SHE came to New York looking for an acting career, but she is now a star of special events. As director of protocol and corporate entertainment for financial media giant Forbes Inc., Cathi Culbertson and her full-time staff of five oversee an average of 400 events a year, ranging from 10 to 700 guests. She has at her disposal the unique assortment of Forbes venues, including the Forbes Magazine Gallery in Manhattan, an estate in New Jersey, a ranch in Colorado, the Old Battersea House in London, a chateau in Normandy, France, and the Forbes yacht, “The Highlander.”
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: You are in charge of events for Forbes' advertising clients, Forbes staffers and the Forbes family — are these events different in style and scope?
CATHI CULBERTSON: The differences between any of these events are only the details — be they dietary restrictions, the kind of flowers, decor or theme, etc. I have always maintained that we should treat all our guests with as much respect and attention to detail as I would for a world leader such as Margaret Thatcher, a corporate CEO or a celebrity.
Q: I often see the word “protocol” in titles for political offices, but not so often in the corporate world. What does it mean at Forbes?
A: Here in New York I have seen the “protocol” title used when the corporation deals with a lot of dignitaries, international business executives and foreign guests. Forbes has clients and guests from around the world, and I think my title demonstrates the importance Forbes puts on the position and the many events we do. “Protocol” for our events means that we will make sure any security, dietary restrictions or other special requirements are handled discretely and appropriately for the occasion.
Q: What are the biggest pressures facing you and your team?
A: I think the budget, and the impact that budget considerations have on staffing and the sophistication of an event, is always an issue. We are constantly trying to produce the event that surpasses all others in quality and impact. The second issue is making sure we are always providing fresh ideas or new twists on old ideas for our events. This requires continuous research, education and regular attendance at conventions and seminars. I want every event — whether it is for an internal department or a guest — to be an experience that the attendees will walk away from with a great memory of Forbes. The third issue would be always meeting the goal of the event.
Q: What value does the special event professional bring to the corporate world that can't be replaced?
A: Expertise and knowledge. Sometimes individuals from other departments within an organization believe that events are simply opportunities to throw a party. They don't realize the organizational and administrative challenges, the contacts, skill and knowledge required in putting on a successful event. In the long run, by trying to “do it themselves,” they may cost the company more money.
Q: What skills will corporate event professionals need to bring to their jobs in the next five years?
A: Technology is changing very rapidly, and one must stay current and skilled with these resources. Also, with the continued need to watch spending, we need to make sure the event professional is part of the sales and marketing teams, so any events not only provide for the company image, but support the company's effort to make sales.
The event planner can be a very cost-effective person to promote the company. Through our skill and creativity, we can directly affect a client's commitment and loyalty to our company.
An example: We have a liquor client who sponsors a specialty bar each year for a couple of advertising events on The Highlander. In the past we have always set up a spectacular bar with the list of specialty drinks displayed in a frame on the bar. I wanted to take it up a notch and reinvent our concept of a frame by using the actual liquor bottle as the frame. I created a label for the back of the bottle that mimicked the style of the actual label used. The label listed all the specialty drinks and where the specialty bar was located.
The owner of the liquor company attended these events and was thrilled with what was done, which met the goal of bonding the client to Forbes.
Forbes Inc. 60 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011; www.forbesinc.com