This week Charles and Lisa sit down with Kelli who has worked with many big brands; Facebook, Redbull, Universal Studios to name a few. With big brands and big events comes big stories! Hear how these big brands approach their events.
Does having a professional Emcee make a difference for your event? Is it worth the cost of hiring one? Charles and Lisa sit down with professional Emcee, Amy McWhirter. Hear the ways emcee’s make a difference for your event and the tricks they have learned to create engagement!
Tell us about you.
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.
When you are thinking of new ideas what is too big? How do we create new things that are fun and engaging without being too crazy? This week we brought back Amy Zaroff, and she spent some time interviewing Charles. Listen this week’s episode with two visionaries talking about creating.
Charles: You lead a podcast, you’re really good at this stuff. I thought why not let you kind of guide the conversation.
Amy: I am so intrigued by you and your methodology and your social media and I’m really excited about the fact that like you, I am the visionary of my company. And by visionary I mean the person that dreams big things up and then the integrators of our company and the producers of our companies are the ones that really make it happen.
Charles: When did you, learn you were the visionary?
Amy: I think we shared on the last episode when we were together, we talked about the entrepreneurial operating system, which talks about visionaries and integrators and such. But I’ve always been of the mindset that if you dream big things up, you can find people to help you make them happen. It’s amazing to me that you and I, our businesses are about the same age, but we really only connected, um, in the past couple of years. And I think that visionaries, they flock together because their eyes get big when they talk about big ideas and they get excited and energetic and all of these things and it’s like, oh my gosh, I got to introduce you to you, to you, to you, and we’re going to make things happen. But I think that, along with knowing that you’re a visionary comes a resourcefulness. You have to be resourceful. You have to have, I still use the word Rolodex. Does everyone know what that is? You have to have that Rolodex to, to refer to and that contact sheet that you know that if the most obscure idea is there, you know, someone that’s going to be able to make it happen. A while back you had Hal Lovemelt on your show and that was a really, I loved that show. I hung on every word and years ago he and I did an event together and we just sat there as visionaries dreaming big things up and he made them happen because he had the technical knowhow. And sometimes visionaries can also understand each other’s language, whereas other people may not. So you know, you can see something in your head but you can’t always draw it on paper because you know, just cause you’re a visionary doesn’t mean you’re creative and always are an artist. You are an artist, but in different ways.
Amy: So when did you know you are a visionary?
Charles: It’s hard to say. I always knew from the time I was a kid that I would do big things. I always knew that my ideas were generally hard for people to understand and I had to learn how to communicate them clearly. You start where you’re like, I’ve got all these huge ideas in my mind, I can’t articulate how to get it out. Like you were just saying. And it was like, it was a major skill I had to develop if I wanted people to understand the vision, follow the vision and, and clearly see it. And still to this day it’s a, it’s a daily task to make sure that the vision is clear. You have to be clear about it regularly. You, you assume everybody knows what’s in your head.
Amy: So often it’s in our heads and we think everybody gets it. And we don’t take the time in a staff meeting or with our creative partners to sit down and say, wait, no, no, no, no. This is what I meant. Yeah. And you’re right. And that’s a very, um, that’s a learned skill and it takes years to perfect.
Charles: Here’s the thing, I have a special advantage that most entrepreneurs don’t and that is that my business partner, we grew up next door to each other as small children. Our parents still have houses right next door to each other. There’s no houses between them. We literally grew up playing and hanging out and so our entire upbringing, we learned each other.
Amy: You learned each other’s language and nonverbal language, right?
Charles: Mike is much more of your integrator type and so he can read me like a book and he knows what’s going on in my head and then he can help make it happen.
Amy: Who, who instilled in you the confidence to know that you could make anything happen?
Charles: My Mom, well, both my mom and my dad growing up, my dad was a, he was in a boat sales. He sold like sailboats, large sailboats, and my mom was in network marketing and when she would start bringing me to some of these meetings, I was like a kid in a lot of network marketing events. It’s all like, Hey, so you’ve been living in corporate America forever and now it’s time to open your mind and dream. Right. And a lot of people, they do get stuck in a Rut in their career in Corporate America and they don’t dream right. And so from an early age as a kid, I was exposed to you can dream and do anything idea. Which really I think helped me understand that like from an early age, you have to, you have to be clear about what your goals and your vision are I really took that to heart as a, as a kid. And it worked. I was like 14 years old sitting in these seminars for like eight hours. A good speaker would go up there and train on making a vision board. And I was like, I want to have a yacht. I can’t I have a yacht. I want it to be huge.
Lisa: I think that’s so great Charles, because so many children, and I’m sure I’m kind of one of them, grew up with parents just working in corporate America and that’s all you thought that you could do or should do and that’s great. You grow up, you go to college and then you get a job or someone else.
Charles: It really is mental programming.
Amy: Well it is and I will tell you that I have two sons. One is a sophomore in college and the other one will be going to college next year. And I am one of those parents who preach you don’t have to follow the path. You know the path, right? And you can do whatever you want whenever you want. Now I know that some of my friends and colleagues think, well, but that’s just not realistic in today’s world. So far my kids have taken the path. But as a parent, I’ve given them permission and so has my husband to say, whatever you want to explore, please go explore. Because if you get that life experience, it allows you to be good at so many more things than if you just hyper focus on one.
Charles: It seems like our culture today isso built on this path of go to school, get good grades so you can get into a good college. So you can have a piece of paper that says you went through four years of a reading program that we tested you on so that you can get a job. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, educational inflation where it used to be like the people that had a four year degree kind of stood out from the crowd. Well now everyone has one and now it’s like you have to have your master’s, your phd to stick out. It seems like the way corporations, like if I had a room of like the fortune 500 CEOs in a room, I would say you need to change the way you hire because instead of hiring on, does this person have a degree? We should ask, do they have the skillset for the opportunity you have?
Amy: And do they have the vision? Going back to visionary, do they have the vision to dream big things up that your straight path folks may not have thought of?
Charles: Yes. And I think for a lot of our listeners, they think, you know, does this mean I’m not a visionary because I don’t have a big vision. And the truth is like, I think everybody has a visionary inside of them to some degree. It’s like a spectrum, right? I was listening to the radio maybe a week ago and they were talking about this youtube star. She’s like 15 years old. She’s got a huge hit and apparently she wears these huge bows on her head. He was saying how it’s driving him crazy that his children are obsessed with this girl. And I thought, you know, think of our kids and the way they’re being raised right now. Everything is a screen and everything’s about media and video and watching things. And so that’s the thing that they’re valuing and going, well I want to be an Instagram star. I want to be famous. And if you think about, you ever watch American idol? These people go on and they think like, I’m so passionate about being an artist. They think like, I’m going to become a rock star. I’m a singer from Nashville. Everybody told me to follow my passion. So that’s what I’m doing! So everybody’s like, let me follow my passion. And you know what? I spoke about this two years ago and I, I did a disservice to everybody to listen. And I said, you should follow your passion. Follow your passion. You know what? That’s horse crap. What you should do, this is where I stand, is that you should follow opportunities where your skills align. Because when you do that, passion will arise out of it.
Amy: That’s a really, really insightful point.
Charles: You will become passionate when you see that what you’re naturally gifted at has opportunity to be fulfilled. You will become passionate.
Amy: Success makes you feel good.. If you’re successful at it, you’re right. Then passion will follow.
Charles: Everybody wants to be a movie star, they want to be Instagram influencer, whatever. Think of any of these things that are not like super glamorous like commodities trading or like the grain business. These are not things that have kids getting excited about. But yet there are people that are missing opportunities where they’re naturally gifted. Like they go on American idol, right? They think they’re going to win. They go up in front of the judges and millions of people and what do they find out?. That they suck. They’re like, don’t quit your day job. And they break down and they’re sad and they’re crying. And it’s like, did you really think that you are going to come on American idol with how horrible you are? You not self aware enough to know that you suck. And if that’s true and something that you were so passionate about but not skilled at and now you’re screwed. So like of course you can be passionate about something but it doesn’t mean you’re any good at it.
Amy: That’s right. You know what, what you said is absolutely right. Seek out the opportunities that you have the skillset for. I’m just going to repeat it because it’s so smart. What you just said, that you have the skillset for it and the passion will follow. It really is so true. That’s very true. In my trajectory as a business person, I went to school for broadcast journalism. I love a microphone. I love a camera. My professor told me my hair was too big to be on air. So I did production instead. That production which we talked about previously of telling a story, producing an event helped me with so many other careers. I was a marketing director, a television producer, owned a restaurant and now an event planning company. But at the core the skillset was about telling a story, producing something. What I’ll tell the listeners, especially hopefully the students that I hope will start to listen to your show. I as a boss, I am not looking at someone’s educational trajectory for what I am hiring them for. I am hiring them for their skillset and more importantly, their character. And so that’s what I believe makes a good visionary because you can pick someone out who has the Chutzpah, the energy, the excitement in them, and then everything follows.
Charles: This is such a great point because like you said, and I have to echo this when you’re looking for people and I can tell like you read people very quickly. You think about how people are applying for jobs right now we have, we’re, we’re hiring for a planner internally to help us with logistics and all that stuff. You get these resumes and it’s funny because a resume is really not an indicator of if it’s a good fit or not. In fact, you can send me resumes, you could send me the best resume, the world. I still need to sit down with you and figure out if you’re a quality human being.
Amy: The resume is a weeding out the absolute nos. But the truth of the matter is you don’t know someone’s innate nature and skill set until like you said, you have that conversation. And also you can tell from watching their body language and where they’re putting their eyes and you know, do they look you in the eye? Are they nervous? That’s all about the human interaction. And I hope we never lose that. And I think that’s why I so enjoy watching your social media posts because even if I’m not directly doing a job with you at any given time, I do feel like I’m immersed in what you’re doing and I’m invested in hoping that you have success, right? Because, and it’s not just, I’m not just, you know, kissing, butt I’m telling you it’s actually entertaining and intriguing. And that I believe is why the younger generation’s watch, you know, youtube and Instagram and all these things because they’re invested in the successes or failures of those that they’re following.
Charles: It’s almost like the youtube when used properly and media and podcasts, this is the new way of being educated. It’s the new form of education. When you post for a, Oh, we’re hiring a planner. It’s like everyone comes out of the woodwork. I tried hiring a couple of other positions earlier last year and it was like pulling teeth. I was like, the economy is so good right now that nobody wants a job. And then all of a sudden, and then all of a sudden I’d post for this planning position and it’s like everyone and their sister comes out of the woodwork and they’re like, oh, I heard you’re hiring for a planner position.
Amy: Everybody thinks that an event planner is the life and my varicose veins are here to tell you that that has, but it doesn’t take it so. So let’s bring that back to being a visionary for a second. Yeah. A planner has to be a visionary mind who thinks out of the box to get to the end result without just checking things off a list and making sure that everything is just so it’s very, it’s collaborative but you also need to become a leader. And I’ve found that a lot of event planner wannabe’s they’re too timid, and you can weed those out right away.
Charles: I made a list of the skill sets that I would love to see in this person and I’m just going to pull it up. So here’s what I said. I said personality traits because this I think is more important than many parts of it. I said number one, rule follower, detail oriented, a negotiator, a goal setter, controlling, assertive, methodical, friendly, sharp, intelligent, educated, well, groomed, fashionable.
Amy: Okay. Well, all right. I will say that I don’t think they should be a rule follower. I would argue with that. They should be a rule breaker. So I’m going to put this down. But um, if you’re a change maker, a rule breaker, and a creator, those to me are very important traits. Now I understand. Yes, everyone on your team is very fashionable. Now I get that. I understand presentability matters. I get that. But I do get that. I do get that, that, that, that does matter. However, I think that it is more important that you have self confidence and the ability to carry yourself in a way that you know what you’re talking about and everyone else in the room knows that too. Now, there is something that I’ve really, and I think I shared this last time too, that I’ve really had to work at is just because you are a visionary and you know what you know and you know that you’re good at, it doesn’t mean that you can come across as condescending or disrespectful or anything like that. But your passion, your passion is going to come out. And if the right team is around you, the creative partners, they’re going to understand that it’s a momentary lapse because you all want that same thing. And that’s, that’s what I wanted to ask you about. How big is too big when you’re thinking about that vision?
Charles: This is a really intriguing idea to I guess go down. When I think about vision, oftentimes I feel like the visions I have are too scary for regular humans. Right? So I temper most of what I say. I don’t know if I should or maybe that is a defining characteristic, but I try and temper what I say. I try and not make it sound too nuts. Even though in my head it’s like a hundred times worse than what I say. Clients love crazy ideas. They love that. if something crazy comes to mind in a client meeting, I will share that crazy idea. Just because at this point I’m not afraid. Even if they’re like, yeah, that was stupid. I’m not afraid of that because I always preface it by saying, hey, this might sound nuts and if it does, we can throw in the trash right now. But here’s my idea.
Amy: You’re doing yourself a disservice by putting out that disclaimer first.
Charles: Yeah. I think it’s old security. Yeah. So it’s old insecurity. And maybe I should just boldly come out there and be like, I think we should do this. Great example of this, we were in a meeting, we were the final two for a very large corporate show. This was maybe like s three months ago now. Yeah. And we’re meeting with them and their executive team. And, there’s the chief marketing officer in the room along with the chief of staff and some really, really powerful great people and towards the end of the presentation it went really, really well and I had this crazy idea, just a wild hair and I was like, you know what I want to do with this event? If we can pull it off, I think we can pull this off. I want to run a cable cam across the room so that we can have a very dynamic cut two shot anytime we want that. That’s his camera’s like flying over the crowd, almost like a drone shot. It kind of flew out of my mouth and I was like, oh. And all of a sudden the, the chief marketing officer goes, have you been reading my mind? He’s like, I’ve wanted to do that cable cam idea.
Amy: That’s why I never preface with ah, don’t worry if you don’t like it because every idea that you might think is either crazy or been done before, but it really hasn’t or whatever. It might be fresh and new to the person who you’re telling it to.
Charles: You’re totally right. My old insecurities have have put me in a place where I’m less inclined to just say it.
Amy: Well, so now you’ve started to take your business elsewhere. I mean, not just started, but you’ve been doing it for years, but now you’re really going after the, the big thing. Nationally. So how do you approach those kinds of presentations?
Charles: That’s a really good question. There’s a conference for 30,000 we’re meeting with them tomorrow. But we had a meeting with another one that was like 70,000. So these are very large multi day shows and it is slightly challenging to go, how big is too big and what comes off as maybe too much of a departure from what they’re comfortable with. So you walk this fine line in your presentation. But I find it very helpful when I’m meeting with these people to get as much information and ask as many questions as I can. Because it gives me a sense of how risky are they willing to be? How crazy of an idea can I throw at them? Some of them, they’re like, I don’t care what you throw at me, let’s do this.And you’re like, oh my gosh, this is going to be awesome.
Amy: I think a challenge for visionaries in our local market in the twin cities is not so much that people don’t want to think out of the box or hear what we have to say, but the budgets are very different and that’s okay. I mean, it is what it is. But then what happens to a visionary that exceeds their marketplace?
Charles: This is exactly what I was thinking the other day. What happens when you kind of outgrow where you are?
Amy: To your credit, you have worked so hard to be the face in front of these organizations nationally and it may be the time in your life that you’re at or you know, the excitement that your team has, how you’ve hired your team, the willingness to be risk of, you know, risk savvy if you’re willing to take the risk. But I do think that’s a really big problem and I’ve struggled with it for the past several years because once you hit your stride and there’s only a small pool of people that will pay what you’re worth to do, what you do, what next?
Charles: This is an interesting question. We have a large corporate pitch we were doing and I found out the budget was say X. When I found out that the budget was x, we were already far into the pitch process, what I wanted to pitch was x times two. So it was double their budget. And I said to the team, you know what we should do, let’s go about this as if there is no budget and show them truly what could happen if, if money was no object.
Amy: Well, and by that also, you should always, every professional should show a good, better and best option and you should never take advantage of the fact that a client has said to you, here’s my budget here. That will always fall in the better category, right? The best category doesn’t mean you’re not going to have a great event if you can’t go to the best. But here are some a la carte options. You can choose to just make it one step better.
Charles: Well, and I love that approach. I feel like that puts the client in a position where they feel safe. Cause they go, wow, you know, if I hire Amy and her team, I’m always going to get an Amy Zaroff quality event or an EideCom quality event. But the, the good, better, best lets them go, I feel comfortable with giving you the good, but I actually want to add some of these best options. And it gives you the opportunity to really shine while providing them with that kind of safety to fall back on that they’re not being ridiculous and they’re spending.
Amy: I do want to emphasize also that it’s not about having the biggest budgets, although there comes a point in your career where that may be where you fit as a, as a team, you know, as a vendor for those clients. But it is about constantly improving your capabilities and never standing for status quo. And that’s what I think going back to what a visionary is and my question constantly of myself and if people like you is how big is too big? And I would argue there isn’t such thing as too big. You can always talk about ideas.
Charles: The people who are the right fit for me are going to appreciate and those crazy ideas are going to resonate. For example this huge show that came back as double the budget, I basically took the entire event that was kind of lengthwise in a, in a huge ballroom. And I turned it widthwise, so I completely rotated the format. And I turned it into one giant video screen. And it was like this nutso idea and I got inspiration from a number of really cool things that are going on online. And, and it was amazing to me because the client, when they saw this, they were like, I love the way that this could be. There’s some tweaks we need to make budget wise and in layout, I want to take this concept and I want to use it to make magic happen.
Amy: That’s being a changemaker, if you don’t say it, no one will ever know that. It could be. And it doesn’t have to be to the whole extreme of what’s in your head. But even just a taste of that, don’t you just get like giddy with excitement about how that’s going to happen?
Charles: It’s somebody saying yes, I believe in you. And I that never gets old. Every time we’d get us a yes from somebody, I get so excited. Oh, it doesn’t matter if it’s tiny or if it’s huge. It’s like somebody saying I believe in you.
Amy: And, and that’s what I mean about being a rule. It’s not like you’re blatantly doing something illegal or wrong or things like that. No, no, no, no, no. Being a rule breaker means if you wanted it to just be the cookie cutter, same type of thing that you’ve done in the past. We’re going to stick to the rules. But if we want to dream big and show our true colors, we’re going to break some rules here.
Charles: Leading a company of a planning organization. When when you have crazy vision and crazy ideas for our client, you are the CEO of your organization. At what point do you get involved? Is there a revenue threshold or are you like, I’m not going to step in and start like throwing my crazy ideas unless it’s a certain size…
Amy: I get involved in every single event we do from the creative director standpoint. Even though I know that I can and have done the details and the execution and production of events, my role over the past several years has really become how do you dream that big stuff up? I dream that big stuff up. I brainstorm with my team. We figure out how we can make that happen. Typically going back to that Rolodex in my head and not getting it, what is in my head out to the people they need to slow me down and say, Amy, wait, tell us all the ways that we get to what you’re saying and then they will execute those things. Now I have a very creative team as well, so we do it together. The thing that gets me the most excited is dreaming that stuff up just like you. And then, um, being the person that’s the sales, the sales pitch. So I am the ones selling my business and I can’t wait for sales meetings because I love to have conversations like this. I will get along with any person, you know, I mean, if they’re nice to me now, but you know, I want to be in a room. I want you to see that my eyes are always bulging out of my head, that I’m talking with my hands, that I’m excited, genuinely excited about what I do. There have been times over the years where I would have a little slump and it wasn’t a creative slump. It was just like going back to what we were saying, why aren’t more people in our community understanding the value of dreaming big? And I think a lot of people are guilty of just always attaching a dollar amount to that.
Charles: What I’ve learned is dollars aren’t always what controls how big a vision. can be. I mean, you can have a crazy big vision and it doesn’t mean it’s going to cost an arm and a leg. It’s the littlest things can make a tremendous impact. Going back to my talk on education, I think our education system unfortunately has made people so intellectual that that the wild hair in their brain. It gets calmed down and it learns not to dream anymore. You must follow this structure are you will fail your test.
Amy: I have a friend who is a professor of creativity. said to him recently, I would love to just take the class, you know, just take the class or have you teach the class for people in creative businesses because don’t you wonder like what it is in your brain that puts all these pieces together and how can you flex that muscle to do even more?
Amy: I just want to ask you another question, when you’re taking the show on the road, why are you standing out when they have a local option as well?
Charles: You know, that’s a great question. So for those of you listening, a lot of our clients are out of state clients that maybe don’t even produce a show in their area but produce it somewhere else. And so let’s take a client like we’re in Minneapolis, but let’s take a client that’s in, say Denver, and they’re having an event in Orlando. Their option for Orlando being the local option, the only real difference between the Orlando and Minneapolis, even though the shows in Orlando would be the fact that you wouldn’t have to truck the equipment there, right? But when you’re talking about a show that’s say 500,000 to a million dollars in revenue, the trucking aspect is a every my small line item. When you’re talking about the other tangible things like the ability to have the same company, do that show with you year over year, the same producers, the same technicians. That outweighs, outweighs trucking all day long.
Amy: Then you, what you’re saying is relationship is what sells. What I know is true to who you are as a brand. That’s how I am as well. But how do you sell that? Sell the relationship.
Charles: I have an unfair advantage and a good friend of mine who I loved dearly taught me something. He said, when you have an advantage available to you, take it. Well, growing up as a kid, my dad was a pilot, for his own business.When I was in high school, my dad said, well, you’re a horrible student. No, he didn’t say that, but he was like, Hey, do you want to get your pilot’s license? I’ll pay for it if you do the work. And I said, yeah, so I got my pilot’s license. To this day, I still fly. In fact, we own a company, aircraft. People look at airplanes and the like, oh it’s so expensive. It’s so glamorous. You’re such a show off. But if you think about it, like in today’s Instagram culture, people look at a plane and they go, oh, it must be fancy, lavish and whatever. Like our plane is a very nice plane but at the same time that’s not why I have it. Like sure. I love flying but I call it the relationship machines. I will come out and see you and we will talk face to face and we will find out if they’re like, I put the relationship at the center of everything, right? Because if we can build a relationship and we can truly be on the same page, we both know that your show is going to go very well. Let’s say I meet somebody new with this happened a couple of weeks ago. Um, we found that there was a large conference being planned for Minneapolis and they’re based in Chicago. She said, well, I’m coming to Minneapolis and she’s actually coming to Minneapolis tomorrow. I said, you know, before you come to Minneapolis, so I would love to just zip down to Chicago and say hi. So we literally like me, Lisa Paige, Mike, we got in the plane, we flew down there, we had a great meeting, we got to see their facility. And now coming to Minneapolis and tomorrow we’re going to, you know, we’re going to do everything we can to treat her like a VIP while she was in our city, and we’re going to make her feel welcome.
Amy: And the other thing that I really respect about you is that you’ve, you’ve made it clear several times that you know that the job may not happen a month after meeting someone or a year, but you’re willing to go the long haul to invest in that relationship and make people understand.
Charles: I truly believe that if it’s truly a good fit they make that decision eventually they will choose to work with you. I mean, just like you, if, if I meet someone and I know that there are potential prospect to do work with, right. I don’t care if it’s a year or two or three out because I’m going to be here in a year or two or three.
Lisa: We keep hearing from people too. It’s like it’s the way you go about being persistent. You don’t want to come off as like desperate. You don’t want to come off as you know, annoying. But if you just keep positive process them, hey, is it okay if I follow back up in a couple of months or when would be a good time for us to revisit this? Or is there a chance we can do it next year together?
Charles: Right. And sometimes they’ll surprise you and go, actually, we actually do want somebody like right away. But I also, I also really believe something very specific that I have to say when I meet someone new that’s currently working with somebody else. And that is this, I believe in loyalty. Loyalty means something to me. And so I’m not sitting in front of you here today telling you drop everything you’ve got and the people you’re loyal to and come work with us. It’s all sunshine and rainbows. That’s not how this works and I think to disarm the situation and have people know I respect that you have a relationship already and I’m not here to disrupt that. I’m here when you’re ready to take it to a new place.
Amy: Absolutely. I feel the same way when we’re starting to, because of we don’t want to be speaking out of both sides of our mouth and you don’t want to have double standards. Someone may not have done anything wrong, they just may not have the vision to take it to the next level. So I do agree with that. The other thing though is is that becoming, having deep relationships in your local and national event community benefits those folks in other ways too. So even if you’re not directly working with them at any given time, knowing that someone has the same core values as you, the same tenacity, the same authenticity and transparency. Yeah, that speaks volumes too. I refer people a lot to creative partners that I may not be working with at that time, but that I know are the right fit for those clients.
Charles: Your core value sheets I have it on my desk, it’s still sitting there. It reminds me that not only is the core values thing about your internal hiring, but it’s also like you said, it’s about externally. Do we client and vendor and really more client and partner value the same things, right? Because if we see eye to eye on simple things in life, chances are the way we operate together in business is going to go great.
Amy: Not only is it going the extra mile for the client, creative partners that are true to those core values will go the extra mile for each other. And it’s not, and I don’t mean by you know, discounts or shaving things here or there, although those are nice perks. But, but I what I mean is that these people care about you as a human. So therefore they’re going to show that in the work they do for you, they want your name to be as solid as their name.
Charles: When you start looking at creative partners and you look at how, you know, how far creative partners willing to go, I’m always looking for the client to reciprocate the appreciation back. I’ve had plenty of clients who are like, I’m paying you x amount of dollars so screw you, you will do what I say and you will eat you know what… Eventually you learn like, hey, I have dignity and self respect for my team and I can’t have them being treated like that. And just because you’re paying me a certain amount of money doesn’t give you carte blanche to treat us like crap.
Amy: Well, that’s a whole nother podcast about finding the right clients, keeping them and, or firing them. And that we can talk about another time.
Charles: How do you know when it’s time to break up with a client, you know, and, and then like, you know, how do you, how do you do it? Cause you have experienced doing such things.
Amy: I do. I not plural, but there was, there was one, and I’ll just say this because this goes back to that visionary role. Who Does the work for you? Your team, right? So as a visionary and an integrator, you need to protect your team. And if someone is verbally abusing one of your employees, no dollar amount is worth that. No, not one. And so that’s when you, when you let it go, you know that that also goes into authenticity and transparency of creative partners and when you may need to let one of them go and or call someone out for doing something that was just blatantly not okay. Recently I experienced a fellow company in the twin cities who took one of my events and slapped their watermark on it and you know, called it there’s for their advertising. And so rather than fight fire with fire, the integritous, is that a word? The way to act with integrity, is to say this is not okay. This is my event. I appreciate that you liked it but you can’t use it for your own financial gain.
Charles: After this podcast we’re going to talk about that, cause I actually had a very large competitor of mine do that and they published it in a newsletter and mailed it to God knows how many people it’s not.
Amy: Being that person that thinks big, that has the, all of those adjectives we’ve said earlier, you do the right thing in good times and in bad. And what goes around comes around. And as I’ve said before, all you have is your name.
Charles: You will never get in trouble for being kind to people. Doesn’t mean you have to get walked on. It does not mean you have to, you know, sacrifice profit just means that you need to be kind about it. And you’re absolutely right. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about you is that you always show up not only with a smile on your face, but you’re, you’re always the type of person that I know will bring a positive solution no matter if it’s a negative situation or a dismal situation. Like you’ll always bring a positive attitude and that attitude, I’m telling you what Amy to me is worth more than 90% of the things on my list because it makes me feel like we can get through this together. And if you show up angry and frustrated and crabby, I’m sorry, but we ain’t going to interact very much.
Amy: Think about what you’re posting on social media because it all comes to be, now of course you can be, uh, sometimes you don’t want to post when you’re really not feeling that positivity and you can be honest, but you certainly don’t want to be the Debbie Downer. That’s because people will watch. They are watching.
Amy: I think there’s a time and place for everything. And I think that my hope in 2019 we’re still in January, so we can still be into the new year with positive thinking and all of that. But my hope is that this year kindness will prevail. People will start to treat each other with the respect they deserve. And those that deserve good quality business, we’ll get it. Because people will understand why they deserve it. So let’s just hope for that betterment.
Charles: The momentum with the way things have been going, at least for us and the partners we’ve seen. Yeah. The 2019 is shaping up to be an amazing year in the events business.
Amy: Kudos to you. I agree. I do agree. But I also think it’s because of your tenacity and your willingness to take that plane and go anywhere.
On season one, we featured some amazing guests with years of experience in the events and meeting world. We handpicked some of the moments we thought highlighted the best tips and tricks. We hope you enjoy this as much as we did putting it together.