CREATIVITY IS A PROCESS, BUT IT’S ALSO AN INSTINCT. IT DEFINES THE DETAILS AND IT\ COLORS THE BIG PICTURE—JUST DON’T EXPECT IT TO STAY INSIDE THE LINES. SOMETIMES IT’S A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT, AND OTHER TIMES IT’S A LIGHT BULB THAT BLINKS ON IN A MOMENT OF SOLITUDE. WHILE CREATIVITY HAS ENDLESS FORMS, PASSION IS ALWAYS ITS CONSTANT. IN THE PAGES THAT FOLLOW, FIVE INDUSTRY EXPERTS WHO LOVE WHAT THEY DO SHARE THEIR CREATIVE PATH TO SUCCESSFUL MEETING AND EVENT MANAGEMENT.
FOCUSING ON THE CLIENT
Ideas can come from where we least expect them, but Daniel Love, co-owner of Catering By Design (CBD) in Philadelphia, knows that the best source of inspiration when planning one of the company’s show-stopping functions is his client. “The execution is exciting, but the most creative process for me is the exploration of those goals and desires that a client has, and asking the right questions that people really had not considered or thought about,” says Love, who plans political events, nonprofit and association benefits and private social functions. “You have to hear what’s important to them and what gets them smiling and laughing.”
With these conversations in mind, the CBD team dreams up a color palette, design theme, menu and presentation that unite to achieve its client’s vision and objectives. “What’s most important to me, although I’m in a food and event business, is how the music of it works—how the libretto and the refrain fall into place,” he explains. “You’re creating a composition during the event.” Some high notes from past meetings and events include constructing a life-sized version of the game Operation for an
event hosted by a surgeons’ association, transforming 48 blocks of ice into a carved cityscape of
Philadelphia as the backdrop of former mayor Ed Rendell’s inaugural ball and even transforming
an unassuming bowl of salad into an off-the-wall experience where guests constructed their own
cruciferous course by picking greens from a living wall.
To better conceptualize his clients’ vision, Love soaks up inspiration by keeping his eyes open
and reading “everything.” He’s not an auto enthusiast, but he picks up a car magazine once in a
while. “There’s no original thought in our industry. It’s all just a translation of somebody else’s idea, and everything is borrowed from something else,” Love says. Re-creation can be just as innovative as starting from scratch.
KEEPING IT RELATABLE
As the client events manager at Blank Rome LLP, an international law firm headquartered in Philadelphia, Nicole Benner plans educational events aiming to establish the firm as a thought leader in the legal field and engage potential and existing clients. Topics like tax law changes, offshore accounts and energy regulations are vital to attendees’ business and personal dealings, but the nature of the subject matter is often very technical.
As the firm’s attorneys prepare for these seminars, Benner and the marketing department work to educate them about what makes an effective presentation. “We do encourage our presenters to use nontraditional tools to highlight major points in the presentation, as appropriate,” Benner says. Familiar headlines that relate to the content, along with excerpts from shows like House of Cards or The Good Wife illustrate a topic and make it relatable. The audience at a labor and employment briefing about workplace health got a good laugh at a 30 Rock clip of Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) strolling on her treadmill while eating an ice cream sundae—and they also got the point of the presentation.
LIVING OUTSIDE THE BOX
As the MEMS (Microelectromechanical Systems) Industry Group’s program and event manager, Chivonne Hyppolite operates under a similar innovative approach as MEMS—the technology behind things like airbag deployment, calorie-counting fitness gear and the blood glucose monitors consistently analyzing feedback from attendees and staff, and then using that information to create new strategies that enhance future programs. But there’s nothing small about her approach. “Everybody says ‘think outside the box.’ My motto is that I live outside the box,” Hyppolite says.
At a speaking engagement, Hyppolite reflected on the importance of the post-event evaluations that she and her team complete after each of the 17 yearly programs they host around the globe. By keeping the goals of each program in mind and rejecting the notion that things have to be done a certain way “because that’s how they’ve always been done,” Hyppolite has an outlet for her creativity and is able to devise new protocols. “I think often times we are the fixers of events—not just the planners and the executors,” she says. “You can’t just Band-Aid everything, so I try to come at it holistically and look at it realistically to figure out what can be done with what I have.”
The solutions that she’s created at MEMS Industry Group range from moving day-of-week patterns, adding more networking time and revamping a Shark Tank-style activity to engage attendees. Hyppolite, a 14-year veteran of the event planning industry, also devised a speaker’s welcome packet that includes details about the commitment, particularly the deadline to submit presentation slides. This eliminated a recurring problem of last-minute submissions while reducing some of her own stress. “You learn to think in terms of solutions,” Hyppolite says.
Julie Walker is an independent meeting planner who knows the power of collaboration. The president of Choice Meetings in Mechanicsburg finds that relationships influence almost every step of the meeting process, amplifying the expertise and talent she’s developed through 20-plus years in the industry. “The best part of my job is when I’m able to leverage my industry contacts to benefit my client,” Walker says. “When I can connect those dots, that’s a huge success for me.” When she begins planning a new meeting or event, the early rapport that she builds with her client fuels her imagination. “When my client starts getting excited about ideas that I’ve passed to them, that gets the juices flowing,” Walker says. “It makes me think about what I can do to top that idea.”
When the inevitable bout of planner’s block does happen, Walker turns to the Middle Pennsylvania chapter of MPI (she’s the current president) as a resource for brainstorming and learning about new trends and best practices. “If I get into a spot where I really am stuck on something and I can’t come up with a solution, I’ll reach out to other members of MPI to see what they would do,” she says. She also values her partnerships with convention services managers, especially in instances where a limited budget calls for a little bit of creativity. “They’ve been in the trenches and they know what works,” she says. “They have so many good ideas, and they’re investedf in making your program a success.”
Taking time to disconnect is also important in stoking creativity, especially in a fast-paced industry where functions are scheduled around the clock. “As meeting planners, we have a tendency to overthink everything and imagine every possible scenario,” Walker says. “You also have to let yourself go on the fly and deal with things as they come up.”
LISA MARIE HUGABOOM
STAYING FRESH IN SCENIC SURROUNDINGS
The Pocono Mountain air at the lakeside Woodloch Resort has a rejuvenating effect on those who spend time at its three properties spread over 1,200 scenic acres in Hawley. “It’s inevitable that the creative juices start flowing once you’re on property,” says Director of Corporate Sales Lisa Marie Hugaboom.
The diverse clientele who host meetings, retreats and functions at Woodloch call Hugaboom seeking a different type of experience, “not the typical four boring walls,” she says. Walls are optional at the resort, which offers boardroom boat rides, beach meetings and dozens of team-building activities. “First and foremost, it is my job to understand the needs and dynamics of each client,” Hugaboom says. “Once I have a good understanding, then we can offer a unique twist specific to that group.”
With three distinct properties to work with—The Lodge at Woodloch for destination spa experiences, Woodloch Springs with its 18-hole championship golf course and country club atmosphere, and Woodloch Pines, a family resort—Hugaboom continues to be inspired when exploring possibilities with her clients after 12 years at Woodloch and 22 years in the industry. “For me personally, each event is a blank canvas, and the best part is I get to help plan an event that I would like to be part of,” she says. “With so much to offer in three properties, endless activities, customizable team-building and so many different meeting options, I have been able to stay fresh and creative.” She and her team design customized activities for attendees that allow them to strengthen bonds and explore their own creativity, like cupcake wars, boat building and Survivor-style challenges, to name a few. “We help them accomplish their meeting objectives and allow time for something their attendees may not expect,” Hugaboom says.