Imagine a playground for event professionals–where there’s no pressure to be somewhere or to stick to an agenda—and you’ve got Haute Dokimazo, HD for short. “There’s a time and place where education needs to happen, but we also, as senior event managers, sometimes need to talk to each other,” says Liz Lathan, chief experience officer at Haute Dokimazo.
“Haute Dokimazo is a way of meeting, sharing and learning,” says Nicole Osibodu, CEO of HD. “Our business is a spontaneous think tank business. There’s no ‘way’ to do it. It completely flexes. We can do it on the fly.”
And “on the fly” they did for Haute Dokimazo’s Secret Family Reunion, which whisked 80 experiential marketing profes- sionals away to a location that wasn’t disclosed until just before boarding the flight. The idea came after an HD event during the peer ret- rospective portion. “Everybody kept telling us after these events that they felt like family. They’ve been together for a mere day and a half and they really felt like they have known these people for years,” says Lathan. “And so, we jokingly said, ‘We should do a family reunion.’ And Nicole said, ‘You know what, it's been on my bucket list to do a secret trip somewhere.’”
Attendees were told to meet at TWA Hotel at JFK Airport in New York on Nov. 2 with their passports ready and bags packed, according to instructions for the reveal party, hosted by NYC & Company. The reveal was livestreamed and the countdown announce- ment was met with excitement and surprise. “Nobody thought that we were going to Tuscany,” says Osibodu.
“We wanted to reimagine the art of getting there, even. People say, ‘It’s not about the des- tination, it’s about the journey;’ then who are we as event people who create experiences, to not focus on the journey itself?” asks Osibodu. A private 737 was chartered and passen- gers made themselves comfortable during the flight. Secret Family Reunion had its own in-flight magazine and games, alongside a boombox and a glow-in-the-dark dance party. Haute Dokimazo events break down the bar- riers of connecting people, and Secret Family Reunion was no exception. Job status doesn’t matter, attendees are on a first-name basis and there’s a no-sales policy. “Imagine the conversation that people can then have when you don’t know or don’t care who people are, it’s more about what’s in your head,” says Osibodu.
“When we got there, we said, ‘OK, if you’ve been to Tuscany, we promise you’ve never been to this place,’” says Osibodu. The venue was an agrifarm called Diacceroni, which had never hosted a corporate event before. “We went there on purpose to give them feedback on how they should bring groups in. So, we told everyone, ‘Listen, this is not the Ritz-Carlton.’ They’ll figure it out, but they absolutely nailed Family [Reunion], and that’s what was important to us.”
The five-day event was an HD; no content was created in advance, instead it was crowd- sourced based on the topics and problems the group wanted to tackle. The event was much more than a cool meeting place to talk business. Connections made between the profes- sionals in Tuscany were akin to those made at summer camp and they’ve been playing out in the real world.
“People are flying to meet each other,” says Osibodu. “And that’s really what we want as events people—for this conversation to keep going on after. We didn’t force it, they created it organically on their own.”
So: What (and where) next? “We didn’t do this to create another event that people have to go to,” says Lathan. “There will never be another Secret Family Reunion, where we charter a plane and go to a secret location.” Haute Dokimazo will, in true form, reimag- ine something else for its 2021 event. “There will be some secrets about it. We are looking for secret locations, but how we get there may be different. What we do will be different,” says Lathan. “It will never be the same thing. It will never be formulaic. Our intent is to get people thinking about other ways to do things, so this is a trial, this is the playground for the event people."