Andy King is known as the ultimate team player, but it goes beyond what happened at Fyre Festival. Listen as we sit down with him to discuss what actually happened as well as the state of the industry amidst the pandemic. We say this a lot but you really really don’t want to miss this episode!
This week were were joined by Frank Supovitz who wrote the book on “What to do when things go wrong?” While the world around us is changing, Frank shares hope and how we can and will pick up the pieces.
Give us your background.
I started at Radio City Music Hall as an usher and worked my way through the organization. Found myself in the special events department. We did the events outside Radio City: Super Bowl Half times, Olympic ceremonies. I was there for 16 years. Then I was head of events for the National Hockey League for 13 years. Then NFL for 10 seasons. Then started my own company Fast Traffic Events and Entertainment in 2014. I worked on the Indy 500, redevelopment of the South Street seaport, the new rooftop at Pier 17. Continued to work on more and more different things all the time!
You had a lot to planning super bowls!
I did for a decade, it was an incredible experience. The Super Bowl is so much more than the halftime show. It’s a mega event filled with everything from games, THE game, to fan festivals, to big parties and meetings. It takes over an entire city. SB actually take 4 years to plan. At any one time you’re working on 3 or 4 of them at once. You’re just at different stages of development. When I left in 2014 a lot of the plans I had put in place for Super Bowls were still going to be rolling out. When you’re working on an event with many details, and that many venues, that many things you have to worry about: something somewhere is going to go wrong for you at some point. Every single time. Sometimes they are tiny details only you know about them, sometimes a handful of people know about them, if you’re less lucky your audience finds out about them.
I wanted to get your insight into how do you know when to cancel?
Safety is not negotiable. People’s health not negotiable. If you have a situation where safety is compromised, first, second, and third priority is keeping people safe. It doesn’t necessarily even have to be like a situation we are facing now. It could have been anything. Any number of things could get in your way. If safety is an issue, it’s not even a question. You just have to bite the bullet, financial considerations come forth after safety safety safety. It’s a really hard decision to make because there are so many people that are dependent on an event moving forward. It’s not just the audience that gets disappointed. It’s all the people like us who manage the events, the people that work with us to manage and coordinate. If it just gets canceled and not postponed, it can really affect the ability to keep people employed. That’s a tough decision to make.
How should you know if you should cancel or postpone?
It really depends on the event. If you can do it, if the venues are available, it’s so much better to postpone and give people both your business and your fans something to look forward to.
We’re all talking about, “When will people pick events back up.” What is your perspective on this?
I don’t think it will be a switch you turn on and people show up. Once it becomes determined you can do these things again, there’s going to be skittishness in the marketplace. “Do I want to be the early adopter?” It’s going to take a while. I think it’s inside that 8 week period that we have been talking about, it’s a question of when the situation peaks, when it starts to decrease, when it becomes safe again. It’s not going to be something where suddenly you unlock a stadium and 80,000 people show up.
How do I get through this? That’s on everybody’s minds right now.
There’s something going on everywhere. I am doing it to: the first few days you’re unraveling everything you’ve done. That’s hard. The second thing is how do I stage myself to recover? Recovery is going to be slow. It’s not going to be instant. That’s what everybody has to focus on. People are keeping themselves relevant, top of mind, what are you doing how are you doing. It’s a people business. Freelancers should continue keeping contact all the time so when it does come back you’re top of mind. That’s really important.
Be creative, we’re all creative people. Stay on social media, write an article or two about what you’re doing and what you’re going through and what you see the future being. I think social media is the best self publishing opportunity and best PR opportunity for everybody. Just keep in touch with everybody in the industry. We’re all going through it.
People are really dedicated to what they do for a living. They know the meeting and event business is something that brings people together, it’s a way of communicating. It’s a way of entertaining people, those are basic human needs and the people who work in our business, really know what place they play if they are really passionate about what they do. They know how important they are.
I want to talk about your book, talk about who it’s for, what is it about?
It’s funny, I speak to a lot of event people. This book resonates with them, there’s a lot of important lessons told through event stories. The original idea was for project managers. It was all about providing business managers with a framework for how to prepare for a crisis and how to manage it if it happens anyway. Event and meeting people really enjoy the book because so many of the stories and lessons are told through the disciplines they know really well, which is an event planning. Planning is really the second step in thinking about how you’re going to manage a crisis. It’s something I learned along the way: we all know how to get to point a to point b. That’s the plan we create. But if you’re not imagining the things that could possibly go wrong, you can’t create the right contingencies. If it hasn’t happened to you, it just hasn’t happened to you yet.
How do we move forward and give us some hope!
We’re really at a turning point. Respond to what’s happening, don’t react to what’s happening. Reacting you make decisions without reasoning them through. That’s true of any crisis you face. Just take a breath, don’t panic. Panic really paralyzes decision making. Or good decision making. Take a step back and decide what the right course of action is.
We will recover, humans are social animals. We need to hear from other people, need to hear what others think. That’s why social media is such a big part of our lives right now. Just know that it’s going to come back together. We’re going to get people together as a group, we may change our business a bit and find there’s a hybrid of virtual and live that needs to be a little bit more ingrained in our lifestyle but that’s ok. Everyone will want to get back together again, it’s just a matter of time. I’m convinced. It’s just a matter of how long.
He’s back! This week we share an episode recorded two weeks ago when things were starting to move in the events industry. Micheal Cerbelli shares his take on the current virus as well as the last time the industry was hit.
What have you been up to since you were last with us on our podcast?
It’s been an incredible year. I’ve had 155,000 miles of travel in 2019. We’re seeing some challenges with the Coronavirus affecting events, but other than that, I’m very excited to announce that we are officially signing with a brand new collaborative building in the event industry in New York City. The fourth floor will be myself and a great company called Elegant Affairs Caterers.
Who is your Demographic/Audience?
We’re looking at it as a spot to help promote all our businesses with our clients. What we wanted to do was create a space that anybody and everybody in the event industry could come to. We wanted to bring a space together so that our clients could be there, have their meeting, a get together with their clients, and be around creative people all under one roof and share their ideas with each other. From there, the client knows that there is a closer relationship there instead of jumping on a phone call for twenty minutes. We want to have collaborative experiences.
How long has this been in the works? Tell us what the journey has been like.
I’d been looking for a new space because our lease was almost up in NYC. About a year ago I said, “Let’s start planning.” We live in a beautiful area of New York City; it’s called Hudson Yards. It’s the newest hotspot in NYC; it’s booming. I think 40 office buildings have been built in this area throughout the past five years. There were four firehouses back from the 1800s that put out their own fires before the fire department was around, and there are two of these firehouses left. We have one now, and the other one is owned by Anderson Cooper as his home. It’s fantastic, I have a fire pole in my office, I’m so excited! It’s going to be officially called “24030.” That’s our address, 240 30th St. Manhattan. We don’t want to have one name on the banner outside; it’s a collaborative building, so why does it have to be one company? It’s all of us.
How are you dealing with the Coronavirus and how it affects you in the event industry?
It’s there. If you look at the news today, Facebook and Microsoft cancelled events that they had coming up. I had a name talent, and I’ve worked with this guy four times. His camp had started to question about two weeks earlier, and when we came to them and said “it’s official, we’re postponing it, we’re going to pick a new date,” they understood. “You got it, safety first. Let’s work out these dates and see what we can do.” We’re flexible, we’ve got it, everybody is working together as a team on this one event that I’m seeing, and I’m seeing that in other areas too. I think people are starting to understand that in the world we live in, stuff happens. You know what I actually want to say, but “stuff” happens, and that’s what we all understand. My client is actually having more pullback from the actual attendees; they’re more upset than us in the event industry, so I think it will affect events. If everybody can work together, and those clients can work with us to help manage some of the losses(maybe airplane fees, paying someone for their time because they lost it). We work together as a team, and I think that’ll be great for all of us.
Has this sort of situation been something you’ve seen previously in your career?
Yeah, I can definitely 100% go back to the financial crash of 2008 when people were cancelling like crazy. I had a client cancel, and there was no reason for them to cancel, but they didn’t want to be perceived as a company spending money during that time. This was going to be my first event ever in Dubai. Huge spend, monster spend, and they just cancelled the whole program. Back then, there was a panic. “We all lost, what are we going to do? How are we going to recoup?” I think now we understand this. We don’t want you to hurt. We don’t want to hurt. How can we all work together? That’s the difference I see immediately from everybody. In 2008, people panicked. I think that’s why it hurt harder. I think we’ll know in about a month from now if it’s going to affect us hard. Macro, not micro; let’s look at the big picture right now. Let’s keep calm and cool heads.
What’s been going on with you aside from everything else?
A corporate client let us create a magical circus theme; it was called Under the Big Top. I’ve done this event for seventeen straight years, and every year has a different theme, and this one really stood out. There were people flying through the air, tightrope walkers, we used their colors instead of the red and white stripes. It had a very “NYC Circus” theme to it, from the video invitation to leaving there with a bag of popcorn and Crackerjacks for the kids. It was probably one of my favorite events of last year. This summer was an incredible 50th birthday party at one of the most beautiful homes that you could imagine. We took them through a musical journey through 50 years of music festivals. It went from Woodstock in the 60’s, the 80’s and 90’s Lollapalooza, today’s Coachella, and to a big concert onstage in their backyard.
What advice do you have for people who are brand new to events?
I could be sitting for hours and nothing’s coming to me, and I’ll wake up at 3:00 in the morning and I’ve got to write it down. That’s how my head works, but although it’s in my head, I can’t do it without a team. I’m very lucky, and there may be newbies that don’t have a team. Take what you see, look around you, think about these moments. It doesn’t always have to be black and white. How can you change it? How can you come together as a team? I may be a producer, but I don’t own anything. Reach out to your vendors too, maybe they have something creative. Partner with the right people. My whole thing is collaboration. When you’re going to work with someone, does it all have to be you? If you take advice from your creative partners, that’s what leads to a great event. So many people are like, “It’s my event, I own it, this is what I want to do.” Ok, that’s great, that’s good for you, that’s not good for me. I love my team, I love my partners, I love their ideas. We all like working together because we feel we’re part of one.
What are your pet peeves?
My biggest pet peeve is the person that doesn’t plan properly; the people that panic onsite. When someone says “I’ve thrown a party before,” that’s great, but have you thrown an event where you have to know how people get on the loading dock? If you think about every step along the way, how everybody has to come together to manage this one event, that’s the strength on an event planner. The person that doesn’t know that is the person running around panicking at an event. Don’t tell me you’re an event planner if you’re not an event planner. It comes with years of experience, learning, getting dirty, working 40 hours in one day to get everything done for what you need. Notes, contracts, insurance. If you don’t have that, you’re the one panicking. I can point them out at any event.
Any last thoughts for our audience?
In two weeks from today, it’s the official 19th anniversary of Michael Cerbelli’s “The Hotlist!” If any listeners want, please reach out to me, I promise I’ll try to get them seats for the show. It’s going to be an amazing show this year.
Tell us about you.
Growing up, my dad was a business owner, so I always kind of pictured myself owning a business or something that way. I started my first business out of my college dorm room in 2003. I had a bad t-shirt order and my roommate, Ryan looked at me, “Hey, we should start a business so nobody else has to go through what you just went through.” I was naive enough as a 19 year old, I was like, “how would we do it?” He goes over to our dorm room door, shuts it, and he pitches me the idea and I’m like, I’m in. That summer we worked hard. Thew next fall we started business, from there, by the time I sold that we had done about 500,000 pieces of apparel.
It opened so many doors. What I liked about running an online custom apparel business was, I built it from the dorm room where people had no idea that I was in 19 or 20 year old kid. They thought I was like a 40 or 50 year old man. What I liked about it was I practiced my skill of customer service or customer care in a way that, I built it so I would never have to meet my customers. I learned the soft skills of phone and email just as it was getting going in 2003, 2004, or 2005. I fit a ton of experience into those few years in college and then just grew.
I love Co-Ed Monkey, still buy shirts now. They have great customer service.
I’ll step back quick and say in 2008, when the economy tanked, every business really struggled. I stepped back and I went into debt. It was bad, and I looked at my business and I hated life. I was a probably 20, $30,000 in debt and had no idea how I was going to pay it back. And I looked at the business and I hated it. I hated waking up in the morning. I hated answering emails. I hated every single thing about my business. I remember I sat at Starbucks, I kinda hit this low point and I call it my Starbucks experience.
In business you’re always told like dream about, you know where you’re going to be someday. I pictured a corner office and all these things and what we would be building. And I realized that amidst all the busy-ness of business in the dreaming, the one thing I forgot to dream about was my customers and what they should expect out of my business. I thought about how much money I would make, everything and I forgot about the customer. So I call it my Starbucks experience because back then the internet at Starbucks was very bad. So I couldn’t answer my email, I couldn’t do anything. And I sat there with a white piece of paper and I just go, if I could build a company for my customer, what should they expect? That changed everything. I started dreaming and before I knew it then that changed everything about my business. I looked at it, there’s either customer service or there’s customer care. Services is reactive, cares is proactive. Once you find the thing that you do different. Once you find thing though, you’re one, two, maybe three things different than your competition. You double down, double down, double down.
How do you stand out? How do you make your events stand out? How do you make your business stand out?
Let’s break it right down to the event thing. I think today’s events, it’s not about putting on events, it’s about curating pieces that people will talk about. I think it’s about somebody that comes to your event. They go to how many events, how many galas, and they see how many MCs and MC is an MC. They’re all funny. The stage is now in the middle or it’s up front. You know like you can only do so many different things, but I think there are the little touches that make people go, how did they think of that? Like when the speaker says, I want you all at your table, I want you to stand up and shuffle around. Now I don’t want you to just to sit at your table anymore. And actually forces networking. It creates touch points, elbow rubbing moments where now you’re forced to meet people you didn’t come with.
It’s like the flowers. You know how many events, especially if you’re talking about weddings, it’s like “who did those flowers? Who did that?” I think as an event planner, I would want people going “who did that?”. I’d want so many “who did that” moments coming out of my event because that’s what makes people go, I want to go back to their event. It’s not just coming up with something new, but it’s more thought and it makes that needle and thread through your brand and every event feel like it’s the same thing.
It makes me start thinking about how do you create the standout moments in all of the elements of a show?
A great thing that is totally under utilized the events space, cause I get to speak at a lot of events, and one thing I started offering to any place I speak at I say, “Hey, I love it coming into your event to do the keynote for you.” I go in there just like every other speaker. I do the speech for 45 or 50 minutes. And now what I like to say is, “Hey, I love the idea though of your people going back to their people and talking about what I talked about. So for you, I want to offer a webinar. You plan it, it’s going to be an hour long. They can invite anybody they want on it. We’re going to talk about what we talked about that day. And the event’s going to keep going.” Everybody gets pumped about that. 25% of them actually do it. These people already move on to the next thing and then they wonder why their event struggles later.
It’s because they’re not doing the little things that separate them from every other brand.
So the question is how do you set yourself apart from being lazy? I think one of the big things you talk about that I really enjoy and maybe you could go deeper on this is how do you make your yourself stand out as an individual?
I think it’s holding yourself to a standard and going, when people hear my name, what do they think about me? Maybe it’s not all what you want, but I think we can strive for that. My team at CloseSimple, that’s my real estate software, we basically created like a pizza tracker for the home closing process. Before this there was nothing. What’s been really fun is we’re instilling culture now in our people and we’re having them read the Gary Keller book, the guy who founded Keller Williams One Thing. Now my entire team has their one thing. Each person has a different one, which is different than in traction, the rocks that they might be doing. This is my one thing for my job, not for company, but for my job that’s going to push the company forward.
It’s clarifying what your one thing is. If you can only accomplish one thing this week that’s going to actually create momentum for you to do other things, what is that? If I’m going to do an event, what’s the one thing I can do leaving this event? Outside of the typical stuff, there should be a checklist. If I’m going to be exceptional and something that people actually want to be a part of, what’s something additional.
What other books do you love?
I think a great book, just one of the best books of all time. If you’re looking for that next idea, how do you stand out? Made to stick. It’s why do some ideas stick and some don’t. It’s unbelievable. Chip and Dan Heath, brilliant guys. If you want to get the book awesome. I love the book, but this is one of the rare audio books that you listen to and are like, it’s better audio than reading.
Super power: I am amazing if I’m at a conference or business, looking what people wear, sizing them up exactly and knowing like where to shift the conversation based on like what they’re wearing. Often it’s going to start with what they’re wearing, it creates the conversation.
Twitter: The Meeting Minds
How do you create more engagement? How do you sell out a conference? More importantly, how do you get 100% satisfaction ratings? Sheena and Matt from the Institute of Internal Auditors have figured out the formula that works for them and their audience! Listen to this if you’d like to be challenged on how you approach planning your next event!
You have to tell us how did you get started?
Sheena: I’ve been doing this since 1989. I was meeting with my college recruiter. I said I like people, I like to travel I want to apply my business skills and I want to make a lot of money so doesn’t everyone. She sent me on some journeys to interview and she sent me to this association and I just fell in love. At that point it was in their regulatory affairs department and I was responsible for scheduling the congressional visits and managing that whole process. The rest is history. I’ve been in the association environment ever since.
Matt: I started in the hospitality side. I worked for several resorts and all different facets from operations, front office, sales and that’s where I got exposure to working with associations and corporate groups and really loved the events side of the business. I finished my MBA and an opportunity came up with the medical association in Florida with the endocrinologist. I led their readings and events staff for a couple of years. Went to a couple other associations. Then was led back to Orlando with the IIA. So I lead our conferences, events, and sales teams here.
When I tease at the beginning of an episode, how are you going to get higher satisfaction ratings? Everyone’s ears perk up! What do you guys do?
Matt: Coming from MPI, very different environment with meeting planners, hospitality, resorts, suppliers. Our members are really focused around risk management and adding value to organizations and corporations. It’s very different from what one may think of when they think about auditors. So our members span globally, we’ve got over 200,000 around the world. So major footprints. That’s really one of the big things that drew me to come to the organization. This organization has a stellar lineup of conferences. We’ve five large events, a major international conference, and over the last year we sold out three of those major conferences, it’s pretty unheard of.
Sheena: It’s historical for the organization, so that’s exciting. It is kind of a misnomer that when you come here you think, “I’m getting ready to go and deal with a bunch of accountants, so it’s going to be a boring situation.” It really is not that. So internal auditors, to Matt’s point, they are risk management professionals, responsible for assessing the entire risk universe of an organization. Very diverse set of skills are required, which is exciting. So that gives us a bit of a playground when it comes to developing content. We have the opportunity to bring some exciting information, looking at business trends, looking at business environment, and really being in tune and in touch with your audience. I think that’s one of the main things, you really have to understand what is the pain point of the audience that you’re serving? How are you going to bring value to them as a professional, so that when they leave this event, they’re gonna leave feeling fulfilled, inspired, and empowered to go back into their settings and apply those learnings and make the difference in a positive way. When that’s your baseline, then you’re able to build from there.
What are some of those things that you’ve tweaked, because I’m guessing you haven’t always had 100% and you’ve kind of come up to that and you know, what are those things you’ve changed?
Matt: We’ve put a lot more focus now on event technology and what we’re doing to engage attendees, our learning environments, really looking at all of those elements to make it a more interactive and engaging experience for our attendees. So much so that we’ve dedicated a role to event technology and the attendee engagement at a director level. It’s been really great for us. Sheena can talk about a lot more of the initiatives that we’ve enhanced.
Sheena: Looking at the technology component, and how we have been able to apply some of those elements to enhance the experience, by raising the level of production that we engage in our conference programs. So it’s not just the standard audio visual set up. We really try to include some enhancements as some element that’s going to bring some excitement to the program. We have incorporated things like polling and our social Q and a. That has really elevated and increased the level of interactivity. I would say we’re all adult learners, right? As adult learners, when you go to a program, you sit in that room and you know what is your pain point when you’re sitting in that room. You’re sitting in that room and you have a speaker at a podium reading off slides for 60 minutes, that’s a pain point. I don’t know any adult learners who will say, I paid attention all 60 minutes and I got every single thing that I needed to get from that because that’s just not how adults learn. We were very skill based. We were very diverse in our learning. We know that those come with different formats, different learning modalities that you have to include. We put ourselves in the mind of our conference goer, and what their needs are and how we can create an experience that’s going to be much different than just them sitting behind the computer. Because in this age of technology, you can get content any way anyhow in any time. When you attend, it’s about the overall experience.
How do you walk that line between polling and getting it out of the audience without annoying the crap out of them?
Matt: You just have to give them that. If they want to engage that let them, but you don’t make it an annoyance. You don’t overburden them. It’s another channel for people who want to do that. So it’s just all about understanding all the different needs from all your different segments of your audience and being able to make it available if that’s the way they want to engage versus saying everybody, use this to ask questions. I don’t think that’s the right way to approach it.
Sheena: I think you’re absolutely correct, Matt. It’s a delicate balance. Our audiences are known to be introverts. We take that into consideration when we are incorporating all of these engagement activities, understanding that everybody is not going to want to default to that one thing. So you have to create multiple opportunities for that engagement and make sure that people are comfortable with attaching to whichever element or component that you provide.
How do you sell out an event?
Sheena: It’s the experience. You’re going to hear us say that so much because what we have learned is it’s so very important and the experience is everything combined. So it is not just the content, it is the combination of how was registration, what are the social events? Think through each day, what is this person going to experience today from start to finish that going to create something for them that is almost magical that they leave saying, I can’t wait to come back. Peer to peer engagement is going to be important and valuable. What things are you incorporating in your conference that fosters peer to peer engagement. How are you prepping your speakers so that they are more dynamic? How are you incorporating those different elements so that it’s not, when you come to the conference, you don’t feel like it’s robotic.
Matt: I would add from a marketing perspective, it’s definitely that FOMO effect. You need to take your event beyond just the three days or however long it is and carry all of the traction that you’ve got all the way through.
Matt Pet Peeve: When you’re at an event and there’s not a lot of branding, a lot of good signage on where to go. It starts off the whole thing on a bad foot.
Sheena Pet Peeve: Not starting on time. There’s like this domino effect. It just impacts everything else in the course of that day.
Matt Super Power: Staying calm and cool under pressure.
Sheena Super Power: My superpower is my smile. I think that it calms me down and then ultimately it translates out to I’m able to calm you down.
Matt Advice: You’ve gotta be patient with your career growth. I was very ambitious when I started out, wanting to grow very quickly in the industry and you just have to understand that you need to learn as much as you can about all the different facets about the industry. Find a mentor who can guide you to where you want to go with your career.
Sheena: This is a very stressful industry. So you really have to find that balance for yourself in how you are able to manage that stress because it can console you if you don’t find that.
Twitter: The Meeting Minds