Behind every award-winning event, there is creativity, adaptability and attention to every detail. We spoke with three local companies that shared their experiences (and some insider tips) for planning events that earned accolades. While each faced hurdles that required some creative problem solving, in the end they all successfully went above and beyond expectations-something definitely worthy of praise.
EVENT PRODUCTION COMPANY: PJ Hummel & Company
AWARDS: Emerald City Applause Awards for Best Event Produced for a Corporation with a Budget Under $25,000 and Best Design/Décor Under $25,000
More than 15,000 Microsoft employees and their families were enchanted this past October by the story of Peter Pan, retold through intricate scenes set up throughout the Commons food court, across from the main Microsoft campus. The monthlong installation outfitted the Commons for Halloween and created a backdrop for the company’s family-friendly employee events.
PJ Hummel & Company chose the Peter Pan theme because it offers plenty of opportunities for varied scenes, taking viewers from the cityscape of London to the beaches and forests of Never-Never Land. "We were able to weave the theme of the book throughout the complex," says PJ Hummel, president of PJ Hummel & Company, which has coordinated a Halloween installation at the Commons for five years.
Guests began their journeys at 5- and 8-foot-high storybooks, featuring quotes and illustrations from the original Peter Pan and a depiction of Never-Never Land, adorned with seashells and ferns. Next was a tour through Victorian London, passing a 12-foot-high Big Ben and the Darling children’s bedroom, where Peter Pan’s silhouette was visible through Palladian windows. Arriving in Never-Never Land, guests saw the interior of the Jolly Roger, the Lost Boys’ hideout, and the mermaids’ lagoon, where they could pose behind a shiny mermaid’s tail. At the end of the installation, the Jolly Roger came into view once more, afloat on a satin sea, surrounded by bottles, pilings and other jetsam-inspired elements.
Decorating a high-traffic, active work area is no small feat. The faux ivy canopy covering the path to Never-Never Land was not flame retardant, but by working with the venue and the fire marshal, the PJ Hummel team reached a compromise by hanging the ivy loosely from the ceiling so water from the sprinklers could get through in case of fire. To create the flickering lights representing Tinker Bell, the production team had to convert the existing battery-powered lights to both battery and AC powered, because a battery-only power source was impractical for the monthlong installation. The team also had to design an installation that would fit the building. Figuring out where to place everything in spaces that were often small or narrow was like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle, Hummel says.
Microsoft employees welcomed the whimsical change to the Commons. On a night of family trick-or-treating, the most popular spot for employees and their families was the mermaid lagoon, where the line for photos was hundreds of people long. "A lot of memories were made," Hummel says. "A lot of people will be looking at those pictures years from now."
EVENT PRODUCTION COMPANY: Blue Danube Productions
AWARD: Emerald City Applause Award for Best Event Produced for a Nonprofit with a Budget of $100,000 and Above
When guests arrived at the Sheraton Seattle for JDRF Seattle Guild’s 24th annual Dream Gala, they were immediately immersed in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s-the era of Mad Men. Outside the hotel, 21 vintage cars lined the street. In the Sheraton’s foyer, guests mingled at bistro tables under antique lighting, and geometric shapes in the décor, real palm trees and a full-scale piano bar evoked a big-band cabaret. Just before dinner, a brass band started playing and the doors to the ballroom opened, revealing a decadent retro nightclub. After dinner and a live auction, the Oregon-based band Pink Martini performed and guests danced into the night. "From the beginning of this event to the very end, the guests were transported to a different period in time," says Niki McKay, owner and principal for Blue Danube Productions.
With the gala in its 24th year, Blue Danube hoped to provide something fresh and unexpected that would inspire guests to donate money to JDRF, an international organization that seeks a cure for Type 1 diabetes. After receiving the theme "Mad Men: Late ‘50s to Early ‘60s Cocktail Culture" from its client, the Blue Danube team researched the era (and watched a lot of Mad Men episodes). "Most of those clubs back then were built in the ‘20s and ‘30s, so they had lots of geometric art deco influences," says McKay. "With that inspiration, we were off and running with an amazing design."
Two weeks before the event, the JDRF event chair suggested displaying vintage cars outside the hotel. To accommodate the last-minute request, the Blue Danube team worked quickly to get approval from the city to close both sides of the street. And just a few days before the event, Pink Martini decided to add five additional musicians to their ensemble, and Blue Danube creatively rearranged the stage layout to make room for the additions.
Other challenges included the setup timing. No one had access to the room until midnight the night before the gala, and everything had to be cleared out of the room by 8 a.m. the following morning. That’s a short amount of time to set up, rehearse, operate and strike an event of this size. But by 4:45 a.m. on the day of the gala, everything was ready for rehearsal. The team was also able to take down and pack everything away well ahead of the 8 a.m. deadline.
Blue Danube was "great at managing the expenses on-site and made sure that any requests went through them or me," says Cynthia Dasté, executive director of the JDRF Seattle Guild. "This saved us thousands of dollars."
The gala was a huge success, ultimately raising $3 million and welcoming approximately 1,000 guests.
EVENT PRODUCTION COMPANY: Henry V Events
AWARD: 2013 Rosey Award in the Experiential Category
What if you could call a hotline and have a grilled cheese sandwich delivered to your door at any time of the night? That was the inspiration behind Tillamook’s Late Night Comfort Call promotions during the 2012 and 2013 Feast Portland. Event production and experiential marketing company Henry V Events coordinated the diala-sandwich program two years in a row, receiving a Rosey Award in 2013 and plenty of media attention.
Tillamook wanted to connect with approximately 200 media and food personalities at the food and drink festival and asked Henry V Events for assistance in promoting its products. "The first step was finding the moment the VIPs were open to, and most likely in need of, what we could offer, which was a delicious grilled cheese sandwich," says Katja Asaro, managing director of sales at Henry V Events. Asaro and her team asked the question: "When would I want a grilled cheese sandwich the most?" and decided that, after a long day at Feast Portland, the VIPs would enjoy a late-night snack. One Henry V Events team member suggested a hotline for grilled cheese, and the Late Night Comfort Call was born.
The first challenge the team faced was how to make it easy for VIPs to order grilled cheese sandwiches. The solution? Tillaphones-prepaid, preprogrammed flip cellphones. With the press of a button, VIPs could order grilled cheese sandwiches between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. on the Friday and Saturday nights of Feast Portland. About 75 percent of the cellphones were used over the two nights, and many were used multiple times. People also shared their Tillaphones with others. "As our influencers shared photos of the phones and the sandwiches they received, more and more influencers and fans heard about the opportunity and asked our team how they could get that phone," says Gillian Kennedy, integrated marketing manager for Tillamook. "The Tillaphone became a very in-demand accessory."
Before Tillamook started delivering sandwiches all over town (technically, within 10 miles of downtown Portland), Henry V had to figure out how to create custom-made grilled cheese sandwiches that arrived gooey and warm. After several practice tests, the team settled on a heating device similar to a hot box and insulated packaging to keep the sandwiches warm. Just one caterer made 400-plus sandwiches that were delivered over two nights. Tillamook also provided granola, yogurt and water for a healthy breakfast the following morning.
The event resulted in approximately 29 million media impressions in 2012, 10 million in 2013 and hundreds of tweets. "Most importantly, it started conversations between us and the VIPs we wanted to connect with, and that has resulted in chef partnerships and articles," says Asaro.
While the sandwiches indulged VIPs (and anyone else lucky enough to get one), the Comfort Call kept in mind those in need. When Feast Portland ended, VIPs could donate their Tillaphones to a local homeless shelter by dropping them off at the front desks of their hotels when they left.