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Q & A

Macy's Robin Hall

November 20, 2002, 12:00 AM EST

Title: Group Vice President for Annual & Special Events
What He Plans: Maybe you've heard of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? Hall puts on hundreds of other events, including fireworks on July 4 and various in-store events.
How Long He's Been at Macy's: He took over for longtime Macy's planner Jean McFaddin last January, but he worked at Macy's for 11 years before that.
Staff: 53
Age: “My age? Why is it no one ever asks my weight? That I'm willing to talk about.”
Favorite Magazine: The New York Times Magazine
Favorite Drink to Have at an Event: Coke
Nights He's Out Each Week: Five
How Long He's Been in New York: 23 years
College Major: Political Science
Where He Lives: Upper West Side

How long does it take to plan the Thanksgiving Day Parade?

It really isn't an exaggeration to say that planning begins the day after Thanksgiving each year. It's an ongoing effort. We have a year-round parade committee that is constantly in conversation. The activity intensifies in the beginning of the summer and we do a lot of conversation and calls with potential sponsors in the spring.

Do you sleep at all the night before the parade?

No. Well, maybe about 15 or 20 minutes during the parade. We rehearse all night and inflate the balloons. We stay all night as the floats come from New Jersey through the Lincoln Tunnel. We set up the floats on Central Park West, where the parade comes to life. All of this happens after midnight.

What's the biggest challenge facing the special events industry right now?

I think like any other industry there's a lot of competition for the right kinds of ideas and event sponsorship. Sponsorship is a burgeoning growth industry-rarely do you have an event not sponsored by somebody. The competition for sponsorship dollars is a huge challenge, because you have to provide a unique platform in which to present a sponsor's name. For us, we're not competing for customers or eyeballs with our events, because we do them in a way and in a scale that we don't have direct competition, but finding the right partners is the challenge.

Is it harder to justify spending money on events in this economy?

On the contrary—I believe these events make us unique as a company. One thing that sets Macy's apart is that we offer this enhancement outside of the store venue. Our annual events are not about getting people to come into the store, but they are a benefit to American culture. In a funny way, this is an important time for us to make them bigger and better than ever.

How is your budget for events changing?

The parade is what it is-it has to be better and bigger than before. We have to top ourselves every year and we manage to work it out. For what we do, the economy is always good-we entertain people and there's always a market for that.

What's your biggest challenge right now?

The biggest challenge is newness. For the parade and fireworks, we're always innovators and the mandate is to go forward with that. We're trying to delight and excite you with new things, but there are.phpects that will always remain. It's hard to balance newness without compromising tradition.

Is the definition of a successful event changing? How do you measure an event's success?

The flower show is different because it actually brings traffic into the store, but that's not really our objective. Most of the time, we don't look at ROI, but we do look at how many letters or calls we receive from people who watched the parade or fireworks. To me, that's the true measure of success-the warmth and happiness we've brought to people. The parade, especially, is a ritual of most families. It's gratifying—we're in a unique position because we don't have to ask how much business these events bring us. There's never an immediate return on the investment, but for 75 years that hasn't bothered us.

How do you see events changing right now?

There is new technology in staging, lighting and devices that bring new dimensions to events. When you go to trade shows, you see a lot that is technology-driven. For us, we think of our fireworks as traditional, but they are driven by technology-shot off by software programmed and timed with music.

Do you have a preferred list of vendors who you work with or do you constantly try out new companies?

We have a lot of long-term relationships with vendors. We're always open to new ones and they're always coming to us. We changed vendors for the flower show after 15 years this year. We're open to new vendors and have a group of people who assess if somebody is worth spending time on.

What's your vendor pet peeve?

We've had few disappointments along the way. We try to keep all our vendors on their toes so they understand nobody has a corner on what we do.

What's the best piece of advice you've gotten so far?

When I started here, one of our old-hands told me not to feel like I have to change anything right away or at all if it's working. He taught me to leave things alone until I have a deep understanding of how they work. Our events have a life of their own and I'm here to direct and synthesize them. I'm trying to take it slow, and so far it's working.

Posted 11.20.02

This story originally appeared in the BiZBash Event Style Reporter newspaper.

Photo by Anna Persson for BiZBash.

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