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Event Planning Strategies: Think Outside the Ballroom

From the Ballroom to the Boxing Ring — Unconventional Meeting Spaces

by Lesley Martin

When Harold Mintz throws an event, he wants to create a memorable experience that people will talk about. While vice president of North American sales & distribution at Nomadic Display, he was given a yearly budget of $25,000 to throw a party for his company’s top clients.

He built a reputation for hosting parties at unusual places, including Alcatraz, a helicopter hangar and a boxing gym that became the location of his most legendary party–one that people talked about for days, weeks, months later and even led to a lawsuit.

Stumbling Upon the Unconventional Venue

Sometimes, finding an event space takes the old-fashioned boots on the ground approach. Four months before every event, Mintz would fly to the hosting city, rent a car, and cruise around until he found an interesting spot. That’s how he stumbled upon Johnny Tocco’s Boxing Gym.

When Mintz drove by, he was drawn to the gym’s sign that “looked like it had been there for a thousand years.” Wearing khakis and a bright orange shirt, Mintz walked into the gym and immediately noticed the sweaty, stinky gymnasium smell. Mintz remembers, “This was a real working gymnasium with a boxing ring and punching bags hanging from the ceiling. All the boxers stopped hitting the punching bags to look at me as I walked in.”

While others might have been deterred, Mintz knew that this place had potential. When he inquired with the manager about hosting a party, the manager replied, “We could do that, but it’ll cost ya.” Mintz immediately thought that renting the space could eat-up his entire $25,000 budget, and he hadn’t even considered the additional costs of catering, cleaning and transportation. Would he have to throw in the towel?

“$200,” said the manager. That was a softer blow than Mintz expected.

 Keep People Talking

For a marketing event, the intent is to generate buzz around the brand, create an emotional connection with guests and garner loyalty. To support these goals, Mintz wants guests to talk about the event before, then deliver a creative experience to keep them talking. “I want to get clients thinking about my party. How I deliver the party lends to my company’s event services – that’s what we’re driving from a business perspective,” said Mintz.

For the customer appreciation party at Johnny Tocco’s, Mintz homed in on the boxing theme for talk-worthy moments. First, the party invitations were styled and sized like an old-fashioned boxing poster. Who were the top fighters? The company’s executive punching the face of a competitor. That’s what kept people talking months later, when the competitor found out and filed a lawsuit.

“I had $25,000 to throw a party, and I wanted to use that budget as uniquely as possible. I knew there was a better way to spend it than renting out ‘Ballroom C’ of the Hilton. If you’re successful, there will be a line of people to get into your party,” says Mintz.

Unconventional Venue Create Unique Experiences

When planning a meeting, selecting the venue is the most important decision, as it drives the overall tone, theme, and experience. Conventional meeting spaces, such as convention centers and hotels, provide the benefits of accessibility and turnkey services. However, the predictability compromises the “wow” factor that attracts people and generates buzz.

An unconventional venue, such as a sports stadium, warehouse, local landmark, or corporate headquarters, offers opportunities for creativity and authenticity. Liz Nacron, executive vice president of creative and production at Live Marketing, says, “Many of my clients explore the non-hotel ballroom route when it comes to selecting the space for their next meeting or event. Hosting in a unique space gives them opportunities to be creative and think outside the box.”

Guests are attracted to attend, and the life of the event is extended before and after. For marketing events, such as a client thank-you party, creating a super cool venue that piques curiosity can become party of the draw for attendees.

 Cool Space, More Effort

Selecting and planning an event in an unconventional space requires more effort than one at a hotel or convention center. First, the planner must find a cool venue with capacity and appropriate layout, including an open space to hold all guests for a speech or entertainment.

Additionally, the planner must carefully consider the logistics and plan a streamlined experience for guests. If the venue is too remote or difficult to reach, guests will not attend, or react negatively. To mitigate the risk, planners should plan and communicate the transportation options ahead of time.

Once the cool venue is found and secured, the planner must plan for the audio-visual, staging and furniture set-up. If the venue is cool enough, its environment can serve as the décor. A raw open area, like an old warehouse, will require more creative decorations.

When working in an unfamiliar space, the caterer must also be brought into the process early to consider the logistics of food preparation and serving. At the sweaty boxing gymnasium, the caterer set-up a tent outside to prepare the food. Additionally, the caterer took extra steps to clean the facility before the party.

When setting-up a party, planners should consider whether they will need to hire for other services and amenities, such as security personnel, safety equipment, power and internet.

 Ease of Hotel Logistics

If the company does not have time or resources to host an event at an unconventional space, they might go the route of planning their event at a hotel. For the planner, turnkey logistics ease preparation, as they work with a single point of contact. They also have ready access to labor support and services within the facilities, including cleaning, catering and security. Additionally, hotels are usually located near public transportation and airports, making them easily accessible. Once guests have arrived at the hotel, they can easily access their sleeping accommodations.

Unconventional Venue Trends

From empty warehouses to little white chapels on the Las Vegas strip, there’s an endless variety of unconventional venues. Still, there are trends in the types of venues attracting companies for events.

In recent years, companies understand the value of creating an enjoyable place to work and are investing more into their workspace. Once they have a cool corporate environment, companies want to take advantage by opening up the space to clients and for networking events. Nacron says,  “Inviting clients to their office or campus gives the company a chance to show-off their cool space. It creates a welcoming gesture for attendees, like inviting them into their home, and showcases a company’s brand vibe. Plus, it’s conveniently located for company staff and executives.”

Another trend is renting out a sports stadium. To recognize and excite their top salespeople, Nacron’s client rented Petco Park in San Diego. The stadium offered plenty of opportunities for creativity, including taking over the jumbotrons and having an announcer call-out the names of top performers. The top performers got a behind-the-scenes tour of the locker rooms, custom jerseys made for them, and a high-end cocktail reception. “That whole experience felt really cool and guests left on a high note,” says Nacron.

Nomadic Display’s Mintz says, “My favorite parties were held at: Alcatraz in San Francisco; Johnny Tocco’s Ringside Gymnasium in Las Vegas; Liberace’s House, the TV Food Studio, and Cirque de Soleil’s Training Gym in Las Vegas; the National Cathedral and the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C.; and some more in Las Vegas – the helicopter hangar at McCarren Airport, the Eclectic Art Studio and with the Flying Elvises. I wish I still had all of the party invites and pix. My favorite missing invite was for the Alcatraz party. Of course, the invite was an oversized Monopoly “Get Out of Jail Free” card,” adding, “The key to every party I ever threw was thinking about the next day… I wanted everyone saying, ‘Hey, did you hear about that party last night?’”

This story originally appeared in the July/August issue of Exhibit City News, p. 68. For more pictures and original layout, visit http://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecnflipbook_julyaugust2018_web?e=16962537/62860459

 

 

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