, and for each client. Also, we give our employees whatever and all the time off they want—to achieve their total commitment to these fast-paced times."
Paula R. Fenner, CPCE, The Adolphus Hotel, Dallas: Innovative presentations—"We use new serving vessels for passed hors d'oeuvre: tomato basil soup served in an espresso cup with a wedge of grilled cheese, and salads served in square glasses."
Karen St. Pierre, EventSpinners International, Verona, N.J.: "As an event producer 'free agent,' I come into a corporation and upsell from their original event concept to include corporate social responsibility programs, lending an altruistic edge to their program. It's very effective; the last client went from a $100,000 client to a $900,000 client in one year."
Jack Milan, Different Tastes, Boston: "I've always set myself apart from my competition by being 'different.' I welcome change and innovation and embrace it by always coming up with new ideas. In the past six years, I've been nominated as a finalist for 22 awards and have won 12."
Elaine Wagner, MAC Meetings & Events, St. Louis: "We offer a diverse menu of items deliverable from us: mobile marketing, professional staffing, DMC, promotional items, event and meeting management, prop warehouse, designer, rental. We know how many niches we can fill. We partner with specialty vendors to deliver the best."
Mindy Nichols, University of Houston Downtown, Houston: "We are incorporating more 'tiny' events that build up to our big event. We bring in the scholars and let them interact with our donors."
Jan Kearney, Cast of Thousands, Berkeley, Calif.: "I moved to the West Coast and put my employees in charge of the East Coast. It woke us all up and is forcing us to solidify our relationships within the company."
Shirley Fugazzotto, Stellar Events, Las Vegas: "We focus on quality versus quantity—handling only a few events each month, providing custom design and personal service—especially to niche, out-of-town event planners/producers. We use ISES members exclusively."
Bonny Katzman, BK Design, Boston: "Be aware of the latest products, papers and graphic elements. Believe in yourself. Approach [the work] with passion. Don't scare your audience that 'award winner' is too expensive. Many of my new exciting clients are nonprofit organizations that didn't realize I could create designs to fit their needs and budgets, and I am willing to give back and work with nonprofits, reducing my rates."
Alice-Lynne Olson, The Late Bloomer Floral Design Studio, Minneapolis: "I approach each event—whether a wedding or corporate client—from this vantage point: They came to me because of my reputation for unique, distinctive and quality floral design. I involve myself in their dream and idea, see the big picture through their eyes and ask loads of questions in order to deliver an end product that not only meets their expectations but consistently exceeds and impresses. I often hear, 'How did you know that I'd like that?' I knew because I asked the questions early on in the planning process and continued to ask throughout. Done in an engaging, caring way, it is never intrusive. And a benefit to this is I am invited to the wedding or event as a guest!"
Awny Khashoggi, Unique Option, Orlando, Fla.: "We replaced our catalogue with the Unique Option 'catazine'—one half magazine and one half catalogue—to showcase our clients' work that speaks best of our work."
Linda Thompson, CMP, Cappa & Graham, San Francisco: "Building strategic partnerships that you can use to leverage business and brainstorm ideas and market trends. Also, sharing ideas freely and openly."
Melissa Wind, Eagan Community Center, Eagan, Minn.: "As a community center, we are a trendsetter in beauty and design. Traditional community centers are institutional and have a 'school' feeling. Our facility is designed to give our guest and customers that 'awe' feeling—floor-to-ceiling windows, unique lighting and our 60-acre park are just a few of the things that set us apart. We’ve set a new bar for other cities to mirror."
Lisa McGurrin, Hearst Castle, San Simeon, Calif.: "We have an extremely unique location for special events. The beautiful location and its historic significance in California make it a one-of-a-kind special place. We require that participants learn something during the event about the history of Hearst Castle. We accomplish that by certain types of presentations such as vintage fashion shows, tours or Hearst Castle authors. Our own fund-raising events try to mimic Mr. [publishing magnate William Randolph] Hearst's style, such as art auctions, dinner parties and dancing."
Cindy Y. Low, Red Velvet Events, Austin, Texas: "My company focuses primarily on corporate meetings and social events. Recently, I've been hired to coordinate several multi-cultural weddings, and I've been able to use my corporate branding experience to help 'brand' the weddings—not just using a color scheme as the theme. We create a custom logo for the wedding and we emboss it everywhere—invitations, menu cards, wedding Web site, seals, etc."
Esther Tedoro, Real Time Productions, Seattle: "'Well-rounded' is no longer a term [just] for college applicants! The business economy does not allow companies to focus on one aspect of the event industry. So training personnel to be well-rounded is important for business growth—galas, grand openings, conferences, trade shows, bar mitzvahs."
Gary Jones, Gary Jones Presents, San Antonio: "Remember that 'unique' and 'wow' aren't always something 'different.'"
Jennifer Angelo, Jennifer Angelo Design, Abington, Pa.: "I'm always on the lookout for new ideas and frequently look ahead to the Oscar-caliber films. I can prepare my warehouse with props when the trend hits. 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Chicago' made incredible parties. This year I'm betting on 'The Chronicles of Narnia.'"
Heather McRae, Carter McRae Events, Calgary, Alberta: "We have a seven-step strategic planning process that defines our clients: objectives, target market, measurable outcomes, resources, tactics, sponsorship strategies and promotional strategies."
Anne Renaud, Madison Avenue Events, West Springfield, Mass.: "I feel very strongly that in order to be a trendsetter, I need to forgo ego! I am very open to others' ideas. I firmly believe in continuing education and consistent growth."
Heather Westrom, St. Paul Saints Baseball Club, St. Paul, Minn.: "I am in the first wave of event planners in sports that are migrating to the special event industry to gain knowledge, get certified and improve our events."
Alex Cheng, Advanced Lighting & Production Services, Randolph, Mass.: "We take present technology and find a new angle on how to apply it, such as using LEDs in different fixtures. To borrow a term from a client, 'coopertition'—we work with our competitors closely."
Ed Knight, EventQuip/Celebration Rentals, Pipersville, Pa.: "The tent industry is seeing constant changes in code requirements. We stay up to date and want to be regarded as the experts so that our clients have the most confidence using us."