Everyone makes mistakes. In the events industry, it’s how—and how quickly—you “fix it” that counts. Serenity J. Knutson found plenty of industry pros who aren’t afraid to bare their blunders, and here, in Part I of a series, we bring you their stories, along with a few lessons to be learned.
In a past position, Brandie Young, now of MarketingTBD, learned the hard way to always perform a site tour before booking a venue. She recalls a high-end dinner in Boston for a CEO-level Council, which was held in conjunction with a financial services industry event.
“Online, I found what I believed to be a fantastic venue: an old bank vault!” Young says. “How apropos! The brochures were beautiful, and the manager seemed confident and competent, so I planned away.”
Young arrived a day early and, along with her company’s CEO and his wife, visited the site firsthand. That was when she discovered her unique venue was an uncommon disaster: “It was hideous. It looked as though they hosted raves. There was gum mashed into the carpet, and it smelled musty and dank and was generally filthy. [The] photos in the brochures and marketing materials were excellently staged!”
With her CEO standing by and about 24 hours to go before her event, Young had to act fast.
“I asked the CEO and his wife to keep it under their hat to save the company the money of shipping my dead body home after my boss [killed] me,” Young says. “He handed me a wad of cash and off I went — little did I know how much I’d need that!”
Young rushed to her hotel room and, several phone calls later, found a classy restaurant at the Langham Hotel. At 9:30 p.m., Young hunted down the restaurant manager, who turned out to be a lifesaver. Despite other reservations, he arranged a private area for her group’s dinner, separated from the rest of the restaurant by structure dividers and greenery. He had a bar piano moved into the restaurant and arranged for the pianist to arrive, and he printed out customized menus bearing the group’s logo. He even arranged for the transfer and delivery of the branded wait staff uniforms and décor from the original venue to his restaurant.
At nearly midnight, Young was then tasked with communicating the change of venue to her group before their 6 p.m. arrival the next night. Unable to rely on email to reach everyone in time, Young turned to her night manager for help and begged him to open the hotel’s business center, so she could print out all-new invitations.
“Luckily, we had planned room drops for Council members, so I knew where each was staying,” Young says. “First, I called each hotel and asked the operator to leave a message for every guest (can’t call the rooms; it’s now 1:30 a.m.). Then I dashed to deliver a new invite to each person at each respective hotel, the entire time thanking my CEO for the cash [because] I was in a cab for the next two hours, plus I had to tip bell men to slide the invite under the door of each council member’s room.”
At 5:30 in the morning, Young arrived back at her hotel room and called to arrange for “just in case” transportation for any wayward guests between the old and new venues. Next, she sent a flurry of e-mail and voicemail messages to alert her company’s staff, sales executives, and her boss that the group was changing dinner venues — “not why, just that we were,” she says. With no time to sleep, Young then took off for a 7 a.m. trade show booth setup, followed by a whole day on the show floor.
As dinnertime neared, about a dozen guests began to arrive at the original venue. Thanks to Young, town cars were ready and waiting to take them to the new site, each accompanied by “a sales executive who would engage them in polite chit chat, so they couldn’t speculate as to why they were being diverted.” In the end, the dinner went perfectly, and only Young’s CEO and his wife were the wiser to her panic-stricken ordeal the night before.
As the event came to a close, Young’s boss approached for a chat.
“By now, others had filled her in on the events of the day,” Young says. “She simply said, ‘Site tours?’ ‘Always,’ I replied. ‘Nice save,’ she said. I nearly wept.”
Event professionals often shine under pressure, but when an event must be planned in a matter of a few short weeks, a detail or two can occasionally get lost in the rush. When one of those details happens to be the date of the event, chaos can ensue.
Jill Lazar, a planner with Everything Events, recently had three weeks and a nearly nonexistent budget to pull off a publication’s awards show at a nightclub in Rhode Island.
“We had contracted a well-known lighting company, and they made an error and got the date wrong and thought it was the following day,” Lazar says. “When they were late, I got concerned and quickly called them.”
Once the error was realized, the lighting company showed up right away, with no time to spare in setting up. The stage appeared to already have its own lighting system in place, and Lazar was most concerned with adding star-shaped red lights to create a focal point for individuals onstage.
“When the lighting company asked if we wanted them to spotlight the stage, due to time, I said we would just use the lights that were already there,” she says. “Well, it turned out that the lights on the stage didn’t work at all.”
The red stars directed onto the stage provided some lighting, but the comedian Lazar had hired remained unseen. Lazar acted quickly and asked another entertainment vendor who was on-site to shine a little light on the situation at the last minute.
“I am so lucky my other vendor had this light with him,” Lazar says. “Otherwise, it would have been very difficult to see anything. We pulled it off, and the event was a huge success. The event truly tested our ability to handle an event with limited funds and time frame.”
Even the most quick-thinking and fast-acting event planner cannot always foresee or correct every problem. Sometimes, things really do come crashing down around an event.
“As much as I would love to say I have a Plan B for every situation, this blunder definitely happened so fast that I wasn’t expecting it,” says Cindy Lo of Red Velvet Events Inc.
Back in the early days of her career, Lo helped out with a nonprofit’s gala, held at a community center.
“To help stretch their budget, we used their volunteers to help with setup,” she says. “Well, I didn’t foresee what could have happened and gave the green light to the volunteers to stack margarita glasses in a pretty pyramid shape on the six-foot tables we rented for the designated bars.”
All went as planned until 6 p.m., when it was time to open the doors and welcome in the guests. The doors opened, in came a rush of wind, and down crashed one of the two bar tables, stacked margarita glasses and all.
“But that wasn’t all,” Lo says. “As we were cleaning up the mess on the right, I hear the other bar come crashing down because someone accidentally bumped a chair leg against the table. The sound of breaking glass still rings clear in my ears as if it happened yesterday.”
Although little could be done to rectify the situation on-site — other than cleaning up the mess — Lo says she took away three very important lessons from this event:
- Never stack glasses with volunteers.
- If you stack glasses, stack them against a wall, on a table away from guests.
- Always pay for the rental damage waiver.
Check back soon for more event blunders in “What could possibly go wrong? Part II.”