In September of this year a major product launch took place at a huge warehouse at the restored Brooklyn Navy Yard. The corporate host hired water taxis to shuttle guests from Manhattan’s Battery Park to the venue, wait staff passed through the space with drinks and miniature crab cakes, and a top company official gave a speech to the media and invited guests. The new products (three models of a particular automobile) were rolled into the building, and then noted musician Lenny Kravitz performed for the attendees.
Unfortunately, for the Volkswagen meeting planners involved in organizing this event, the news about the company’s diesel emission scandal broke just a few days before the 2016 Passat launch but months after the Navy Yard warehouse was booked, invitations sent, water taxis ordered, food purchased and Lenny Kravitz’s appearance booking confirmed. Media stories about the Passat launch said that the entertainment (Kravitz) was so good it saved the event from being an even more embarrassing disaster.
Although it is rare when corporate meeting planners have to follow through with major media and VIP events so soon after negative news of this magnitude, it is an example of how fabulous, over-the-top entertainment can overcome the most difficult of situations.
Booking celebrities for private concerts at corporate events has always been popular, but these days most event participants are looking for something different. Although they still love seeing celebrities, they certainly wouldn’t mind some culture or education thrown into the mix, or perhaps becoming more involved in the musical acts, rather than standing in one spot moving their hips to the beat.
Because of positive feedback from meeting and incentive participants whenever elaborate and creative event entertainment is provided at one of her events, Kelsey Anderson, CMP, events manager for Minneapolis-based John Wiley & Sons, is now trying to match the entertainment with the region the venue is located in.
“In the past we never spent a lot of our budget on entertainment, but in the last few years I’ve noticed that attendees have come to expect bigger and more energizing entertainment concepts. I started seeking out local entertainment that would be original and provide a sense of place.”
— Kelsey Anderson
“I do about 85 events a year, including corporate meetings, conferences and incentive trips,” says Anderson. “In the past we never spent a lot of our budget on entertainment, but in the last few years I’ve noticed that attendees have come to expect bigger and more energizing entertainment concepts. I started seeking out local entertainment that would be original and provide a sense of place.
“In June 2014, I organized an event in New Orleans at the JW Marriott French Quarter and hired a local group called Jazz It Up to appear at our closing session,” Anderson explains. “My meeting and conference groups like to combine educational speakers with music, so after talking with this New Orleans band before the conference, we asked our attendees to write lyrics about their just-concluded multiday business meeting, and the band then used the lyrics in a song they sang onsite. It was so energizing and entertaining for all those who attended the conference!”
In October, during a small incentive trip to Sonoma County, California, Anderson brought several local sommeliers to the hotel for an educational (and fun-filled) wine-tasting event, and in June 2016, she will again match the entertainment with the local culture.
“We are going to the Loews Vanderbilt property in Nashville and plan to bring in a keynote speaker who is also a Nashville-based singer/songwriter. This should be a great experience for our meeting participants. The attendees at the meetings and conferences we plan want to have an educational component, as well as a great time. We tend to receive even more positive feedback when we incorporate entertainment, themes and various other event aspects unique to the location of our event,” says Anderson.
Thinking outside the box regarding entertainment options is something that Ariana Gordon Stecker and her staff have been doing for the past several years at Save the Date, a New York City-based event planning firm. “Two entertainment events we are booking now for our corporate client holiday parties or employee incentive meetings include the new 3-D custom headphone printing technique developed by a company called NRML (Normal), where attendees watch or participate in designing their own personal headphones and then pick them up at a store afterwards.
“We are also doing a Tao (NYC restaurant) Experience, with a kitchen tour, and sushi and saké tasting at both Tao downtown and midtown locations,” says Stecker. “We are also looking at graffiti artists for social events and nonprofits, using New York City venues like Gotham Hall and Cipriani.
“Using celebrities at various events has always been a big plus for attendees, but these days you also try to match the interests of the group and the venue style, and choose celebs that deliver a great personal experience,” says Stecker. “At last year’s Dysautonomia Foundation event at the historic, art deco-styled Edison Ballroom in New York City, we booked a performance by the Goo Goo Dolls, and we used the same venue for this spring’s Bronx Academy of Letters event, where we arranged a tasting with many chefs from local restaurants, and Anthony Bourdain and James Patterson were the benefit hosts.”
At Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce trade show in San Francisco this fall the conference program agenda included actors Goldie Hawn, Jessica Alba and Patricia Arquette, among a long list of big name corporate leaders, as keynote speakers. Stevie Wonder, the Foo Fighters and Gary Clark Jr. were among the entertainers at the Moscone Center and two downtown theaters. Participants were housed at five nearby hotels.
Other creative corporate entertainment events included Samsung’s Galaxy S6 product launch at Studio LA in which Patron staffers conducted an interactive cocktail-making event; and Pottery Barn’s New York City event in which local professional chefs taught participants the art of creating heathful brown bag lunches.
Some meeting planners have gone in other directions when it comes to event entertainment, staying away from booking VIPs and giving their participants a very different experience. “One of the things that has always been intriguing to our guests is animal interactions,” said Rhonda Moritz, CMP, senior meeting planner for Cadaret, Grant & Co. Inc., in Mt. Arlington, New Jersey. “We’ve done several with native species in South Florida from Jungle Island, with monkeys, albino pythons, baby alligators, kinkajous, joeys and others. In addition to the thrill of seeing these creatures close up and being able to handle most of them, the photo opportunities are abundant, and it’s fun to hear guests exchange stories about each other’s encounters.”
Other forms of entertainment that Moritz enjoys utilizing at her corporate events are “living tables and statues,” which are a great way to add décor and entertainment at the same time. “We’re always amazed at the amount of work that goes into the makeup on the entertainers! It’s such a unique attraction for our events, and they interact with guests and provide an exciting buzz,” says Moritz. “We had ‘living statues’ for a Roman Holiday theme party at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando, and during a recent event in the vineyard at the Château Élan Winery & Resort in Braselton, Georgia, near Atlanta, we had ‘walking tables’ dressed in baroque style for a Marie Antoinette-themed party, complete with an opera singer who greeted guests, a harpist who played from the winery’s balcony, and a French painter who replicated several Monet paintings, which were raffled off to guests.”
Two years ago, during a multiday group event Moritz organized at Austin’s Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa, she arranged some unique entertainment for each of the three evenings, all themed around one of the city’s famed attributes, an idea that has become more of a trend these days. “For our first evening, ‘South by Southwest’ we hired staff from the Texas Boot Company to bring a few dozen pairs of cowboys boots to display and discuss their manufacturing, and then they gave attendees coupons for discounts on purchases, and some attendees even purchased boots that evening if the size was right,” says Moritz. “We offered three, $300 gift certificates as raffle prizes and transportation to the store the next day for anyone interested in making a purchase. We also had staff from the Strait Music Company on hand with a dozen or so guitars from the famous store and did demos on these, as well.”
Many attendees at Cadaret, Grant & Co. incentive conferences are big car enthusiasts, and “this past year we themed one of our evening entertainment events around Amelia Island’s famous Concours d’Elegance, a beauty pageant for rare and elegant cars,” says Moritz, who used the Omni Amelia Island as the host venue. “Bringing in some classics from the area’s car clubs truly made the evening memorable, and another option for entertainment doubling as décor! To see their faces light up when asked if they’d like to sit in the vehicle and have photo ops was priceless. Even our DJ worked out of his car to go along with the theme (Mix on Wheels), a portable dance party.”
For her next meeting Moritz may jump on a musical trend that is now appearing more frequently at corporate and incentive events. “My next meeting will have a flash mob, something to get the crowd pumped up and create the ultimate musical surprise. I haven’t worked out the details yet, but it’s in the works!”
One person who knows all about musical entertainment at corporate events is Philip Myers, one of the most highly regarded and successful entertainers in the corporate entertainment market. Myers and his band have traveled throughout the world, performing at corporate events at top venues, including The Broadmoor, Four Seasons Maui, Casa De Campo, Hotel Del Coronado, Gaylord Opryland, and The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island to name just a few. He shares some advice on planning various types of musical entertainment:
“Event planners face a multitude of challenges as they seek to plan entertainment for corporate programs,” says Myers. “All planners are tasked with securing entertainment that is special and memorable, yet fits within budget parameters. One of the most effective ways to assist clients in planning a great program with a focus on keeping costs down is by offering versatility and creativity. By using the same entertainer and band for multiple nights of a program, it is possible to offer discounted pricing. A unique and different event is custom designed for each night.
“Business sessions can be enhanced by adding something patriotic, like the national anthem or medley of ‘America the Beautiful’ or ‘God Bless the USA,’ or motivational opening or closing numbers, like ‘Power of the Dream’ or ‘One Moment in Time.’ Many planners really appreciate having this option, which can be included at no extra charge when an entertainer is onsite for other performances.
“Other ways to add value and variety to the entertainment options include bringing in a spotlight performer to add a special touch,” says Myers. “Successful programs incorporating this idea have included using the former lead singers of big name bands, such as Journey, Toto, Santana, etc. with the band backing them. This gives your guests the wow factor at a fraction of the cost of the original touring band.”
Meyers adds that any entertainment provider’s primary goal should be to team with the meeting planner to help alleviate the inevitable stresses involved in program operation and assume the responsibility of handling the entire entertainment portion of the program. “To create a one-stop shopping concept, it would be beneficial for the musical entertainment to partner with a production company to create a cohesive package of entertainment and production,” says Myers. “The ultimate goal is that in teaming with the planner, the entertainment portion of a program can be as seamless as possible. Budget-conscious, versatile and creative programming that will impress your attendees, program after program, is crucial. The power of music is undeniable, and skillful planning and execution of your entertainment programming will be a tremendous asset in assuring a successful and memorable event.” C&IT