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SINCE HER START in 1969 selling bus tour tickets at a Washington hotel, Linda Higgison has shown an uncanny ability to foresee and adapt to the evolving event and meetings industry. She is now CEO of Washington-based the TCI Companies, a multi-million dollar firm that delivers the customers' message through meetings and events, specializing in event production, event marketing and education. Here, Higgison forecasts the next phase of event management.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What do you see as the biggest hurdle facing the special event profession in today's business environment?

LINDA HIGGISON: I see the biggest challenge for special events as the continued need for educational programming in strategic business development.

Just as in any business ownership, there are three types of owners. The first type is the technician who handles operations; in our industry, this would be a logistical specialist. The next level is the manager who works on the project or supervises the operation. The third is the entrepreneur who creates the vision, the business plan, the marketing plan and the funding option. I think as we move forward, more and more people will be called upon to be the entrepreneur on all of their projects. Quite frankly, that is where the money is as well.

Today, people can go to school and learn logistics — there is no mystery in that service. Therefore, this skill can be reduced to a commodity, and commodities are always price-driven. In strategic planning, you can charge more. But in visioning, your ideas are priceless — and that is where the top dollar is charged.

The traditional worker in the special event community is more of a technician. But it is not easy to make the switch upward.

As more and more companies turn to event marketing as part of their integrated marketing strategy, the service provider will be required to know the fundamentals of business that are learned in a business-school environment. Surveys of our community are already stating this need. TCI hires MBAs to work with the client on how to position their business message and then how to use a meeting or event as the vehicle to launch the message.

Q: How is this new focus on education also an area of opportunity?

A: Edumarketing — educating your consumer to value your product — is the greatest opportunity. Rather than just posting the brand, give consumers a reason — through education — to embrace the brand. To make the event effective, the experience must include all three platforms for receiving information: auditory, visual and kinesthetic, or touching.

As an example, at a recent dinner, beer giant Budweiser had an education display on the process of brewing along with collateral materials reading “Quench your thirst for knowledge.” A beer master was on hand to explain the brewing process and teach guests the science of brewing beer. The area was packed. The take-away was that Budweiser was developing a beer connoisseur who could now impress his or her friends with this knowledge by telling the Budweiser tale, while at the same time spreading the brand name to a whole new audience. The knowledge allows the consumer to own the product — now, that is brand loyalty.

In addition to the brew station, Budweiser was selling all of brewer Anheuser-Busch's products with live animals from the company's SeaWorld marine-life parks, images of its hallmark Clydesdale horses and videos of Bud Light ads. It was a total corporate brand with a special product highlighted, along with multiple levels of engagement. There was something for the visual learner, the kinesthetic learner and the auditory learner.

This is an example of why event professionals need to be educated differently. The design of this area required logistical expertise, knowledge of how people learn — including methods of delivery and a highly integrated understanding of the marketing message — in order to integrate all the brands without complicating {the message for} the consumer as he or she enjoyed the event.

Q: How are you adapting your way of doing business to meet today's challenges?

A: We have traveled a long, exciting road and take great pride in seeing the business of meetings and events evolve into one of the top three economic drivers in every country in the world. To meet the changing needs of our customers, TCI has transformed itself from a DMC to a comprehensive business practice that provides strategic messaging to customers, employees and members through meetings and events.

Linda Higgison can be reached at 202/457-0315; her company's Web site is

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