MICHELE REDROW MAY have left the business of shopping center marketing to settle down to marriage and motherhood in the early '90s. But the switch to a stay-at-home life didn't last long. From the time she made the decision to leave her in-house job with a major shopping center developer, she admits, “I knew I'd be out of my mind with energy.”
It wasn't long before Redrow, who had built her career on large-scale grand openings, discovered the fledgling corporate event market in Philadelphia, the city in which she had long worked. “I started researching the market and thought, ‘There's something there, and it's something I really like to do,’” she says. “That was my whole goal from day one — if I'm going to start something, I'm going to love it.”
The something Redrow started, with husband Larry, was Carson Group International, named for daughter Carly and son Jason. Now a 12-year-old event production fixture with offices in Woodbury, N.J., and Philadelphia's city center, the company, with divisions for large facility openings, corporate events and destination management services, has worked with clients including the New Orleans' Jazzland Amusement Park, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the American Society of Association Executives. Producing about 30 major events annually, CGI draws revenue of “a million plus,” Redrow says.
While much has changed since CGI's early days, Redrow says that nothing has evolved more than the perception of events as marketing tools. “We are so saturated every day with Internet marketing and with TV,” she explains. “What's the one thing that remains consistent? I love to go to an event. Everybody does.” According to Redrow, corporate clients are beginning to realize how many different kinds of events can have marketing impact. “If it's Nike doing a hospitality tent at the Super Bowl, they're saying, ‘This is a way for us to have people buy more shoes.’”
It's not just clients who benefit from Redrow's know-how. The hardworking entrepreneur and mother of three — daughter Paige was born last year — has learned to apply nearly 20 years of event marketing experience to growing her own enterprise. Grand openings, for instance, provide CGI the opportunity to invite potential corporate clients to view the company's capabilities executed on a grand scale. “That is the way we sell ourselves,” she says, offering the example of the Hawaii Convention Center. According to Redrow, the opening event CGI produced garnered the center about $15 million worth of business with planners who attended. The bonus score? At least one impressed guest — an in-house corporate meeting planner in attendance at the bash — signed on as a CGI client to boot.
Carson Group International 53 S. Broad St., Woodbury, NJ 08096; 856/251-9333; www.cgievents.com
“Whenever someone says, ‘Well the budget won't work,’ I say, ‘Throw that out and let's come up with the idea. Then let's go back and see what can happen.’ If you work from the budget, you're completely limiting your ideas. Everybody at the table is going to say, ‘Can't do that. Not in the budget.’ If you work from the idea, you can work your way back.”
KNOW YOUR NICHE
“For our first year in business, we said, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes’ to everything. We finally sat down with a CEO in the community and said, ‘Something's wrong with this picture. We're generating this amount of money, and not growing. What are we doing?’ We finally reevaluated ourselves and asked, ‘Who are we? What is our value to the client? Why do they use us?’ When we defined that, we soared.”
GIVE AND GET
“People become your client because you are their resource. Don't be afraid to say, ‘I don't do that, but here's the person that does.’ It comes back to you many, many times over.”