Episode Archives

Episode 11: Tricks to Grow Your Events

Interested in growing your events? On today’s episode Amy Zaroff shares her experiences in the events industry and the core values of her business! Today is all about creating your business’ culture through core values to grow events. Check out Amy Zaroff at http://www.amyzaroff.com

How did you get going, what’s your story?
 
I always wanted to be in broadcasting and since 7th grade Ted Koppel from Nightline was my idol.  I thought some day I’m going to go to DC and I’m going to work on Nightline. I never worked for Ted Koppel but I did go to Washington DC.  I went to American University,  became a broadcast journalism major, and I worked for all the different television stations in DC and Minneapolis as well.  Back when I was a high school senior there was a show called Good Company which is now Twin Cities Live. Steve Edelman and Sharon Anderson were the co hosts and Steve was my mentor back when he gave me an internship. When I moved back to Minneapolis I started working for Hubbard Broadcasting and I loved production.
Production in any form is telling a story there’s a distinct beginning, middle, and end. And just like when you’re putting on a great show you have to carry the viewer, the attendee, the listener through the story. So there I was getting really excited.
Then my husband decided when we were twenty-five to open an authentic New York Style Deli restaurant. We had it for seven and a half years and that’s where I got the love of hospitality.  The combination of hospitality and production were what fueled me to get into event production. In 2004 we closed our restaurant and just prior to closing a woman who owned a thirty-two year invitation stationary and gift shop called Give My Regards To, contacted me. She said, are you interested in buying my business. I had no clue how to sell paper or gifts or have a retail space but I knew her customer base was an upper to mid-high clientele and I wanted that clientele. So what I did, I bought the business. I turned it into event planning and design because if they were already coming to buy the invitations I was going to convince them I could throw them a great party. That’s how I got my start.
What are you doing today?
Over the years I started with social events, weddings, bar mitzvahs, general celebrations and as the economy changed, close to 2008, people weren’t buying invitations and stationary as much as they used to, most of it was going online. I’ve always enjoyed being ahead of the trend or whats next. When you’re an entrepreneur you can feel change coming. I decided I was going to bring graphic design in-house, I was going to move away from retail space.  I was going to move into an office and industrial space where events came first, retail was second. In 2008 we made that change and moved to a spot in Edina. In 2010 we were getting ready to change the name of our company so people didn’t think of us as an invitation store.  So I paid someone a lot of money to tell me to change the name of my store to my name. In 2010 Target called and that was a game changer for me. They said, do you do cooperate events and do you do national events. And I had done national weddings and bar mitzvahs but the only corporate  I had done was local.  I said yes. They gave me incredible opportunities all over the country. Once you have Target as brand profitability that’s a good thing. I live by the mantra “all you have is your name”. I would say and they would say we stand behind everything we do.
Is it just you, you do have employees?
I do, I have a great team.  I have a team of 4 full-time employees. At some points its been more sometimes its been less. Right now we have a real sweet spot. We believe fake it till you make it doesn’t cut it. We surround ourselves with wonderful creative partners and our team grows as it has to.
You have a lot of experience, for our listeners out there, what are the things they can do to make their business a better business?
We created a core values document for our company. Our EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) facilitator, Sue Hawks, she encouraged us to put together our core values document and to hire, fire, reward, and review by it. That’s fine and well I know my team prescribes by these values. I have found it much more helpful to share with our creative partners and our up and coming event professionals so they can really understand what it means.
I said earlier all you have is your name, so understanding the value of reputation is one of our key values. Wherever we are in the community, you’re an extension of your brand. You can be in the grocery store and someone may come up to you who recognizes you and may ask, hey did the invitations go out for our event and even if you’re in your sweats on a Sunday in your baseball cap, you have to be on in that moment because you are representing your company.  You are only as good as your last event so that means not only should it look great and be photo worthy but you have to understand what it means to work with your creative partners effectively, respectfully, with integrity all those things.  There have been times where I have lost my temper and I needed my teams and my creative partners to teach me we are all in this together but there’s a better way you can say that! I’ve learned from that.
Exhibiting confidence and expertise in all that we do.  We can’t fake it till we make it.  If you really don’t know something as a company it’s ok to say it.  As long as you say I’m not sure but I will find out for you. It’s fun when you are in a creative business to learn together. You can throw big ideas out there and see what sticks, and when you throw the big ideas out there, you can figure out how to make it work if you have the right people.
Tell us more on exhibit confidence and expertise.
When you feel like you look good, you exude confidence. There’s another thing about being confident and being an expert in something: if I tell you Sheila has the best cupcakes I’ve ever had or heard about, if I only heard about them and never met her, I’m not an expert. I’m giving you hearsay. There are many people that say I hear you’re great or I hear he is great you should use him, the only way we can know that is if we work together, then we become an expert. That’s really important too.
Hirees and partners should have the similar values as you…
Absolutely.  You have to have had the conversation. Networking can seem like a chore and cold calling people to get coffee, but it’s all about the first impression.  I’m a big believer, especially with people who want an informational interview, I’m going to pay more attention to you if you call me over an anonymous email.
You’ll never replace an in person interview.
Absolutely because you feed off their energy, we right here have had so much fun!
Let’s talk about no dropping the ball.
I love no dropping the ball.  Here’s the deal, if I tell you I’m going to get a proposal to you by Wednesday by 3:00, if I get it to you by Wednesday at 2:30 I have exceeded your expectations.  If I get it to you by Wednesday at 3:00 I have met your expectations and if I get it to you by 3:10 I have not done a great job.  I don’t want you to over promise and under deliver as an employee or as a creative partner. When I am on a timeline you are on a timeline as a creative partner.  We have to work together to understand whats up.
When I have the relationship, over the years, there’s an unspoken understanding between me and the vendor, we know how each other works.  When I have a new employee or training somebody they may not know.  I encourage my team to go meet with as many people from that organization as possible so they can have their own shorthand. I don’t want them to go on the merits of the brand but because they have the relationship. So that’s on no dropping the ball and finish what you start.  Fully deliver what you say you are going to deliver.  You will be trusted more in the industry when you do what say you are going to do and you have the integrity and you care. For me this business isn’t just about making money, it’s about creating life’s most memorable experiences.  We really need to think what that means on a much deeper level.
Keep going…
Willing to go the extra mile. I’m a real proponent of being proactive versus reactive and doing something before it’s asked.  That’s not just for my team there’s been so many times where a creative partner has just thrown something in, going the extra mile makes such a difference! If you’re loyal to others they will be loyal to you, because we’re all in this together.
I have been plenty reactive in my career over the years. Where I learned to be proactive, in the restaurant business when you are a server or a host and you see someone’s eyes come up from the table or from whom they are speaking with you know that even if they don’t raise their hand to say excuse me, they must be needing something or they’re about to ask for something. That’s when you take that proactive mentality and go and say “is there something I can help you with.”  I think that’s important.  This is a really easy skill, you have to pay attention.
I want to talk about being truthful, accountable, and no blame, if you do something wrong or you made a mistake just own it.  I’m the biggest proponent of this because I make a ton of mistakes and I have to own them. I have to apologize when I should and learn from it and move on. There are so many people from my business who have left the company and started their own business’. I do not see that as a problem I see it as a wonderful success story.  Many are female entrepreneurs so I’m excited about that. It’s exciting to teach someone and watch them go.
The last two points are be able to handle the intensity of all situations.  Sometimes with intense type A personalities passion can come across as disrespect. That is not to sugarcoat that if you’re being a jerk you’re being a jerk.  If you really are feeling it, it’s not only you feeling it, but your team too. If you can’t handle the intensity of all situations the event industry may not be for you.
And lastly for our company, we live by insanely high standards.  If there is a seam in a back drop we are using that’s not going to photograph well and we can’t have the seam. The fabricator may say you have to have a seam, well guess what we are going to seal the seam, make it look good, no one is going to know the seam ever existed. Those details matter, we are in the business of details. If you expect great things, great things should and can happen.
What do you tell someone who’s listening who’s thinking I don’t like intense situations, any tips?
It’s important to note it’s never personal. It’s not a personal attack on you the person, it’s the concern about the event in the moment. If you can understand that you are part of a larger mechanism to make something great for someone else and that you’re part of building an experience then you’ll go about it as exciting work. It’s not that I would say don’t join the business if you can’t handle intensity but it is a million miles a minute. There is an innate characteristic of someone in the event industry.  They don’t care about being on their feet 16 hours at a time, they don’t care they may miss breakfast, lunch, and dinner and have to go through the Burger King drive-thru at midnight.  There’s a whole bunch of things.  It’s not a sexy business.
How do people develop core values for their own business?
Every organization has either a mission statement or a value system which is why you’ve been attracted to work for that company. As a leader, a planner, or a designer or anything what matters to you and what value can you add to the company. What can you bring to the table, what can others bring to the table, and where do you see common ground.  Start with 3-5 things, what makes you tick in your business, share that, you’ll find it will resonate with the rest of the team and spark conversation.
How do I deal with team members that don’t line with the core values?
That’s a great question the book you mentioned by Gino Wickman called Traction, talks about there being a visionary in an organization, an integrator, and the leadership. One of the tools he puts forth is putting the right person in the right seat. If you don’t align with the majority of the core values and you’ve been reviewed by your leaders on whether or not you align you may be the wrong person.
It’s important to show these in the interview process.  That will allow the person being interviewed to say do I fit?
What about someone on your team not adopting the core values?
As far as buying in, you lead by example. If the culture is such that everyone is following these values it’s going to just be.  If you don’t subscribe to them you’re going to feel like an outsider. The mechanism that’s in place through the EOS, with this people analyzer it’s part of the review process.  If you follow along with EOS and do what you’re supposed to do it does work. If you’re hiring, firing, reviewing, and rewarding by the document it will work.  You have to be sure every 90 days, if you tend to have new hires, that you are referring back to it. And I would ask the question to that person, how do you feel about how these core values are resonating with you after being here 90 days?
What about making sure your customers are a good fit?
It’s on my website. These core values are on the website for a reason. I want people to know.  If you read this you know there’s no BS, she really means this. Showing who you are and what you stand for speaks for itself, there are times you aren’t the right fit.  Sometimes you have to divorce yourself of a client or the client of you. Fortunately that hasn’t happened in a long, long, long time.  It did happen in the beginning of my career on both sides. I was just learning what I was doing, I was getting my feet wet. I owned an invitation store that happened to do parties, that was over a decade ago. When it does happen, be honest and say we may not be the best fit for you and suggest someone who may be.  That doesn’t mean you think less of the person you’re referring it means you know their core capabilities and they really would be a good fit.  That’s trust.
What other pieces of advice for the early on entrepreneurs?
Education, our community has many great organizations that people can be apart of.  They can be apart of ILEA (International Live Events Association) the wedding community, the audio-visual community. Getting your face out there and meeting as many people as you can, informationally interviewing with people as much as possible.  I see a ton of young women in the wedding space popping up because they’ve either attended an event, helped their sister plan her wedding, or really feel like they are very organized and can handle multiple tasks simultaneously. That does not make a great event planner.  What makes a great event planner is the knowledge of function and form coming together seamlessly and if you don’t truly know what that means get out there and start asking people.
I love meeting with the newbies.  I do not want to do wedding planning.  I will tell you all the tricks I know to make you a great wedding planner, I’ll happily tell you.  Go out meeting, learning, getting educated, follow people on social media. You have to get out there see and be seen in the early days especially.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t later in your career as well, you have to stay relevant.
You can reach Amy Zaroff on social media as @amyzaroff
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S. 1 Episode 10: Raise More By Spending More

Hear about the story of Goodwill, why your giving matters, and how you can take what they’ve learned and use it to impact your event. Shannon from Goodwill joins us in the studio.

Shannon, the director of Philanthropy.

What is goodwill, what is easter seals?

For goodwill, we are a member of goodwill international incorporated , across the whole world. For easter seals we are an affiliate. The difference is GW, most people know us through our stores, we collect your stuff and sell it for revenue. The original model was started by Edgar, he went around to wealthy people and knocked on their doors and asked if they had old broken stuff. He took people that were poor in his church and taught them how to fix it for revenue. He used the revenue to help lift them out of poverty, that is still our model, we don’t do the fixing stuff anymore. Our CEO likes to say if you’ve been to one goodwill you’ve been to goodwill. Ours might me different from those across the nation but still the same concept. 

Is it a division of the national, funded by or connected?

Being a member you do get some support through GW, mostly through the retail stores. We get some marketing support, you’ve probably heard our ads, “Take me to Goodwill”. 

Before envelopes were self-sealing, you had to seal them, so Easter Seals started by sending those so they could seal the envelope so people would know they gave to ES. It was the first marketing campaign in a way. They do a lot of advocacy work around vets, people with autism, and people with disabilities. 

Tell us about what you do?

GW is an interesting organization. We have this massive retail side that people are familiar with. People are confused why we are collecting donations. 

Before we started recording we talked about the investment in the event.

This was our 12th year of our event.  When it started it was the idea of friend-raiser. Sometimes people take that idea and forget about the fund. You have to tell the people to come and bring your wallets. It’s ok to say we are having a fundraiser and expect you to bring people that will bring money. When they first started they didn’t really identify what this event was going to be. Kind of staff appreciation, kind of inviting partners and they didn’t make an ask, just hoped people might want to give.  That never works. Hope is never a strategy!  After a few years people felt more comfortable with it being a fundraiser. About three years ago was the first time we put on the invitation signature fundraiser event. 

We are seeing a lot of changes in the non profit fundraisers, what is the mentality you are using when approaching the growth, how are you keeping your mindset in tune with the investing and growth?

You have to know what you’re telling them that you can back it up. What we did was hiring an outside agency to do some donor focus groups. We knew what they were looking for.

  1. Education
  2. Mission connection
  3. Community

We have three events and know the three important things and each event focuses on each one.  This event is the mission event, everything is mission focused and we don’t need to muddy the water with the other things. I can go to leadership and say this is what we know about our audience. 

www.gesmn.org

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S.1 Episode 9: How to have Social Influencers Grow Your Event

On this episode we hear from Shinjini Das, a public speaker, author, and influencer! Shinjini shares about what being a Go-Getter means and what her mission is. She is funny, smart, and drops so much knowledge, we can’t wait for you to hear it for yourselves!

Tell us all about you.

Taking a step back, I am a speaker. Speaking is a versatile skill and would become more than I thought. I got discovered in the media. In 2015 this publicist’s friend saw me on twitter and that’s when I had 200 followers. She said you need a publicist and that kick started everything. It’s been exactly three years for me in the media.

What is bringing more intellect into the media?

This is intellect everywhere. Event is a media, media is everything. It is the medium of communication today.  I honestly think most of the content we consume today is not that smart. Even if it’s not smart, if you make an informed point, I’m still going to listen to you. Many times it’s not smart or informed. That bugged me for a while. I’m trying to make the media positive, diverse, informed. And how can we use it to empower kids? 

There’s no walls or fences around putting digital media and it’s infiltrated the events world. Where do you see the social/digital media impacting live events?

This is something I am incredibly passionate about. I think about it on a very deep basis. I am doing my own events, I think we are already seeing marketers see the value of live event marketing.  Events are experiential. Personalization is a new thing. I comment and reply to all my comments. People want to feel heard and that they have a unique experience to them. Personalizing engagement is huge. Inclusion is another thing. We are not just personalizing so they feel engaged but we are also including everyone. 

When you’re talking to meeting planners, as an influencer, how do go about attending and promoting their events?

I have a very unique perspective. I am an influencer but also an event planner and a future conference organizer. I am able to see both sides of the puzzle. As an influencer we are looking for an authentic connection to the brand. Is this something I use or is this something that feels fake? Are your followers transferable? If they are not why are you doing this?

How does an influencer charge for their services?

You’re not seeing regulations, they are imposing standards. Earlier you could say I’m partnering with ____ and say it is great but now the FTC is sending out orders to people and influencers to tell them to comply with the FTC social media policies. It’s interesting because I was not big enough last year to get this. It’s interesting as I’ve grown and coming into it more, I have a much deeper understanding and view.  Now we are seeing intermediary platforms, mostly all digital. A platform I am is on is invite only, brands post opportunities and it’s personalized. They check out my channels and profile and send me personalized invites. 

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Episode 6: Producing Work with a Purpose

Talonya Geary is part of the Tony Robbins organization, an author, and an entrepreneur! She is talking all about what it means and looks life to live on purpose, her new book, and what question you need to be asking yourself.

 

TELL US ABOUT THE THINGS YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT HOW TO LIVE ON PURPOSE  AND HOW DO YOU DO THAT EVERY DAY?

I love that you are asking that question! It is so important. When I first started speaking in 2012, I spoke about hard skills with a soft skill twist, like negotiating tactics and communication, but over the last 5 years I’ve gone through my own transformation and realized those things are great but I was looking for something with meaning. I wanted to know the “why.” I think people are asking that question now more than ever. I don’t think they were asking it to the degree and frequency we are asking it now, but now if you aren’t asking “why am I doing ______,” you are kind of asleep at the wheel! Some people don’t even know they are asleep so hopefully this wakes them up!

HOW DO YOU WAKE UP EVERYDAY AND FIND PURPOSE IN WHAT YOU ARE DOING?

The distinction to make here is that it is a daily practice. My analogy is this, and maybe it’s just me, but I thought living on purpose meant you get hit by some meteor and the meteor gives you your purpose. I feel like people are waiting to get hit by that meteor! If you know what your purpose is and your waking up everyday and chasing that, then some people are like, “where’s my meteor? It hasn’t hit me yet.” Instead of realizing that you have to make the choice every single day to live on purpose. I’ll give you an example of someone that lives physically on purpose. So you have someone that has a really good body and is really healthy. Well that person has to choose every day, several times throughout a day, to live with a body on purpose. Meaning, drinking water over soda, working out instead of sleeping in, etc. They have to make that choice at every crossroad. Same thing goes for living on purpose. I wake up every day and I write in my notebook. I have 6 principles I answer every day. Those 6 principles can be found in my book. I make the choice every day to live by those 6 principles and rewrite them every day. Or if I find one that doesn’t serve me anymore, I update it and I check in with it. For me, living on purpose is a choice. It is something you do everyday and it is something that is within everyones reach.

SO YOU ARE WAKING UP EVERY DAY AND DOING MENTAL EXERCISES, IN A WAY, RIGHT?

Yeah I do a spiritual exercise too, but I have done this for so long that I think this way. People ask me what my secret is and the secret is that I wake up everyday and I go do. Consistency. Every single day. And because of that there are some days that I have less time, say 3-5 minutes, to do this practice but I’ve conditioned myself, this is my life style, so I think this way.

HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU ARE DOING THE RIGHT CAREER? SOMETIMES WHEN YOU ARE NEW IN YOUR CAREER YOU STOP AND WONDER IF YOU ARE DOING WHAT YOU ARE CALLED TO DO, HOW ARE THEY TO KNOW? ANY GOOD INSIGHT ON THAT?

For me, the end game is “how quickly do I get to serving others?” I think the end game should always be “what is it going to take for you to get to where you’re living a life of contribution?” And if you are working and your life is all about you and how much money you are making, you are going to be addicted to yourself and that is a quick road to disappointment.

To me, I share this in my book, living on purpose meant starting to change the question to, “how can I serve somebody else, a community, an industry?” And there were days I had nothing to give and I still asked that question. By nothing to give I mean I had nothing. I was a mess. I still forced myself to ask that question. How can I stop obsessing over myself and instead serve and give to something other than myself. At one of my businesses we do corporate talent development and I always tell people, “you have to focus on getting to where you’re living life at a level of mastery” and I learned that from Tony. Then, they always ask me what that means because it seems so out of reach, but when you are living at a level of mastery it means your cup is running over. You now have enough that you can pass onto others. I guarantee everyone has reached a level of mastery somewhere in their life.

LET’S TALK ABOUT PEOPLE THAT KNOW THEY ARE DOING WHAT THE LOVE, BUT THEY DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION. HOW DO YOU KNOW IF THE ORGANIZATION OR COMPANY YOU WORK FOR IS REALLY DOING THAT FOR OTHERS AND THAT YOU CAN GET BEHIND THEIR MISSION?

I used to do consulting for companies in helping them design their strategic plans. It was interesting that all these entrepreneurs and great businesses had no strategic plan. To them a strategic plan, especially entrepreneurs, think a strategic plan is for a Fortune 500 company. It’s not. It’s a set of guiding principles that guides that organization every single day to reach goals that then get replaced by new goals. For those that have completed a strategic plan, the second phase (or third depending on what model you follow) is always about values and beliefs. What do we value and believe as an organization, as an industry, and as a culture? A lot of people aren’t fulfilled because their values and beliefs individually are in complete conflict with their organization or industry.

HOW DO YOU MAKE AN EVENT THAT SERVES OTHER PEOPLE? AT YOUR TONY ROBBINS EVENTS, HOW DO YOU DO IT WHERE YOU ARE SERVING OTHER PEOPLE AND THEY ARE THE ONES WALKING AWAY WITH THE WIN?

Well if you’ve ever been to a Tony Robbins event you will hear this question, “How do I add more value to them than anyone else?” Tony’s guiding principle is 100% about serving. I know Tony on stage and behind stage and his guiding question is the same. He is all about adding value to every body at every time no matter what.

HOW DO YOU CRAFT AN EVENT THAT SERVES THE AUDIENCE WELL BEYOND THE VALUE THEY PAY FOR?

We are asking that question, first of all. We ask that question when marketing, when selecting music, etc. I always relate it to: integrity. How do I infuse so much integrity into this experience that it leaves everyone shocked. We don’t skimp on anything. We want every person to feel the integrity, from the moment they open an email to the moment they leave the door.

SO IT SOUNDS LIKE COST IS KIND OF AN AFTER THOUGHT? IT’S MORE ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE.

It’s about the why. If you’ve heard Tony speak at some past staff events he talks about how he used to have 12 day events where he was basically paying for people to go through transformation. But those years after years of him paying to keep integrity is the reason why this man makes millions of dollars.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR BOOK. WHAT LED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?

The book for me is 100$ my purpose right now. It is called “#goDo: How to Live on Purpose” The title comes from a song called “Go Do” by an Icelandic artist, Jónsi. The book is in three parts. One-third my personal story and how I’ve overcome horrible tragedy, like my brother’s suicide. It’s also what I’ve learned in the past 10 years and how you can implement that. Basically, it’s a 6 step daily goal setting exercise. The third part of the book is the data and research behind the 6 steps. I didn’t set out to write a book, I set out to get my life together. Like I said earlier, 5 years ago I was egocentric, now as I wrap up the book I am proud of it because it finally has a real person behind it. At the end of the day, the book is not about me, it is about contributing and serving others.

WHEN IS IT AVAILABLE?

Great question! You can preorder the book now. Go to talonyageary.com/preorder and you will get an autographed copy shipped right to you. It hits the streets, bookstores, and Amazon on August 23rd! If you want a sample of it, text Go Do to 345345 and that’ll send a preface of the book, a bit about me, some testimonials from some very influential people, etc.

Look up Unleash the Power Within for everything with Tony Robbins! To talk to Talonya, email her at talonya@talonyageary.com!

 

 

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Episode 7: Next Level Fundraising with Children’s Cancer Research Fund

Jim Leighton, VP of Events and Partnerships, and HaiVy Thompson, Director of Marketing and Community Engagement from Children’s Cancer Research Fund, join us today to share how they are changing the game of fundraising! In this episode you will learn what makes an event an experience, how to tell a story, and a special premier of CCRF’s big announcement!

 

HOW ARE YOU KEEPING THE DRIVE TO ALWAYS PUSH THE NEEDLE? HOW DO YOU GUYS KEEP IN THE MINDSET OF TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL?

One of the key things is that we put it into our value statement. One of our values as an organization is innovation. Our team and all of our partners, they know that. We are not afraid to innovate. Personally, I get bored. I don’t want to do the same thing every year. We have the great opportunity to create and play a little bit. Because we are in the non-profit space, we know we have to be cost-effective and money does matter. But you never know where the best next thing is going to come from! We have to diversify. Our event can’t just stay in the ballroom, so we play in the digital and virtual space. Innovation is at our core.

Also, we get so energized by our donors, our fundraisers, the kids, and the families we work with. We get so much inspiration from them to keep pushing ourselves year after year.

WHEN YOU START CRAFTING NEXT YEAR’S EVENT, HOW DO YOU WEAVE IN THE CAUSE INTO THE AUDIENCE’S EXPERIENCE?

We start by thinking about what are some compelling stories that are happening with our families right now. We get so much inspiration from the things they are dealing with in their cancer journey. Even when the journey is complete and they are living post-cancer, there are a lot of challenges that come with that. We stay close with our families and we learn a lot from them. Then, we talk to our researchers and ask them what they are doing, what they are excited about, and what is new and different that donors might really enjoy hearing about. We take that and start there. Then, with all the event components, we ask how can we weave that into each and every moment whether that be a gala or a walk/run.

Impact in our world is challenging to show. Impact takes a long time. Research takes a long time. One of the things at CCRF we pride ourselves on is the time from bench to bedside. Because we focus on certain research we have had some situations where that has been greatly shortened and then we can tell that great story! In research it can be decades before we get to clinical trials. So instead of asking people to give money now and see their result in 30 years, we focus on those things that have had a greater impact in a shorter amount of time. We build those relationships with the researchers to share those stories.

ONE THING YOU ARE VERY WELL KNOWN FOR IS CREATING AN AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE LIKE NOTHING ELSE. SO COULD YOU TALK US THROUGH YOUR MENTALITY. HOW DO YOU MAKE THE EVENT SO SPECIAL FOR THE AUDIENCE?

Thank you so much. We think about all of the ways people are engaging. All of the senses. The one we haven’t figured out is smell, but we will get it.

In 2007 we had a mom share her story and it was so impactful (tune in to hear the story!). That was the moment in my career that I said, “Authentic storytelling. How can we continue to tell these stories?” And then we started assembling a team. So now with HaiVy and her marketing team, our partners (who are so important because we need people to amplify that story and craft it) we really put stories and mission at the forefront of every event.

A few years ago, we took the guests on an experience that the children go through. So going back to the five senses, we wanted people to experience an MRI, because that is something a lot of the kids have to go through and it is really scary for them. You have to lay really still and go through this dark tunnel. So we worked with you guys, EideCom, to really build the sound for that and we dimmed the lights and we got people to experience what an MRI feels like to signify how challenging the journey is for families, and kids especially, and that their support makes it possible so that this doesn’t have to happen in the future. That was really cool because it involved all the senses. We want to give the guests something truly memorable that they can share with their families and friends tomorrow.

We can’t do any of this without our partners. You need to have partners you can trust. Like you guys, EideCom, were so onboard with our MRI idea and you made it possible. There was a lot of things that could have gone wrong!

THERE IS SOMETHING REALLY POWERFUL ABOUT KEEPING UP WITH EVENTS, LIKE WHAT YOU DID WITH THAT MOTHER SHARING HER STORY. HOW DO YOU GUYS STAY UP WITH ALL THE STUFF THAT’S GOING ON AND FIGURE OUT WHAT IS RELEVANT TO YOUR CAUSE?

It’s about relationships. Great relationships with the researchers. Then, collaborations. We have a great collaboration with a group of moms called Momcology. This group is made up of 6,000 women across the country that have the unfortunate common ground of having a child with cancer. We have people on our team involved with that, listening to what is going on. The first thing in sharing a great story is that you have to listen. Then, we think how can we effectively share that story. One thing we are being more cognizant of is utilizing digital and social media, figuring out how we can tell these stories before we get into the ballroom and how do we continue the conversation after they leave the ballroom?

The other thing to add is that we have invested resources into relationships and listening. You can’t just go out and find a great story. You have to have relationships with families, researchers, caretakers, and then those stories bubble up over time. So that is the number one thing I recommend a lot of marketing teams to do, invest in an outreach person.

HAVE YOU GUYS EVER GONE BACK AND RETOLD A STORY, LIKE WITH AN UPDATE?

Definitely! One that we have retold and has new chapters to expound on is Mindy. Her son, Connor, has a brain tumor and she now works for us, but in the mid 2000s we featured her story at Dawn of a Dream and a few other marketing places. Connor was a baby at that point and had a few treatments for his cancer already. Then, a decade later things started to change. The after effects of all the treatments cause him to start having seizures. And for the past ten years his family was thinking they had conquered the cancer and they would be fine, and all of sudden the reality hits again. We shared that story.

WHEN YOU SAY FOCUS ON THE THINGS YOU NEED TO CHANGE, BUT DON’T CHANGE EVERYTHING, WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

This is about guest experience, not necessarily story telling. We look at everything about the event afterwards and we see what worked, what should be tweaked, and what didn’t go well. So for us, we will always have a live auction because it works. We really want to focus on the things that will have to most impact because again we don’t have a lot of money. Some organizations like to do things new every year and go to a new venue every year. And for us, well next year we are going to a new venue, but it has been 15 years at the same place! To us it is important to have consistency with our partners so you can make those impactful changes. One thing we try to change-up is how we tell the story. So not just through video, but through live interviews, live talent, etc. We try to switch it up so you have a variable of experiences throughout the night. We have found that in person story telling is something magical. The thing about focusing on the things that work, know who your audience is. It doesn’t matter if we are bored. Just because we might be bored with it, doesn’t mean our audience is!

We also think about the morning after. I call it “the Caribou experience.” I want someone who has attend our gala for the first time to talk about the event they were at last night when they go to the coffee shop the next morning. If they say, “I was at a great event last night,” that’s good but I’m sure they say that about a lot of events. I want them to explode with passion. So we really think about what we want that Caribou conversation to be when we are crafting the message and planning the event. If all they can recall is the dinner and drinks and not the actual message, we had them there as a guest, not a donor.

Awareness and story telling is all a way to get funds raised. Raising as much money as we can is the key to all of this. Experience matters to fundraising, so when we have a new team member or partner I talk about the guest walking into the room. Say that guest has $500 in their pocket. Every time they have a bad experience, like valet takes too long, there goes a $100. So we don’t play games like that. It takes the whole team to be involved in making every experience matter. Registration has everything to do with revenue. All the little things combine to make a major difference.

LET’S TALK ABOUT DOING YOUR HOMEWORK ON WHO IS IN THE ROOM.

In gala situations, talk to your table hosts. Who is it they are bringing? We are working on personas of our gala guests. There are a few assumptions we make, like they are from the Twin Cities or the west metro and they probably go to a gala a month. So we need to step up our game. But what excites them? What are the types of things that they want to do? This is a group of people who, for the most part, can buy what they want. But maybe they weren’t thinking of going on a trip to Australia, but trips sell! There is a lot of talk about balance, like there has to be something for the sports person or this or that, but for us we know trips are going to do well. So I’m not going to put in a Nascar experience, because there might only be one or two people in the room that care about that.

TELL US MORE ABOUT TRIPS.

We know about our demographic. They like first class. If you don’t include it, they will probably upgrade anyways but be crabby about it. So it’s all about knowing your audience. If we were doing an event at a school or a smaller event, we wouldn’t do luxury trips. Also, it’s about collaboration like we said. We have an amazing partnership with a luxury travel company, Travel Beyond. Since 2010 we’ve been working with them to curate these trips. We trust them and they are excited about what we are doing. We sit down with them and they tell us what is hot and trending. They also do such a great job at selling the trip that night. They come up with the description, they will speak about it, they truly work with us in our event.

A LOT OF NEW PLANNERS ASK, “HOW MUCH DO WE NEED TO RAISE THE NIGHT OF AND HOW MUCH  SHOULD WE RAISE BEFORE THE EVENT?” CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?

This is something I’ve grown on. Raise the money before you get in the room. You don’t know what is going to happen that night. We raise the most money through our Fund a Need, a direct ask. So as a fundraiser and human, that makes me feel really good, because the donors are not getting anything out of it. These people are giving purely philanthropical. But that doesn’t happen without us doing our homework and building relationships and asking for that money. We can try to control the experience and event, but we can’t control the weather. So what if we had an event on a snow storm and people didn’t show up? You have to build your relationships and get as much money raised as possible beforehand.

I would say we raise more than half of our goal beforehand. Our live auction does do really well but we know some people like to donate privately. We are very conscientious about that. We have a rule with our auctioneer, never call out a person’s name. We want to give recognition, but not too much.

TELL ME ABOUT THE NEED TO VARY YOUR OVERALL FUNDRAISING PORTFOLIO?

So this is more than just what’s happening with the gala. As an organization, we are getting about 50% of our revenue from partnerships and events. So it can’t just be the gala. One of the biggest things we did is we invested in this peer-to-peer fundraising. That is a whole different fundraising conversation. It is not about logistics or people in the room, it is about where we are with fundraising. We created an opportunity for people to not have to be in the ballroom. It is the Great Cycle Challenge. They ride their bike anytime in the month of June and they set their mileage and fundraising goal. We engage volunteers to fundraise for us all over the country. This started in 2015, and in the first year we raised 1.7 million dollars. It is extremely effective and it allows us to play and be a little more creative on the other events. It is all possible because of digital! We leverage Facebook and social media. 10 years ago this would not have been possible. It is really cool to be able to take advantage of the new audiences. We get to expose ourselves and give other people the chance to know us all over the country, which is really cool.

The funds are raised all digitally. For scope, the first year we raised that 1.7M and this last year we were at 6.8M. We had 50,000 people participating and of that 15,000 fundraised. We couldn’t employ 15,000 people across the country, so we are now engaging volunteer fundraisers to do the work we couldn’t do. As an organization we pay attention the trends. Our legacy is the gala, we started as a gala, and could easily be a nice organization that does really great events here in the Twin Cities, but the trends led us to opportunities else where. We are now a national event organization. That was four years ago and now we are asking, “Now what? What’s next?”

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE OVERALL EVENT EXPERIENCE, GALA OR NOT. HOW ARE YOU TAKING THE GUESTS ON A JOURNEY?

From the moment they get invited to the event, we want the experience to start there. For us it is a lot of careful planning and making sure it is authentic to our brand. So before the invitation even arrives, they are hearing from us via email or social media or whatever. We want to make sure that when that invite arrives it is consistent to what they have been hearing from us throughout the year. So that to us is the most important thing. We want to set the tone for what they will be experiencing. That is something we want to build on for our next gala. How can we get people really excited? We want to set the theme. Right away there needs to be a key message. When they walk into the room that night or pull up to the valet, we don’t want them to be surprised. We want them to be delighted, not shocked that they walked into this thing they weren’t expecting. So it starts long before they purchase a ticket.

Once they are in the room, it is utilizing decor in different ways to lead them on that journey. We have been partners with BeEvents for years and they know how to create a space authentic to what we are looking for. They create focal points, not just little things all over. Sometimes it is using the stories to fill the room with decor. Some years we’ve had like an art gallery of children’s faces. We’ve turned technical problems into an art installation. It is really important we have great partners out there doing amazing things because they bring back new ideas to us! We do a good job of asking our partners to do that. We don’t have a laundry list of what we need. We like to empower them and give them creative freedom, because they are the experts, not us.

WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?

This all started a little while ago, and it started as a resource conversation. We ask a lot of our marketing team and donor services, so we were looking at our calendars to see what we could move around so they weren’t feeling such a crunch. We want to allow the marketing team to have the time to do everything well. So I was trying to figure out what we completely control, because we do a lot of partnership events that we don’t have full control over, like golf tournaments, radio shows, etc. And the thing that came to mind was the gala. We decided to move the gala from November, which it has been for 15-20 years, to the spring. This can be a bit risky, because it is a more competitive season, but makes more sense for us and our resources. Then, we though about our venue. We have been at The Depot for a long time, it’s great and we love it! But we heard of this great new venue that people are really excited about and we wanted to be part of it, so we started the conversation with The Armory. So I went to the space and I realized it might not really work for all the things we usually do, because it is more of a concert space. So I thought maybe it’s time for some national entertainment. I went to The Armory with the idea of doing dinner and then a concert, and they weren’t really onboard. A few weeks later we were talking and they brought up the idea! It was great. We started talking about it and I realized I had no idea how we were going to do it, because we are bringing in now two different groups of people. We have our core audience that will attend the dinner, but then we want to bring in up to 5,000 other people for the concert! We now have the former producers of Macy’s Glamorama that are working with us to produce this! We feel comfortable with them and their experience.

We are so excited, because our audience for the gala is getting younger. We see younger people in the room and in the analytics. We wanted to be able to build a new experience to match the new generation of donors and attract new people. I believe this plan that we have is going to help us achieve those goals.

The last part of our transformation was the name. Does Dawn of a Dream still make sense? So the team got together and brainstormed. We realized there are a lot of hurdles and sensitivities we have to be aware of with changing the name, but at the end of the day we are producing a new event. So on Saturday, April 27th, at The Armory you will see the debut of Dream.

HOW DO PEOPLE FIND OUT MORE ABOUT IT?

We still have the website, dawnofadream.com, which would be the place to go. We will be announcing talent around December or January. It’s challenging because we are a non-profit producing this concert so we have to get the right price. Cost per dollar raised is the key we go by. We do have a dream team put together that have good connections though! So be on the lookout for that.

This is an event you will not want to miss! Check out dawnofadream.com for more info and childrenscancer.org for more about Children’s Cancer Research Fund.

 

Meeting Minds by EideCom