• Commoditizing Creativity in the Meetings + Events Industry

    POSTED September 5, 2019

Following the ILEA Edmonton Chapter Exclusive Canadian Watch Party with Richard Foulkes, CSEP, who spoke about commoditizing in the creative industry, we reached out to local creative legend and event planner, Alex Armstrong, for her take on the challenge... and she did not hold back.

NK: How do you define creativity? Is it a commodity?

AA: Creative Concepts is a course offered through the NAIT Event Management program. The definition I like is Creativity = Relevance + Novelty. It is a wide range of behaviors and characteristics, flexibility, curiosity and rapid generation of (almost endless) multiple solutions to issues and problems. But does that mean that creativity is an ability or a process? Both options are widely studied.

I really enjoyed Richard Foulkes’s presentation and the depth of his thinking on creativity, especially his ‘thought cake’. I’m not sure where I land on creativity as a commodity.

NK: The HUGE question: Are we giving away the farm and hurting the industry?

AA: I feel we need to encourage professional behavior in terms of pricing our services. But I do understand how difficult it is to broadcast your pricing model if you know that a less ethical person could undercut you – However, if we, as an industry could stop giving away our services for free, we would be in a much more secure place. It can be done, but we need to educate our clients and work together.

The first step is RFPs. A Request for Proposal isn’t a set of bolts that we box up and ship out. It is a fully realized set of plans that make up 75%-85% of an entire event plan. We are consistently giving it away on the off-chance that we will be selected if the client likes our ideas. NO!

Clients need to hire us first. Sign a contract and agree to terms, based on previous work and our reputations. Only then should planners be sharing ideas and solving problems.

Our ideas and our ability to come up with multiple interesting solutions to a given set of circumstances are what sets us apart. If it was easy, everyone would do it. ore.

NK: How can we, as professionals in Alberta, lead the change in this industry and blaze a trail for changing the culture around not paying for the creative process?

AA: Again, start by talking about your process with clients. Show them how you work – a great resource is the CSEP guide. This includes all the steps necessary for a successful event. Once they can see the amount of work involved and the level of professionalism, they will stop treating the creative process as a freebie.

Education is the key and we as the leaders in the event industry need to work together to stop the ‘work for free’ model.


1. Research and Development Phase

A Determine purpose of event and prioritize goals and objectives
B) Identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis)
C) Identify scope of work and event element requirements (e.g. technical production, food and beverage, ancillary programs, entertainment, risk management, and décor)
D) Analyze site requirements and select appropriate site/venue
E) Determine need for ancillary programs (e.g. companion programs, exhibits, optional side trips, recreational activities or mini-events within event)
F) Define and develop integrated marketing plan (e.g. situation analysis, marketing objectives, target markets and messages and measure return on marketing (ROM))
G) Identify and develop promotional strategy (e.g. advertising, promotions, Website, sales, social media, promotions and contests)
H) Identify and develop direct sales strategy (e.g. box office and ticket operations, souvenirs and promotional merchandise)
I) Identify and develop public relations strategy (e.g. media releases, requests for coverage, photo opportunities, media relations, social engagement, publications, event publicity and public guest appearances)
J) Identify and develop sponsorship program (e.g. sponsorships, donors, grants and gifts)
K) Identify protocol and ceremony needs and develop protocol plans as required (e.g. officials dignitaries, government and other officials, special equipment, flags and emblems)

2. Pre-Production Phase

A) Re-assess available resources (e.g., vendors, funds, people, etc.) and time restrictions
B)  Implement record keeping procedures
C) Create time lines, including production calendar and schedules
D) Schedule vendor/suppliers meetings
E) Establish event evaluation criteria. What are the success factors?
F) Develop the site plan
G) Review and comprehend vendor proposals
H) Create structure of responsibility pertaining to event management and its staffing (e.g. org chart)
I) Oversee communications with and between all involved parties (e.g. status reports, production meetings, budget updates)
J) Determine logical sequence of show or event flow
K) Coordinate all event elements

  1. Site (e.g. parking, waste management, capacity, power, telecommunications and floor plan
  2. Entertainment/presentation (e.g., riders, scripting and rehearsals)
  3. Transportation (e.g. manifests, shuttle service, airport service and valet)
  4. Food and beverage (e.g. alcohol management, catering, guarantees and dietary needs)
  5. Technical production (e.g. audio/visual, lighting, sound, special effects and technical rehearsal)
  6.  Rentals (e.g. delivery and setup)
  7. Décor (e.g. scenery, props, branding and floral)
  8. Risk management (e.g. security, EMS, liquor, contract liability, fire marshal and crowd control)
  9. Guest services and protocol (e.g. flights, hotel, accessibility, translation and VIP services)
  10. Media production (e.g. photography, videography, scripting and show content)
  11. Collateral material (e.g. signage, invitation, brochures, promotional items and gifts)
  12. Staffing (e.g. recruitment, training, motivation, and evaluation of personnel and volunteers)
  13. Ancillary programs (e.g. excursions, companion programs and recreational activities)
  14. Marketing and public relations (e.g. press area, event publicity, photo opportunities and sponsorship)
  15. Shipping and receiving (e.g. drayage, trucking and courier service)

L) Devise contingency and response plans (part of Risk Management plan)
M) Ensure event complies with licensing regulations and other intellectual property rights (eg. Socan and BMI, copyright)
N) Secure all necessary insurance coverage, licenses, permits, waivers, and other compliance instruments and documentation
O) Negotiate and execute necessary agreements, contracts, leases and other legal documents
P) Conduct pre-event production meetings and personnel/participant/volunteer orientation

3) Production Phase

A) Implement production schedule
B) Employ communication systems (e.g. methods of communication and communication protocol)
C) Implement risk monitoring and control systems as needed (e.g. contingency and response plans, and safety procedures)
D) Coordinate load-in and load-out
E) Ensure conceptual and contractual compliance of event
F) Conduct and document pre- and post-inspection of event (e.g. security, health and safety, client, staff and site)
G) Establish behind-the-scenes locations (e.g. green room, production office, rehearsal space)
H) Respond to and document incidents and changes (e.g. incident reports, change orders and signed authorizations)

4) Post-production Phase

A) Determine return on investment (ROI) (e.g. internal and external stakeholders and measurable objectives)
B) Analyze and evaluate entire event management process using evaluation criteria
C) Audit and reconcile finances and present final budget (e.g. final invoices/billing, financial reports, and profit and loss)
D) Archive information (e.g. legal documentation, media documentation and samples)
E) Ensure full compliance with contractual obligations (e.g. equipment and rental return, payment schedules)


NK: Alex, where do you work?

AA: “I am the Event Coordinator for the JR Shaw School of Business at NAIT, managing engagement activities and events for faculty, student and industry. I am also working on the new ‘experiential learning’ segment of the business school”

NK: How did you break into the Event Industry?

AA: “My event management firm: Three Tall Women Design Inc was founded 22 years ago and offers impactful event design and education. I started this business with two friends from the Citadel Theatre in the late 90’s when we noticed more and more people calling the theatre looking for décor for their corporate events. This was something we already did very well – and companies were willing to pay for our creativity and expertise.”

“I suppose being a union member (IATSE210, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) made me very aware of the professional and qualified experience we brought to our work.

Stagehands, high riggers, prop builders, wardrobe designers, lighting, sound, video technicians etc are all skilled positions, and we are experts when it comes to negotiating favorable working conditions and salaries.”

NK: When did you find yourself a home with the ILEA Family?

AA: “Ken Kristofferson (Pop Kollaborative, Calgary) is solidly to blame for my ILEA journey. He spoke persuasively about the responsibility we have as experienced professionals to elevate the event industry through education. It was Ken and Lynn Fletcher who encouraged a dedicated group of professionals to start an ILEA chapter in Edmonton and provided incredible support to get us up and running. Later, Ken pushed me to write my CSEP, and I’m so grateful for his tough love! “

NK: When it comes to teaching and mentoring, it’s no secret that you have made a significant impact on many event professionals and have helped them build a solid foundation for their careers. How did this all start?

AA: “I met the amazing Nancy Milakovic at an Edmonton Chamber event in 2011. We hit it off and after dissecting the presentation, catering and staging she asked if I would be interested in joining the professional committee re-working the NAIT Event Management program – this lead to content and curriculum development and then to teaching”

“I also mentor (formally and informally) almost anyone who shows a genuine interest in the industry. The students who went through the certificate program are now my trusted colleagues. I couldn’t be prouder of the direction the event industry has taken, particularly in Edmonton”


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