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BizBash Chicago IdeaFest: Tips From Billy Dec and Noelle Provencial

The BizBash Chicago IdeaFest took place at the Merchandise Mart on November 15. Billy Dec, founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, was a speaker.

Photo: Jeff Alltop/Brightroom Inc.

The BizBash Chicago IdeaFest took place at the Merchandise Mart on Wednesday. Drawing some 800 industry pros, the daylong affair had a trade show with new goods from 80 vendors. Throughout the day, educational sessions tackled topics such as trends in catering, and during general sessions local industry pros Billy Dec and Noelle Provencial shared wisdom from on-the-job experience.

In his morning address, Dec—C.E.O. and founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, which owns venues such as Rockit and Sunda and produces more than 400 events a year—talked about three recent events he's worked on that have exceeded his expectations in terms of generating buzz.

In February, for example, Dec called on film critic Richard Roeper to host an Oscars-viewing party and After School Matters benefit at Rockit. To build social media engagement before the event, Dec and his team designed a branded Oscar ballot that let attendees and online followers predict the winners. The person who predicted the winners most accurately got a lavish prize.

Before the event, Dec posted short, comical videos of him and Roeper holding their own ballots and arguing about who the winners would be; the videos went viral and helped expand the chatter. On the night of the event, news crews who had caught wind of the happening came to film it. “This event blew our mind when it came to creating buzz,” Dec said.

Provencial, the senior manager of experiential marketing and events at Groupon, took to the stage after Dec to speak about her experience launching Camp Groupon earlier this year. “Don't be afraid to go to your boss with something new,” she said, but stressed being prepared to pitch it. To sell the concept of Camp Groupon, a weekend event that let guests experience different “activity tracks” in Chicago, Provencial knew that she'd be pitching higher-ups with very different personality types.

For one who has a shorter attention span, she created a scroll with a photographic timeline of the event so that he had fun visuals to follow along with during her presentation. Before pitching a boss who's concerned primarily with a comprehensive plan that benefits all departments, she approached colleagues in legal, marketing, and other areas of Groupon to explain how the event would work for them.

Because the event was brand new this year, Provencial also offered five contingency plans with her initial presentation. For instance, she detailed which aspects could be canceled without penalty if tickets didn't sell, but the backup plans didn't ultimately come into play. The event sold well. “Ninety-nine percent of merchants said they'd participate again, and 98 percent of customers said they'd do it again,” she said. “But launching the event was worth it just for the exposure to other departments and key players in the company.”

Other highlights of the day included a BizBash Hall of Fame induction for Terri Brock, senior manager of executive meetings at Abbott Laboratories. The first BizBash IdeaFest holiday party took over the center of the show floor at 4 p.m. and offered cocktails in punch bowls and a mock countdown to the New Year. The day concluded with the presentation of the Readers' Choice Awards.


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