Wednesday, December 13, 2017

LESSONS LEARNED FROM WORKING GLOBALLY

What to do, what not to do, and how to travel through the many ins and outs of working globally is an exhilarating challenge. This last week I attended a seminar that talked about what you need to know, and I realized how few people were truly educated on this subject. One question the facilitator asked of the group was, “What is your favorite country to work in?” and moments later the group was laughing at my transparent expression that revealed I mentally was ticking off all the places I had worked, and there are many of them.

Significant tip: Always double check the dates on your passport and your VISA. Don’t check “single entry” if you’re going to enter the country more than once.

Check departure dates. I found out the hard way that my visa to Russia expired the day before my flight back. Yes, I found out when I checked in, which meant I could not leave the country without applying for a new visa.

So, you know me; I tell stories and that’s how I learn. It’s also how I share. There’s lots to share, and I’ve even edited down these stories.

Here’s one I call “The Trip from Hell”:
My best friend, John Daly, and I had just finished a conference in India and took a day to sightsee and visit friends in Dubai. We were then planning a three-day vacation to see more of India as during the conference we went from hotel to convention center and back, other than a very short visit to the Taj Mahal.

We left Dubai at 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday after a wonderful time. The Ritz in Dubai had been first rate. We even found baby clothes for my grandson and a Starbucks. I bought nothing, NOTHING, for myself as I was saving up for those few days in India.

After we landed at the Delhi Airport, I went through immigration without mishap and then noticed that John was not behind me. Shortening this story, they did not allow John into India because his visa said, "single entry," and they had let him in before by mistake and were not going to do it this time. They wanted to send him back to Dubai where he could apply for another visa. We quickly figured out that this scenario wouldn’t work, because by the time he got his visa (remember it was a weekend) our vacation would be long gone.

Nothing worked after multiple calls to sort this out with the conference planners. We had a very nice tour, driver and rooms booked in India, which I had to cancel. They wouldn't let John out of immigration. Since I had had to go out to make phone calls, they wouldn’t let me back in with him. I finally negotiated that we could go home from Delhi, if John didn't “enter” the airport. Of course, our luggage was now at the Intercontinental Hotel in Delhi, far from the airport, especially in Delhi traffic. These negotiations for every decision went on for hours and hours with people who would listen (or pretend to) and then disappear, sometimes never to be seen again.

After a while, I sent a driver back to the hotel to get our luggage. And while John was still being guarded, I went outside of the airport (oh, if you think arriving is bad, you should see those huddled masses outside the domestic terminal late at night!) to look for the driver with our luggage. I had no clue who the driver was or what he looked like or how to find him. In the meantime, we had no tickets to get home three days early, and I couldn’t find any of the people to whom I had previously spoken.

When I tried to get back inside the terminal, they didn't want to let me in since I had no ticket. I finally was met by someone from Air India who ushered me in and helped me meet the driver with the luggage. Then I had to try to find John with no tickets to anywhere while being told that flights not only had no business class available but were sold out. We were told that we could wait in the lounge all night and fly to London, New York and then Los Angeles ... economy.

At the last minute, we did get business class to New York. This was after ALL AFTERNOON and NIGHT in the lounge with no food. There’s a poem that starts “let me count the ways.” Paraphrased it was “let me count the days” as we had now been gone from Dubai more than 24 hours and had not either food or beverage of any kind since we left.

Here was our itinerary. Delhi to London to New York and then transfer to American to Los Angeles.

Our luggage did arrive in New York, and we got through customs and immigration and over to the American terminal. There we were told that the flight was a code share and, therefore, we needed to go to Qantas. So, we changed terminals and stood in another line. Alas, Qantas said "no" we could not go to Los Angeles unless we went to Australia first. So, back to Air India we went.

You can imagine how helpful they were. Not! Finally, though, they accommodated us on an American flight that would get us home close to midnight, L.A. time. Unfortunately, no one knew where our luggage was, but we thought it MIGHT be on the Qantas flight. No business class was available. We took it. ANYTHING. I had a cold and a bladder infection. As I think about it, that was the best part of the trip.

In any case, we arrived back in Los Angeles around 12:30 a.m., and as we went to report our lost luggage, I looked around at the long line of people waiting to report their own lost bags. What a line!  And then I spotted our luggage sitting on the floor in front of the “lost baggage” area. It had arrived on the Qantas flight an hour before we did. By the way, other than a pair of earrings I got at the Delhi airport, nothing to declare. That’s a first!

John rented a car and drove me home. Finally, I curled up in my own bed with my cats. Wired to the gills. Hungry. But ever so glad to be there. Home. Was anything ever more wonderful?

The Lesson:  There’s no place like home, Auntie Em.


If you want more travel adventures, click here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

BUSINESS SUCCESS: GOAL OR PATH?

I was recently asked if success is a goal for which I strive. And I immediately, without even thinking about it, said, “NO!”

“Why not?” was the surprised reply in a very shocked tone of voice.

Here’s what I think: What happens when you establish a goal, and you then reach it? What do you do then? Do you stop? Is there no more to do? It’s “done?”

To me, success is something that is a continuous process. For example, I could set a goal and say, “When I complete this project, I will be a success.” Or “When I have this amount of money, I will have achieved success.” When that project is completed or that amount of money is in the bank, what happens after that? Am I done? Do I set another goal?

I think success is something else entirely. Success is a continuum-always striving to do more, doing better, continuing to travel the path and grow and achieve. So, success to me is not a goal. It’s a pathway.

Let me add that I don’t think success can truly be defined because it means something entirely different to each person. If you are doing the best that you can do and optimizing your life in every way possible, that would probably be my definition of success. Please consider this: Can you honestly say that you couldn’t be doing some things better? So, no, I don’t really define success as an actuality.

The person who asked me the original question then asked, “What happens when you reach the state you define as successful?” 

My reply was that I don’t reach that state, nor do I want to. When most people reach it, they get complacent; they stop moving forward. Either that or they set unrealistic goals and then invite failure, or at least their perception of failure.


If I could advise anyone, including myself, who says, “I want to be a success,” I would say the following: Don’t look at “success” as the end of a road. Don’t define success because you won’t know what to do with yourself once you have realized that definition. Rather, just keep expanding your horizons, loving what you do, reaching for the stars, and dreaming of the possibilities. When you just keep dreaming, that becomes your forever goal.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extrarordinaryevents.com.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SAY WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY - A BUSINESS AND PERSONAL MANTRA

So, I’ll start with my personal experiences. Over the last few years I have heard people tell me about their good intentions. “Let’s get together” followed by… nothing. Or in the case of my grandchildren (with me present) “I’ll call you, so I can take you out on my boat” followed by… nothing. I could fill a novel the size of Gone with The Wind with the promises made and unkept.

Why are these personal disappointments so applicable to business? And I ask you kindly to be honest with yourselves and remember the times you might have said to a vendor, “We haven’t made any decisions yet” …. Or “Call me back in a few days so we can get together” which meant “call me never.”

Or any number of things that were not honest. And when you say, “We do everything in house” is that an honest statement when you do source out many parts of your projects?

On a personal level I would rather people said nothing than make promises they have no intention of keeping. Once they say they will do something, do it, and if they are only filling time with empty statements, say nothing at all except pleasantries. Don’t make me (or my family) hopeful of an event or action that will never happen.

On a business level, are we fair to our clients when we make promises we might not be able to keep, don’t meet deadlines, and say “did you check your spam?” when the proposal was never sent via email? Or is it ethical to intimate that we can meet a budget that is unreasonable because we are hopeful our client will eventually find more money and operate a program on a bigger budget? Again, I could go on forever with these examples. And feel free to add your own.  

Ah, client, did you think you were exempt? When you tell your suppliers that you don’t know what your budget is, is this true? “I don’t want to stifle your creativity” is an oft used phrase. And my response is “stifle away please.” Because my time and creativity are worth something, and I don’t want to waste my time (and therefore money) proposing a million-dollar event or entertainer when the budget is a tenth of that.

Tritely, honesty IS the best policy. So, think before you speak. And, when you speak, make sure to mean what you say. Please.


Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extrarordinaryevents.com.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

As our clients and their participants now are inclusive of four generations, understanding your audience is even more imperative. Here's a story about my "big lady clothes" to drive home my point.

Many years ago, I made a life-altering decision. I was obese and self- conscious, so I signed up for gastric bypass surgery. Vanity and health-related issues like diabetes influenced this decision, but in all honesty, vanity was the primary contributor. My reason: Just once in my life I wanted people to look at me and say, “My, she has a nice figure.”

I was a size 22/24. Yep, obese. I’ll skip the details, but the result was that I lost almost 100 pounds and was not only “normal” but better than normal. Clothed, I had a great bod. Unclothed, another story. But I later fixed that, too, though it has nothing to do with this story. 

Now between sizes six and eight, I had a lot of “big lady” clothing in my closet.  It was designer stuff (Yes, they have designers for large sizes) and expensive. If you don’t know me well, I should tell you that my great love is, and always has been, shopping.

This information is important to my story because my medical group offered support meetings every week, and part of its routine was to have people bring in the clothes that they had outgrown so that those losing weight wouldn’t have to buy new clothing as they down-sized. Some of the ladies were almost 400 or 500 pounds, and I decided to bring them my clothes, thinking that by the time they got to my size 22s they could have a glamorous wardrobe.

So, I attended one of these meetings with bags filled with my lovely offerings. To kick the meeting off, the facilitator asked, “So what’s the best part of losing weight?”

One lady responded, “I can walk into K-Mart and buy anything I want now.”

I should have grabbed my bags and run at that moment, but I didn’t. At the end of the meeting, the various bags people had brought were opened, and clothes started being passed around. I happily anticipated the joy of watching women seize my designer clothes, ranging from evening gowns to business suits.

It didn’t happen.

These women were almost repelled as they handled my clothing. They snickered at the evening wear …” Where they hell would I wear THAT? When I shoveled horseshit?” Business suits were almost as denigrated.

I was aghast. I knew I (and my clothes) didn’t belong there.

So, how does this relate to business? Any business?

It’s a simple lesson:  Know your audience.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extrarordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Emmy Awards, Dining for Women and Female Empowerment… What Do They Have in Common?

Dining For Women at Extraordinary Events
I was fascinated with the many speeches of this year’s Emmy Awards winners. Instead of concentrating on race, they focused on women. The dialogue included the lack of good female roles (Reese, Nicole,) and the lack of women behind the scenes (Yay, Reed Morano), a gorgeous young female director who easily could have been on the other side of the camera. Oops, is that sexist? Intentionally so. It’s hard to imagine that Reese, Nicole, Shailene, and Zoe, the ladies of Big Little Lies, would ever have trouble finding suitable parts in A-list projects. Yet it seems to be so.

Being a woman who faced leaping into a man’s world many years ago, this intrigued me. Even in the mid- to late 1970s, being a woman in a man’s world was never much of a problem in Los Angeles. Venturing into Wall Street and financial clients or the Midwest with automotive customers, for instance, was an entirely different story. Slowly I got comfortable dealing with the “good old boys’ network” in the USA, but it took some patience. I was young, so I dressed carefully, drank or partied not at all, and, as I didn’t play golf and knew nothing about sports, was not immediately embraced. It took time and trust, and of course many more women started entering the events world over the next few years, sometimes even owning their own companies. (Not like today, is it?)

Having success as a woman in business in the USA, I wanted to expand my marketplace. So, I ventured out to Japan where at first I was treated like I didn’t exist. On a site visit to Tokyo for a major consulting project I took two men with me, one a designer, one a production associate. Me? I was the creative director. Even better, I owned the company. Yet, when we sat down with our client, the six men at the table only talked to my male associates. (Perhaps the initial inquiry addressed to “Mr. Andrea” should have clued me?)

I quietly told my gents to smile and say nothing, absolutely nothing. I informed the six clients that I deserved respect since I was senior to all of them as the owner and president of my company, which gave me status over them, and that I was also “senior” to them in age, and therefore worthy of respect. I also informed them that the two men with me were my employees and would not speak unless I allowed them to do so. Therefore, they could talk to me, or we could all go home, having experienced a nice few days in Japan at their expense. I did this softly and politely with a smile. But I was firm. They responded by treating me with the utmost respect from that moment on.


So why those stories? Because I fully understand what was said at the Emmys and how far we women all have to go to make a place for ourselves in the business or entertainment world.  We have so many fabulous role models out there; women in power; heads of companies, leaders… young, old, beautiful or not. Just wonderful women. But rarely was the welcome mat laid at our feet. We earned our place.

Kenya Self-Help Initiative

Back to my headline: I have supported the initiatives of Dining for Women, an organization which is transforming lives and eradicating poverty among women and girls in the developing world. These are women who do not have the same advantages or opportunities that we do. On a monthly basis, this organization is dedicating to sending $50,000 somewhere in the world where women will benefit through education and skills. It is entirely about sustainability and empowerment. It does not take away from their roles as wives and mothers; it just gives them a better way to support themselves, their families, and their communities. It might be training them as teachers; or teaching them to give vaccinations. This organization's initiatives have taught me so much about the world that I didn't know. I realize that even with the obstacles I faced I had it easy compared to most of the world. Please visit their website at https://diningforwomen.org/ as they have chapters all over the USA, and the meetings are a way of truly doing something good for our world.

So, ladies of television, thank you for calling out that there is still work to be done. You were inspiring.


 Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extrarordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

AUDITIONING FOR A PART OR A JOB... Thank You, Jon Voight

Jon Voight with Karen Kraft of VFT

I had the pleasure of attending a talk by the legendary actor, Jon Voight, at a meeting for Veterans in Film & Television (more on that later). Of the many stories he told, one especially resonated. He talked about his auditions and acted some of them out. He told stories about others’ auditions, and his many personalities were entertaining. And then he said:

Don’t think of it as an audition. YOU GET TO ACT. You have an audience. You have a script. You get to act.

How incredible is that one phrase? No matter what it is that you do, it is a performance of some sort. For those of us in the meetings and events industry, think about your sales pitch. Are you auditioning for a job where the outcome is the only thing that matters? Do you stress out about rehearsing and over rehearsing, and all the while you are pitching you are wondering “did I get the job?” or “who else is pitching?” or “did they like me?” or “should I have presented another concept?” Does all of this pass through your mind?

I’ve had so much fun with the last couple of presentations, aka pitches, that I’ve given. I don’t know if I won the business (yet). I shared with a friend that I wasn’t concerned about the result because the meeting had been so engaging and interactive and explorative. I was not auditioning. In my own way, I was acting. In the moment. Giving it my all. And loving it. Watching my audience love it too.

Now you might wonder how to make a sales pitch interactive… it’s one of the things I think about when a vendor comes to us and gives us a “lecture” accompanied by power point. We know that it’s a canned speech; we can always tell. It’s not a conversation, and it has nothing to do with our needs. Those appointments tend to end quickly even when there are pastries involved. Think about the trade shows you attend… do you react more favorably when not listening to the exact same pitch as was given to so many others? Who do you remember? Probably the very friendly person who listened to you, explored your needs, and then found a way to tell their story adapted to what they’d heard from you. It’s like theatre, isn’t it? Actors responding to each other; not a soliloquy.

We are all very much engaged in the concept of “experiential marketing” and “experiential events”. What do those really mean? They both mean that we create environments where our “audience” has a real experience. Though the end goal might be making a sale or promoting a product, the key here is “the experience” - the here and now that Jon was trying to get across. You, the actor, are performing in real time and giving it your all. Your audience is receiving the very best of you in real time. You are being given that wonderful opportunity to shine, and you need to stay in the here and now.

I guess I can bring it down to this… if you truly love telling your story and you feel the joy in the opportunity to do so, then remember Jon Voight’s words…YOU GET TO ACT.

It was because of Veterans in Film & Television (VFT) that I could listen to Jon Voight and learn from him. But I also learned from the veterans in that audience. These ranged from WWII vets to those recently returned from military service. The organization is committed to placing them in roles in film and television, including script writing, acting, directing, composing, anything and everything. It provides training, exposure, and apprenticeships. I was so glad to learn these vets receive meaningful roles that are more than being “extras”. This is a very interactive, engaged, and enthusiastic bunch. You’ll be hearing more from me about this group as I intend to get involved. We need to raise funds to support the organization, and we need to hear opportunities for them and share them. So, keep following along and please connect to their website at http://www.vftla.org/

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extrarordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

ARE YOU THE STAR OF THE SHOW OR PART OF AN ENSEMBLE?

Last week I went to see Hamilton. It was exactly as advertised. Innovative. Inspiring. Entertaining. Fabulous. So, what did I most love about it? It might have been the exceptional soloists, all of whom performed to perfection. Great voices. Great dancing. Fine acting. It might have been the creative thought process behind the entire project. Or it might have been the way history was made accessible and interesting.

Note: It might have been, but it wasn’t. What moved me the most was the last three minutes when the entire ensemble lined up for bows. Not one incredible soloist stepped forward to be acknowledged and applauded. As one, they took three bows. And then that was it. Sheer business inspiration for me.

Do we operate as soloists, needing to be acknowledged and applauded when we have a creative idea, do a well-received pitch, or deliver an amazing event? Do we speak in “I” rather than “we”? Do we represent ourselves as a team or as a group of individuals? This motivated me to review our Website and how we represent our company, and I’m not sure that after Hamilton I’m not going to entirely change it up.

I see a lot of references to me, as owner and founder of the company and how invested I am in each project. Yes, I am. So, what? Everyone else who has creative or logistical input is just as committed to the success of each project. We have much time invested in “Think Tank Tuesdays” in which everyone participates to talk about the latest, greatest, and how we can use new ideas to the benefit of our clients. That’s an “us” type of happening at Extraordinary Events. And it wasn’t my idea.

Maybe the media has made it a world where we think of the face of certain companies, such as Bill Gates and Microsoft, or Steve Jobs and Apple. Yet, were they really soloists? I don’t think so.

All of which begs the way to tell our stories better. We need to get as far away from the mentality of “my client” as possible. Okay, I will digress for a minute. I have a friend who refers to the person who helps her in times of infirmity as “my girl”. I have a show director who refers to her talent as “my kids”. Ahem, folks, we own nobody. NO BODY!

So, let’s learn from the Hamilton cast. We need to take our bows as a team. Do you agree?


Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of 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. She may be reached at amichaels@extrarordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SHUT UP… OR GET FIRED OR WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE THE LAST WORD UNLESS IT’S THE RIGHT LAST WORD

I had an interesting learning experience while on vacation. When engaging in conversations with new acquaintances, if I heard them say something with which I didn’t agree I would always find a way to either contradict them (because I knew better, of course) or end our exchange with my opinion. I needed to be right.

As I heard myself do this repeatedly, I realized how very wrong it was, and then I went a step beyond…. did I do this with my own team, much less with my clients? Did I always have to have the last word? I think maybe I did, if not always, then too often. And what did it gain me? So, let’s just talk about what it can do for you.

How often when we hear clients ask for something unreasonable, un-doable, not possible within their budget or timeframe, or any other reason do we show how knowledgeable we are by letting them know that we know better? We continue to advise until we end the conversation with our opinion. Now we might do it nicely, but is it really respectful of who they are? They are our clients; they sign the checks that allow us to stay in business. Their opinion and their needs are very important. We need to allow them to have the last word.

It's all about how things are framed. Instead of “It’s not possible” how about “I think those are great ideas. Can we explore them together, pros and cons, and see how we can accomplish your goals within your budget?” And then end the discussion by thanking them for it and for sharing their thoughts and letting them know their opinions mattered. Yes, you might have that final closing sentence, but it will be a sentence that empowers them and respects them.

We all agree that silence is the most powerful tool we have in communication. Negotiations always go in favor of the person who says nothing but just waits for the other person to talk… they usually talk themselves into a corner, don’t they? Think of buying a car. The longer you are silent, the more likely you are to get a better deal. So, lots of" Hmmm… that’s a great idea"… "Let’s talk more about that"… those are the same as silence. Let your clients talk. You don’t always have to jump in and cover every moment with quick solutions. Lead your clients. Guide your clients. If they think they have the solution, you’ll be a hero.

And you won’t get fired. Think about it.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of 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. She may be reached at amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS OR YOU’LL GET NO ANSWER OR THE WRONG ONE, RIGHT?

This time I am not putting blame on anyone. Nor sole responsibility. Positive outcomes come from clear communication. When I read Shep Hyken’s blog (featured below intact because all is so true and on point), I thought about the many times that we missed the mark on a proposal, or lost money on a budget because we didn’t ask the right questions, or the “extra” questions as Shep says.

In the event industry when we ask a venue if they have power and they say “yes” that isn’t the answer to the real question. The question is “Do you have power and is there a charge for it and if so, how much is that charge, and then what does that include?” Simply put you need to ask, “Is there any cost that will be applied to anything that we are doing that I need to know about?” Then, whatever the outcome of the communication, memorialize it in writing. There is no such thing as a good assumption.

Vendor, you need to be forthcoming and ask, “What will you be doing and what will you need?” Keep asking the questions so you are clear. Then you, too, are responsible for memorializing the conversation.

How many times have you had to eat the cost of those taxes or service fees you forgot to ask about? Or tables you assumed were the right size? Or if the cost of floral or furniture included delivery and pick up?

One of my favorites… and I thought I had asked the right questions… silly me. “Is there a charge for power?” I asked. “Yes, it is included in the rental fee.” What they didn’t tell me was that there was a $5,000 charge to turn on the power.

Enjoy Shep’s observations and keep asking questions… all of you. -Andrea Michaels

My brother, Rusty Hyken, was on a trip to Utah with his wife and two dogs. It’s a leisurely three-day drive for them. He made their hotel reservations, and for each hotel they planned to stop at on the way to Utah he asked, “Is your hotel dog-friendly?” All of them said, “Yes.” But to his surprise, while checking into one of the hotels he was told there would be a $120 charge for the dogs to stay in his room. This was a surprise as he called and specifically asked about dogs, and the hotel never mentioned the fee for the dogs.

So, I did some checking. Apparently, there are many dog-friendly hotels, and most do not charge fees. The Starwood Hotels and Kimpton Hotels are just two of the many hotels that don’t charge for pets and are proud of their pet-friendly policy. Kimpton will actually provide fish in your room if you crave the companionship of a pet. (Really!)

Now, I totally understand the fee for a dog. Not all dogs are “hotel trained,” which could lead to an accident on the carpet, which takes more time and costs more money to clean. Yet, some hotels will recognize this effort and cost as a small price to pay for a positive reputation among pet lovers.

All of this leads to the point of the article. My brother didn’t ask the right question. He asked if the hotel was dog-friendly. He didn’t ask if there was a charge. In fairness to him, he’s stayed at many hotels with his dogs, and this was the first to charge a fee.

When he checked in, the conversation with the hotel clerk was contentious. My brother didn’t want to pay the fee. The hotel clerk asked my brother, “I know you asked if we were a dog-friendly hotel, but did you ask if we charged for dogs?”

Are you kidding me! That’s exactly what my brother thought, too. So, he asked to speak to the manager.

The manager came out and had a nice conversation with my brother. He also asked, “Did you ask if there was an additional charge for the dog?” When my brother started to get upset, the manager informed him that he was not asking to make a case for charging him the fee. The manager wanted to know the conversation so he could teach his team to handle future pet-friendly inquiries a different way.

Many of you who read my work or watch my videos know about my concept to Ask the Extra Question. Sometimes a customer says one thing but means something else. So, asking an extra question – or two or three – can help you understand what a customer really wants. For example, when a customer says, “I need this quickly,” ask the extra question, “How quickly do you need it?” Your concept of quickly may be different than your customer’s expectation.

Yet, the situation with my brother was different. The answer the hotel reservationist gave him on the phone was the exact answer to his question. However, he didn’t ask the right question. And, that is the point of this lesson. My brother, as a guest, could have – if he knew to – asked an extra or different question. However, maybe the reservationist should have asked the extra question for him.

Truly customer-focused people ask their customers at least one extra question to ensure they understand their customers. They also ask questions on behalf of their customers, because their customers don’t always know what questions to ask.

Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a customer service expert, hall-of-fame speaker and New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. He works with organizations to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is also the creator of The Customer Focus, a customer service training program that helps organizations develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset.  For more information contact (314) 692-2200 or www.Hyken.com. Follow on Twitter:  @Hyken 

For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to 
www.thecustomerfocus.com.

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


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THANK YOU, BUT WE DO EVERYTHING IN-HOUSE

But (the unread subtext) is: “We expect you to clean it up when it doesn’t show up, doesn’t work, or was a bad decision.”

How often do we hear from our prospects (or even old clients) that all bases are covered by their internal staff, or in the case of social events, by the bride, or her mother, or favorite uncle, or bridesmaid? And with Google being everyone’s best friend, who needs a professional?

I met with a friend yesterday who charged a wedding coordination fee for such a person. The client  insisted that she  could find and hire all her own  best vendors. So my friend offered as part of their day of assistance to call  those vendors to coordinate and manage them on site.

Let’s start with the biggest mishap first. The client failed to notify my friend of any bussing or shuttle needs, and then she hired a bus company to shuttle her guests from the hotel to the venue.  The venue was a vineyard, with very narrow and semi-paved roads and very limited turnaround space, enough for a car, but certainly not enough for a 54-passenger bus!  The bus company got lost, delaying the wedding ceremony by 45 minutes (trickle down to the meal perhaps?). And when the bus arrived it could not fit through the gates of the venue. The hosts had to gather cars to drive to the entrance to pick up guests and shuttle them to the ceremony. Makes for a great mood, don’t you think? Then, of course, the return would require the same Chinese Fire Drill.  Would the hosts want to leave their celebration to shuttle people again? My friend suggested dismissing the big bus and getting two smaller coaches for the return, along with ordering Ubers for those who wanted to leave early as Uber drivers could not only find the venue, but fit through the gates. This was agreed to, and the client told the driver, who then went home without alerting his company that they needed to send the two smaller vehicles. Holiday weekend. Office closed. Only VM.

Well, in truth there were voices… of the aggravated guests and the even more aggravated hosts. And this was only one of the missteps.

For corporate events, there are no brides and grooms but CEOs, and we can slide down the food chain from there to figure out who is responsible for managing major conferences and events where they do “everything” in-house. Really? You own an AV company, create dazzling florals, cook and serve spectacular meals while playing the harp, and perhaps do an aerial ballet at the same time? A bit of a stretch I admit, but the point is that rarely is a company as well connected as a professional planner who has extensive resources.

To take that a step farther, who then coordinates all the disparate entities that have been hired independently of each other? I will give you one such war story. In a nutshell, the planner had given all her vendors the wrong date, because event planning was only one of her many responsibilities for her company. The actual event was the day before she had confirmed. And on the day of the event she called me for a few of the items she had ordered screaming, “Where are the set pieces?”  I replied, “They’ll be there tomorrow on schedule.” She then yelled “But my event is today!” (in four hours from the time she called). There were over 50 separate piece of entertainment, several rooms of d├ęcor, and technical equipment, etc., etc., etc.

My point? Let’s educate our clients on our true capabilities and advise them gently on the consequences of not using a professional to do what a professional does best which is not making mistakes.


I would love to hear some of YOUR stories. Please share.

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SO YOU'VE ASKED ME TO EXPOSE MYSELF?

Taking a break from RFPs... sort of. At least the written ones. There is another kind of RFP, and it is the verbal "ask", often very one-sided, and thus, this discussion.

Let's profile an ideal client (or so we think). Theirs is a profitable, notable, Fortune 1000 company. They have CSR initiatives, are listed on the "Best Places to Work" lists, give to charity, and sponsor valuable activities.

And then they call you, little old you, with your team of 10 (or less), working every week to make Godzilla the Payroll (as my dear friend calls it). They say, "We'd like some top tier entertainment for a major event this weekend, and we want to spend $400. You'll be getting a lot of exposure." Now they might ask for decor or furniture or catering, so don't look at the dollar figures; look at the principle.

Re-reading the previous paragraph, I remember that I once heard someone say, "If I wanted exposure, I'd stand on my lawn naked." Or, "One could die from over-exposure."

Another way the client might ask could be, "I know a lot of people." Or "Don't you know where this could lead?" Well, usually it leads to more of those "a lot of people" asking for the same thing for the same money.

I can think of numerous whippy tongue-in-cheek responses for these unreasonable requests. However, just as we don't consider the request respectful, we shouldn't make our responses just as disrespectful. That's the real subject of this blog this week.

May I suggest that we put our professionalism to work here and respond with, "I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate your call to ask me to participate in your event. I do wish I could provide you with top tier entertainment (or whatever is asked for) for the price you stated. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who fits the bill. I respect your needs and know that you expect only the best. Your company prides itself on providing an outstanding product for a fair price. (Now let's pretend it's an automotive client just as an example.) Would you expect me to ask you to give me a car for a fraction of its cost so the world could see me driving it down the highway?"

Continuing... "Let me offer you some solutions for what I can do and what it would really cost. If that doesn't work for you, let me just say that I would love to work with you in the future and give you the right entertainment (or whatever) for a fair price. Please do call me again.

The point? I don't like closed doors, and if they are closed I don't want to be the person closing them.

Thoughts?

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

CANNIBALS? THIEVES? WHO OWNS AN IDEA? JOIN THE DISCUSSION

So who is stealing from whom? We fret over competitors stealing our ideas or snatching vendors. But that's a distraction. Here is the real problem, and I will quote directly from an RFP so you'll know the villain. Let me set the stage.

XYZ Corporation sent us an RFP that involved the following:

-General Sessions
-Welcome Reception
-Team Building
-Break-Out Rooms
-Tours and Transportation
-Off-Site Dinner
-Gala Awards and Ceremony
-Dance Party with Interactive Experiences
-And more

The project would be awarded based on creativity and costs. All subcontractors were to be named, their roles defined, and contacts submitted. The program was to be designed in three different locations (two of them international) with renderings, photographs, videos, floor plans, and fully detailed budgets. With all costs transparent.

The RFP required that we agree to the following:

"Ownership of Proposal Documentation: All proposals (and related materials), once submitted, become the property of XYZ Corporation. By submitting a proposal, The Provider licenses Corporation to reproduce the whole or any portion of this Provider's proposal."

In effect, to do this correctly could easily have cost us $20,000 or more in time and work product. Now get this. All the work we did and all the vendors we secured would be owned by XYZ Corporation and either shared with the winning bidder or are executed by XYZ themselves.

So, in my opinion the only reason I would ever worry about a competitors would be if XYZ shared my proposal and all of its inclusions with that competitor and asked them to reproduce it. I know that if I were asked to do this I would run like the wind to get away from that client. But a lot of companies don't. They are so dazzled by the big bucks (yes, this program for 900 people for five days and four nights ran into the millions) that they forget that they are agreeing to theft. Yes, THEFT, THIEVERY. Who has the right to own our ideas, our drawings, our list of vendors?

We spend countless hours securing relationships with partners who trust us. Our Rolodex has taken years to develop. Do we want to give all of this away?

The best news is that XYZ Corporation has been honest. They have told us (and this is the part that could be considered "ethical") that they are going to do this and if we respond to the RFP we are agreeing to it. Not all companies are so forthcoming.

It's a good reminder to always read the small print and understand what you are signing off.

With all this in mind, I need your help. What do you do to prevent this from happening? I would never agree to it. How about you?

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Cannibalization of the Industry

Kate Patay, CPCE
This week, I'm turning over the conversation to Kate Patay, who provides valuable insight. -Andrea Michaels

After many lengthy discussions with various prominent figures in the events industry, the conversation that began with RFP's and how they've morphed into something entirely different than the original intent, the dialogue went deeper. 

We started discussing the result of this change in the process... the one stop shop that does a little bit of everything, but at what cost?

Yes, there are one stop shops that are successful and have identified and defined each area of expertise well, so if that's you there is no need to take offense. If you DO take offense to this post below from a recent NACE blog, then maybe your business model or practices should be re-examined....

Let's continue the conversation, shall we? Click below to continue reading.


Kate Patay, CPCE, is an international speaker and consultant and the Vice President of the National Association for Catering & Events. She is a faculty lecturer for The International School of Hospitality and an advisor to the Student Event Planners Association. She may be reached via kate@katepatay.com. 

Andrea Michaels is Founder and President of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning, international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life.  She may be reached at amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

REDEFINING THE RFP PART III Or REDUNDANT, FORMIDABLE, PLODDING

The catch phrase of the year is “disruptive,” and so we have been and will continue to be as we attack this subject. I thank so many of you for your input. I’m going to use it all for this Part Three. All of you have fantastic input, definitive opinions, and great interest in making some changes. And all of you are asking “how do we do that?” By standing together and effecting change… haven’t got it all figured out yet, but with all of you continuing to weigh in, maybe we’ll get there.

I’m going to add to this some comments by Bob Abbott, a former client (now retired) and meeting planner. Here’s what Bob had to say: “Typically I did a lot of homework leading up to selecting a supplier; therefore, I knew going in which potential suppliers were likely to deliver what I needed. Enter the Finance VP or Purchasing Manager: policy demands three bids. Did I need them? No. Did they? Not really. But they didn’t understand the process because they were in the mode of purchasing manufacturing process, commodities, and services. They also tended to buy the least costly whatever. To them, relationships and results didn’t matter as much as bottom line costs.”

Bob also adds that time is at a premium so often that some “cut and paste” is faster and sometimes appropriate if the event repeats year after year. “I” (Bob) “thought of the RFP as a door opener, inviting my selected potential suppliers to the table for interaction and dialogue. If I were one of those suppliers, my first action would be an exploratory phone call to address questions.”

So, believe it or not, we are on the same page with this savvy planner.

Hopefully Bob will read this and help us out with some common concerns:

1. Many RFPs state that the client will own all ideas. This means they are receiving a ton of creativity that they can unfairly give to their chosen vendor.

I say "never"!!!! I won't bid on a job which has this clause. What about you?

2. We find that no matter how many questions we ask to make sure that the project is for real and qualified we are dependent on the prospective client to tell the truth. They ask for bids without even knowing if they have the permission to carry out their plan, have the funds, have the time, or have the decision-making power.

We always need to ask "who is the decision maker?" And "is this a definite project?" Perhaps we should consider saying that we will respond to the RFP for no charge if it is a for-sure project (check with the venue; check with the city). However, if it is a proposed project that has not been approved, then we'll need to charge for the response. Thoughts, everyone?

3. You receive an RFP on a Friday before a holiday weekend. You send questions that need to be asked in order to respond. A kick-back email message advises that the sender is out for a week, and, of course, the RFP is due upon sender's return.

I would respond that "RFP was received at... questions submitted at... as soon as answers are received we will have our response to you within 48 hours (or your time frame) of receipt. And one of the questions should be "when will the responses be reviewed and read?"

4. One reader suggests that we interview people who have worked for these companies before.

I say "amen" to this suggestion.

5. Another reader suggests that "It's sad that most procurement specialists feel that the process is their attempt to do what is best for the company. However, anyone who is good at responding to RFPs knows that you bid low, be very specific, and make your money on the add ons.

How do you all feel about this? We base our business on the fact that we don't do this; we bid fairly and rarely have add ons to the RFP requirements, only to things that were not originally included.

6. Here's a new piece of information, and I hope that hoteliers will respond to this and let us know if it is true. And if so, could it work elsewhere in our industry? So here's the claim: Most hotels have an automatic RFP response system. They are too busy to respond to the RFP by reading the requirements in it. The system reads the event dates and automatically populates a response/proposal to be accordingly emailed back to the RFP sender (event company). If the RFP sender is really serious, he/she will contact the hotel to follow up. So the hotel doesn't work on it when they receive the RFP, only if the sender follows up.

The sender (event company) had sent an RFP that was clearly written as six (6) bullet point items which were main decision points for their client's event project. Not one hotel gave a complete response to those six points in their proposals. In order to collect relevant data, back and forth email traffic took place to ascertain all the needed information.

Hmmmm... when am I "too busy" to read an RFP?

The consensus is obvious: Everyone, planner, supplier, hotelier... everyone wants the process to change. And it seems to all boil down to qualifying the business from both points of view. Let's keep on working on this together, okay? Let's share our thoughts on solutions. I think we have a good handle on the challenges. As all of us would tell our employees: Don't come to me with the problem. Come to me with the problem and your proposed solution.

Let's open up a discussion of this additional dilemma. Many of you had one major issue: clients "stealing" our ideas. If the RFP calls for creative ideas, what can we put in place to protect ourselves from this unethical behavior? Any opinions out there on this topic? If so, I'll use them to further our discussion.

Let's all work together to disrupt things and change them up so everyone benefits. Okay?


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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

REDEFINING THE RFP, PART TWO: Revolting, Frivolous, Preposterous?

Admittedly revolting, frivolous, and preposterous were not the words I received in response to the existing RFP process in Part One, but similes. Universally (and I received a lot of input) no one defended the process as we know it to be now.

I am going to refer to a very thoughtful correspondence I received from Kate Patay, an event industry consultant, as she summarized what so many of you readers have shared... the process has to change.

1.We are in a fully transparent world. No one can hide anymore. Nothing can be hidden anymore.

2. Time is money. And we are being wasteful of both.

3. Kate closed with an Oprah quote that resonated: "Let excellence be your brand... when you are excellent you become unforgettable. Doing the right thing, even when nobody knows you are doing the right thing, will always bring the right thing to you."
     
      Should we assume that the purpose of an RFP should be to discover excellence? As written, they are now designed to discover mediocrity or lack of relevance. Am I wrong?

So why is this happening? Companies are sending out blanket RFPs. They lack real information. They lack an achievable goal. And they are not designed to discover the core competency of the responder. In many cases, they are designed to give a budget number that can be compared to other responders' budget numbers.

Let me tell you a story... a true one... I was asked to present my response to an RFP to a committee. I walked into a conference room and handed out my proposal and immediately saw that almost all of the committee had turned to the budget tab in this beautifully constructed document filled with photos and renderings. So, I sat down. Obviously puzzled, my contact said, "Aren't you going to present your proposal to us?" My response was, "No, I'm not." And then I shut up. Everyone got very uncomfortable until my contact said, "But you're here to give us your proposal for this event, aren't you?"

I politely responded with, "That's what I thought I was going to do. But it is obvious to me that all you care about is where the dollar sign and decimal point fall and how much it will all cost, but so far I haven't seen that you're interested in what design ideas, concepts, or value you are getting for those dollars. So if you have no idea what you're buying for the money I've quoted, then there's no point in my presenting anything to you. If you'd like to close the budget page and hear what I'd like to do and why, and why every cost brings value to your project, then I'm happy to present to you." Note: they closed their books and listened. I won the business. At least that time. 

So the question remains: is an RFP a demand for the best creative idea (and this brings on an entirely different discussion) or is it designed to filter through prospective companies and find the one best suited for collaboration? And how do we do this if we do not have enough information about the project to appropriately answer the RFP and be relevant?

Shouldn't clients return to the information pipeline and understand how crucial it is to give out concrete information? Why? So that when those of us choose to respond (and yes I believe we should choose based upon the quality of the RFP) we can showcase our strengths and what we bring to the table when we make that choice. We can only do that if we know what we are being asked to do in specific detail. 

All of that is very general, isn't it? Read Part One and some of those questions will be addressed. 

Moving forward and continuing this discussion, I would love to get the input of some of the corporate planners who issue RFPs to find out the following:

  1. When you are asked to bid out a project, are you being challenged by time? (This is an assumption, of course, that a planner or procurement department has some other department or person with a need, and you are responding to that need on their behalf.)
  2. How often do you cut and paste your inclusions versus creating an original document?
  3. How much of what you ask for are you actually reading?
  4. If you send out an RFP to 10 companies (or more), are you reading all of them page for page, line by line in consideration of the great amount of time and money it took to respond?
  5. Do you send out RFPs even when you know who you are giving the business to in advance?
  6. Do you ever pay for companies to respond to an RFP and send you a creative proposal?
  7. What would you like companies that receive your RFPs to know about the process you go through to qualify them?
       Join in here folks... it's the topic of the day, and it's up to us to find a way to solve the problem we've all helped to create. Let's not complain. Let's find ways to fix this. Thoughts anyone?     

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