Archive : June 2010

Industry Awards: The good, the Bad, and the Spin

Posted June 18, 2010

And the winner is . . .

Not you if you haven’t entered anything.  No thanking the Academy, no trophy to carry around at the post-awards show reception to feel like a big shot, no sparkling hardware to show off in your office or reception area.

And, most importantly, nothing to market yourself or your company to your  client or boss as tops in your field.    Because, lest we forget, industry awards are not established to recognize the best work in a given field.  They are established to market the industry to the end user.

Before you yell at me for tearing off Tinkerbell’s wings, just look at the Academy Awards, which were created to market the movie industry.  In addition to the broad promotion the awards generate, individual movies use nominations to heavily market their films.  If they win, even more so.

We could all take a page out of Hollywood’s playbook in this regard, and do a better job of shouting from the mountaintops when we get nominated or win.  A common complaint among in-house planners has been the concern (annoyance is probably a better word) over management giving event planning duties to admins instead of themselves.  What better way to show your company the huge difference in planning skills than by letting them know you’re among the best at what you do.  Award recognitions are perfect third party validations of your value to your bosses.

I know at my old event firm, we put nominations and wins in our email signatures, sent out email blasts and newsletters announcing them, put it on our website, etc.  But the absolute best was in pitching a client and discussing a case study or showing it in a powerpoint deck, and adding the wonderful “we won an award for that event, by the way.”  [If you’re feeling really ambitious, develop a comprehensive marketing plan around the awards, or hire a PR/communications consultant to help you with it, such as Liese Gardner of Mecca.]

“Nah, I won’t bother,” you say, because . . .

1. “I’ll never win.” First of all, you don’t have to win.  You can get plenty of mileage out of just being nominated as a finalist.  Second, you might be surprised.  I used to be in this camp, until 2004 when I joined the Advisory Board of Special Events Magazine and judged their Gala Awards.  During a break I was editing a video of a recent event we’d produced when my judging colleague, Colja Dams of Vok Dams, Germany’s largest event agency, saw it and said, “you should have entered that event.  It would have gotten a nomination in the last category I judged.”  That was all the push I needed; we went on an awards-submission binge as soon as I got back to my office, and never looked back.

2.  “It’s too much work.” Yes, and no.  It does take some time, but the good news is:

  • Awards organizations have heard the complaints and most have been steadily minimizing the submission requirements to make it easier and easier.
  • There are a handful of great freelance writers who can help you with the writing.  I recommend Ruth Moyte of Red Dandelion Creative, who has experience in writing award-winning entries.
  • The more you do, the easier they get.
  • The judges don’t read every word.  There, I said it.  They should, and some do, but most don’t.  They look at the visuals (photos, video, collateral, etc.), and read enough of the written material to get their arms around the event and what you accomplished, and they make their evaluations from that.  Do not confuse this to mean they don’t make accurate judgments, rather, that you shouldn’t agonize over the written portion.  It doesn’t have to be a term paper.

3.  “The same companies win all the time.” Yes, that’s often true.  Wanna know why?  Because they enter a lot.  Andrea Michaels’ agency, Extraordinary Events is a case in point.  She’s probably won more industry awards than any other firm, in part because she’s made a priority of it.  If she has a strong event, she’ll enter it into multiple categories.  She has photographers shoot every event in great detail.  And, her submissions are meticulously prepared.

That said, after a while it becomes harder for people like her to win.  Judges subconsciously know EE has plenty of hardware, and, while they are not supposed to, they tend to favor newcomers; they don’t want to be seen as playing to the usual favorites.  So actually, you have a better chance than the industry heavyweights.  [NOTE: some contests are judged blind, meaning all identifying information of a company is removed from the submission before judges see it, so they don’t know whose work they are judging.]

4.  “The biggest events aren’t always entered, so the award doesn’t carry as much weight.” To quote Danny DeVito in Other People’s Money, “I have two words for you:  who cares.”  If the guys behind the Superbowl halftime show chose not to enter, that’s their problem.  Your client or boss doesn’t care, I’ll tell you that much.  They think if you won an award or were nominated that your work is best in class.  And it very well may be anyway.  We once entered an awards contest for the launch of Mariah Carey’s fragrance, M, and you know what?  We were the only ones who entered that particular category.  Think I care?  That was a killer event and I’m convinced we would have beaten anyone out for that award.  Not my fault people didn’t enter.

So get your butt off the couch, and show off your work.  Start with local competitions if you are gun shy, and then move up to national ones.  But get in the game.  And when you start working on that acceptance speech, remember to include all those inspirational bloggers that encouraged you along the way!

Does She Really Like Me, or Just Want My Business?

Posted June 10, 2010

DEAR HOWARD,

I am in charge of events at my company (I’d prefer to remain anonymous, but let’s just say it’s a very large technology company named after a fruit).  We do quite a lot of business with one hotel chain, and I’ve become good friends with our sales rep there, Amber.  Or at least that’s what I thought.

Amber used to always take me out to lunch, or invite me to concerts and other cool events.  Once she even flew me out to the Academy Awards where her company was a sponsor.  I know that’s her job, but we also became close.  We rarely talked about business; she knew everything going on in my personal life.

About a month ago I booked a huge conference at a competing hotel company.  My internal client really wanted it there, and to tell the truth, they gave us an amazing deal.  I had Amber bid on it, but they blew her away.  Since then, I’ve gotten the cold shoulder from her.  If I call her about personal stuff, she doesn’t seem to have time.  It’s like I have to dangle business in front of her to get some attention now.

How do I know if she’s really a friend, or just wants my business?

CONFUSED IN CUPERTINO

DEAR CONFUSED,

What are you, twelve years old?  Sorry, that was a bit harsh.  But think back to high school or college where people were sometimes very nice to you because they really liked you, and sometimes they were nice just so they could get you into bed.  Sometimes, if you were lucky, they’d be nice to you after they got you into bed.  We called those people boyfriends / girlfriends.

Well, the same is true for vendors.  Some of them just want your business, and others do become genuine friends.  It’s hard to tell which one Amber is without hearing her side of the story.  Could be that she really does like you and was hurt that you went to a competitor.  She might say “if Confused was really my friend, she wouldn’t give business to a rival.”

On the other hand, chances are you just woke up to smell the coffee.  Salespeople are good at fostering relationships, and the really good ones get clients to buy mainly because they like working with the salesperson, more so than any love of the product they’re selling.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they’re providing great service at a competitive price.  It’s great to like the people you work with, provided that you’re able to put the screws to her if she’s not measuring up on the business side.  Most friend/vendor relationships run into trouble there, where the client gets soft on the vendor.

To find out if Amber is a keeper, ask yourself if she’d still be your friend if you changed jobs so that you no longer wielded any potential business for her.  Odds are the answer is no, though it does happen sometimes.   I hate to break it to you, but that’s usually how it works.

That said, there are many of what I’d call “situational friendships” that all operate the same way.  People become friends working in the same office, and don’t always stay friends when one of them leaves.  Parents become friends because they have kids on the same soccer team; students taking the same class, etc.  A small portion of those relationships continue when the situation changes, but most don’t.

And if you feel you’re being “used”, do what you have to do to make it a two-way street.  If you guys are friends, then she should never put you in a position where she’s charging you more than her competitors, her response rate should be better, her customer perks should be better, etc.  So call her out if she doesn’t measure up.

Otherwise, don’t hate the playa, hate the game.  Amber’s just good at her job, which is getting people to like her.  And if her product is good, certainly don’t penalize her for that.

The Glamorous Life: Warm Soda & 10 Seconds of Bliss

Posted June 2, 2010

The house lights have started to come up as the staff begins breaking down the room.  With the event officially over, it’s now safe to get a drink and toast a job well done.  You’re going to have to toast yourself or your event managers, though, because the client’s gone home, and she was too busy taking the bows in front of her boss to toast you anyway.  But no matter, you kicked butt, and you know it, and that’s what counts.

None of this matters to the bartenders, who refuse to serve you.  Fifteen minutes ago, you were the one who told them to close the bars in the first place, but they don’t seem to recognize you with the lights on.  You think about that, and the fact that you paid their wages and you paid for the booze, as you watch them box everything up.

If the catering manager were around, he’d order them to give you anything you wanted, but you have no idea where he is.  You try paging him on the walkie talkie, but there’s no response.  You see him on the balcony overseeing the breakdown of the VIP area, not wearing his headset.  Your well thought out communications system, which worked like a charm during the event, has now been reduced to something just below that of the carrier pigeon.  You make your way upstairs and he apologizes to you, and orders a nearby waiter to take care of you.  The guy brings over one of those midget bottles of Diet Coke.  Apparently there’s no clean ice and the unused glassware and liquor is already back on the truck.  You crack open the bottle and can’t believe how quickly these guys are breaking the room down.  Mmmmm.  Nothing like warm soda.

You sit down at a nearby cocktail table and put your feet up on a chair. The minute your butt hits the seat you feel the searing pain from your feet.  Your feet are killing you.  You realize you’ve probably been standing for eight hours straight.  Who would imagine your feet could get so sore from planning a party.  You may be physically and mentally shot, but you’re also strangely wired, and it’ll be at least 2:00 am before you finally fall asleep.

You check in with the few remaining vendors loading up their trucks, make arrangements with the venue’s night manager to pick up some boxes the next day, and then head outside to hail a cab.  While you’re waiting (the trendy loft in the middle of nowhere is starting to annoy you now) you realize you haven’t eaten anything all night, so you buy a five dollar pretzel and a bottle of water from a street vendor.  For the last three hours you were surrounded by an army of waiters peddling a vast array of delectable hors d’oeuvres, all of which you selected and paid for, and yet your nourishment for the evening is worse than prison rations.  Ah, the glamorous life of a party planner.

To take your mind off the culinary irony, you decide to go through the event’s gift bag.  You’re checking to see that the key inserts are there: the new pineapple-flavored vodka sampler (they sponsored the bar), the logo’d flip-flops, the charity flyer, etc.  But you’re also looking to see what random junk found its way into the bag at the eleventh hour.  You know it’s quality, not quantity, but your client has a hard time saying no to free shit.  A demo CD from some random artist you never heard of – garbage.  A $300 off coupon at Cartier – garbage (your client failed to catch the “$2,000 minimum purchase” clause on the back).  A sample magazine that bears no relation whatsoever to the host organization – people may read it, but it confuses the event’s message and undermines the other items.  A mini-pack of Crest White Strips – ok, this is a keeper.   Totally unrelated to anything, but everyone will use them.

You close your eyes and reflect back on the event, the planning for which began four months ago.  For the most part everything went smoothly.  You know how easy it is for all the planning to be derailed by the most unexpected glitch, and you acknowledge that this one will go down in the books as a success.

Every event has a “tipping point”, a critical moment after which everyone can shift to cruise control.  Sometimes it’s after the last award is presented, or after the product is launched, or after the CEO leaves the party.  But the moment is clearly tangible and you can feel the tension ease.  It happens in the blink of an eye, and then you’re over the hump.  It’s strangely anti-climactic, sort of like climbing a mountain.  After a huge amount of preparation and effort, you reach the top, look around at the view for a few minutes, and then head back down.

You’ve learned over the years to recognize the tipping point and savor the moment, however fleeting.  Teaching younger event managers to recognize the tipping point of an event may be the most valuable lesson you give them.  You see them busy grappling with a million details, carrying a production binder that could stop a bullet, and you gently point out that, at this moment, the event gods are smiling on them, that everything is in harmony and that they should take a deep breath and appreciate the fact that they made all this happen.  If they’re lucky that moment will last a whole ten seconds, but it’s among the coolest ten seconds of their careers.

This is the dark side of event planning, the part you just can’t quite explain to the hordes of people who want to change jobs and move into your industry.  The people who think your job is looking important with a walkie talkie on your head and checking Brad Pitt’s name off a guest list.  They don’t know about the warm soda during breakdown or the stale pretzels in the cab.  Even if you tell them, they don’t hear you.