“I never grew up wanting to work as an event producer,” says Sally Webb, CSEP, founder of The Special Event Company, which celebrates its 26th anniversary this year. And why not? “The term and the industry simply didn't exist,” she notes, particularly in 1970s London.
While Webb has always had a knack for “managing large groups of people” and excelled at her early career in public relations, it wasn't until 1986 that she decided to plunge into the fledgling field of event planning. She wound up naming her firm The Special Event Company “without really realizing what a good name it was to grab,” she says, “as it would become the generic term for our profession.”
A combination of skill, intuition and, she adds, “some very lucky breaks” put Webb's firm firmly on the British event map. One such break: An early client happened to become Lord Mayor of London, giving The Special Event Company entree into the world of high-level fundraisers
In 1997, Webb attended The Special Event for the first time, and two years later led a TSE education session titled “Managing an Offshore Event.” Her seminar “changed the course of my life,” she says. Based on that session, renowned Duke University of Durham, N.C., tapped The Special Event Company to manage an event in London. The success of that event led to The Special Event Company handling Duke's programs in Europe and Asia.
So strong was The Special Event Company's relationship with Duke that in 2005, Webb opened an office in North Carolina. Her U.S. base enables her to oversee corporate events for big-name clients including Pepsi and the NHL as well as the region's growing pharmaceutical and technology sectors.
Six years ago, Webb launched the Academic Event Professional conference to provide university event planners with the same access to professional development education enjoyed by their corporate-planner counterparts. “We keep the conference low-cost and run it alongside The Special Event, which co-promotes it with us,” Webb notes. “It's a great partnership, and AEP attracts up to 200 attendees from most major universities across the U.S.”
Most recently, Webb and her associates launched International Meeting Planners as The Special Event Company's pharmaceutical meetings arm, which fosters partnerships that bring business from across the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Though her ambitions and operations are decidedly international, “In 2008 I finally had to accept that I really did live in the U.S. and stop pond-hopping,” Webb says. “I obtained my green card, then like in all good love stories, met my husband — a British caddie on the U.S. PGA Tour — and married in November.” She adds, “I really do have a lot to thank that TSE session for!”
The Special Event Company 68 TW Alexander Drive, P.O. Box 12696, Durham, NC 27709; 919/248-4709; www.specialeventco.com
- WE DO WHAT?
“Our original name was ‘The Facilities Company,’ which, in our naiveté, we thought represented lots of different aspects of an event. We soon realized that everyone thought we were a mobile restroom company!”
- GAMBLE AND WIN
“We took a financial gamble and started a major press event called ‘The Press Ball’ for all national newspapers, made possible by our relationship with News Corp. We produced the 150th anniversary event for the infamous News of the World, which was dubbed the media party of the decade. Great exposure for us!”
- MAKE IT COUNT
“We look very closely at branding, sponsorship and the overall customer experience in planning our programs, and offer this ‘value plus’ as a free service. When marketing managers are trying to justify their spend, this ammunition is very effective in validating our contract.”