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Special Events


I'M DISMAYED BY a trend I see of special event professionals feeling pressured to downplay the nature of our business. (There, I just did it myself, using “special event” rather than the dreaded “p” word.)

Some of this has rubbed off from our colleagues in the meetings business. Too long dismissed as the people who count the coffee cups, meetings professionals have been fighting hard to have their work recognized as critical to corporate life. Eleven years ago, MPI switched from its original name — Meeting Planners International — to Meeting Professionals International, in part to recognize vendor members but also to elevate its members' status. Yet in the clamber for a seat at the corporate table, too often it seems that the meetings pros are positioned as the ones doing the serious business, while event planners are pushed into the kitchen to put paper-frill panties on the lamb chops.

But this line of thinking is entirely wrong.

As any good marketing or PR person will tell you, people like to think that they behave rationally, that they make hardheaded decisions based on the facts. But they don't. The truth is, the best way to change behavior — to make people believe in and commit to a brand or a company or an idea — is to touch them emotionally. In April, National Public Radio ran a fascinating story describing the work of 20th century PR mastermind Edward Bernays, who sold consumers everything from soap to cigarettes using theories about the power of the subconscious developed by his famous uncle, Sigmund Freud.

This is where special events have their special clout. Virtually all special events have some message to convey, from the launch of a new product to the commemoration of a significant life event. But giving that message impact is the arsenal of tools — decor, music, food — that event professionals bring to bear. These are all hooks that grab emotion.

Consider the Red Hot Pink gala, staged in April in New York for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The pink decor not only made for a pretty party (there, I used the “p” word), but resonated with everyone familiar with the pink ribbon symbol honoring those who have suffered from breast cancer. Certainly the 800 guests at this gala already knew the importance of contributing to find a cure, but would a plain-vanilla meeting have generated the results that this one party did — a cool $4 million in contributions?

This issue of Special Events focuses on events at work in the corporate world, doing everything from providing a comfortable place to do business (“The Last Word,” page 66) to repositioning brands (our cover story, beginning on page 26).

Winning minds is good. Winning hearts and minds is better. Special events win both.

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