Gone are the days when corporate functions were ‘rubber chicken’ affairs with name tags stuck to suit lapels. The demands of today’s business events are complex, the expectations of delegates are high and the stakes for host companies are even higher.
Consider the results of a recent study conducted by MPI (Meetings Professional International). Foundation U.S.: it found that 40 per cent of prospective customers were converted at in-person get-togethers, while 28 per cent of current business would be lost without face-to-face meetings. As these studies indicate, the success or failure of corporate functions can have significant make or break consequences.
That’s why a growing number are calling on event management experts to plan and promote their functions: the planning pros sort out the time-consuming and labour-intensive details while business leaders focus on other priorities. In doing so, businesses are saving valuable time and money, eliminating stress, and, most importantly, helping to guarantee an event to remember.
Atlantic Business Magazine contacted some of the region’s top event planning specialists to share their thoughts on what it takes to create meaningful and impactful events. Their advice? Plan ahead. Promote early. Be creative. Stay within budget. Never lose sight of your goals. Know your delegates. Build relationships. Have fun and treat out-of-town guests to that trademark East Coast welcome.
All these elements contributed to the success of Atlantic Canada House (the region’s Olympic Winter Games pavilion) and Ruckus on the Edge (St. John’s’ Juno Awards pre-show). The two events provided the region with unprecedented opportunities to showcase its cultural vitality, economic diversity and genuine hospitality to national and international audiences of millions.
In addition to the traditional crowd-pleasers, event organizers employed outside-the-box thinking and web-based technologies to create buzz and drive traffic to their doors. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, Atlantic Canada House used press leaks, media tours and even a wrapped city bus that rolled through the streets of Vancouver 24-7 to build hype.
The result? Line-ups that stretched for city blocks; over 2,100 Facebook fans (the highest number, second only to Canada’s Hockey House); and, 500 mainstream and social media hits, including a “gold medal” from the Vancouver Sun. In total, 75,000 people, from all corners of the globe, visited Atlantic Canada House – named one of the top three must-see pavilions at the Games.
“The lesson for us from Atlantic Canada House is one of preparation,” says David MacKenzie, chief executive officer of the Confederation Centre of the Arts and the pavilion’s lead logistics, marketing and entertainment co-coordinator. “When we opened up, the word was already out there that Atlantic Canada House was the place to be.”
That same lesson can be applied to corporate functions, notes MacKenzie who is now back at his usual post, working behind the scenes to ensure events at the Centre go off without a hitch. The Centre is among an impressive range of meeting facilities Atlantic Canada has to offer, with options to suit every meeting style and budget. Often these venues provide on-site catering, audio visual equipment, table and linen rentals as part of all-inclusive packages.
If events are being organized by in-house personnel, the support of municipal offices and tourist bureaus can be enlisted to contract services, line up accommodations, and to coordinate offsite leisure activities.
In St. John’s, Newfoundland, that go-to organization is Destination St. John’s. Its mission, in the words of CEO Keith Healey, is “to get heads on pillows and keep them there as long as we can.” When the Newfoundland and Labrador capital hosted Ruckus on The Edge earlier this year, his team was tapped by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) to put the event’s many pieces in place.
“We put the red carpet out for everyone. We made sure their needs were taken care of. We made sure that things hadn’t fall through the cracks, and that we would be that point of contact for service.” Healey says businesses can expect that same treatment when they hold their events in St. John’s. Ruckus on the Edge contributed to a 10 per cent increase in visitors to St. John’s for the first quarter of 2010.
A recent economic impact study, conducted by the MPI (Meetings Professional International) Foundation Canada, underlines the economic importance of the conference/meetings industry to the nation as a whole. It showed that 69.8-million participants spent $23.8-billion at an estimated 673,400 meetings across Canada in 2008 alone, creating 552,300 full-year jobs and raising $14.2-billion in tax revenues.
Kim George is immediate past president of the Atlantic Chapter of MPI Foundation Canada and founder and owner of Limelight Communications Group, a speaker and entertainment bureau based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. George has worked in the industry for 20 years, 14 of those as manager for Pete Luckett, the gregarious English grocer of Pete’s Frootique fame. She describes the region’s event planning industry as “alive and well” despite last year’s economic downturn. In fact, over the past four years, George’s firm has expanded 40 per cent.
Roberta Dexter took over the reins of the MPI’s Atlantic Canada Chapter from George on July 1. She owns Canada’s first Plan Ahead Events franchise, a full-service event planning firm, located in Halifax. As a former event planner for a large corporation, she knows the challenges of doing event planning “on top of the desk”. The job isn’t getting any easier, either.
The future holds considerable challenges and exceptional opportunities for event planning specialists like Dexter. Increasingly, businesses want their events to be environmentally friendly and socially responsible, with a hybrid of live and virtual meeting formats. They want extra learning and networking opportunities added to the line-ups, web capabilities to do email marketing and registration online and built-in metrics to measure the returns on their investments. And they want a wide range of tourism options included in event schedules.
As the emerging trends of the trade illustrate, it takes a lot more than a glue gun and a flip chart to pull an event together. Still, the results from the convention floor clearly indicate that well planned corporate functions are worth the effort and expense.