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S.2 Episode 13: Explosive Entertainment Featuring Event Legend Michael Cerbelli

Michael Cerbelli from Cerbelli creative joins us to share his experience and tips!

 

Tell us your story.

 

It all started back in 1977 as a DJ in Brooklyn, New York. I got my first paid gig on my 13th birthday, on September 10th, 1977. I had a half of a mill crate of records and I played for 8 straight hours at a block party. And the reason I know the dates so well because Labor Day weekend was September 3rd, it rained that weekend, they canceled they moved it to the next weekend and they gave me 25 bucks for Djing this party. 25 bucks. I didn’t have enough music for eight hours. So I probably played the same record six times during the course of that eight hours. And the career started from there. And then in the 80s, we met a gentleman from long island, and it may sound cocky, but we revolutionized what the MC Dj perform a market was. We were doing everybody’s events on long island. There was a company EJM entertainment that was us. And there was another company, heart to heart and some smaller companies out there. Either you had EJM or heart to heart. We were blue vest. They would red vests. It was kind of a gang back in the day.

We just owned long island, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, we were doing events for everybody in the eighties and nineties. And what always was my way of looking at things like who are we doing these events for? These are great clients, but I wanted to know more about them. And then I realized we were doing these events for captains of industry, major players in finance, major players in real estate. And they started to bring us into their corporate events too. And it was a gentlemen, that said, you’re going to do my incentive program in Puerto Rico. And I heard nothing about incentive program and heard him say Puerto Rico. And I was like, yeah, okay, let’s go. I think he gave us $5,000 to travel to Puerto Rico and we did an amazing event there and that got me into the corporate realm. Then in 2000 I took EJM, merged with another company in New Jersey, was with them 11 years and we built up another end of the business but really going more for the corporate market, understanding what that was, doing high end social look, high end corporate as well. And then in 2011 I merged with a creative agency in Los Angeles, we just parted our ways. And then in 2016 Cervelli creative started as an entity by itself. So it’s been been an incredible journey for me and I’m very lucky to say who the clients are and what we’ve done.

 

What kind of stuff are you doing these days?

 

Our business is based on high end social and corporate. So the bulk of our business is a true corporate end of the business where we’re doing an incentive program, we’re doing an opening general session. Sometimes we’re producing the whole meeting and sometimes we’re just a lane. And I think that’s something that people in our industry don’t understand. It’s okay to be a lane and that’s where we’re sort of an enigma that we are able to move into these different areas. So we were doing the social end, they brought us into the corporate end and now you’re doing both ends of it. So today, if I’m doing a corporate event for a client that I’ve had for maybe 15 years, 16 years, that were doing these events for, I may be doing the CEO’s 25th anniversary, I may be doing the son’s Bar Mitzvah, the daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. We may be doing their wedding. When you think about that, it’s amazing those bookends.

 

Let’s talk about collaboration and staying in your lane.

 

To what the latter that you just said. It’s staying there, staying there and saying, Oh, I can do it this way. It’s all right to share ideas. So if you look at this, and I think this is a big motto with me, share the wealth. So when that client calls you, let’s look at the corporate arena that may have an in house production company, maybe working with someone that’s doing their floral designs for many years, but now says, I have this incentive program. We need to entertain everybody at nighttime. We need to work together. We need to bring this wow into the event. You have this specialty so when you collaborate the right way, I could book the entertainment, I can bring in the wow, but all of a sudden I let others handle their stuff. Let’s work together with that production company. Let them handle on the back line, let them handle the riders, let them handle that stuff and we managed the process. You’re not taking away from someone that’s worked hard and maybe even been part of the program even longer than you have. Why do you have to step on toes? Let’s work together as a team. Sometimes that first experience may be, who moved my cheese because someone’s like, well, you’ve got someone new who’s over here, but if you prove to them that you want to work together collaboratively, you’ll will work a long time with those people and then what happens for them? They start recommending you.

 

Are you spending time offline with the vendors?

 

Absolutely. We do it all the time. We’ll sit here and then, get on the phone and talk to them about it because this backline rider that they need this special equipment and stuff like that. We didn’t have that last year that was in Italy. All this equipment had to be brought in that we needed for the event. So why does the client need to know all that? They’re handling that and the it, we’ll work directly with them, knew what it was. And then we wound up finding out that we were able to share some of the shipping cases that they were going to be bringing into Italy because they said can you just get it to our warehouse. We’ll put it in our case. Why do you have to pay for this too? So it’s talking, speaking together, working things out together. We all save money. Did it cost the client any more money cause that shipping container, whether it was $1,000 for one item or $1,000 for two items, it was the same cost. So we just shoved our stuff and they’re shipping container because there was room.

 

Speak to some common mistakes you’ve seen over the years.

 

If I’m working with somebody we see someone not sharing information, not coming back to us with detail and you sort of lost. I’m very honored when I hear my team came back from an event, maybe we weren’t that lane and we work with other people that may be on this event. They almost get excited when they see us. They’re like, are you managing this event? No, we’re just doing this today. Oh okay. Cause I don’t have this information. I wish I had more information. What does this event about? And the kind of lost in the process, but it’s because of where it’s coming from. If the head is able to talk to the arm and to the feet to the legs and hands, everybody will work together as a team. Don’t take off more than you could chew. A lot of times everybody’s working on this budget. They don’t have the money, well if they don’t have the money to do what they want to do properly, the process is different. You can’t just do everything, because the client doesn’t have the money. Then you have to be able to explain to your client, this is what we need. If you want this done properly and you want this done properly, we need a team. Lots of times the biggest mistake is someone’s not being a team player and just going into the event and thinking they can handle it by themselves and they’re frantic the day of the event. We have a motto in our office, don’t panic. Here is where we get the detail done and if we’re upset, be upset and say, I wish that was there, but the day of the event, that’s when you don’t panic. That’s where you get everything done correctly. The chandelier falls, go get a broom, sweep it up and go get a lamp. When you see the person that’s freaking out at the event, that means they didn’t plan properly, plan and have a good team. That’s the best way to get through.

 

How do you make an event exceptional?

 

The surprises, the moments make it exceptional. You could have great people, you can have great food and things like that, but that little moment of what everybody enjoyed together as one, is that exceptional moment. Something that they’ve experienced altogether. Not every event has entertainment and things like that, but thinking about that, if there’s something that’s gone on, something that brings it all together, that’s something that meshes it all together. A theme that works with the event, that’s when everybody’s sharing the same experience. You could go to an event and you have people in this corner, and that corner, but when they all come together, share something together, I think that’s what makes it exceptional.

 

How do you create that?

 

We can always go into an event and say, oh, this is great. This is what you should be doing and this is it. This is the easy booking. I can’t wait to book Bruno Mars one day I just want to work with in March, we’re born in Mars is not the answer for everybody, all right? Not Everybody has $1.5 million, $2 million to book Bruno Mars, but at the same time, is there a talent that you could bring in?

If you’re going into a meeting and there’s just a constant talking head on stage and going from meeting to meeting on a multi day event. We were rushed to get food. There wasn’t enough. If you give people these moments to spend time together enjoying each other’s company, then maybe they haven’t seen each other in a year, spend time, network, talk, not rush from meeting to meeting to meeting to food. Give them of those moments, those will be your most successful events out there.

 

Tell us more about the Hot List.

 

So there’s a little story. It was 2001,I was attending a conference and a gentleman got on stage, great speaker. He took out a vase, and he put the vase on the table and he clicked the little switch on it and he took out a remote control and started pressing it and the vase started changing colors. All of us in the audience went what’s that? And he goes, this is led technology. What’s led technology? We never heard such a thing. So at the end of this little conference, I walk up to him and I said, David, you’ve got to tell me I need this. I gotta bring it to New York. Where do I get this vase? He goes, call me. He wouldn’t give me the information. He wouldn’t not share where he got the vase from. Why can’t we share the wealth? Why can’t I say this is a good idea. Use it. Maybe we could share this information. So in 2002 I started something called Michael Cerbelli’s 101 hot event and entertainment ideas in 90 minutes. And I sent 101 ideas in 90 minutes and the audience went bananas. It’s 2002 I got bombarded by my industry almost beat up. How can you share this information? How dare you, you’re giving away all our trade secrets. I said, what am I giving away? I’m sharing the information. We just did the 18th annual and now it’s called the hot list in San Diego this past January. And I’ve done four speaking engagements since January 10 an, we had over 3000 people in the room wanting to get this list that I have front of me and all it is, is the 36 ideas I spoke about and their contact information. And we do this big show. The room is packed. It’s just fun entertainment, band playing on stage. And then the next hour and a half is me rambling and bringing act sound and bringing product out. But it’s sharing information, and I don’t care anymore and none of us should care anymore that we’re telling these people out there who the act is.

There’s not a dollar to me for doing this. There’s no kickback for getting booked. All we tell them, we can do two live shows a year. You got to come out in January and you’ve got to come out in June. January is the special event show and June is MPI, world education congress. I hear from people, I got a phone call three, four years later because they keep the list in their office.

 

Tell us a couple of tips for aspiring planners.

 

Start attending conferences. I was going to class. I believe that you should be networking. I believe that you should becoming part of organizations, know about all aspects. Am I the best technical director there is? Absolutely not. Do I understand most of it? Okay. I understand it. Get out there and network. Go to classes. Don’t just go to an event, a conference partying. Start learning. Attend a conference where maybe it’s not your forte. And when you go to these things, don’t think that someone’s going to just call you and say, Oh, I want to start working with you. I’m working with people that I want to work with and they’re working with people that they want to work with. We’re not working together every single day.



S. 2 Episode 12: Getting Real with an Events Planner

Shadia Tobkin is a wealth of information!  This week Charles sits down with Shadia and they start to dig a bit into her experience while staying really real. This podcast is as entertaining as it is informative and you will definitely want to check it out!

 

  • Never be above the work

    • move tables, stuff gift bags, volunteer, work under someone at your same level

  • Keep it together under all circumstances

  • Always continue to learn and push yourself out of your comfort zone

    • Say yes…. We say NO because of the fear…FEAR OF FAILING

  • You don’t have to be the expert –

    • Know the experts.

  • Be One step ahead

    • Staff check-in (Leads, shirts, instructions, lunch)

    • Visualize the entire staff and attendee flow

  • Preparation equals success: “Chance favors the prepared mind”

    • As simple as putting all of you’re on site contacts in your phone

    • Send info and have calls in advance

    • Print radio check-in lists

    • Rehearsals are as or more important than the actual meeting itself

  • Work smarter not harder

    • When something gets thrown at you, take a beat to think (don’t make rash decisions)

    • Delegation, outsourcing, staff management

    • Manage Staff

  • Partners and connections are everything

    • Surround Yourself with Good people

  • Be Real

    • Confident, kind and relatable

    • People appreciate candid conversation

  • Expectations. Expectations. Expectations.

    • Over communicate to meet expectations

 

Extra:

  • Ask the “obvious” questions

    • Ex: 9/10 times that I ask a question most people also need the answer or people assume the answer or understand the answer in different ways

 

Newbies Advice:

  • Start Talking to anyone who will listen: People know people

  • Set-up 2-3 networking meetings a week

  • Follow and comment on Event Planner Insta Pages

  • Get Experience: Help plan for your friend’s wedding or volunteer at your company to be on the “social” committee

  • Intern or work for an agency

  • Work for a vendor/décor company (lots of exposure to various clients)

  • Don’t over ask too many questions (Ask a couple and figure it out)

  • Show up EARLY! Don’t complain! Be pro-active!

S.2 Episode 11: How to Create an Event that Flows: from a Production Manager’s Perspective

Kyle Arndt, EideCom’s Production Manager takes time out of his day to sit down with Charles and Lisa. He shares from his perspective, how to create a show that flows and what goes into the details. Kyle has years of experience in the industry and with that comes many must know tips!

 

We have a special guest. We actually have the pleasure of working with them every single day here at EideCom, Kyle Arndt welcome.

 

Well the guys, thanks for having me. You know we get to, we get to hang out. We never get to hang out like this.

 

So I thought I would just start by maybe tell us a little bit about how you got into production in general, how you got into the industry.

 

So once upon a time I dreamed of being a rock star. So when I was growing up, I played guitar and then, through my first couple of years of college, we played shows every weekend. And then I ended up like realizing that I liked setting up the equipment and dealing with the equipment more than I liked playing shows. So then I started working for my friend’s bands and I traveled the world working for a bunch of different bands. And then, um, when I got sick of traveling, I joined up with a few companies in town. And then about six months after working around town, I found EideCom here. So then I’ve been on the team for the last two and a half years now.

 

Well, so let’s talk about kind of from the beginning, how do you make a great production that’s well-oiled and turns out to be very successful?

 

The holy grail to all these things is how we build a quote, how we recognize where stuff might be missing, the holes, where we need content for, how we play stuff, how many microphones we need, how we build; everything is off of any sort of schedule we can get from the client. If you’re putting on an event, make a detailed schedule or a rough schedule to start and we’ll ask questions. You know, that’s one thing we do is look through a schedule with a comb and say, hey, you know, it looks like we’re missing something here. Or it looks like you have this many people talking here. We’re going to add some, some equipment for that. We’re going to add a few microphones for this. Do you plan on having all these people speak at the podium or do you need microphones for them all? So it’s just the schedule is really the key and that kind of needs to outline the obviously the timing of things. Who speaks at what time for how long they’re speaking. If you’re working with a great production team, they’re usually asking these questions upfront. Building the schedule is different, different per scope of work. A lot of times these gala’s we do you get the information the week of or of the day of even the content shows up on a jump drive and then usually just it’s important for you putting on a show to know who your point person is with, with the product.

 

What are the importance of Comms?

 

There’s a couple of different kinds of systems. I’m mostly familiar with a product called clear, their newest stuff I think is helix net, which is a wired system. So anybody that’s sitting at the front of House table or anyone sitting backstage where their position doesn’t call them to be roaming around the room, you would just plug in there. They have like a comm unit and they can push talk to the people they need to talk to you. And it can be programmed. It doesn’t sound like a radio, Sounds like us talking right here. It’s super nice. It’s super crisp and clear. You can hear everything they’re saying. It’s super controllable. It’s programmable.

 

We always have three teams of people on comm. We always have audio, video and lighting. If we add cameras to a show, that’s another set of people. If we add the client to that, that’s another set of people. So a lot of these shows, even the bigger conferences can have up to 50 or 60 people on it.

 

Tell me about the importance, do you need it?

 

Absolutely. Yeah. I mean it’s like the last thing I’ll try to take off an estimate. When someone’s trying to cut costs, I’m like, we absolutely need this. Even if we’re all sitting next to each other, say it’s a small show if we’re all sitting next to each other, it’s better for us to be whispering to each other than yelling. The comm is insanely cool technology. We can separate everybody. So it’s these people talk to these people and then everybody connects on one channel everybody can hear this, but only people can talk down this ETC.

 

The most important things for the stage manager be doing is to make sure everybody on stage can be seen on camera. To me whenever I get to stage manage, I like to remind people, I’m like, hey, you know the cameras straight out in front of you. We have a camera over here and there’s a camera over here.

 

Like just so they know like they’re always facing forward and you know like in that part of that comes into play. Like some people do panels on stage and okay, then you’re looking at the stage managers usually in charge of setting up those debt furniture, right? So they play a big part and going where it, can this be a pit positioned on stage so we can pick up everybody nicely on camera.

 

Do rehearse the furniture?

 

Yeah, so that’s where comm comes into play because then during the setup, because usually it’s a five minute change over, but then you’re the stage manager who’s helping them set up, you’re connected on comm to the video director who’s watching, who’s physically looking at the camera shots. You got a camera operator and moving around and making sure you can see everything and they’re going, yeah that furniture needs to move. It’s not like somebody’s running back and forth and it takes more time.

 

Tell us about the show flow…

 

There’s a few things I like to do when I gather the information and this information is key. When I talk to a presenter, whether that’s a CEO, an auctioneer, or a keynote, whoever it is, I just like to say, you know, you’re supposed to speak for about this amount of time. How are you wrapping up your speech? Like what are you saying to end it, right? Cause there’s a lot of times I’m looking for a cue. I’m looking for, somebody is going to press a button at the end of this that’s going to start music, the lights are going to move and that has to happen all at the same time. So we’re looking for a vocal cue.

 

Some keynote, CEO’s, and speakers they’re very, very good about what they’re going to say. . And then at the same time, some people literally haven’t thought about it yet. They’re planning on winging it, I’m just going to go up there and talk for a little while. So I’m like, well, it would be helpful for us to just kind of know how you’re going to wrap up. How do you, how do you plan on ending this speech? Like who name five people you’re going to say thank you to or something to get to get them thinking about it because that’ll help them glue it together as well to just kind of bundle it up.

 

So that leads me to the question about rehearsals before we talk about transitions and other things like that. Like tell me about rehearsals.

 

We get the opportunity of doing a show in all different situations. When we have short rehearsal time or no rehearsal time, we can pick our team based on that. I think the most important part of rehearsal is how somebody is getting on and off stage. Because once they’re on stage, they’re going, if it’s a performance piece, it’s a little bit more involved. But if it’s a keynote, it’s like they want to know how they’re going on and off stage, what the lights are doing, where they’re walking from. We get the opportunity to figure out like how long they’re going to take to get onstage.Everyone’s walks at a different speed, if they get the opportunity to do it twice, that’s kind of in their mind like this is how I’m going to do it. Now if we cycled to a performance, they’ve got dancers and they have singers and they’re on this stage and they’re gonna move to this stage. We have the opportunity of setting up the day before for this particular gala and we’re going to run through that for probably about three hours from the night before and we’re going to get the performance piece rehearsed the night before. That way we have time to walk through anything the next day if needed, and then we get it. And then we’ll take the rest of that time the next day before the event starts to go through all the the keynote speeches.

 

From a production standpoint, we love the venue the day before. Now we understand that it increases costs and we take steps to try to minimize that. We’ll go in with a reduced crew just to get some stuff in place. Try to do a half day there. There’s ways that it doesn’t double the labor costs. There’s creative ways to figure that out. If you’re a client and you feel like you’re always running around with your head cut off an hour before the show starts, trying to get in the night before the day is going to help your show immensely.

 

We were talking about the show flow and it going well. Are there softwares or tools or do you just use a spreadsheet?

 

There is a web based program called show shoflo. It’s more or less just a spreadsheet that you update on the web so everybody can see it on their device or whatever. They can log into it and they can even follow along. So as the show goes, the timings on there and there’s a person in charge of pressing next, so you can see, okay, we did that, this is what’s coming up next.

 

When we get the opportunity to help build the show flow we tend to use a spreadsheet. That’s how a lot of our show callers have always done it.

 

How do you make sure that weird stuff doesn’t happen?

 

I just talk through a show so many times before the show. With the team, with myself, with the, with the client, with everybody. Just to make sure we got everything okay. Every piece of the transition, how something ends, what happens in between, how that person gets on stage every detail is talked through. Those small points speed everything up. They make it so it’s not awkward because it can’t cause the second it’s awkward you’re sitting at the tech table and back, everybody’s turning around looking at you and you’re like, oh, I guess it is our fault because we are running the production.

 

Tell me about like having an MC?

 

The best mcs they kind of show up and they go, Yup, I’ll go on stage whenever you guys need me. Uh, looks like there’s a script printed out. Let me know if I’m needed for anything else. The news casters around town, they’re all very good. I think the quality of a person is how involved they are in the project. That speaks with how our team works here. We try to be very involved with everything we’re doing. And then we’re invested. Same thing goes with an MC. It’s like, you know, how much are they involved with your organization, if at all?

 

You’ve done some of our shows repeatedly, do you have a level of comfortability once you’ve done it before?

 

Oh, absolutely. Every time we do a show, the second year the show goes well. The second year it’s like, we did this last year, how is it different? We’re familiar. We know the people involved. We go, okay that person’s speaking for sure they’re involved with the organization at this level so there’ll be on stage. We get to the opportunity to go into a little bit more detail. We know where are the most important people sitting.





S.2 Episode 10: Event Planners; Hire or Contract?!

This episode we are joined by Lisa.  We dive into the issue of hiring versus contracting event planners and where the threshold is.

Today we have Lisa Schuler, the president of Schuler Marketing. Tell us a little bit about you.

 

I’ve worked in the marketing communications field coming out of college and started out with international Dairy Queen.  I wrote all about DQ treats. I was the Children’s Miracle network coordinator, did a lot of traveling with their events. That is how it all started and I got the bug for the events and production component.

 

I’ve been in events for over 20 years.

 

Today’s topic we are talking all about how to know when to hire someone internally or hire someone externally. A lot of times they will have an admin do it.

 

I think that happens a lot.  Sometimes events brew up and starts and grows. It starts out small and all of a sudden it’s a big thing, they have an admin trying to manage it while supporting an executive, feeling overwhelmed and not as knowledgeable about negotiating contracts. They know enough but are not as focused. It takes a certain skill set. Meeting planners, you have to be able to juggle a lot of plates, and some people are not comfortable with that. You either love it or not.  Sometimes you are handing things off to people and it’s not their sweet spot or niche. That is sometimes when an organization should step back and see if they should bring someone in, focused on the event, putting the pieces together, and they can work virtually with the team that is part of the organization.

 

Bringing in a meeting planner, you can let them run the show, put the team together.  A lot of times I will step in and lead the team, bring them together and have a pulse check meetings. As a meeting planner, I can be focused on the event the whole time.

 

How does the company know when to hire internally?

 

It depends on the need. At some point if you’re not needing someone full time all the time, maybe you should be looking to fill that as a resource.  It’s not just putting anyone in, you need someone assertive and confident. When you get past the point of a group sitting together and start adding production pieces and getting more complicated, now you are starting to look at the point of needing a meeting planner.

 

So maybe you’re not at the point where you should hire someone full time, how do you create an arrangement with a 3rd party where they have authority and control?

 

In my role that is spot on.  You have to get comfortable with that and find the right person. I’m brought in a lot and looked at as a team member.  There are times people think I am an employee. Find someone who looks and immerse themselves into the organization. You need to know enough about the content to deliver that into the meeting.  If there’s such a separation, you’re completely missing out on the flow and integration on how the event goes.

 

How do you budget for a planner?

 

Typically I come in and it’s part of an event expense. You put it in as a line item. I scope it based on the event and give them a set amount you are working in. I help them manage that whole event. It really depends on the situation.

 

There are benefits to a contractor.  One of the benefits, is you are already a highly connected individual.

 

Absolutely.  There is that whole perspective. You have the preferred vendors, you know who you can go to.  There is a beauty to working with people you love to work with and can count on. And then it flows, that flow is so important.

 

Do you find huddles with the team are helpful?

 

Absolutely. I like to do them every morning before. You need to, things change and move and everyone needs to know about that. Bring together the key players, including the team of the event.  They need to know. It all has to move together, you want to have some kumbaya between the team.

 

If you are a fortune 500 company and you’ve added events and you need to hire a contractor, how do you as a corporation give you autonomy without feeling like you will take advantage?

 

Part of it is setting up a creative blueprint. Talk about the scope the audience and the objective of the event. I define what I’ll be in charge of and check if they are ok with it. You have to be very clear about what the expectation is.

 

Where do you see the most successful meeting planners putting themselves for budgeting?

 

For most people it’s basing it on the scope of the project. Doing a project price. We all know there is scope creep, you have to put that in a contract. What if they add another day of educational events?

 

A planner is kind of a liaison between the vendors.

 

Right, and they can lay out the options.

 

So say I’m a meeting planner and want to start doing more work for corporations, how do I present myself?

 

Sometimes businesses get so busy that they are not thinking about it. You need to work through a meeting planning department or where the meetings initiate in a company. Help them to understand that if they have a need they can bring you in to focus on it.

 

Take someone out of school and they want to get into meeting and event planning…

 

It’s really funny because everyone sees it as the fun thing. There are parts that are fun, but it’s a lot of stress, and you have to be able to manage it.  You coming out of school, one of the best things you can do, get on board and help with a component of a meeting. Volunteer, get involved in associations that are doing events.

 

What tips can you leave for those in the events industry who are contractor?

 

You can use indeed or LinkedIn, they may think they need a meeting planner, but maybe they need someone to come in and manage the event. Use your network to see if someone would look at a position as a contract role. At least ask, what’s the worst that could happen?



 

S.2 Episode 9: Getting the Right People to Attend your Event

We are joined by Carly and Ann of Ann Plans

 

So you guys have to tell me a little bit about you before we get into the topic. Tell me Ann about how you got in the business.

 

Ann: So I started my career out of college in nonprofit fundraising. It’s not what I went to school for. My first internship out of college led me to a position where I was helping to start a new nonprofit get going. So that’s where I started doing fundraising. I had the opportunity really early in my career to work as part of the staff for the 1991 international Special Olympics. So we had 6,000 athletes coming from 90 countries. I was part of the sponsorship team. And then right then and there I knew that I liked fundraising, but what really gets me excited and what I’m really passionate about is bringing large groups of people together to make important things happen. And I love challenges. I love problem solving. I get bored super easily. So when I was doing grant writing and direct mail, it’s like, yeah, I could do that for about a year for an organization. And then it’s like I need more, I need more challenges. So the work we do, there is never a dull moment.

 

So you’ve been, so you’ve been doing events now you said 20 years?

 

Ann: For over 20 years. Started Ann Plans 12 years ago and our marketing materials our websites said, it was really me for the first five years working with our  organizations. We took out a client about seven years ago. Courage, Kenny Rehabilitation Institute invited to do plan three to five major events for them at that time. I knew if we were going to take on that new contract and still be able to work with all these other great organizations, we needed to grow the team. So brought, my first person on and um, right now we’re a team of four people plus some contractors who help us day of events.

 

And we’ve got Carly, Carly,  you’ve been around the nonprofit and fundraising area for awhile?

 

Carly: I have, yeah. I actually have similar background as Ann I was working in nonprofit fundraising for about seven years. That is what I went to school for. I was an arts administration major at Butler University in Indiana, a little liberal arts school. They basically kind of teach you the and outs of running a non nonprofit, which obviously a big part of is those donations and fundraising.  I also enjoyed it, but you know, I actually really did love the direct mailings. I wanted a change and asking people for money all the time can be a little challenging. And I realized, you know, a consistent of my background and my jobs, were those donor events and galas and I really just kind of loved them. And so here I am. I love seeing something go from nothing to just a memory that someone has for years That is just such a cool memory.

 

You’ve been all over the place, right? You said Chicago, Texas, Minnesota. Why Minnesota?

 

Carly: I’m from Chicago. I love my now husband, brought me to Texas and then a few years living in Texas,  he started job searching and life brought us up here, back to the Midwest. And we love being here.

 

You’ve seen non profits succeed and fail at putting together an event, lead us tthorugh that.

 

Ann:  Absolutely. So when we start working with a client, whether it’s a client that’s looking to create a brand new event or a client that’s looking to take their event to the next level, one piece of advice I give is that whatever we decide to incorporate into this event, we need to execute at a super high level. One of the biggest compliments I think an organization doing a first time event as an example can get is for their guests to come and say, oh my gosh, I never would have believed you hadn’t done this event before because the whole guest experience from start to finish is flawless.  I think build a base of supporters who are going to be your cheerleaders and champions and really help to spread the word and get others invested in the event. So we work with some events that don’t have committees. Sometimes that works fine, but the most successful events that we get to be a part of have a strong committee. And those committees are made up of people who typically are well connected in the community and or have a tremendous passion for the organization. These days we don’t necessarily need committee members, who are gonna pick out the napkin color, although they’re welcome to weigh in. But we’re really looking for committee members who are passionate about the organization, can help secure sponsorships, individuals who can put together a table of other people and are going to do that strategically. One thing I say to clients is it’s not about filling the room with warm bodies. We want to get people there who are excited about this work or have the potential to get excited about what you’re doing and to invest in the work.

 

So while we’re on that topic, how would you do that if somebody was like, hey, so we have like 500 people, but like nobody gives money. Like what are the things you would do?

 

Ann:  Right. So what are the strategies that has worked really well for some of our clients is to have as part of your committee,  a group of folks are really focused on the guest recruitment strategies. An organization here in the twin cities we work with and they have just two subcommittees. They have an auction subcommittee and they have a guest recruitment subcommittee. I think part of it too is it’s just having conversations with your individuals who are hosting tables or your corporate sponsors, helping them to think about what kinds of people does it make sense to have at the event. In most cases we would rather have other officers of the organization, people in leadership positions versus filling the room with just kind of as a thank you to the employees and, and to do that. Sometimes it’s okay, but if you have a room that’s just filled with people who are there kind of for a fun and free night out.  You’re not gonna see the results. My husband now and then I can rope him into volunteering at some of our events. The ones that are more fun and interesting. He says to me, when I come to your events, I just, I just can’t get a deal at the auction because people are bidding these up and he understands that. That’s totally what it’s all about.

 

How do you create a guest experience that is centered around the mission?

 

Carly:  We definitely have seen so many creative ideas. Some of the things that we do is asking the guests a mission focus question during the reception. That is just a neat reception idea, an interactive element. So the example is a big heart at one of our events, tthat was raising money for cardiovascular health. We asked the guests just on a large sign, I care about heart health because… And that gets your guests thinking about, okay, this is a mission focus question, why I’m actually here, what this event is raising money for and why? Yeah, why am I here? Why do I care about heart health? And it’s then it can also be a really cool piece that you then bring back to your organization and use in some capacity.

 

Ann:  It’s large three dimensional, it lit up,great photo opportunities. Something really cool that an organization we work with that does rehabilitation work for people who have had injuries, strokes, those kinds of things was we were raising money through the direct giving moment for a piece of robotic technology and it’s called the exoskeleton. And so it’s basically a robotic suit that people who are unable to walk on their own, they can put on this suit and they can have that experience, that sensation of walking, which isn’t just about the empowerment of I can walk, but it really has proven to be a really effective therapy model to get people closer to being able to walk on their own. So during the reception for their gala one year, we had a gentleman wearing the suit walking around the reception, so here was something that people had never seen before. It gave them a little sneak preview of what they would be an invited to support later that evening.

 

You have to keep them thinking about it the whole time?

 

Ann:  Absolutely. Absolutely. One of my favorite ways that we welcomed our guests to an event, this was several years ago for a children’s theater company and the theme was based on the wizard it was called the Emerald and Ruby curtain call ball. And we had theater students who were young teens who dressed in these really formal flying monkey costumes. They were super classy looking but people knew they were flying monkies. We actually had the yellow brick road red carpet and the valet would pull up and align the red brick carpet. We had like 12 of these students and so right then and there it was fun. It was creative and people were reminded of why they’ve been there.

 

During that direct giving part of your event. Um, many of our clients will have some of their participants like the Guthrie Theater has youth who are in their education programs who are bits batters, during the fund to need and another way to just remind people of why they’re there and why this work is important.

 

Carly:  We also have seen some really cool photo opportunities where you can incorporate a neat background that can really speak to what your organization is raising money for, bring that into your photo op because that’s where your people are taking photos and then sharing it across social media. So just another way to kind of explain who you are and define yourself.

 

Ann:  A fun way to bring some technology and social media into your event is to do a social media wall. Have monitors throughout the event space as well as in your program area where people can post photos. We suggest having multiple places throughout your event space that remind people of how they can do that. Because once people start seeing their friends and their colleagues and they’ve had a couple of drinks we have got to sometimes remind them, hey, just text it here or post it on your Instagram.

 

Let’s talk about being intentional in crafting the messaging for a really strong program.



Ann:  Yeah, absolutely. So I believe the event messaging needs to start from the very beginning when you’re communicating with your potential guests and your guests. So we really are advocates and we’ve seen this as a trend over the last couple of years where more and more nonprofits aren’t being shy about saying this is a fundraising event that we are inviting you to. And this is how you can make a difference. So when we work with our clients on their marketing collateral, starting with the save the date and our preliminary social media, it’s like let’s remind people about what they’re coming to support. Don’t be shy about what your fundraising goals are.

 

When we’re working with our clients on social media posts, pre event,  we want to share a lot of the fun things. Some of the things we don’t share because we want them to be surprises, but we want people to be like, oh my gosh, this is going to be an amazing night. They have all this cool stuff going on. But it’s also an opportunity to share a little bit about a participant story or to share some facts about your organization. When it comes to programs definitely a trend is shorter programs are the way to go.  And we’re really finding the majority of our clients are on board. We don’t necessarily need the CEO and the board president and this person and that person. We don’t need eight or 10 people unless it’s an awards program. I think it’s, it’s important early on to be really clear about what are the aspects of the organization’s work that are most important for people to hear. And remember that people, many of them will have had three or four drinks by the time you get to the heart of your program. So you want to repeat those messages throughout the program. It needs to all tie together. You folks are experts when it comes to producing videos. My favorite videos are those where your watch them and you’re like, oh my gosh, I wish it had been longer. You know, like it’s like, that was so cool. I want more of that individual story or I want to more about the organization because the story was told in such a creative way. So we really focus  on doing it a lot of it through storytelling. So even if it’s the MC or the CEO of the organization whose main job is to talk about some exciting highlights of what’s going on, if that person can also share a personal story of why this work is important to them, I feel like everyone going on stage should have a story that helps people to connect to the heart of the work.

 

Now take me to fund to need. How do you really get people to take action on it?

 

Ann:  A lot of pre planning is key to a successful fund to need. So one part of that is determining what your dollars are going to support. Many of our clients, the money goes to general operating. That’s where they need the money. In some cases it’s actually more powerful. One of the biggest key factors,  once you kind of figure out where the money’s going to go and how you’re going to message that is to do your homework on getting some donors lined up with pre commitments. If your auctioneer is going to start at 25,000 or 50,000 or 10,000, whatever your top level is, we want to make sure we have one ideally two or more donors at that level. I believe you ideally have pre commitments at your top two or top three because sometimes you get a couple at the top and then youget to the second level and there is no one. Match components can be really powerful as well. We did an event recently where every dollar in the room up to $200,000 would be matched. Most of the matches we see are not that large. So typically say we have a $10,000 match or a $20,000 match, we’re not going to announce that right off the bat because if someone raises their hand at 20,000 and the match it was 20,000 we just, we just match the match. So I 20,000 or $10,000 magic, let’s save that for the lower level. May maybe we get to the $500 level and the auctioneer can introduce the match and it’s their way to build it.

 

I want to talk about trends that we’ve seen in nonprofits. What kind of trends are you seeing?

 

Ann: Organizations are branding their event more and more to the mission of their organization. Habitat for humanity, for example, has the hard hat and black tie affair. So it speaks to the fact and their event name. This is a formal event, but it also speaks to their mission and people have a lot of time fun wearing hard hats and jewelry made out of nails and all of that. We do some work for a local affordable housing organization. Their event used to be called the grand gala. Does that tell you who they are? It says nothing about any organization can or have had the grand gala. So they rebranded last year as a celebration of home.

 

What other trends are you seeing?

 

Carly:  Balloons are so hot right now, back and booming. Not just arches but sculptures. Different components being used.

 

How do you lay the groundwork for a first time event?

 

Ann:  Start early, I would say ideally we’re looking at least a year out. We met with a client last week that’s looking at doing a first time event the fall of 2020 and they’re like, are we starting soon enough? They’re actually having us put together for them kind of a proposal to do a proposal.They said, can you put together kind of a roadmap for us? Are there things that we need to think about and need to feel we can have in place? So one of those things is they’re concerned about do they have the types of board members who can help make this be the kind of event it needs to be in terms of the fundraising and the attendance? So they’re actually doing some work overall on board recruitment and board development. And so they’re thinking about this event and what are some of the local companies where we might want to try to tap a board member out of their company?

 

I think another thing that’s super important is to know ultimately what are you trying to accomplish with this event? We worked with one organization and at one point it was going to be a concert at a local sports venue then it was going to be something inside of a theater. And when it came down to it, they really wanted an organization that welcomed the community to come and celebrate with them and learn more about who they are. So we did a block party for them that’s at one of their local sites and had entertainment and kids’ activities, some information about their programs, food trucks, and really brought people to their property and said, everyone’s welcome here.

 

So lastly, how do you plan for the unexpected?

 

Carly:  Even the best of planners, they can’t expect everything. The opportunities are there to just learn once things happen. We’ve seen obviously have a rain plan if you’re going to have an outdoor event, step one, have a rain plan. Program like we were talking about is so huge. What’s going to be your plan B if one of your speakers is sick or can’t show up that’s pretty common.  

 

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