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Excerpt From My Interview With the World’s #1 Planner

A couple of months ago, before the holiday rush would begin, I sat down with undoubtedly the number one event planner in the world. His annual event has become so successful his personal brand is recognized around the world. He is known by various aliases around the world but here in the U.S. he is affectionately known as Santa Claus. The celebration of Christmas is by every measure the largest global event of the year. I had to know how he has pulled it off for so many years.   Santa agreed to share his secrets as long as I came to visit him at his tropical vacation hide away. As you can see from the accompanying photo it was tough duty but I begrudgingly agreed. Below is an excerpt from my interview with Santa:


EDI – Santa, Christmas is the largest annual event in the world with approximately 2.5 billion people celebrating the religious holiday; that is one out of every three people in the world wide population. How do you do it? How do you plan and produce an event that attracts so many participants?


SANTA – (Ho, Ho, Ho!) Just like many of events you work on, Christmas is an event that would take place whether Santa Claus, the planner, is involved in or not. Christians around the world have been celebrating the birth of Christ for two thousand and seventeen years. Through that celebration the spirit of Christmas has evolved with expressions of love, hope and goodwill to man. I have come along and promoted the spirit of Christmas with emphasis on giving. The giving of love, hope and goodwill to man through gestures, like gifts, good works, greetings and participation in social gatherings. I have been working at this for a long time, hundreds of years myself, and a couple of things have been critical to          the celebration’s success. First and foremost, I have had plenty of help along the way and I don’t just mean Mrs. Claus, the elves and reindeer. Each year billions of people around the world are inspired by the spirit of Christmas and are committed to delivering the expressions of love, hope and peace. Second, I  made sure I understood the event objective and that I could be committed to it.  Your commitment will, in turn, foster belief and commitment from helpers. If  everyone believes, the event’s success is more likely than if it is viewed as an obligation. Finally, do your advance planning. Speaking of which, (Santa looks at his watch) I have a plane to fly.  Mrs. Claus and I have to head back North.  Ho, Ho, Ho! If I don’t see you at the mall have a great Christmas!


EDI – Thanks, Santa (trotting from the beach up to the house)! These are certainly good thoughts as we plan our upcoming holiday events. You and Mrs. Claus have a wonderful Christmas!


Being Meeting Green Tip #2 – Carbon Offsets

This is our second posting in our series regarding green meeting tips.  For many of us understanding the concept of carbon offsets seems to be a challenge.  Essentially when we produce a meeting, conference or event the means used to transport the participants, (i.e. airplanes, cars and buses) emit carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Because participants have to travel some distance to the conference, there is currently no way to avoid the carbon emissions.  However, to offset their impact on the environment carbon emission offset programs have been developed.    There are a number of programs that calculate the emissions from transportation and conference energy use and quantify the monetary offset.  A couple of excellent resources are http://denver.org/denver-meetings-conventions/green-meetings/co2-calculator and http://www.sustainabletravelinternational.org/documents/op_carbonoffsets.html.

The offset program typically involves investing in projects such as tree planting, or renewable and energy-efficient projects (i.e. solar panels and wind farms).  There are some funding options as well.  One option is ask the participants to voluntarily offset their own travel by contributing a specific amount based upon the calculated emissions.  A second option is to use the offset program as a sponsorship opportunity, whereby the sponsor would receive featured promotions for their contribution.

Obviously we want to minimize carbon emissions through careful transportation planning and management.  However, while there are steps to do so, carbon emissions can not be eliminated and offset programs are an effective way reduce the environmental impact of meetings, conferences and events.


Saving Conference Dollars With Sustainability

Diana, our CEO, renewed her commitment to the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) the other day which prompted some thought and discussion about whether we (EDI) are doing enough to support sustainability in the event industry.  The answer was NO!  So we had a green meeting brainstorming session and wow!  We actually discussed a lot of great ideas.  Most of the ideas are recycled (no pun intended), meaning we have observed, read or heard about these tips from other meeting professionals, but they were new ideas for many of us.  Some of the tips we have heard before, such as offering pitchers of water instead of bottled water.  While these tips have been around for a while, they are still effective in reducing the negative environmental impact, and believe it or not, they are still not being implemented at some conferences and meetings.  So we thought we would share all of our green meeting tips we discussed with you.  You can become more greener with us, not only from a sustainability standpoint but from the conference dollars you will save from adopting these tips.  The is one problem; we can not do it in one blog posting.  We could, but that would be breaking a bunch of blogging rules and heaven only knows we have broken plenty already!  So we decided to cover one or two tips each week in a new blog called “Being Meeting Green”, hopefully it will be sustaining! LOL!

Being Meeting Green Tip #1 – QR Codes                                                                                                                                       

The meeting industry has made great strides over the past few years in reducing the amount of paperused at conferences, meetings and events.  By utilizing online conference registration thousands of dollars of cost savings in paper, printing,mailings and postage have been realized.  Another electronic solution for eliminating other printed materials such as on-site handouts is QR codes.

If you are not familiar with QR Codes, they are similar to bar codes, which are used to track inventory and capture pricing information at the point of sale.  You scan a QR code with the camera in your Smartphone.  You can link to digital content on the web, activate a number of phone functions including email, IM and SMS, and/or connect to a web browser. There’s really no limit to how, or even how much, you can share with QR codes.  For those attendees that do not have a smart phone, utilization of text codes that can be punched into your mobile phone will also facilitate the availability of information for attendee review.

The QR codes are displayed in highly visible areas like convention hall entrances, information counters and on vendor booths in exhibition halls.  There is no cost to create the QR codes, which can created by a third party online vendor.  Of course the digital content that the QR code links to has to be created, no different than the effort required for printed content.  However, with digital content you have more flexibility in the content you present.  Your digital content may be a landing page, video and even an entire eBook.

The benefits of using QR codes to disseminate information are significant to minimizing the environmental impact of conferences, meetings and events and can represent a significant cost savings in paper and printing.


Have You Unconferenced Today?

Inc Magazine, December 1, 2009 – “On a crisp October morning, more than 400 people have crowded into the café of a conference center in Burlington, Massachusetts. They are here for Innovation 2009, an unconference for tech start-ups sponsored by the Mass Technology Leadership Council. There are no programs: No one knows what the sessions will be about or who will speak. But the topics are guaranteed to be relevant to the attendees, because they are about to come up with those subjects on the spot.”                                                                                           Unconference, Open Space

Looking for ways to engage conference and meeting participants?  The unconference may be your answer.  In an unconference, participants create and manage their own agenda of sessions around a theme or purpose.  While the format has been around since the 80’s, it has enjoyed recent popularity as digital resources have made organizing unconferences easier and as Mitch Joel states in his book, Six Pixels of Separation,  “Something happened in Silicon Valley where people went so far in the direction of technology, they wanted to bring back more of a ’60s communal aspect, with people getting together in the spirit of democracy, instead of conferences organized from the top down, where everything is mapped out and marketed.”

Attendees present their ideas for sessions to the participants at the opening of the unconference and then post their topics on a large centrally located wall.  Location and session times are plotted on the wall.  If no one shows up for a session it doesn’t happen.  If too many participants show up an additional session is added.  As the day progresses new sessions may be posted as new participant ideas may be spawned from previous sessions.

In an effort to sustain energy and spontaneity an unconference is guided by “the law of two feet”; If you are not learning or contributing, it is your responsibility to find someplace where you are.

In addition to the unconference being more engaging and receptive to networking than traditional conferences, unconferences can be as little as one tenth of the cost because you do not have speaker costs and typically food costs drop because coffee breaks and meals are less elaborate.  The unconference can also serve as a incubator of innovative new ideas.  While the unconference can present its logistical challenges, the end of conference evaluation most likely will provide some very pleasing results.


Social Media and A Meeting of the Minds

So we’re around the water cooler recently discussing, for the umpteenth time, the merits of social mediasocial media discussion as it relates to our business. We’ve had this ongoing discussion for……, let’s just say a long time. We all have differing views on the subject. Those opinions have been shaped by our ages, personalities, education and life and work experiences (which in some cases have extended over decades).

There are team members that have grown up in an era where the computing power they carry over their shoulder or in your pocket was witnessed by other team members years ago being housed in secured, temperature controlled rooms the size of homes. We have members that seem to have such a huge laundry list of concerns about anything new that by the time all their concerns are addressed and analysis completed, we will still be standing at the starting gate while the leader has the finish line in site. And of course we have those members that believe any analytical study is a waste and we need to jump in and do it and we will figure it out as we go.

When it comes to discussing the subject of social media and networking it seems everyone on our team has a strong opinion. We all recognize however, that the world we live in has placed much emphasis on social media so we all try to approach the subject with an open mind. Along with our continuing discussions we read articles and listen to videos regarding the business benefits of social media however often time it creates further confusion and an overwhelmed feeling. The thought of using social media in our business can be a daunting one. There just is not enough time or money available to identify the objectives, develop a plan, determine how to measure performance and manage the program. It requires a significant commitment. I guess that is why many small businesses have not welcomed social media with open arms.

In our most recent water cooler discussion however, I believe we made significant progress in coming to terms with the role social media can play in managing our business. We acknowledge the benefits that are endlessly repeated in every article you read and every social media video you watch; promote your brand, create sales leads, etc. In our minds however, we have concluded there is something much more important in participating in social networking then developing new relationships (not that we do look forward to working with new clients). We believe the primary purpose of social media in our business is to further develop the relationships we already have. Social networking facilitates relationship building by allowing our clients access to information about our company, the industry we work in, and all of us individually. As a service business we are individually and collectively our company’s brand and in that sense social media does allow for brand building through individual participation. We all know successful service delivery is dependent upon all parties having realistic expectations. A clear understanding of the anticipated service is enhanced when communication is open and the service providers are accessible. While open communication is a necessity during the service delivery period, participation in social networking allows communication with clients to flow freely throughout the year.

So here we go! With a clear purpose in mind we have begun to develop our social media plan. We will keep you posted on how the process progresses and share our experiences along the way. We have already taken the first step by clarifying who EDI is with the redesign of our web site, www.edievents.com.

How is social media working for you? Give us your opinion.



dollar-signUnless you have been at some remote location the past two weeks, you probably have heard or read about Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) bill to prohibit all TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) recipients from holding any meetings and events. Sen. Kerry’s proposal reflects a sentiment in Washington, and for that matter much of the country, that business meetings and events are nothing more than frivolous corporate junkets where behavior and expense know no bounds. While there are plenty of examples of excess, you and I know from personal experience that the vast majority of the business meetings and events do have business purpose and provide a real return on the Company’s investment (ROI). Correct? Well……we know they have business purpose but ROI? Do we have to bring up that ROI thing again? We have been kicking around the application of ROI to meetings and events for decades and there is no easy answer.

The business community has another perception as evidenced in the CFO.com March 3, 2009 article Conferences in the Crosshairs. In this article former National Business Travel Association Chairman Kevin Iwamoto states “I don’t think the meetings industry has been really effective in defining in a dollars-and-cents way what the value of meetings is”. You may have heard the quote (author unknown), “you cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind.” If there was ever a better time for the meeting and event industry to take a leadership role by applying the ROI concepts we have been debating for years it’s NOW! The economic woes in the global economy present an outstanding opportunity for our industry to gain recognition and respect in corporate offices around the world and make a contribution to the economy’s sustained productivity by helping define the legitimacy of business meetings and events using ROI. After all, applying the concepts seem a little less intimidating than living the rest of our professional meeting career in the virtual world.

There is plenty of guidance including our own professional association, Meeting Professional International, as well as other organizations and individuals. I have provided some source material to assist you in developing your analysis.

Title – Proving The Value of Meetings & Events How & Why to Measure ROI
Author – Jack J. Phillips, Monica Myhill, and James B. McDonough

Title – Return on Investment in Meetings and Events
Author – Jack J. Phillips/M. Theresa Breining

Presentation – ROI Simplified Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D
2008 MPI World Education Congress


When Excess Is A Good Thing

One key element in planning green meetings is to minimize waste. Obviously the first way to attain this goal is to not create it in the first place. But no matter how careful the planning, inevitably there are leftovers. Instead of throwing catered food away, consider donating it to your local food bank.

The mission of your local food bank is to provide food and services, create stability and further self-reliance for people in crisis. Every year in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Freestore Food Bank serves over 160,000 low-income people. Approximately 28,500 different people receive assistance in any given week. The services of The Food Bank extend beyond Cincinnati, reaching people in 20 counties of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. The Food Bank’s assistance reaches 450 agencies throughout the Tri-state including soup kitchens and food pantries.

To dispel general myths regarding those that are served, please consider the following statistics:
57% of those served have at least a high school diploma
34% of those served are under the age of 18
40% live in the suburbs
30% live in a household with at least one working family member

Jamie Rosskopf, Resource Development Manager for the Cincinnati Free Store Food Bank, recently stated that the Prepared & Perishables Program at the Food Bank is currently expanding its efforts. What can your business do to help?

There often seems to be unspoken assumption that business and environmentalism do not mix. The business world is known for its showy displays of excess, but this should not be the case when planning your next business meeting. Now more than ever, it is important to plan your event in an environmentally friendly manner.

Rosskopf explains the guidelines for donations. “Only food that has not been set up for consumption is accepted. If businesses could notify us 24-48 hours prior to the their event we would appreciate it. We can usually pick up your donation within one day of your event.”

Food Donors are protected by the “Good Samaritan Act” of 1996, which prevents people or organizations to be held liable for their donations. Ask your recipient organization or attorney for details.

Hunger is a social issue that affects the entire community. In a constant struggle with an ever-rising poverty level, the community food bank is known as the place to go for help. In Cincinnati, the Freestore Food Bank is one of the Tri-state’s most highly respected and effective human services organizations.

Little changes can have a huge impact! Set an example! Donate leftover food from conferences and events to your local food bank. It not only reduces waste but it is an important aspect of our social responsibility.

Food Pantries Shortage


Is Your Brand Green?

Welcome to our initial post to EDI’s blog, “Brand Builder”. We hope this page will stimulate thought and discussion regarding the building of your brand through inspiring meetings and events, (i.e. event marketing). According to “EventView 2008″, a survey of 1,000 senior marketing and sales executives from North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, Event Marketing provides the greatest return on investment among the various marketing elements (i.e. print advertising, broadcast advertising, sales promotions, public relations, web marketing, direct mail). In her book, The Event Marketing Handbook, Allison Saget states …”event marketing provides the forum to continue to build and deepen relationships with customers, prospects, partners, analysts, press, and fellow employees from around the world. This one-on-one forum allows your company to penetrate the market, build consistent brand recognition, solicit input and feedback, demo products, as well as educate and build awareness among your desired target audience.” In the coming weeks Brand Builder will introduce a variety of branded meeting and event topics including being green, virtual, and experiential, the latter being an evolved form of event marketing. We will share with you our experiences and how the brand benefited from the event or meeting strategy adopted. Hopefully this dialogue will be a benefit in your next brand building application.

Our immediate focus is green events and how “going green” can not only establish a platform for environmental responsibility but create significant economic benefits and, from an event marketing perspective, create a competitive advantage for your brand. Producing green meetings and events creates good public relations. Green events raise satisfaction levels among attendees. Minimizing the event’s ecological isyourbrandgreenpicfootprint gets people excited about your brand. Corporations around the world are adopting new green initiatives as evidenced by General Electric’s Chair and CEO, Jeffrey Immelt who stated “It is no longer a zero sum game – things that are good for the environment are also good for business. General Electric is embarking on this initiative not because it is trendy or moral, but because it will accelerate economic growth.”

The economic benefits can be significant. For example, in the case of meetings and events, use electronic technology to reduce paper use. Create a website to disseminate event information and facilitate registration. Utilize email to promote the event. Distribute handout information using USB flash drives. If you feel it necessary to distribute printed material utilize double sided sheets to cut waste. These steps can potentially represent savings in the thousands of dollars. You don’t have to start with a 100% conservation program but instead start small and build on each success. Every effort toward sustainability has an impact.

As a member of the Green Meetings Industry Council and it’s 2009 Annual Conference planning committee I will share with you in the coming weeks innovative green meeting and event practices that will assist you in establishing a sustainability program that will reap long range environmental, economic and competitive benefits.


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