Patricia "Pat" Ryan has never been afraid of big clients, big events or the big time.
As the company she founded, Party Planners West, enters its 20th year, the firm has grown into one of the 20 largest woman-owned businesses in Los Angeles County. Its production facility in Marina del Rey, Calif., encompasses more than 50,000 square feet of office, warehouse, shop and creative services.
Ryan hasn't been afraid to go after big clients - the National Football League, Disney, Time Warner - and to produce big events, including movie premieres for thousands and festivals for more than 100,000.
Ryan started her career in the hotel business and moved to California to work for Hilton Hotel Corp. in Beverly Hills. She credits her hotel experience with teaching her organizational skills. "[The] documentation and consistency of systems that hotels demand serve an entrepreneur well," she says, "especially in the startup stages of your business."
Involvement with corporate sponsors of the 1984 L.A. Olympics shaped PPW. "From a staff of three, we grew to a staff of 50 to be able to accommodate the eight corporate sponsors that we handled for the Games," she says. "It's where we first realized it's possible to create and produce unique, well-organized events for multiple clients at the same time."
Although few focused on corporate event planning in the early '80s, PPW zeroed in on it from the start. "We're basically a strategic marketing company that utilizes live events as our medium," Ryan says. "First, our job is to understand our clients' goals. What do they want their guests to say the next day? What do they want the press to say? Second, we assemble the team that will allow these goals to be articulated."
The events that have taught her the most, she says, are those tied to the Super Bowl. They have come off with "great success," Ryan says, despite tornadoes knocking down tents during setup in Florida, El Nino rains in California and the outbreak of the Gulf War. "We've produced the NFL Experience - the NFL's Super Bowl theme park - for 10 years," she notes. "It is full of new challenges each year."
PPW specializes in pulling off tight setups. "It's all manpower," Ryan says. "You can crunch time, but you must have a master plan. We sell organization."
After flirting this year with the idea of joining forces with another event company, she has kept PPW independent. "We have made the decision to move forward with our current identity, style and management," she says.
What does she hope for her future? "To maintain the three most important ingredients for a successful event company: innovative, high-profile clients, high-quality execution of events and top-notch personnel. This combo is ultimate."
"There is no one way to do a great party. You could have the same party in the same room on the same budget done by six different event companies and have them totally different - and they could all be good!"
"My definition of an event coordinator is that they add value to any of the services they contract for the client. For example, even with a fine caterer, I trust my own food sense and styling on behalf of the client. The three of us working together should have a more successful party than if the client just contracted directly. Otherwise, our services shouldn't exist."
"I encourage people who want to learn and be good in this business: Think big. Don't be afraid to expose yourself to areas of the industry you don't know, even if it means volunteering. Dive in with both eyes open, listen to your clients, deliver a great service and be prepared to catch the special events bug."