The second time was a charm for a $130,000 incentive event produced for a major pharmaceutical industry client by DMC Pacific Agenda, San Francisco. Originally scheduled for Sept. 15, 2001, the event was rescheduled for June in the aftermath of 9/11. And while Pacific Agenda senior operations manager Kim Brody says the gala, held in San Francisco's historic Federal Reserve building, “was actually much easier to plan the second time,” the challenges posed by the venue and the laws of nature compelled both her and her crew to come up with plenty of creative solutions.
From the outset, Zurich, Switzerland-based Spectrum Events, which hired Pacific Agenda on behalf of the end client, was a fan of the landmark event venue, Brody says, describing the site as “very grand, but very empty — a blank canvas type of space.”
But as the event date neared, the venue proved less than perfect for a smooth setup. Brody says she came up against the problem of insufficient load-in time for the extensive production equipment and decor — stage, rigging, palm trees, tabletop decor and kitchen space included. “The earliest we could load in was 6 a.m., and the event began at 7 p.m. They're thinking they're giving us a whole day, and we're thinking, ‘You've got to be kidding,’” she says.
But with the venue proposing a charge of $5,000 to allow an earlier setup, options were limited. “The client was tapped out,” Brody says. “They had spent everything they have on this event.” Eventually smart negotiating, professional integrity and a bit of savvy generosity saved the day. Brody's decor supplier, Darlene Darata of San Francisco-based Darata Design Associates, persuaded the venue to bring down the fee to $2,000, which she and Brody split, out of pocket, without a word to the client. “It was worth it for the peace of mind to set up on time,” Brody says.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Thanks to the increased setup time, Brody says, “We were so ready to go when guests arrived.” Make that almost ready.
As the event hour neared, Brody realized that the ice vases she had commissioned from Napa, Calif.-based Clear Memories “were melting much faster than anticipated,” she says. “I noticed right before we let guests in that the trays [underneath the vases] were already one-quarter full.” Instead of panicking, a quick-thinking Brody sent catering staff out to pick up turkey basters, which she distributed to servers. “I asked them to keep their eye on the tables and, if needed, just reach over, stick that turkey baster in, suction the water out of the tray, and keep going,” she says.
KEEP THEM GUESSING
On event night, guests coming from host hotel the Ritz-Carlton, which also catered the event, pulled up to the site in black limos, where they were welcomed by a white-gloved valet. Inside the building's lobby, they sipped champagne while stilt-walking greeters dressed as angels mingled among them.
While the 30-minute reception had an “ethereal, dreamy” quality, according to Brody, the seated dinner in the main event space, with an “abstract” theme conceived by Pacific Agenda president Mary Carvotta, was all about spectacle and surprise.
During the first course of smoked salmon stuffed with crab and lobster, a black-and-white color scheme prevailed, with china, linens and swirling overhead polka-dot gobos all following suit. As servers carried out a second course of mixed field greens, the room went gold, with gold china, gold star gobos and gold-costumed hand-balancers performing onstage. A switch to a red palette marked the serving of the tenderloin and swordfish entree and the arrival of red-clad Moroccan belly dancers to the stage. Blue snowflake gobos signaled dessert and the announcement that next year's event would take place in Switzerland. Finally, a parade of neon-costumed performers gave way to a reveal of a hidden swing band, which brought the awed crowd to its feet.
Spectrum's managing director Daniel Tschudy says the event was so successful, “the lingering delay after Sept. 11 was forgotten.”
For her part, a humble Brody simply says, “It was so rewarding to do.”
Pacific Agenda San Francisco 650 California St., Fourth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94108; 415/433-4312; www.pacificagenda.com
FEASTING ON THE RITZ
Smoked Salmon Filled with Dungeness Crab and Pacific Lobster
California Field Greens with Sonoma Goat Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Seared Beef Tenderloin and Pacific Swordfish Medallions with Roasted Shallots
Black Forest ‘Ritz-Carlton’ with Crème Anglaise