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FEATURE

2001-2011: 7 Event Firms Marking Their 10th Year, and What They’ve Learned So Far

We aren’t the only ones in the event business marking our 10th anniversary this year. Here’s a look at seven other companies, and what their founders learned along the way.

By Martha C. White July 20, 2011, 8:45 AM EDT

Precision Event Group
Jason Wanderer turned a freelance gig when he was between jobs into a business. His company now employs a staff of 15 in L.A. and five in New York. Wanderer has produced events for groups ranging from Chanel to the National Hockey League.
Aha Moment: “Running a large event is running a microcosm of a business. You know you need to do X, Y, and Z, and you have to compartmentalize in terms of budget and staffing needs. You say, ‘These are the assets,’ and have to practice resource management.”
Best Year: “This is our busiest year to date. In January we did more than we generally do in the first quarter.”
Event Highlight: “For the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, MTV produced it and I was the field cast supervisor. In six months, my responsibility was to locate, cast, and train 3,000 local high school kids who would be on the field during the show as an audience. It took a huge amount of coordination with local school districts, the N.F.L., MTV, and all the security.”

Infinity Events
Robb Thornsberry planned to start this Anaheim, California-based company with a partner, but when that cohort backed out, he forged ahead as a solo operator. With a D.M.C. and event production background, Thornsberry has produced events for Domino’s Pizza, Air Tahiti, Visit Britain, and Quiksilver.
Best Year: “2010 was that fork in the road. We produced the screening, red carpet arrival, entertainment prior to, and the after-party for the movie The Ultimate Wave: Tahiti 3-D. I’ve been asked to bid on other events because of that. The people I’m bidding against aren’t the small mom-and-pops anymore—it’s companies I admire and look up to. This is an echelon I never envisioned myself being a part of.”
Biggest Challenge: “I’m fully aware that the company can’t continue to grow without more involvement and interaction and participation from other people, but my concern is, I’m not going to like it anymore if I bring on staff. I’ll be more involved with payroll and benefits and keeping my staff happy, and taking away from what I really enjoy doing.”

PTE Productions
Managing partner Jon Adcock launched this company in Orlando after realizing that his previous venture, Party Tunes Entertainment, could capture more business as a full-service production company. It grew rapidly until the economy began to turn south.
Toughest Year: “Literally every time the phone rang in October 2008, it was somebody canceling. We lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in a month’s time. The economy had just gotten that bad. We went from 25 to five [employees], and on some days, there were just two of us in the office. It was really rough. I asked myself, ‘Is it worth trying to save this or do I let the ship go down?’”
Strategy Shift: “We took advantage of intern programs from Full Sail and the Rosen School. I have the ability to teach, and they have the desire to learn. Now, there are people who are just as good who are willing to work for half as much. When the economy did start to turn, we ended up keeping them and putting them on full time.”

MKG

When Maneesh Goyal launched his business in New York, “It was literally just me,” he says. Now, he has a staff of 36 and added an L.A. office in January. A recent event for Coca-Cola held during the Los Angeles Marathon drew 12,000 people.
Event Highlight: “Something I’m most proud of is that we built one of the first-of-its-kind pop-up stores for Delta [in 2007], it was meant to stay open for six weeks, and it ended up being there for six months. It was a pretty tremendous showcase.”
On Technology: “The advent of social media has turned the industry inside out. An event no longer lives just in a physical venue. Now it lives online. Suddenly we have to cater to an online audience in addition to a physical audience.”

Voilà Meeting and Event Management
This firm was the brainchild of Eden Capuano and Olivia Immerman, two destination management company veterans. Based in Rockville, Maryland, Voilà started with a few part-time independent contractors; now they’re up to 20 full-timers. They plan events for companies like General Electric and Delta Airlines, and they worked on the pope’s visit to the U.S. in 2008.
Strategy Shift: “We had no interest in getting involved in the government market initially, but we opened our minds to take on government and religious events. Those two pieces ended up being very steady, very lucrative. It’s something we definitely changed our mind-set on.”
Big Decision: “We’ve kept the model of working with contractors. The industry has its ebbs and flows, and we’ve seen some of our competitors need to drop staff when the government pulls back on contracts or incentives fall by the wayside.”
What’s Next: “One of the hopes we had was to be a global organization, and we’re on a trend to continue that. We’ve definitely had to get training on everything from how far to space someone seated at a table to managing time expectations.”

HG Design
This Los Angeles company and its founder, Hector Gutierrez, got off to an inauspicious start: His inaugural event, the 2001 Emmys Governors Ball, was canceled in the wake of September 11. But since then, Gutierrez has been contracted for numerous TV and movie premieres, film festivals, and award ceremonies.
Event Highlight: “For L.A. Fashion Week, we do an installation—fabric panels that we stretch between two buildings about 40 feet up in the air, so guests kind of walk under it as they come into the California Market Center.”
Biggest Challenge: “In the beginning, we were doing a lot of work with just three of us, and it was really tough to find time to meet our clients. We needed to meet them face-to-face, and it was almost impossible. We had to find reliable people and train them so we could go to present our ideas to them.”
Go-To Technology: “I used to have to sketch out all of my renderings, but now I do computer renderings. I use CAD programs or architecture design programs.”

Back to Earth Organic Catering
Eric Fenster was an early adopter of the green food movement, co-founding his business in Berkeley, California, when few others were targeting the event market for organic food. Fenster has catered events for companies like Toyota, Whole Foods, and Pixar, and Back to Earth has expanded into eco-friendly decor, linens, and florals.
Biggest Challenge: “In 2006, everything green was exploding and everyone decided they were green. It was no longer unique to us, and there was so much greenwashing [when people suggest things are eco-friendly that aren’t]. At the same time, the economy was starting to struggle, and our commitment to sustainable sourcing does make everything more expensive. That’s definitely the reason we’re not able to book every event we propose.”
Strategy Shift: “We’ve almost seen a little bit of an organic backlash. People are looking for a more mainstream thing. We’re actually looking at rebranding ourselves and taking ‘organic’ out of the name to tell a new story with a slightly less-intense focus on the sustainable.”

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