Event Profs

S.2 Episode 7 What is the Role of a Visionary?

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.

 

info@amyzaroff.com

amyzaroff.com



S.2 Episode 2: Growing Generosity in Events

You’re using events to create awareness, welcome to the show! Tell us about Matter and what you do.

It’s an organization that was started here in our community by some people in the commercial real estate space. I love the way it started. It started by asking what can we do with our own two hands to serve the world. As successful business people there were people coming to them all the time saying can you support our cause and they said well what do we have that we could use to help others. In their case their answer was unique they had real estate space. They had all these warehouses. At times they were empty at times they were full with tenants. They said how can we leverage that to serve others? They started to adopt this concept they called repurposing corporate surplus.

They took in different items from the community. It started with food, sometimes office equipments, it got quickly into medical equipment. Over the course of the last 18 years the organization has matured and grown into this movement really of people that believe there are a lot of great people that don’t have access to a great life. But we can provide that access to have a great life. We are working primarily in the food space. Of course asking the same questions our founders asked, what does Minnesota have in our community we can export to the world? We have incredible food companies, we also work in the agriculture space, lastly we’re often known in Minneapolis as medical ally. Access to all this medical equipment. We take in millions of dollars of medical equipment that we repurpose all over the world. The last 15 years we’ve worked in over 70 countries around the world. It’s fantastic! Our community is such a generous one. We really become a beneficiary of the equipment and food that we can then repurpose so everybody in the world can have a shot at having a better life.

Everything is new in our hospitals, the equipment is being constantly turned over and I was thinking where does it go?  There are places in the world that would love to have gently used equipment. You guys do that!

Exactly, we live in a competitive hospital environment. Especially in Minnesota. It’s very competitive and we become the beneficiary of that.  This year I was in Congo and walked into a large hospital. Inside the maternity ward there were about 40 women giving birth and there wasn’t one bed in the room. They were all giving birth on the floor, there was blood and fluids all over.  It’s one of those moments where you think to yourself this is not right this is not ok. Here we have a warehouse full of gently used hospital beds. That really becomes our urgency and mission. It’s the right thing to do to give these women beds to give birth on. It’s just the beginning of it. It’s something we have great access to here in Minneapolis. Thankfully we can serve others around the world. I have the best job in the world.  I get to serve people.

How do you choose where you are serving?

It’s a good question. The line is long this list is long of people who would like to partner with us to get this medical equipment.  Really for us it comes down to partnerships. It’s about the relationships you can build with people. Find those shared values, visions, outcomes that meet and align. We look for those partners around the world where we can go hands on face to face. What is the vision you have? Are we the right group to help?  It starts there, once we establish that then it becomes detail work. Figure out what needs to be done.

Getting your hands on stuff is a task on its own, then deploying them is another, it takes time and money.  Something you do a great job with is engaging people in your mission. How are you using events to grow your engagement?

There are two areas I’d like to touch on. I started reading the book the Power of Moments. It’s a very intriguing book. They are making the case that when you reflect on your life there are these moments that stand out. It’s the power of those moments that shape your life moving forward. It forces you to make certain decisions of what you are going to do. It’ impacts where your family will be involved. He has so many cases in the book that he draws to prove this point. I found it helpful and interesting especially for events.

That’s what events become, a powerful moment. At least at Matter that’s what we are hoping to do. We want to create a powerful moment where people consider what’s important to them what do they need to invest in. The two areas for us, in the food area we have a Matter Box. It’s a box of healthy shelf stable food. It’s really a healthy eating starter kit. We collaborate with hospitals in the community and different organizations. The design is to help kids primarily understand what healthy eating looks like. It’s not that confusing or difficult but sometimes if you don’t have a tangible example you don’t know. ‘

We assemble these boxes and our strategy is called companies that matter. We engage corporations in town, and ask them to consider coming with their team and packing these boxes. We create an event. One of the things we’ve said is we want it to be the Disney experience. In that context it’s not oftentimes a big event sometimes it is though. It can be a work team of 10-20 people sometimes up to 100 people. It really becomes a moment for them to consider, I’m getting my hands dirty helping the community and we try to bring beside that what is the meaning you can bring to your community and whole life. Those are opportunities to create an experience for people to have that powerful moment. That’s the one space to grow engagement.

It creates an experience that is memorable and that’s what a lot of non profits or people conducting events struggle with.  You want a take away people can have that is memorable. We are trying to create that. One of the interesting things we came across, we did a large event with General Mills. It became a nation wide experience. Ellen Degeneres got involved with her million acts of good campaign.  What we developed was a movement around this you matter idea. We created these little you matter notes. Every volunteer writes a note of encouragement. It could be as simple as you’re special, keep going. Every volunteer that packs a matter box writes a you matter note. A kid gets that and read that. That became almost more so than the food the inspiration, really that was the moving piece for them. That was a powerful thing that we incorporated into a event, a simple idea that I thought it was a silly idea, but it’s amazing. Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that can be the spark.

One of the events I’d like to mention is an event we created with Cargill called Matterbox Madness.  It’s an opportunity especially this year with us hosting the final four event. We bring companies together, last year we had 30, and they each form a team and get really competitive and compete against each other bracket style to find a champ that is a Matter Box packing champion. It’s a fun opportunity, another principal we employ, people like to have fun. To come together and create something fun.

Another thing we’ve tapped into is the corporate groups are type A personalities and they like to compete. That’s an event that is coming up this spring around the final four tournament. We are going to try to incorporate as many companies as we can.

A lot of people ask the question, when you approach these companies with these ideas, you have to have them flushed out, but at the end of the day, how do I go approach them?

I wish there was a silver bullet for this one or a magical answer. Our development team is always looking for what’s that sneaky magic, I hate to break it to our team and myself, it really is a lot of hard work. Classic networking, getting out, knocking on doors. I would say there are some strategies we use. We work with our board of directors, we have this group of influencers we’ve brought together and ask them who do you know. We ask our board members every quarter that they would make one connection to an influencer in the community for our development team.

People want to have fun and want to feel like they are enjoying themselves, how do you design an event that is fun and entertaining?

That’s the second category I want to reference, it’s the gala events, we have a handful events we do that are more what you’d call traditional gala events. One of the things we looked as is trying to really push on the status quo or how things have always been done. We get in the room and do what we call the fight unite strategy. Let’s get in a room and fight about ideas and then unite on something in the end. We push for outcomes through that strategy. It’s helped us to challenge some things. A lot of galas we go to we see stereotypical things. What happens is it becomes a little mundane. We are always looking for things we can do that are different.

Two years ago we decided to do our gala event at the sun country airline hanger. The owner is a friend and supporter of ours. There were a few things that happened. It allowed us to reduce cost on venue space, it gave a lot of flexibility on what we could do in that space, it allowed us to put the financial resources into a creative outlet. We were able to pull off our most successful event raising over 1 million dollars and everyone that was there was blown away. I don’t think it was that we were magical in our execution or set up, I think it was so many different elements that people were taken back by that.

When you do something like that, tell me the benefits with not dealing with a hotel or traditional hotel.

It’s a great thing to comment on because we took a different approach to it this year. There are cons as well. It’s a lot of work, you are trying to figure things out every time. There are benefits to going to the Rivercentre. It creates a lot of work for our team and the folks we work with. But there are real upsides, for example, we did our Gala at our own warehouse. The venue was free, and then we were able to work with food vendor’s in town. We had 7 different restaurants that agreed to donate. When we went to each of those, they donated an item or a couple of items so it wasn’t a huge burden to each group.  We took our food budget from $55,000 to $0.

So what does that money go to?

It’s a combination, some of that goes to the bottom line then we are able to leverage that for other things. What’s really cool is during the event we announce that! There is a round of applause. There’s an element of stewardship, we have the flexibility to do that, but you can’t do that for every event.

You brought up a really good point. A couple of principles we employ is we are always looking for those win-win situations. Where a company comes, donates, we acknowledge them, they gain business. We win from the financial side and they win as well and feel good about it. We are continuing to look at what are those win-wins. Two of the words we use when starting the planning process are fun and meaningful.

Tell me more about the fun element.

I’ve become a believer in data driven decisions. Data can help. We try to do as comprehensive of a survey as we can to find out what the elements are that people like. It’s nice to get the data and have data to prove people like these elements. That’s one place we start. We do a team debrief and look at those elements. People here in the midwest like other interesting people that come to town outside of Minnesota, celebrities, artists, comedians, whatever that might be. Most people won’t say they do, but the reality is, from our research and surveying, people actually do like it.

How do you tie the meaningful part in while keeping it fun?

One of the constant critiques we get is that the event is too long. I don’t think anybody complained about a short event. I think that’s a challenge for organizations, you have so many things going on and you want to tell them it all in one night. It’s a difficult thing to widdle that message down. That’s an area of growth and opportunity for us. You can kill the fun if you try to get too much information across. Other things get hurt along the way.

When it comes to using these events to get the message across, how much of the program is helping the audience to understand the mission?

We survey the audience to see what works. It’s something we can continue to improve. For us the power of the story is really one of the things we put at the top to drive the meaning. The most effective story is video, you can limit and control what’s being presented and how long. This year was a little bit unusual, we had a gal, a new partner is in Zimbabwe and had all our friends from there come over. One of them, when we got to know her, could tell she had a gift for sharing stories and captivating your interest so we had her before the appeal get up and share a story.  There’s a little risk in that, but she has a true gift to be able to understand the audience and she hit a home run.

Check out Matter

q@matter.ngo

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