Terry Singleton has been running CCP Events for 24 years. She is the past president of The International Live Events Association and three times the chair of its international conference. She has worked with clients such as Coca-Cola, Mercedes Benz and Microsoft.
SIPA: You've worked with another SIPA member, Chartwell. How has that relationship progressed?
TERRY: Yes, this is our fourth year with them. We work hard to become part of their team—an extension of them—and that carries forward in everything we do. We're fortunate that most of our clients give us autonomous buy-in and trust our judgment to make decisions on their behalf. As we get to know them more, we can represent as Chartwell in most dealings. Choose the right spaces, book entertainment and banquet events, order from menus. We'll also create production schedules and the run of shows, give cues for A/V. We do all that and let them worry about content. Their audience [utilities] is a bit more conservative, however. Another group we work with are finance, auditors and risk managers. They take a bit more risk with their events and love a party atmosphere. We recently transformed an airport hangar into a party venue for them.
Sorry I missed that event. What do you find specific about working with publishers?
What we find, regardless of what industry you're in, is a commonality to their conference requirements. You have general sessions, food and beverage, educational sessions, breakouts, exhibitor component and social events. This is all inherent. Then, of course, it's important for us to understand more about that particular publisher and their demographics so we can individualize our services.
Have conferences changed that much? It's a pretty set formula, isn't it?
Yes, but what I'm finding is that it's all about the spin you put on them. What you can do with an exhibit hall—we had cirque aerialists for one group. So it wasn't just walk in the tradeshow and meet exhibitors—it was an experience. Social events are more sophisticated these days. One of our groups wanted to do something special for a dinner so we brought in a Polynesian dance troupe. Creating a theme and matching entertainment and branding to it, gives the wow factor clients want.
These must present lots of branding opportunities?
Yes, tons of branding. It's now the standard, for elevating a function to the next level. We've branded shot glasses, napkins, vases and more. How can we give that sponsor the most ROI? We offer key sponsors the opportunity to pre record announcements and introduce the program. We try little things that give a high return on value. I was brought in on one event 10 years ago that drew 600-700 attendees. Now it gets 1,600. We do video mapping on walls, A/V that will blow you away. We're always looking for that wow element.
What about session rooms? Have you seen changes there?
Yes. Instead of classroom style, we're seeing a lot more crescent style—¾-on a round, and augment with theater—expanding the perimeter. We rarely do straight theater seating anymore. Non-traditional seating is on the rise, incorporating a mix of couches, single chairs and shared cocktail tables.
What about keeping up with technology?
We have to put charging kiosks in now. (You can brand those as well.) Of course, we try to embrace technology. Polling has become very popular which creates an interactive experience with the audience. That takes a lot of teamwork. We use call to order videos—those can create a dynamic first impression if you have 500 people coming into a general session.
Any tips on negotiating with hotels?
You always have your standard items. We have a wish list of around 25 concessions, and I'm successful getting most of them in the contract for our clients. It's all about negotiation! Little things can add up to big savings.
How about for getting speakers?
I like having co-presenters when possible or roundtables, panel discussions. Of course those need the right moderator and panel. Co-presenting allows you to be more off the cuff. You can take time to read the audience and respond. A panel can also read the audience a little better. As a panelist you have time to gather your thoughts. I'm not a huge fan of Q&A sessions. You have to be really careful, especially with higher level executives. You don't want to put them on the spot with a question they're not prepared to address. When you're doing panels, it's best to get casual lounge chairs. Women in skirts don't like bar stools. But not chairs to slouch in either; you want firmer, more supportive chairs.