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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

REDEFINING THE RFP: IS IT "REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL" OR "RECIPE FOR DISASTER"?

RFPs have lately brought about a lot of discussion, mostly criticism actually. Do we want to respond to them? Do we not want to respond to them? What if we respond to them, and they do nothing more than cost us a lot of money with no positive results?

Proposals are getting way more expensive to produce for those of us who want to stay in the game. No longer a wordy “paint me a picture” descriptive, but rather detailed information and financial statements, pages and pages of qualifications, and more.

Never being lost for an opinion, here’s mine, and I welcome yours.

Let’s teach our clients how to design an RFP, because they are pretty “iffy” right now. Here’s what I think we should require:



1. Name the client (specifically)... not only the company name but the specific division (or product).

2. Don't give me pages of information about the product. I have to assume that if I'm qualified to respond to an RFP I am intelligent enought to do homework on the company, the brand, and the product that has been revealed.

3.Do give me your objective for the activity.

4. Let me know how many companies will be receiving the RFP (if more than three, I'll probably decline) and let me know why you contacted me (the source of referral).

5. If there are any reasons, geographic or otherwise, that can be defined that would eliminate me from consideration (the prospect client only hires local companies), I want to know.

6. Define payment terms clearly... I won't bid on a job of a million dollars if you pay 120 days net.

7. Let me know any other financial information before I decide to accept the RFP... i.e. "We only pay $15 per diem in Napa."

8. Give me some history if this is a legacy event, provide photos, film, anything that is helpful. If you want examples of similar events, then be specific about your event so I can be "similar".

9. Tell me who the decision makers(s) is/are.

10. Tell me the specifics of how you'll base your decision; qualifications? Budget? Creativity?

11. Give me a budget, a true budget, not a "don't want to stifle your creativity" budget.

12. Give me the name of a real person with whom I can talk. I do not want to respond to an RFP and never be able to visit in person (or minimally reach on the phone).

13. If you give me an opportunity to ask questions, then answer them privately and not in a group email. Maybe I've asked some that a competitor would not have thought of.

14. Make the RFP short and to the point. Send it only to companies that you have pre-qualified.

I’m quite sure that you, readers, can add substantially to this list, and I invite you to do so. If we are unhappy with the RFP process, and we all seem to be, then let’s educate our clients on how to make them more productive. And clients, if you are reading, then don’t send out a blanket RFP that has been used for another event, asking for information that you don’t need or won’t read. Our time is just as valuable as yours; our money is probably more valuable as you are not spending it putting together an RFP response, and we are. So look at it this way, client, if you ask 20 companies to prepare a bid that requires them to spend $10,000 in time and expenses, and you are only considering three as viable options, then you have wasted $10,000 each for 17 companies who can ill afford it.

We are no longer in a day and age where we can spend either time or money needlessly, so let’s join together (client and supplier) and come up with a way to streamline this process. Let’s stop complaining and let’s start changing.

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

8 Tips to Get More Referrals for Your Event Business


If your event business is new or struggling, or you just want to expand your reach, the easiest and least expensive way to grow it is through referral marketing, but how do  you get happy clients and attendees to talk about you? Try these tips. Read more at:

This article has been reprinted with permission of its author, Christine R. Green, and EventMB. You may reach Christine R. Green via christine@christinergreen.com.

Subscribe to EventMB by clicking here.

Andrea Michaels is the founder/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. You may reach Andrea via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Is Your Headline and Does It Tell Your Story?

Almost no one (except my true and loyal friends) read my blog last week. In case you don't remember it (because you probably didn't read it), here was the headline: "Brand DNA Curated Through Bespoke Ideation."  
It was very intentional, and I didn't expect that many would read past the headline. Why? Because it had absolutely no meaning. Yes, it had buzzwords. Individually those words are being used a lot. Together, they made no sense. Yet in every presentation I see those words repeated over and over again. Getting to the point, why would I want to illustrate uselessness?
Because if you don't understand someone's point in a blog, you don't read it. And the headline is the first announcement of what the "story" is all about. Words are to be used intentionally and should be easily understood. In writing, and while spoken. Of course it's hard to evaluate why people stop reading, but it's very observable when they stop listening. And if they don't understand what you are saying, they definitely stop listening.
As a child I was brought up in a household of non-English speaking immigrants. Their friends were from all over the world, and they, too, didn't speak English. Or, at least at first. So me, going to school in the U.S. did speak English, but I learned that to communicate with my parents and their friends, I had to speak slowly and clearly and use words that were easily understandable. Notice I didn't say speak more loudly, which always amuses me, as people tend to think that being loud they can be more easily understood. 
Back to the point and fast forward many years. I have the opportunity to speak to many international audiences, and those lessons serve me well. I speak slowly and carefully, and I speak in first, headlines and then I tell stories. By doing that, I am easily understood. I give the non-English speaking person time to listen and absorb first the headline, then the story. Because, everyone, it is not all about what you want to say. It's about what you want "them" to understand.
Now that works when everyone speaks the same language, too. My tips:
  • Always speak slowly.
  • Always have a headline.
  • Always use words that anyone can understand.
  • Stop and give some pause-and-reflect time, even if only for seconds.
  • Don't use useless and meaningless words of no substance or no one will read your blog either.
Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a Los Angeles-based, international event agency, and the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life.  Andrea may be contacted via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com



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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

BRAND DNA CURATED THROUGH BESPOKE IDEATION

So you are probably reading this title and asking yourself "what the heck does she mean?" AHA! Mission accomplished. I have no clue what this means yet every piece of marketing material and every presentation (live or in print) uses many of these words and most mean nothing. That's my point.

Clear communication with words that everyone can define and understand along with a good story or examples that support that story is all that matters. So let me give you two examples:

1. Live presentation that I was a part of with a PP accompanying it. "We understand your brand's DNA." WHAT? It was for an automotive company. The vehicle does not have DNA. Living organisms have DNA. Later in the presentation: "Bespoke offerings"... WHAT?

2. Another live presentation that also had visual support: "We want to understand what your company (or organization) wants to achieve with this project; be clear on your expected outcomes; and hear the message you want to deliver." With those clear statements, we can respond and can give clear examples of similar projects, stories that exhibit experience and challenges, and how they were met. In clear and simple words.

I have often seen a client pretending to understand the first presentation, but reading their faces knew they were mystified yet had to pretend to understand a slew of overused and pretentious words in order not to seem uneducated in the terminology. It also led to few questions as no one knew what to ask.

So what's my point? If you write, write specifically. "Beautiful stage set" means nothing. "Fabulous speaker" means nothing. Who and what and always, ALWAYS why.

Your thoughts?

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

DISRUPTING TEAM BUILDING: A DINOSAUR IN THE AGE OF THE SHARED EXPERIENCE

You have all (I hope) read my revolutionary stance on ROI, ROE, etc. So I now invite you to join me in throwing team building into the junk pile of antiquated events and embrace, instead, the world of "shared experiences." Why? Of course you are asking that. Isn't team building vital to the corporate culture?

In a world where virtual reality, augmented reality, devices of various kinds (toddlers learn to live in a solitary world, tablets in hand so they can play games that have no human interaction), how can we inflict a team culture on people who hardly know how to communicate without typing (or is that a word that is antiquated too)? I like virtual reality, and I've even recently experienced new augmented reality. They are fun and amazingly inventive technologies. Though you experience new worlds of imaginative possibilities, you do so alone. They are isolated and solitary. What, may I ask, is wrong with "real" reality? Where you are in the present, and even in the company of others?

I am not sure that a scavenger hunt or building a cardboard boat on a beach or even a trust fall truly creates a team concept. I do think that the sharing of your story, inviting people to get to know you, and you wanting to get to know them is a unifying force. It can be done in a group. It can be done one-on-one. It is called bonding.

Participating in a project for a greater good, being charitable, and doing it together may not create a "team"... but it will create a spirit of shared experience that will live on long after climbing a telephone pole, being cheered on by people you may or may not know or even see again.

Sharing is a potent experience. And though we can do some form of sharing on tablets, the face-to-face experience cannot be replicated on a computer screen. Virtual hugs, approving smiles, gentle handshakes or handclasps, nods of understanding... all lead to a better place. It's called friendship. It's called relationships. It's called human to human communication.

Being part of a team somehow sounds competitive to me. Sharing an experience does not. What do you think?

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a Los Angeles based, international event agency, and the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business: Lessons in Life. Andrea may be contacted via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

ROI, ROE, R U even Relevant?

Much has been made of those acronyms. Personally I'm not sure I do find them relevant. What exactly is a return on investment? And why would it matter? We are always in the position of investing, whether in ourselves, someone else, a group. Are the results truly measurable when oft times we have a long wait to find out cause and effect?

For instance, to motivate a group of salespeople you create a contest that involves a trip if that salesperson sells a lot. You invest in the development of the contest, and then the program. And what exactly do you measure? The ratio of the earnings of the salesperson to the cost of the activity? Or is it about the trip forming a community of winners who can then motivate each other and eventually others as well? And how long would that take? When do you take the measurement?

Return on Experience... Return on Education... again, what's the measure? You provide education and you can, of course, test the retention or study how it has been applied. But when? Immediately or is it possible that a person learns something that might be valuable at a far distant future and has a true effect on some outcome? When might that be and how could it be measured? What's the return on "experience," and how is it measured? By smiling faces? By positive Instagram and Twitter postings (Sorry, I'm old-fashioned and don't know what today's latest channels are).

My measures come from hearing that people feel valued, have felt that they've had a great experience, or have been educated or motivated. I get that from talking to them in the here and now and truly listening to what they have to say. Far better than surveys or extensive studies on those acronyms.

I would love to hear YOUR thoughts on these rebellious ideas.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to Sell Combs to Monks

Joshua Chua shares a story that taught him how to multiply his sales results. He shares this with his students to demonstrate how a shift in mindset and attitude can make a significant difference. –Andrea Michaels

The Story:
Three sales professionals applied to work for a huge company. As they were all evenly qualified, the interviewer decided to set a sales challenge and the person who sold the most would be awarded the job.

The challenge was to sell combs to monks of any temple up in the mountains. "You have three days, and the person who sells the most will get the job" said the interviewer.

After three days, the three applicants returned, and reported their results.

Candidate 1 said "I managed to sell one comb. The monks scolded me, saying I was openly mocking them. Disappointed, I gave up and left. But on my way back, I saw a junior monk with an itchy scalp; he was constantly scratching his head. I told him the comb would help him with his scratching, and he bought one comb"

Candidate 2 said "That's good, but I did better. I sold 10 combs." Excited, the interviewer asked "How did you do it?" Candidate 2 replied "I observed that the visitors had very messy hair due to the strong winds they faced while walking to the temple. I convinced the monk to give out combs to the visitors so they could tidy themselves up and show greater respect during their worship."

Candidate 3 stepped up "Not so fast, I sold more than both of them." "How many did you sell" asked the interviewer.

"A thousand combs"

"Wow! How did you do it?" the interviewer exclaimed.

"I went to one of the biggest temples there and thanked the Senior Master for serving the people and providing a sacred place of worship for them. He was very gracious and said he would like to thank and appreciate his visitors for their support and devotion. I suggested that the best way would be to offer his visitors a memento and the blessing of Buddha. I showed him the wooden combs which I had engraved words of blessings and told him people would use the combs daily and would serve as a constant reminder to do good deeds. He liked the idea and proceeded to order a thousand combs"

"You got lucky," one of the other candidates said bitterly.

"Not really," the interviewer countered. "He had a plan, which was why he had the comb engraved prior to his visit. Even if that temple did not want it, another one surely would."

"There is more," the third candidate smiled. "I went back to the temple yesterday to check on the Master. He said many visitors told their friends and family about the comb with the Buddha's blessing. Now even more people are visiting every day. Everyone is asking for the comb and giving generous donations too! The temple is more popular than ever, and the Master says he will run out of the combs in a month... and will need to order more!"

Learning Points:
The three different candidates show us the different levels of sales performance:

Candidate 1 displayed the most basic level, which is to meet the prospect's personal needs. The monk with the itchy scalp had a personal need; it was specific to him only.

Candidate 2 shows the next level - anticipating and creating new needs for the prospect. Perhaps the monk doesn't have an obvious need for the comb, but how can it still be beneficial to him? When you can educate the prospect on new possibilities and benefits for his business, you are already outperforming your competitors.

Candidate 3 demonstrates the best level of all; an ongoing relationship resulting in repeat sales and referrals. Everyone was a winner, the monk, the devotees, the third candidate and the interviewer. Help your prospects benefit their prospects, to create maximum value. View prospects not as individuals, but also their contacts and network beyond them. See each customer as a lifetime client instead of one-time sales.

Our beliefs and thoughts shape our actions and ultimately, our results. When faced with a challenge, how do you respond? And how big do you think?

How can you create new needs for your prospects and benefit their customers?

Joshua Chua helps sales professionals and businesses double their sales within 30 days. He can be reached via jc@vaulsden.com or to learn more about his company, visit www.vaulsden.com.

Andrea Michaels is the founder/president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning, international event agency based in Los Angeles. To learn more about EE, please visit www.extraordinaryevents.com. You may reach Andrea via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.