Tuesday, September 27, 2016

You Don't Learn Anything by Looking in the Mirror

I read this somewhere. It captivated me. What did it mean? How could I apply it to my business life?

When I look in the mirror, I see the same face I’ve been looking at for a lot of years. Albeit it has aged. But in all probability it’s the same today as it was yesterday, last week, last month and maybe even a year ago. The only way I could change it is by altering my hairstyle or applying make-up differently (if at all). If I look deeper I’ll be looking at a face that represents “me,” my values, my ethics, and all the good things by which I live. It will also be a reminder of my insecurities. What it will not tell me is the perspective of others.

And therein lies the message. If you look at your business life through the mirror of solely your experiences, your ideas, your needs…then you never grow. You need to look away from the mirror and see what others are seeing, learn about their thoughts, ideas, inspirations, and perspectives.

Here at Extraordinary Events we share. Now I may be at the business of event planning longer than anyone else in my company (or probably anyone else at any other company as well), but it’s a new world every day, and I don’t know everything. Or as my stepfather would have put it, “The wise man knows what he doesn’t know.” So we brainstorm; we share ideas; we talk about our opportunities from different perspectives. Much of the team is very young. They see things differently than I do. Their departure from traditional thinking is enlivening and provocative.

I have always been a student. That hasn’t changed. Travel has broadened my horizons personally and professionally. I have met new people from different cultures; I have seen events as they are produced in China, in India, in Europe,  in Morocco, in Latin America… the list could go on. They inspire me as I can learn from them, and I can teach them in return. It’s a fair exchange.

What’s beyond the mirror is the world. I want to see more than me.

Here’s an invitation for you. I would like to encourage you to share with our other readers the differences you see between looking into the mirror and then looking outside of it. I think that when we share our stories we all learn from each other, which is the entire point of this blog. What life changing experiences have you encountered through exploration or risk? And send photos. Please.

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. Andrea is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and an in-demand speaker and leading voice in the special events industry. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Unions, Hurricanes, and Murphy’s Law AKA When All Else Goes Wrong, It CAN Get Worse

Everything in life is about persistence … the dogged pursuit of what you want to achieve. In my case, it means I will do anything and everything relentlessly to meet the needs of my client. It’s all about creative solutions. Please, soak this in. Creativity is not confined to making a pretty centerpiece; it is also in conflict resolution and innovative communication … It means not being afraid to go to the top and cry “help.” To emphasize this, I’m going to share a case study with you involving unions, hurricanes,  forgetful city officials and museum personnel – all only obstacles to overcome … creatively.
Such was the case with a 1999 event in Philadelphia. For SAP’s annual users conference, Extraordinary Events was asked to produce Streets of Philadelphia in a city with no available indoor venue large enough to hold the 10,000 that would participate. Working with all the various city departments, the event was executed on the Terrace of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (the City’s most recognizable landmark) and adjoining Eakins Oval Parkway with 1,200,000-square feet of land and approximately 50,000-square feet of concrete. Street closures, city permits, traffic control and security were the beginnings of the logistical challenges. Careful planning of each and every bus route to transfer 10,000 guests from 50 hotels throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey was complicated by traffic to a Bruce Springsteen concert at the same time during midweek rush-hour traffic. We needed to transform an ordinary-looking park into a festive and attractive party venue.  We planned exemplary food and beverage that featured the best of Philadelphia’s varied ethnic cuisine so that our thousands of guests could eat and drink without standing in line. Now that alone sounds daunting, doesn’t it?
Philadelphia is a union town, and the union was not happy that we were in a non-union facility and threatened to picket our event if we did not bow to their demands. All of that paled when Hurricane Floyd (yes, that’s right, a hurricane) unleashed its fury during the event. Logistically, it just doesn’t get more complicated than this.  We had to: create a location where none existed and execute bus pickups and drop offs in impossible situations; close major city thoroughfares during rush-hour traffic; coordinate with every city department individually to get our event approved and re-approved when one department would countermand the agreements of another; pave roads that were torn up in order to get our guests across the street to access the event; fight teamsters and IATSE (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) in order to get our crew working and productive;  seed and re-seed an entire park both before and after the event; re-grade acres of land after the event and fulfill a multitude of insurance claims resulting from weather-related incidents.
Promises were broken by every entity … the venue, the city, the city officials, the parks department, water and power, safety, police and the streets department. There was salvation only once the Mayor intervened. So, I repeat, this was just about as hard as it gets.
So how did we do it all? Grab your galoshes, and read on … you won’t believe how creative we got just getting this event delivered with all the obstacles standing in our way.
 Event Objectives
Entertainment was the cornerstone of this event, and, by the way, it was being compared to the previous year’s that had five times the budget and a performance by Rod Stewart!  This event would feature simultaneous rock and roll in four locations. Guests would be greeted by a local marching band playing Streets of Philadelphia. This would be followed by a traditional Mummer’s Parade. In a tent, a Philadelphia favorite, The Nerds, would alternate with an interactive DJ who would move between the main tent and the Terrace Stage at the Museum to provide ongoing entertainment. Though not technically a festival, a street fair atmosphere was being created within this corporate event. The entertainment was complex and unique and spoke of “Philadelphia.” The timing of the entertainers, combined with a fireworks production, was to be executed split second so that there was never a moment where something wasn’t going on. Sound had to be perfect so that one stage did not interfere with any of the others.
On one of the main stages, World Class Rockers would do a one-hour performance.
 On another stage, Earth, Wind and Fire was destined to thrill the audience.
 On the third stage, representing SAP Latin America, Gilberto Santa Rosa from Puerto Rico would leave people jumping to the rhythm.
A spectacular fireworks display was another featured entertainment element. We conferred with Grucci Fireworks who was given the directive, “Take what you did for the 4th of July in New York and do more for this show … all in no more than five minutes.” It was planned as a rock and roll fireworks show that could be seen everywhere in Philadelphia. The music was customized and  intertwined with tunes about the City. The sound system was designed to be heard over the extensive acreage of the area we were using. Not an easy achievement considering the vastness of the space.  
Branding was key as SAP was establishing global presence for its U.S. Headquarters in Philly and needed us to introduce its new ad campaign. The purpose of creatively branding this event was to cement that SAP is THE cutting edge of technology in the attendees’ minds and to say to the home town in general, “SAP is a presence, a force with which to be reckoned.”  New slogans and branding had to be done in an area that allowed no signage, and it had to be everywhere and creative.  So, we accomplished this significantly through all the décor elements.
With our goals clearly outlined – entertainment, food and beverage and branding - we knew almost immediately that the focus should be placed on the Museum.  The park alone, though tree-lined and scenic, didn't make a statement for an industry leader in the tech sector.  Structures and decor could be built, but this event was for 10,000 people, with time and budget restrictions.  The Museum stood at the apex of the event area and became a monumental task.
The structure of the museum on its own didn't fulfill the goal of a high-tech, cutting-edge visual statement. So how could lighting transform this historic site into a contemporary work of high-tech art in under three days?  We painted it with LIGHT, a lighting design utilizing almost 275 automated fixtures and miles of electrical distribution cable.  The intense color washes would form a backdrop to frame the client's message.  Projected over the colorful background on the two "sides" of the Museum was a 150-feet-wide-by-five-stories-high visual display of SAP’s logo and its catchphrases. The “branding, images and hooks” that SAP wanted guests to see were produced from a separate lighting system.   Video-like roll-ins, sweeps, complex reveals and one-by-one word fade-ups for entire sentences created the client’s logos and messages. Due to the fact that the designer chose to utilize one of the brightest intelligent light fixtures at that time, the corporate branding became visible for blocks, all the way down the parkway and into the downtown area.  It made such a statement that camera crews from the local news channels taped it for broadcast.
Creative use of graphics and the above-described lighting as well as use of new products, such as the huge AirStar projection inflatable, displayed all current ad campaigns through slides in this unique object. Immense backdrops on the stages previewed the new ad campaign, CityofE. Even the fireworks spelled out SAP in the sky. Guests saw “SAP”everywhere - on cocktail napkins, on signage where possible, in lighting, in the fireworks, on the stage, in the inflatable and in street banners.
Venue Challenges
Under the very best of circumstances, a job of such magnitude would have been a challenge. But, it gets even more complicated!
Let’s look at our venue challenges first. Remember, we had 10,000 guests to accommodate. The entire convention center was being used for the client’s own tradeshow, and Bruce Springsteen was performing at the new arena. Translation: any location anywhere near this arena could not be considered because of street traffic. Several locations were considered but eliminated because they were in seedy and unsafe neighborhoods and, therefore, not appropriate or safe. And SAP was conscious of image. 
So, we focused on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a non-union venue, a definite plus, or so we thought. (As everyone who has ever worked in Philadelphia knows, the union has an extremely strong presence.) We then met with the city and Eakins Oval Parkway officials to describe the event. Headline entertainment. Huge amounts of food. Fireworks. No problem. (Oh, do I rue the day I ever hear “no problem” again.) Just follow city regulations. What are “city regulations?” I was handed a 500-page handbook. Hmmmm. We read it.
After several site inspections, we were told that SAP must become a member to use the Museum. They joined, and we were told we could use both the inside and outside of it. To make a long story short, after meticulous arrangements with the museum, when we showed up days before the event, they had forgotten everything to which they had agreed, even though we had contracts and production schedules in hand and time-stamped proof of fax and Fed-Ex deliveries. Everything agreed upon… the use of an outside caterer, the fireworks, the use of the inside of the building … all was now a NO. Many meeting hours and $20,000 later they agreed but charged for additional security and would close the building at 11:00 p.m., not 12:30 p.m. as the contract stipulated.
Even though we had received the permits to close the street between the Museum and Eakins Oval Parkway, a main thoroughfare during rush hour that would allow 10,000 guests to cross back and forth between the two areas, when we arrived the large sidewalk area leading to the Museum steps, the only pathway to the Terrace where part of our event would be held, was completely ripped up. No one thought to mention in numerous meetings that, even though it was 1999, the City would be preparing for the Republican Convention in 2000 and that they would be repairing the sidewalk. They refused to fix it, so we paved the sidewalk and street the day before our event so that guests could walk on concrete to access the venue!
And what about the lighting you ask? The real challenges surfaced about an hour after the first on-site inspection meeting began. Suddenly, the city that was quite accustomed to hosting events in the park (complete with large stages, name talent and full productions) said that lighting the front of the Museum was another story. After a host of bureaucratic red tape and meetings upon meetings and more money to the museum, we received the necessary permission again!
 Then there was the park. Imagine our surprise when on the day before the event, crews came in and started seeding the grounds, mulching the soil and creating mud where there had previously been either hard earth or lawn. Would they stop? No, they had their orders. By the time we could reach the appropriate city official, the work had been completed. Aargh! Later, you will know how much this affected our event. 
Of course, we needed everything for the park. We ordered power, toilets, tables, chairs and all that accompanies such a food and beverage event, as well as stages for the talent and on-site dressing rooms for the entertainers with all of their hospitality needs. The limos. The suites. The first-class air arrangements. The roadies. The runners. Phone lines and RVs for offices. Loads of details.  And, we determined we needed a tent in case of inclement weather so that those who couldn’t get into the museum could be sheltered in case of rain. We logistically planned the placement of the 600 linear feet of food tents.
Containing the area also became important, so the entire perimeter of our event space, 600-feet-wide-by-2,000-feet-long, was contained within fencing. Easy so far, right?
 The Union
Still not as bad as it's going to get. As soon as we started set up, our technical director said that we had a problem. A bad problem. The city had assured us that we did not need to use union labor. However, the unions had called on the TD to inform him that because we were not using union labor they were going to stop all local labor from working on our event. He was told that if we proceeded to hold the event they would form a picket line around the entire affair and prevent guests from entering. I tried reasoning. No luck. I was told that if I hired union crews it would be an additional $30,000 to $50,000.
I’d had it. I called the Mayor’s office. God bless Philadelphia’s mayor. Within hours he had his deputy meet with the union officials and me, and we resolved the matter amicably. Amicably for me. Not for the Union. The official had in hand (literally) representatives of each of the threatening unions (who had told us there would be bodily harm … yes, really!) and told them to apologize to me, and sincerely. He then said that the union crews would be happy to pitch in and help and would work for non-union fees, including any needed overtime. So we agreed to use union personnel on our job. All was well. Or so they pretended. Union guys just love being ordered around by a woman, don’t they?
The day before the event, we had everything set up and tested. Everything was a “go” with the police and fire departments and city officials. However, city plumbers would not turn on water to the cook tents or bathrooms until 4:00 p.m. on the day of the event as they cited a water shortage! The fountains at the museum (another of those no problem requests) were never turned on. Water shortage. Little did they know that shortly there would be no shortage of water.
The Hurricane
Prior to the event, we had calculated all the possibilities, provided weather contingencies and accommodated every anticipated need. Hurricane Floyd was all the way down south in the Caribbean when the install first began in Philadelphia.  But, of course, it headed straight for our site. It quickly became apparent that the event could be in trouble.  Fortunately, when the hurricane hit, we had taken care of all the event details and were prepared to handle it because everything else had already been coordinated. This prevented our attention from being diffused.
Dozens of cases of trash bags were purchased and distributed to each of the 275 fixtures, as temporary raincoats.  Just as programming finished the night before the event, the first raindrops began to fall.  The four key technical staff, still working at 3:00 a.m., began scrambling to cover and protect the equipment.  When you consider that each fixture has the electronics and processing similar to a laptop computer, and costs upwards of $7,000 each to purchase, the team was running.  Would you leave your laptop open and in the rain?
The crew quickly jogged around the enormous site, turning over fixtures, and watching pots of water pour out from the electronics and the delicate control motors. 
At this point, we were glad that we had a huge tent (30,000 square feet) installed. Just in case. And the Museum as back up … sort of.
To be safe prior to the rain, we found a supplier of 10,000 ponchos which we handed out as guests got off their motor coaches. Our salvation. And then we just pretended it was “Woodstock 1999.” What else could we do? We had a significant amount of shelter so that people could gather in the tent to eat and drink. The main stages were sheltered by trees and with their ponchos on, guests plodded through the mud to see the main stage acts. The acts performed, albeit reluctantly. We did say to Earth, Wind & Fire, “Hey, guys, with a name like yours, you can’t refuse to play in the elements.” With a forced laugh, they did.
The only real hiccough was the fireworks. With the fire marshal at my side, he at first said, “No, absolutely not,” because the winds were too high. We negotiated. I did not want to be the one to tell my client that his $100,000 fireworks show was not going to happen when everything else was so slushy. He finally agreed that we could test the air by sending up an occasional pyro burst, and, if it looked okay, we could “go” but only when he said “go.” By doing this, we ultimately found a window of opportunity and the resultant show was truly magnificent. “SAP” was written in the sky in pyro, and the clients agreed that it was the most magnificent fireworks display they had ever seen or imagined. Phew!
Guests loved it and said it was the best event they had ever attended. Great food. Great entertainment. Fun. They hoarded the ponchos. They loved the rain and the environment it created. At one a.m. it was over, or was it?
The morning after the event the first call came at 5:30 a.m. Hurricane Floyd had landed in full fury, and our tents were all blowing over. Our kitchen equipment was on its way to the next county; the stages were sinking into the mud and our semis were stuck in the middle of the park and unable to move. Debris was flying everywhere. Ah, the life of an event producer. Off we went in over 100-miles-per-hour winds and pouring rain to manage the load-out. The union? Oh, no, they were not allowed to work under such conditions. So they abdicated all responsibility for load-out.
The final challenge was racing millions of dollars of valuable fixtures, controllers, and miles of cable into the waiting semi-trucks, before the full force of “Floyd” shut down the entire city.  Let’s just say we were very wet and tired.
However, the guests never experienced this part of the event production. In the world of “memorable” events, this one is at the top.
Could there be any more challenges? Of course. For instance, the aftermath. There was a great deal of damage. We had ample insurance, and that was a good thing, because we were blamed for the damage to the park though it was indeed caused by an act of God. However, in lieu of all that had preceded the event, we chose to cheerfully accept our responsibility and replant the park that had been reseeded the day before the event. We fulfilled all insurance claims (tents that hit cars) and insisted that our vendors also act responsibly.
Overall, the event went a bit damp, but without a hitch.  The dedicated crews were left with the satisfaction of a spectacular design, overcoming obstacles and the gratifying statement, “We’re sorry, but that flight has been cancelled; the airport just closed due to weather.”
Note: If you got all the way through this adventure, congratulations; you’ve learned that the key to success is resourcefulness and persistence and good rain gear!

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. Andrea is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and an in-demand speaker and leading voice in the special events industry. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Teach Your Clients to Speak Your Language

Often a client causes stressful situations with last-minute requests only because he or she doesn’t understand what he (or she) is demanding. In this case, the client, even though we both speak English,  doesn’t speak my language, and it’s up to me to teach them, aka provide the education. A large technology-based company that shall remain nameless comes to mind as an illustration.

Close your eyes so I can set the scene. Well, since this isn’t Books on Tape, that won’t work. Shut ONE eye.

It was a December Friday night in Manhattan at one of the piers. It was sleeting and snowing – imagine traffic – and we were in the final countdown for a holiday event for our client’s CEO and his 1,000 employees. All the elements and the meal were planned for a wonderful event to begin with cocktails at 6:00 p.m.

The rather young, powerful CEO would be giving a speech and holiday salutations.

“Does he need support for his speech?” I had questioned the corporate planner.

That’s a “No,” … confirmed in writing. “He’s just reading off his PowerPoint.”

At 5:30 p.m., the CEO, looking like a football tackle in a business suit, loomed above me asking, “Where are my screens?”

I shuffled through my binder, so beautifully tabbed, and advised him that he didn’t need them per my written confirmation with his planner which I attempted to show to him.

“Get them now!” he said with no accompanying “please.”

“Get them NOW,” he repeated even more strongly.

I looked up at him and calmly responded, “Okay, sir, I’ll do my best.”

“Get them now!!!!” he ordered yet again even more forcefully.

I made calls, and, as luck would have it, one of the AV companies I often utilized had what I needed and could “probably” get it to me (across town) in time. Good thing I had everyone’s cell phone and home numbers and that they liked me well enough to take my calls.

We were now into the cocktail hour, but with a bit of a scramble and no time to test the equipment, we set up the screens. Then, I asked the question of doom. “May I have your PowerPoint presentation?”

“I don’t have one; YOU were supposed to have it!” he spouted.

Again confirming with my handy dandy tabulated binder I said, “I don’t have your notes, sir, but we’ll do the best we can if you can tell me what you plan to say.”

“I have to greet my guests,” he snorted and stomped off.

Enter the corporate planner, who, shaking and scared, started feeding info to one of our techs.

Minutes passed, and the CEO approached me and pinched my arm jovially. “Wait till you hear what I want to do,” he announced, quite pleased with himself.

I couldn’t wait to hear what was coming now. But I kept smiling and showing great interest.

“My main guys and I are called ‘the three matadors.’ Get me three matador outfits,” he chortled gleefully, now apparently in the holiday spirit.

I dared to ask, “What sizes are the three of you?”

“They are mediums; I’m a large.”

He was an extra large if I’ve ever seen one, and I hadn’t seen the other two, so it was anybody’s guess.

Again as luck had it, I got the outfits. Imagine. An entertainment company I’ve worked with was open after hours on a sleeting Friday night, and they could messenger them to me just because they liked me. (And I’ve always paid them on time.)

Still in the cocktail hour, our charming CEO walked up to me and said, “The weather is lousy and we need to get our people home before it gets worse, so serve dinner NOW.”

Most people would have argued with him. I simply smiled and said, “Absolutely. Let me tell you what we are serving: A warm lovely pumpkin soup, which we could now serve chilled - which is fashionable nowadays, though not in the dead of winter; a lovely filet mignon, which we’ll make into Carpaccio…that’s very trendy… and the Chocolate Soufflés will just be served as chocolate pudding. Guests will love pudding, don’t you think? This is what you’ll get if we serve it now, or, if we serve it when we are supposed to, they can have a wonderful hot soup, a perfectly cooked filet and a magnificent soufflé. Either way, I’m happy to do whatever you wish. It’s your choice.”

He stared at me and simply said, “Keep it the way you planned.”

The Lesson
What made him think that we could get costumes and screens and serve dinner early? It was obvious. Here’s a man who sits behind his desk and clicks for whatever he wants and gets it, immediately, with no repercussions. But the timing of an event was beyond his scope of experience. So, by not arguing with him, creating a clear picture for him and making it his choice, the situation turned out well. Otherwise it would have dissolved into a totally adversarial confrontation. It didn’t, and we continued to do the event for years.

Growing up in a multi-lingual house made me understand the power of words. I love them and learned at a young age that telling stories creates a clear communication for others.  I adore telling stories; my life is about telling them and providing clear communication, because everything has a point to it. Doing so has helped me work with others, such as the CEO at this event, more successfully.

Oh, and by the way, the Matador outfits were more than a bit snug but served their purpose well!

Andrea Michaels is the founder/president of multiple award-winning Extraordinary Events, an international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower – Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life.To learn more about her and her company, visit http://www.extraordinaryevents.com. Andrea may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Should Your Brand Be "Convenience"?

I am always intrigued by the musings of Shep Hyken. Better yet, I am also educated. This particular article on "convenience" and how it applies to our business really made me pay attention as it called out how our customers need speed and simplicity. I urge you to read on as there is a very useful premise behind this. Have fun reading. -Andrea Michaels

-By Shep Hyken

Competitive Strategy

What is one of the most valuable commodities in the world? Time!

There is an old saying that goes something like this: "If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." This is often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the concept of a better mousetrap is a great metaphor for a reason to continuously innovate.

In a competitive business world, price, selection, customer service and innovation are major reasons customer might choose one company over another. We can now add another concept to the mix, and that is convenience. (And, by the way, the reason I included innovation to my mix of competitive reasons is that it takes innovation to create convenience.)

Many will argue that convenience is part of customer service or the customer experience. I'll agree with that, but it is becoming so important that I'm willing to separate it out. There are businesses that use convenience as their sole competitive differentiator.

There is a reason that convenience stores are called convenience stores. Think about it. They are smaller than other retailers that carry similar items. They aren't necessarily the lowest price. Yet, somehow they don't just survive against their larger competitors. They thrive. Why? Because they are convenient. They are in the neighborhood. They are on the way to or from work or on the right side of the street. They aren't as crowded, so a customer can get in and out much quicker. For what they lack in the selection of merchandise, they make up for in convenience.

If you want to learn about how a  company competes on convenience, take a look at one of the biggest companies on the planet, Amazon. They are a case study for convenience.

When you think of Amazon, you might think of low prices and big selection. I can name dozens of other companies, both online and brick-and-mortar, that do the same thing. Amazon knows it competes with all retailers. So, they broke out of the low price and big selection game with convenience. They want to save time and make life easier for their customers. They created the Amazon Prime program that gets merchandise shipped to you, without shipping charges, in two days or less. They created the Dash button  that allows you to purchase merchandise with the simple push of a button. They want to eliminate as many steps as possible from the time a customer is thinking about purchasing a product until that product is delivered. And, now they are setting up distribution centers throughout major cities that can get merchandise to you in two hours or less. Speed and simplicity is what they are about.

So, regardless of the type of business you're in, how can you create convenience for your customers? What would your customers define as convenience? Figure that out and you have another competitive strategy that will take you and your business to the next level.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information, contact www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ Customer Service training programs, go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. Andrea is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and an in-demand speaker and leading voice in the special events industry. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Disaster Management... Or the Art of Saying No or How I Almost Burned Down Palm Springs

Disaster management - we've all been there. I can name earthquakes tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and volcano eruptions which have caused me event challenges. Those you have no control over, right? It's the ones that you can see coming that are the real challenges. So I thought I'd share so that you won't make the same mistakes that I did.

The first one that came to mind was what I think of as "Disco Inferno." A fellow event planner invited me to become involved with an event held in the Palm Springs desert where her client wanted to have a fireworks show after a country western night at a remote ranch. Remember the word "remote." All basic elements had been planned, but they still needed fireworks. The client was a New Yorker; at the time my associate resided in Florida; and I was relatively local. So I got to plan and be responsible for the fireworks.

The client asked me for a short and impactful show, and I hired a local and very reputable pyrotechnics company. One that was fully insured.

The Challenge
A few days before the show, the client indicated that he had seen something he wanted to hire - AKA "I have to have that! - a bi-plane that had pyro on its wings. He thought this would be very cool to add. I had never heard of such a thing and said that unless I knew more about the company, the plane and their insurance that I could not take responsibility. The client insisted. So, I said he could hire this plane on his own but that I needed to coordinate it to make sure that all was going to go smoothly. That meant I needed to coordinate the plane with our pyro company, too.

When I contacted the plane's owner, I was told how great and how safe the act was. Nothing specific was detailed, except, "Don't worry," which meant to me that I should worry. I let my client know (yes, in writing) that I didn't trust this addition and advised against it. Of course, I was pooh-poohed. I don't give up easily, so I went back and repeated that several times. Each time I was dismissed. Against my better judgment I caved and said "Okay."

The Venue
Let me describe the venue - a ranch surrounded on three sides by mountains of brush and only a one-lane road to get in and out. The center or eye of the keyhole was where the party took place.

To be on the safe side, I ordered two water trucks to be in the keyhole and on standby. My client didn't want to pay for this as he felt it was unnecessary.

The Outcome
All went well through dinner and during the entertainment. For the finale, we got our pyro team in place and called the cue for the plane to start flying. We saw it take off, and standing next to him, I heard my pyro chief take a deep breath and start muttering, "Go higher; go higher!" Then he took off at a flat-out run to the water trucks as pyro started spitting off the wings of the plane directly onto the brush. The hills on all three sides exploded into flame.

The water trucks immediately took off toward the burning hills, giant hoses spraying the brush, as my associate radioed the buses and started herding a panic-stricken audience of executives toward them. Immediately, I grabbed some blankets, and my entire team and I started beating down flames.

Fortunately, we got all the guests out quickly and ultimately watered and beat down the flames. I lost my eyebrows, charred my face and hands and ruined my outfit, but at least no one was hurt.

Of course, during the time I was on the mountain playing fireman, my client was standing next to me screaming hysterically, "This is your entire fault!" Or, best yet, "I'm not going to pay for this!" I chose not to respond as he stood there doing nothing but watching me and having his tantrum.

Indeed, when I sent him our bill, he refused to pay it because our pyro had never been set off. It was a substantial charge, yet I chose not to fight it even though I knew I had been wronged. It would have wound up in court forever, across three states of negotiations and cost more than could be redeemed. And ultimately I knew I had been a fool to say "yes" to something that I knew was a potential disaster.

And, yes, I paid our pyro provider in full. And, no the bi-plane had no insurance.

The Lesson
When you know something is wrong, stick to your guns and don't give in. I should have refused to have anything to do with this job as it flaunted good sense and safety, and nothing good ever comes of that!

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-wining international event agency based in Los Angeles. Andrea is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and an in-demand speaker and leading voice in the special events industry. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Fine Art of Biting Your Tongue

Quite a few years ago while attending a meeting in the United Arab Emirates, I was also asked to do a site inspection for the Super Bowl of Rotax Go Carts (they claimed to be as big as NASCAR internationally) in nearby Al Ain. I confess I had never heard of this, but it sounded intriguing. Never one to dismiss an opportunity, I sallied forth and made some complicated arrangements to meet an elusive client. He was hard to reach and when we did talk there was a lot of wind noise going on.

I was escorted by limo about two hours out of Abu Dhabi into the desert where we saw some great museums and palaces and even the racing camel market and finally arrived at... well, more desert with just a temporary trailer-type of building. I knocked on the door. No one answered, so I called the cell number I was given. No answer. We drove around looking for anything or anyone other than sand. Nothing. So, we drove back to the building. Finally, in the distance, I could see a Porsche racing toward me. In a flurry of dust, it came to a stop right where I was standing. And out of it, a young man. Gorgeous. Looked like the dictionary definition of a race car driver - tight jeans, tight t-shirt, glistening smile. And wind-blow hair which explained why our conversations were always noisy.

We shook hands. I mentally drooled a lot. We entered the "building." I began to ask about the event. Where was it going to be? He waved at the sand. How are you going to be ready in a few months? He shrugged. What would you like to accomplish for this event, and how can we help you?

"Just fill in what I don't have here and make this an event comparable to a Super Bowl... exciting... fabulous."

Music to my ears. But I've heard those words before. What's the budget?

"There are no limits."

Uh-huh. Heard those words before, too. So, a million dollars would be okay?

I revived him.

I asked for an example of what he thought was a wow. He started with lasers, but told me that there were hundreds of laser companies nearby, so there was no need for me to look for those. Hundreds? I told him that anytime anyone I knew had worked in his part of the world that lasers had been brought in from the U.S. or Europe. And then I realized what he meant and knew that he had no idea what he was talking about. But I couldn't resist asking, Where are you finding all these hundreds of companies"

And he told me, "In the phone book."

I replied Show me, please," very politely, of course.

He opened up the directory (aka phone book) and showed me. I said quietly, without cracking a smile, You're looking under laser surgery. Then I immediately started talking about what other things we could do in which he might be interested.

The Lesson
It's impolite to disable people and not take them seriously, especially if they are inexperienced. It's particularly important not to embarrass or make them feel uncomfortable. It's up to us to educate kindly, just do our jobs and not laugh uproariously at some of the things we hear!

And this doesn't just apply to the inexperienced. It's a good policy no matter with whom you are dealing. During the 1988 Special Event in Los Angeles at the Bonaventure Hotel, the hotel's Director of Catering (name withheld to protect the guilty), was serving as the event team committee chair. He called a meeting at the hotel, and everyone involved in the convention attended. I made what I thought was an appropriate suggestion to better the conference. Instead of taking it under consideration, he reamed me, dressed me up one side and down the other in front of all my peers. We all sat in stunned silence. (And anyone who knows me understands I am never at a loss for words. Some people are always thinking "Oh, I wish I had been quick enough to answer" but I NEVER have THAT problem. I always know exactly what I want to say.) At first, all I wanted to do was produce the perfect comeback to embarrass him in front of all. My second thought was to yell "F**K YOU!" but that would have been unprofessional, so I smiled like a lady and carried on as part of the committee. Afterward, everyone said they didn't know how I sat through it but confessed they saw each of us for who we truly were. Years later and everyone still remembers that interchange and how I handled it. So, no matter what you want to say to a client or an associate, you will always win if you bite your tongue and behave like a professional.

I have experienced some similar episodes since, and I continue to be silent. Silence is the most powerful tool we all have and, when used correctly, will almost always empower the one who is silent. I learned this from an expert in the art of buying a vehicle. When the zealous salesperson makes an offer, remain silent and just look him (or her) in the eye. That person will usually keep dropping the price (because they are uncomfortable) until you get to where you want to be and speak up for the first time.

Another approach, particularly if you are in conflict with someone who is ranting and raving, is what I call the board game analogy. If you are playing a game with someone and pick up your pieces and walk away, they can't play anymore. Game over. That's my philosophy. Walking away disempowers that person. Use it only when you must.

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. Andrea is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and an in-demand speaker and leading voice in the special events industry. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ASSUME Makes an ASS out of U and ME!

If we aren’t careful, being in the event business can lead to a life of “gotchas.” Never mind that we have tons of expertise. Murphy’s Law rules. I was reminded the other day of one of my gotchas. It was one of the most valuable lessons that I learned in the earlier years at Extraordinary Events. However, like all lessons learned, it can also be a lesson forgotten… until reminded… and therein lies the rub.

Lesson One: We had been hired to come up with an innovative method for Los Angeles to present its bid to The Democratic National Committee to host the convention (which incidentally L.A. won). So, here’s our presentation at the South Hall Lobby of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The DNC arrived by limo into an empty convention hall. Committee members walked a red carpet which led them to a loooong balloon wall that spelled out Los Angeles. Where were they supposed to go?

With a rousing fanfare of unseen herald trumpets, the balloon wall burst open in one magical explosion and revealed the entry to the South Hall Lobby where a long line of faux paparazzi applauded them into the hall. Down an escalator they went to join the executives and VIPs of the Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau and the city. Music. Morning fare. Very nice. And angels, lots of them. And then… from 400 feet overhead, accompanied by a beautiful piece of ethereal music, an angel descended and performed an aerial ballet until she landed at the feet of the DNC members and handed them Los Angeles’ bid. Magically, she arose again to disappear 400 feet above. It was a moment that the press wrote about and photographed for print and live television.

But, that’s not all they wrote! They also wrote about the angels that were already in the room, and herein is our story.

We had specified to our talent coordinator that we wanted a room of angels to circulate. I had great faith in his judgment. But I should have said, “Describe every person and every costume,” but I didn’t. So here’s what I got. One angel was in scarlet red lingerie and sequined wings. Another wore a Frederick’s of Hollywood black bustier with black feather wings (think whips and chains angel), and it went on from there. Yep, there was plenty about which to write!

Lesson Two: Years had passed since Lesson One. We were hired to produce a major, no holds barred, community event for what turned out to be hundreds of thousands of people, and at the last minute the client requested dancers to accompany the D.J.

I guess my interpretation of “dancer” and the local talent producer’s definition were polar opposites. His was “bump and grind” and mine was what would be appropriate for a family audience. All that the dancers were missing was a pole, and oh yes, a lot of costume. I had asked to preview the costumes, and they showed me a sample of one, which though sexy, was relatively covered up. My mistake was in not asking if all the dancers would be wearing that same costume. They were not. The others were bare…. very bare… as a matter of fact, too bare.

They had not been performing for more than a minute before my client on radio was shouting “get them off the stage!” and as the music was pulsating loudly there was no way for them to hear me until I had to physically climb onto eight different platforms and pull them off one at a time, with all of them resisting since they had never before met me and couldn’t hear me.

The Lesson
Never make an assumption. NEVER! Check every detail. Repeatedly. Ask for write-ups and descriptions. Ask for photos. And in the case of entertainment, check them out BEFORE they go on stage, while they are in the dressing rooms. Ask them to bring a variety of costumes so you can see what you are getting. Define what you need. What do YOU mean by “dancer”? Don’t ever feel too secure. Don’t assume! You know what that makes out of you and me!


Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. Andrea is the author of  Reflectionsof a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and an in-demand speaker and leading voice in the special events industry. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.