Archive : September 2010

You’re Only As Happy As Your Least Happy Client. (Solution: A happy client is not the same as a successful event.)

Posted September 27, 2010

That’s my personal modification of a brilliant quote by Joe Paterno, the legendary Penn State football coach, who said, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.”  And it’s equally brilliant when applied to working with clients.

The least happy client demands the most attention, pulling your time away from other clients, and generally making you tense.  Further, if you’ve got staff, it spreads. In 20 plus years of running an event company, every time, with no exceptions, a crotchety client became a cancer in the office.  Whoever was the lead account executive on that project would get incredibly stressed out, and the rest of the team (myself included) would lose productive time on their own clients having to calm her down and lend support.  Pretty soon, nobody’s happy.  The only benefit to the others was the perspective it gave them, the “thank god I don’t have to work with Lisa’s client!” comments.

And sometimes it wasn’t even that the client was nasty; sometimes they were sweet as pie, but just frustrated because their expectations did not synch with ours in terms of client service levels, deadlines, availability of our team, etc.

So what’s the solution?  Make your client’s happiness more important than the event’s success. Here’s how:

1.    Understand that those are two completely different things.  It’s possible to have a successful event and still lose a client, but it’s very rare to lose a satisfied client, even if the event goes south.

2.    Realize what will make your client happy, because it differs dramatically.  Some want you to take the lead and plow ahead, others want you to run every thing by them first.  Some are militant about sticking to budgets, others want to be told of great upgrade ideas regardless of cost.  The point is, make it your top priority to learn how your client wants to work with you.

3.    Religiously take your client’s temperature, not just on how the event planning is going, but on how they find the process of working with you.  Whatever feedback they may have, get it as early as possible so you have time to correct it.

Making your client’s happiness more important than the event’s success is a whole mindset shift.  When was the last time you were at an industry event and heard someone rave about how well they serviced a client?  But it’s what’s required to be successful in business.  And if need be, do it for selfish reasons.  The happier your clients are the happier you’ll be.

The Era of the Perma-Lancer. [Or, Temporary Freelancers Are Here to Stay.]

Posted September 19, 2010

The business cycle we’ve gone through these past two years in our industry has exhibited some fairly typical traits.

Phase 1:  The economy tanks, prompting companies cut back on event spending, which in turn prompts event companies to lay off workers.

Phase 2:  The economy stabilizes (albeit at a lower level), and event spending starts coming back.  But event company owners aren’t sure for how long, so they respond to the added volume with freelancers.  After all, with so many out of work planners, the freelance market has never been so good.

Phase 3:  A year later and that stabilized level of business has continued.  This inspires event company owners with greater confidence, and they start converting those temporary freelance positions to permanent jobs.

Or not.  Someone forgot to give event company owners the memo, because freelancers are everywhere.  Still.  I call this the age of the Perma-Lancer.

And why not?  I owned an event agency for 20 years, and trying to match the staffing with the workflow was always an adventure, particularly since our events never spread out evenly over the year.  We’d always be slammed in the fall and spring, and light in the summer.  But with good freelancers, you bring them on for a specific project, at a specific rate, and when the gig is over, well, see ya.  There’s absolutely no wasted capacity.

Plus, the freelancers I hired always had a rock-solid work ethic.  They never chatted much with the permanent folks, never took long lunches.  When they were in the office, they worked.  And freelancers sure won’t ask you about career growth.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can get a far more qualified staffer if they’re freelancer.  For one, you don’t have to pay benefits.  In addition, while you might not have room to add a $100k a year person to your team full time, you might be able to bring them in at a comparable hourly rate for a limited engagement.

The big drawback, however, is there’s no guarantee that person will be available when you need them on your next project.  Still, that hasn’t seemed to make a significant dent into this new practice.  So many event firms either have enough work year-round to slot good freelancers into, one project after another.  Or, they are figuring out how to maintain a steady rolodex of freelancers, train them quickly on their internal procedures, and get them up to speed in no time.

This has truly created a new paradigm for growing an event agency, where firms are modeling their behavior after movie productions: for each project a dedicated team is assembled, after which they go their own way. Only the key principals remain.  Of course you can still build your agency the old fashioned way, by growing a bigger and bigger team.  But after the body blow the economy delivered to most business owners two years ago, this new model has a lot of appeal by enabling firms to expand as much as they need to, while keeping their fixed costs low.

Perhaps the only true impediment to this model will be when the corporate side begins hiring planners in greater numbers, drying up the pool of good freelancers.  But I sense even then this model will still be a viable alternative, given the seemingly endless flow of new bodies entering this field.

[I was going to title this post, “Temporary Freelancers Are Here to Stay”, but that sounded terribly oxymoronic, so I added the term Perma-Lancers.]

Vote Early & Vote Often (for me): EventProfs Blog Contest

Posted September 1, 2010

So I’ve been nominated for an event industry blog and I need your vote.  My blog is one of 7 up for best “Thought Provoking Blog” in the eventprofs blog competition.  I know what you’re thinking, and there was no category for “Most Irreverent & Sarcastic Blog”.  Believe me, I checked.

CLICK HERE TO VOTE, (I’m on question #4)

eventprofs blog awards nominee

I’ll say up front that I am not a big fan of popularity contest style awards.  And not because I’m a cretin who has no friends.  I do have friends in the industry; trouble is most of them are top-of-the-food-chain folks who are running businesses or departments and have less time for online voting than others.  Read another way, you could say that many of my supporters are, well, older, and don’t find as much fun in online voting as they do in, say, finding novels that are published in large print.

But I am making an exception in this case, because the contest is run by none other than Lara McCulloch-Carter, proprietor of, who, among other things, created eventprofs, a bi-weekly twitter chat that pulls people together from all over the world to discuss random event topics, make connections, and hatch grand schemes.  Lara taught me about tweet chats and hash tags.  (I know, there’s got to be an off-color joke in there somewhere, but nothing witty comes to mind.)

Lara’s one of what I call ‘smarties’, people in our industry who are quite clever, push the envelope, and otherwise drag the event industry (often kicking and screaming) to bold new places.  She brings both a professional big-company marketing background, as well as experience running her family’s tent business, to bear in her social media consulting business for the event trade.

So we like Lara and what she’s doing and want to support her efforts, even though she’s Canadian.  How can you do so, you ask?  By voting for the blogs you think deserve the title of best in each of several categories.  And if you are a supporter of my irreverent thought-provoking insights, you can vote for me!


As a judging mechanism, I’ve already said that popularity voting is a flawed model.  If the Oscars used it, the Best Picture winner would be movies like Adam Sandler’s Water Boy, not Gandhi.  (Though lets face it, if you were stuck on a desert island you’d pick Water Boy over Gandhi any day of the week).  But as a marketing mechanism, it’s sheer brilliance.  You empower all your nominees to promote your site for you.  And in this case, the ends justify the means, because it also exposes everyone to a slew of new blogs, many of which people will find stimulating, inspiring, and yes, thought-provoking.

So, as Al Capone said, “vote early, and vote often.”