AN architect of event experiences, including a 15-year stint at PGI Inc., C.B. Wismar made headlines in December with the news that he joined Minneapolis-based Carlson Marketing as vice president of event marketing. In his role, he will aid the company with its new global marketing focus, which he describes here:
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What direction does your new post indicate for the company?
C.B. WISMAR: Although I did not replace someone else, there was a strong heritage on the event side up until the past few years. The identification of the new spot is part of the going-forward emphasis of Jim Schroer, the CEO of Carlson Marketing. Jim will add a strategic event focus to the already exceptional logistical delivery capabilities of Carlson Marketing. Incidentally, the emphasis that we're bringing to the strategic event focus is decidedly creative. I've been on that side of the house for all my years in the business, and it is one of the strong attractions about being at Carlson.
Q: Carlson has been stressing the “global” reach of its marketing services. Does this scope reflect the business interests of its clients or the reality of a shrinking world?
A: There's a misconception across most industry categories that “international” is the same as “global.” By simple definition and, more pointedly, by actual practice, the two are not interchangeable. Carlson Marketing is a true global company. We are strongly represented in the traditional marketing and event strongholds of North America (both the United States and Canada) and Europe. But the true expertise and reach of Carlson Marketing can be seen in the Asia/Pacific [regions] and in South America, as well. From the Sydney Games forward, Carlson Marketing has had a substantial presence around both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Just bouncing from Torino to China and to Vancouver — which takes us out to 2010 — requires a global approach.
Q: We last interviewed you in spring 2003, when the economy seemed tighter than it does now. Do you see a rebound in confidence in corporate spending?
A: After the “perfect storm” of 2001 that laid waste to great sections of the hospitality and event industries, the crawl back has been challenging. When we last spoke about the industry, the imperative was still to minimize the scope and reach of events as a reaction to tragedy, economic turmoil and the inherent fear that came from uncertainty. What has transpired in the past two to three years has been a movement borne of the effort to use absolute controls to minimize uncertainty. The movement to make [the] purchasing [function] the arbiter of what is best for the brand or the company has taken its toll on the imaginative side of the business. If the low bidder always wins, there is little incentive to bring imagination to any new opportunities. Imagination costs money, and folks who buy commodities have little time for anything that drives costs up, no matter how much better the experience may be.
All of that being said, it is my contention that there is a new force on the horizon that is still a bit unfocused and certainly not organized, but potentially very important to the ongoing nature of events, meetings, brand experiences and marketing in general. In the embattled economies of Europe, companies have learned how to create joint events, joint marketing efforts, joint appearances at exhibitions. Where two noncompetitive entities can find a common audience, they are tentatively exploring the notion of working together — getting higher quality, more excitement, more creative messaging — all at a lower cost.
Q: We hear repeatedly now from event planners that branding is paramount for events, from corporate launches to bar mitzvahs. Do you agree?
A: The brand message has always been at the heart of the created experience. What may be more in focus now that budgets are managed by folks other than the sales or marketing department is the parallel emphasis on effecting change. Events are the platforms for behavior modification. Buy this. Sell that. Act this way. Change the way you think. Change the way you behave. Madison Avenue has been doing a grand job of moving away from what we consider “classic advertising” into the realm of created event experiences for this very reason.
Those who have been in the event business for more than 15 minutes should be very adept at elevating the brand and changing audience behavior — or they may want to pursue some other line of work.
Carlson Marketing's Web site is www.carlsonmarketing.com.