Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Let's Talk About You: 3 Marketing Ideas to Help You Join the Conversation

By Liese Gardner

Event marketing trends are abundant, and numerous blog posts have been devoted to them. But let's talk about marketing you - the event professional. How do you get in front of your target audience? I am hearing more and more from really great companies, top of the top, who are realizing that their middle market has shifted. It happened mostly because of the economy but in part also could be attributed to the fact that in focusing on high-level clients (never a bad thing!), they weren't as tuned into the conversation being fueled by professionals new to the industry and engaging with clients at that level. It's a conversation that isn't taking place in print publications. It's in the air, literally. It's on blogs. It's on Twitter, Instagram and less so, on Facebook.

Here are three points of entry into that conversation.

This clever marketing campaign called The Long Drive Home produced by JWT Canada for Mazda Canada focused on the thumbnail grid feature on Instagram. Each Instagram image was self-contained, but when they came together they formed a road map of sorts.


It's a hashtag on Instagram but "no filter" also sums up this social media feed, as it does Twitter. Both of them allow the conversation to flow through without impediment (unlike Facebook which we'll get to in a minute). Viewers connect to (or more importantly, they feel like they are connecting to) big names in every industry. Upstart event companies freely align themselves using the names of corporate clients (when appropriate and when approved, of course) and showing their work in progress and completed. It can be a win-win for both parties. No filter is a good way to approach online marketing. Let down your guard, let viewers in. Make a connection. P.S. Watch for companies to begin finding a way to use Snapchat to market themselves.

Tell a Story

Yes, I'm still on the blog train. People I've talked to who aren't blogging have said that it seems too self-promotional. That's true when it's not done well. But if done right, a blog is all about giving back to your clients and community of peers, while at the same time being about you. Your blog audience will grow when the topics are relevant, informative and engaging, and it can begin to open doors for you in a way that is non-sales, non-threatening, and generous of spirit. People will always be flattered that you have asked them to contribute or that you'd like to feature something they are doing on your blog. So go ahead, blog about it.


Video Marketing

It's not new at all, but YouTube might just be the most important social media tool on the rise. This video (naturally) by Derek Muller, founder of a highly popular science channel on YouTube as well as an offshoot called 2veritasium, lays out the case for YouTube and will also tell you why Facebook might soon just be a place for keeping in touch with friends and family, better than I can.

It's important to note that video isn't just about creating crazy skateboard stunts or animal antics. It helps drive traffic to your site, and keeps viewers there longer. Video is a highly effective way to make a meaningful connection with a future client. Conversely, by showing your personality and work, clients can learn if you are right for them before going further. As for content, it's very much like creating blog content - relevant, informative and entertaining - only with an eye for the visual aspect of what you do. And let's face it, the event profession is a visual medium which makes it a natural for all these marketing tools. An online conversation that includes your brand and your voice is only a click away.

Liese Gardner is a marketing consultant working with top creative brands and individuals in the events industry since 1984. She is currently taking her own good advice and re-branding her company, Mecca, along with her own blog, Fuel: Passions that Drive Us. Look for the new design in June. Until then, follow her on Instagram: @liesegardner and Twitter: @liesegardner.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Working in China - Style and Product Differences

Managing its image with the outside world for the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics was a masterful stroke for China. I know the man who was in charge of PR for the Olympics, and when I put it to him that China would be well advised to continue to project that image on an ongoing basis, he cautioned that the government would never allow it. What is one to make of such a country? How can one operate in it? And what's it like to work here?

Bear in mind that when I first arrived in China in 1994, its foreign exchange reserves were US$50 billion. These days, the Chinese government tries to keep them down at the US$4 trillion mark. Socially, it was composed differently. Then, 300 million people lived in a city. Urban dwellers now number more than 700 million. And whereas in 1994 there were hardly any Internet users, with over half a billion users China now boasts not only the largest Internet market in the world, but also some of the world's most exciting and innovative technology companies. These numbers, economic, social and technological, point at the frantic evolution Chinese society has undergone over the past twenty years. They hint at two paradoxes lying at the heart of Chinese society today.

Paradox #1

On the one hand, a constant in the evolution of Chinese society over the past century is the inevitability of change. On the other, a traditional form of government is managing and effecting that change. Whether it is in extremely fast-paced industries like Internet, bio-tech or telecoms, or slow-changing concerns like concrete, media and power-generation, decisions are subject to government processes and values that are the product of centuries of political history. The meaningful take-home is that visiting business people should respect this different and effective way of doing things. Increasingly confident these days, Chinese business and political leaders will walk out of meetings at the first sign of an affront, and with their exit goes every chance your company has of doing well here; something one should not forget.

Paradox #2

The second paradox is as important to understanding China. Although she is the world's second largest economy (and will in a few years eclipse that of the United States), China in per capita terms is still a surprisingly poor place. Indeed, she is the ninety-third wealthiest, somewhere between Thailand and Turkmenistan. A collared shirt in a nice, middle-class shopping mall in central Beijing will cost about $90. By contrast, a pair of shoes in a rural village will cost about US$1. The take-home for you is that China is a big country with a wide range of socio-economic groups. A savvy operator will alter her behavior according to the provenance, age and experience of her Chinese interlocutor. If you are not sure how to behave, tend towards conservative and respectful behavior, and you won't go wrong.

Bringing It Home

As a non-Chinese reading this article and thinking about what it might be like to work in China and to interact with people here on a professional basis, please think about the above two paradoxes in the context of a dynamically changing society. For example, how differently might you behave in a meeting with a 70-year-old man as opposed to a meeting with his 30-year-old granddaughter?

Our septuagenarian, likely born to a large family, would have spent his first years in a traditional Confucianist Society with outdated practices such as foot-binding, as little food as there were human rights, and invading foreign forces ravaging the nation. Following the civil war in Mao's China, he would have worked for an egalitarian state-owned company where there was little salary difference between the CEO and factory worker. In that capacity, he experienced the disastrous effects of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, before his situation improved during the reform process. If you are meeting with him in a professional capacity at a senior level, given his age, it is likely he is powerful and has been through things you can't even begin to imagine. Don't be fooled by his shabby suit and nylon socks; you want to accord this individual the respect he fully merits. Give him a gift at the first meeting, use your common sense on what he will like and shower him with compliments that you feel to be true. Don't flatter for the sake of it, but express your admiration for what China has achieved and for what he or his company has achieved. Stay on safe subjects - don't be critical about China, don't offer your view of what they could do better, indeed don't offer advice unless you are asked for it. Be friendly, positive and respectful. Everyone knows you are a foreigner in China, don't know where to sit, what to order or eat, how to behave, etc., so just be yourself, be genuine and, most importantly, be respectful. (If you are a guy and are invited to consume alcohol in a series of toasts, there is a strong expectation for you to do so. If you don't drink, then do say so, but you might explain it by saying you have a health complaint and ask an associate to toast for you. Drinking and business meetings is a whole other subject.)

Now let's take a look at his 30-year-old granddaughter. An only child, gifted iPhones, iPads, Nike trainers, a wonderful education and the latest gear by her grandparents and parents, she also suffers from their attention to her career success. Less bound by the constraints of traditional Confucianist norms, she has known nothing her entire life other than economic success and an exuberant, burgeoning capitalist society. As a woman, she has far more opportunities than her mother or grandmother might have enjoyed. If she is successful and has some good connections, she works for a state-owned enterprise because these offer the highest salaries and the most job security. If you meet this person in an unusually senior capacity, it is not unlikely that she is well-connected, is on the way up and that this post is a stepping stone to the next position. Someone with that background is likely to conduct the meeting with you in English rather than Chinese and don't be surprised that her English is flawless. What makes this meeting both a lot easier and a lot more difficult is that she is on your wavelength. Although you should stick to the same rules as those expressed with the septuagenarian, you will naturally fall into a more direct mode of expression with less of a dance. What you need to watch out for here is to re-confirm all aspects of what you have agreed. While your interlocutor can switch to your radio frequency with ease, that does not mean her company will follow suit, so make sure you summarize a checklist of everything to which you have agreed at the end of the meeting and then follow up with an email. There is a likelihood your matter will be handed to a deputy, and so you need to double-check everything to which you have agreed with the deputy. Don't be surprised if it feels like you are starting again.

Other Things to Consider Before Working in China

In conclusion, I should put these thoughts into the context of the Rule of Law/Rule of Man debate, and what that means for you as you anticipate doing business here. China has one of the most extensive legal codes in the world. It is almost impossible to do anything business-wise in China without breaking some regulation. By way of explanation, there is a contrast to be drawn between low-trust societies that have extensive legal codes that few observe strictly - for instance, Spain, Italy and India - and high-trust societies, such as those in Northern Europe, with more restricted legal codes that are rigorously observed. As a result, business people coming from high-trust societies may feel at sea doing business in China, while those coming from low-trust societies will be at an advantage. For example, although prestigious GMs from western Europe are much admired by Chinese hotel owners, in my experience some of the most successful hotel GMs in China hail from low-trust societies, like India, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey, precisely because they find it easier to tune into the Chinese way of doing things. There are rules and regulations, but these are prioritized and are there to create a playing field rather than delimit it.

It is not the rule of law that determines the structure of an industry, but the interaction between the rule of law and man. This brings me to a second key point. A country still grappling with how an independent judiciary might fit into its party-led political system is by definition a low-trust society. As a result, in modern-day China, contacts are key. While the legal system will afford you a measure of protection, don't be fooled into thinking it gives anything approaching full security. This is a hard business environment for non-Chinese to be sure and when push comes to shove, in terms of setting up your business, operating it and defending its ownership in the event of success, your network of contacts are highly useful.

Guy Rubin is the Managing Partner of Imperial Tours, which has been named SuperAgent in Travel for the third consecutive Year. He and his family have lived and worked in Beijing since 1997.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Design Inspiration: How the Heck Do Cutting-Edge Ideas Form and Evolve?

For ideas to manifest into wonderful creations, they need to be nurtured, expanded upon, and allowed to evolve. In my style of event production, this works best when ideas are thrown out to a group of people and massaged and manipulated until they morph into something that meets an objective, beyond its original intent. I am a huge believer in the power of collaboration. It is one of the cornerstones of my sessions whenever I speak to industry groups on event design.

One of my greatest joys as Executive Director of Event Design for MGM Resorts Events (MRE) is to incorporate creative partners from a wide variety of disciplines that are not shy about bringing new ideas to the table. On one scale, the MRE team collaborates instinctively and without missing a beat on all of our scenic and prop designs. And on a larger scale, incorporating digital media designers, partners with exciting backgrounds in entertainment, and scenic designers with experience in concert and/or theater backgrounds all offer fresh approaches to the world of event design.

Some Recent Ideas My Partners and I Have Been Exploring

  • A product  I am currently enamored with - LED Tape. It allows one to internally illuminate a variety of scenic pieces while giving the lighting designer total control of color and movement. This goes way beyond what you see in "light up" bars or furniture, mainly because it is DMX controllable. It is a cost effective way of getting great looks without having to have additional lighting fixtures externally illuminating scenic decor elements.
  • Recent advances in software and creative stock content have made 3-D mapping a much more affordable way of animating scenery. There is certainly no replacement for wonderfully designed 3-D content to project on surfaces. However, some excellent effects can be created by collaborating with a good lighting and digital media designer utilizing stock content when budget doesn't allow for custom content. I foresee a time in the near future when much more event scenery is created through video on 3-D surfaces, as opposed to standard, "static prop" design.
  • Vinyl graphics and digitally-printed graphics applied to dance floors are certainly nothing new in events. However, my team and I have been experimenting with direct-to-wood printing on dance floors and stages recently. The advantages are that it is a cost-effective, less labor-intensive way to incorporate graphic designs onto these surfaces, allowing limitless possibilities for dance floor and stage design.
For an entertaining look at the ideas mentioned above, take a look at the "fans" used in the wall decor in the video entitled  “Attraction” to see LED Tape in action. Also check out the accordion-style, circular design on the back wall for a fun, inexpensive, mapping example that is much more interesting than standard scenery with lighting; and lastly, this film showcases a great example of the direct-to-wood digital printing on a dance floor.

For a more elaborate 3-D mapping example, check out "Chrome." I LOVE this animated wall decor we call the "Robot Girls" (as they resemble 2 female robots lying on their backs, knee-to-knee). Notice the diagonal squares incorporated into the wall decor to see another excellent example of LED Tape controlled by the lighting designer. For the complete animation of the Robot Girls, which was time-coded to the exact beat of three (3) entertainment production numbers with a cast of 30 dancers, check out the Chrome Robot Girls Final Composite.

Best Advice for Those Starting out in the Design Business

This is the most frequently asked question as I tour the country speaking. My response is always the same. Do the right things and don't do the wrong things. What I mean by that is your integrity and work ethic - the way you conduct yourself in your personal and professional lives - are your greatest assets. Your high standards are noticed by most people, and low standards are noticed by everyone. To be, and remain, successful in business, you must have four (4) key qualities ... you must be committed, accountable, resourceful, and the fourth can go either way - you need to be innovative, or the low price leader. I look at the analogy of Apple and Walmart. Both are highly successful companies. Which type of company would you rather be?

For the past 32 years, King Dahl, Executive Director of Event Design for MGM Resorts Events, has been engaged in art, design, environmental aesthetics, and music. He has intertwined these varied passions into a flourishing career in the world of special events. Fresh out of college, King began his career in 1982 being mentored by the 2013 Special Events Magazine Lifetime Achievement Recipient, Cheryl Fish, and worked his way up in her company, It’s The Main Event. Event innovators Andrea Michaels, John Daly, and Dr. Joe Jeff Goldblatt were also major inspirations. After several years with ITME, King opened his own company, King Dahl Event Design, based in Los Angeles, CA. After over a decade as a business owner, King sold KDED to take advantage of an offer from MGM Resorts Events. King now leads a 100+ person team that produces over 1000 events a year. The majority of events that MGM Resorts Events produces occur in the city in which they are headquartered, Las Vegas, Nevada. However, the MRE team is also called on to design and produce many events domestically and internationally on an annual basis.

King continues to be propelled by other leaders in the event industry, both established and newer to the fold, but also gains inspiration by visionaries in diverse creative fields. Throughout his career, King and his associates have created environments for celebrities in film, sports, and music. Virtually every Fortune 500 company and many meaningful charitable foundations are among his list of delighted clients. In addition to many event design awards throughout the years, King’s thought-provoking, informative, and entertaining speaking engagements and seminars have earned him respect on the speaker’s circuit throughout the meetings and special events industry. Contact King at King Dahl Linked In, King Dahl Facebook, MGM Resorts Events Facebook