Lessons I learned the hard way

From the 

…….To set the stage for the lessons I learned the hard way, l offer you a bit of history. I started in this industry designing and executing events of all sizes and types for a prestige beauty company.  I worked closely and strategized with the marketing teams, managed the planning and logistics for multi-city tours and high level celebrity appearances.  After leaving the corporate world, I started my own business which included social planning for those with discriminating tastes. My business expanded to producing philanthropic galas and events. After 23 years of planning under my belt I have taken the many lessons I have learned and turned them into the standards and practices that are the foundation of my business. Here are two stories that I learned along my journey.

I was challenged by a client to design and execute a 13-day, cross country press event that to draw awareness to their newly designed luxury car. In theory it was simple; start on one side of the country with a small caravan of cars, picking up auto enthusiasts along the way to join. In reality it was like putting a million piece jigsaw puzzle together without the box cover. First the road trip “Bible” had to be created with odometer readings and turn-by-turn directions. This was long before MapQuest or GPS existed. The client also insisted that we have a police escort along the entire journey, have the host towns provide the caravan a free lunch or dinner depending on the time of day for up to 200 people, create newsworthy excitement at each stop and insure that those traveling had lodging each night.

After months of meticulous planning it was time to begin the travel mileage log and meet with the host towns to negotiate free meals in return for press exposure.  The towns were very gracious but everyone seemed to offer the same menu: a burger or hotdog, potato salad, coleslaw and plenty of baked beans regardless of the time of day. This gastronomic fare is delightful for a Saturday in the park but 13 straight days of this menu twice a day wasn’t going to fly.

While driving to the eighth stop on the tour, I thought about how I to change my pitch to suggest different menu options for our hosts to provide.  As luck had it, at the very next meeting, before I could even ask, the host told me he had something very special for our guests. He was going to celebrate our group by throwing a huge calf fry, something they were locally famous for.  Finally something different!  As far as I was concerned anything besides franks and beans was a welcome option.  And comon’ I’m a guy!  You know what they say… fry it or melt cheese on it and a man is in food heaven!  Needless to say, we happily agreed.

The press junket began. We went from town to town with a flawless record and drawing outstanding attendance. I was on the advance team and pulled into each town a few hours before the caravan arrived to tend to any last minute details.

As I pulled into “Calf Fry Town” I was greeted by a very enthusiastic young man who couldn’t wait for me to experience their famous calf fry first hand.  On the plate was a bun topped with curious looking fried meat. I looked at it and said, “this looks like no fried veal I had ever seen before.” The young man chuckled and replied, “You’re funny. Haven’t you ever eaten fried calf’s testacies?”  Imagine what I was feeling at that very moment knowing I had 196 drivers pulling up in less than two hours for a meal they would never forget.  A hotdog was looking pretty darn good right about now!  That day resulted in record breaking sales for the local McDonalds and the largest fast food purchase to ever hit my personal credit card.

Lesson Learned – Take nothing for granted and always do your research. 

From the

James’ story is one that is not to be forgotten, but is not uncommon. One of my favorite phrases is, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and in this instance, the unknown was quite a doozie!

When you think you have covered it all, ask the person with whom you are working, ‘Is there anything I should have asked you that I missed?’ and ‘Do you have any suggestions or recommendations you have not shared with me?’ Oftentimes, vendor partners will keep their opinions to themselves for fear of stepping on a client’s toes. My thought process is this: if I am hiring you for your expertise, why wouldn’t I want to hear your opinion? We all learn when we listen but not when we speak so I try to be silent whenever possible (with varying degrees of success!)

Another thing I have learned along the way is that asking questions is not a sign of ignorance. If you don’t know, ask. Clearly a ‘calf fry’is is unknown to many of us (until now) but how many of us would think to ask what it actually is?

One thing I have learned is to never let a crisis go to waste. Every unexpected thing that happens forces you to be creative. I’ve literally had a ceiling collapse on me moments before a breakout was to take place in that very same room and the attendees never knew it. Had you asked me what I’d do in that instance before it happened, I couldn’t have answered you. When standing in a room with plaster dust and water in my hair and in debris puddling around my ankles, inspiration struck. (We had the hotel quickly set the coffee break to just across from where the room was and we simultaneously set up another breakout in a room just down the hall, using human arrows to point to the new location. The hotel added to our simple break of whole fruit and sodas with bags of salty snacks and a variety of chocolate bars which kept the attendees busy while we reassembled. The snacks were free, of course!)

Most events will have an element of the unexpected. To counter balance that, make sure you have every detail you can nailed down and done as early as possible so that when you have to launch Plan B, everything else is flowing smoothly.

There is no way to prevent the unexpected. There are many ways to prevent needless challenges onsite by careful planning, double checking your information, asking questions, documenting everything and taking the time to think it all through. Planning is not for the impatient or the unorganized. Nor is it for those who panic under pressure.

For those of us who were born to be planners, an occasional calf fry or collapsed ceiling not only makes for a great story later but a great adrenaline rush and challenge in the moment.

Until next time remember, smart is beautiful!