A first-time event challenges any professional tasked with its design and production. But when the event involves headline entertainment, an attendee count forecast that could be off by 1,000, and guests that rank from just-your-average-high-price-ticket attendee to $50,000 VIP sponsor — well, you're looking at a daunting prospect indeed. Such was the case with April's Las Vegas Grand Prix gala, held at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and produced by the city's own MGM Mirage Events.
NUMBERS GAME MGM
Mirage Events director of special events Lenny Talarico, CSEP, says it was uncertainty about the final guest count for the event — an Alzheimer's research fundraiser hosted by the organizers of the Grand Prix — that provided his team with its most difficult challenges.
With a 45,000-square-foot ballroom, “In theory, if we're doing a normal plated dinner at rounds, we can do 3,200 people,” Talarico says. “But this was not a normal dinner. We didn't want to pack to capacity.”
Instead, the client called for lounge seating for the event's VIP guests. “However, we did not know how many [VIPs] to expect, as many celebrities and sponsors did not commit in advance,” Talarico notes.
In planning for an event with estimated counts ranging from 1,000 up to 2,500 guests, flexibility was essential. The team created several plans, which included contingencies for moving the event's silent auction area to the foyer of the Bellagio's Grand Ballroom. Another Plan B called for installing risers at the rear of the ballroom to ensure that guests who had paid a mere couple hundred dollars for tickets would have sightlines as clear as those of the big-money sponsors for viewing headliners Jon Bon Jovi, Big & Rich, and Jay Leno.
Critical to a successful outcome was constant communication with meeting planner Kris Cronin, representing the Las Vegas Grand Prix organization. Talarico says MGM Mirage Events, with the assistance of Bellagio catering manager Tori Chivers, held weekly telephone meetings with Cronin to help the planner “focus” her decision-makers. Because the event was their first foray, the Grand Prix group “had no hands-on experience with how you can and can't plan things,” Talarico says.
Less than three weeks out, the guest count was hovering at 1,000, which gave the event team a lot more ballroom space to work with. Talarico and crew put in place the final event details, and on April 5, they made it happen.
At the client's request, everything from arrivals to dinner was designed to accommodate the gala's multiple ticket-price tiers seamlessly. While every guest got the red-carpet treatment, VIPs enjoyed the added extravagance of media photos in front of a step-and-repeat backdrop. Upon entry to the curtained-off reception area, all guests enjoyed martinis served from lighted trays by models from sponsor Bombay Sapphire. VIPs could escape to a posh “retreat” while regular folks mingled among branded ice bars, LED-framed live models and silent auction items.
Once inside a main event space — done up in Bombay Sapphire shades of blue, white and silver — general admission guests proceeded to traditional banquet rounds surrounded by Chameleon Chair seats with gleaming metal backs. VIPs took their places at Lounge 22 Glochairs along “unique custom trough tables,” Talarico recounts. Way down in front, a VIP pit featured “leather couches with individual butler service for each couch” and unique dinner items such as roasted baby lamb chops and truffle potato martinis, Talarico says.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
While a candid Talarico concedes that the planning process for the $1.5 million event might have benefited from more conference calls to “avoid gaps in waiting for answers to proceed,” in the end, communication difficulties didn't interfere with the event's success.
Getting the complex event right created a “very high-stress” atmosphere for all parties involved, Talarico notes. But it also provided great satisfaction to its production team. “The Keep Memory Alive Foundation for Alzheimer's and Brain Disease Research is a charity MGM Mirage is a staunch supporter of,” Talarico says. “And we were happy to see such a worthy cause gain more awareness and much-needed funding.”
MGM Mirage Events 3665 Industrial Rd., Las Vegas, NV 89109; 702/792-7798; www.mgmmirageevents.com.
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