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Absolut's Keith Harvey

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Title: Regional marketing and sales director
What he plans: During Fashion Week this past September, Harvey produced Absolut Lifestyle, an ambitious alternative space for fashion shows at Gotham Hall, which also showcased a suite of complementary brands. He also plans more than 50 events each year, including tastings, sponsorships and product promotions.
Budget: "I have adequate funding for what we do."
Career path: Graduated from Florida A&M with a degree in journalism, with an emphasis in PR. He was a sports writer for The Gainesville Sun, and then returned to Florida A&M to work in its PR department and earn a masters in public administration. After a stint in the nonprofit world, he got a sales and marketing position with Seagram, and when Seagram sold the Absolut Spirits Company, he moved to Absolut two years ago.
Age: 39
Favorite venue: "I look for venues that offer something different. It has to be fun, sexy, creative."
Favorite hors d'oeuvre: Stuffed mushrooms
Favorite magazine: Savoy
Where he goes for ideas: "I like to travel outside of New York and find something different outside of this atmosphere."
Where he grew up: Harlem and Co-op City in the Bronx
Where he lives: Jersey City

Explain your role in sponsoring Absolut Lifestyle during this past Fashion Week.

Initially the concept was brought to us by Vanguarde Media, and the idea was to go after up-and-coming designers and sprinkle in some well-known designers, and bring them together for a show during Fashion Week. At the end of the day, we pulled off a fantastic show and received nothing but praise for it. So many designers heard the buzz and have asked to be part of it next year. It was the kind of event that really fell in line with how we want to position Absolut—it put Absolut back on the map in terms of using fashion as a platform. The designers who were there are the ones reaching the twentysomething and thirtysomething demographic—the trendy, upscale people with a personal sense of style, who use today's fashion to make a statement.

Were you worried about standing out in a week crowded with other events and promotions?

Not at all. We felt that the notoriety that some of the designers garnered and the fact that we controlled the venue [Gotham Hall] for three days meant that we would attract media and the fashion community. At no time did we expect to get the 7th on Sixth crowd, yet we were ecstatic with the support and attendance we received each day during this inaugural program.

How were you able to set yourselves apart from everybody else?

We held a pre-event launch party that got a full-page article in The New York Post and coverage on numerous Web sites. Our partnership with Honey magazine, which promoted the event, also provided good coverage.

How did you choose partners for the event that fit with your brand?

Absolut Lifestyle was a joint partnership between Absolut and Honey, a Vanguarde Media publication. I have had a longstanding relationship with Vanguarde in partnering with them for events across the country. Vanguarde's publications reach the same consumers that Absolut works on reaching.

How has the economy affected your events this year?

I don't know that it's affected our events as much as it's affected business here in New York. The trends and economy in New York greatly affect international travel, which is really down right now. The hotels and restaurants feel that, which affects our business overall, but I wouldn't say that it impacts our events.

How do you make an event effective when you have to work with a smaller budget?

We have to spend money to make money. We spend where we need to spend.

How do you keep yourself engaged in your work?

For me it's been about passion for what I do. I used to be out four or five nights a week, finding out what was going on with consumers and retailers. I'm just passionate about what I do, and some days I don't consider it a job because I like it so much.

How do you convince others that events are still important?

Internally in my organization, it's about making sure there's going to be a return on an event, whether that means we're reaching a target audience or selling a certain number of cases. On the consumer end of it, we have to make sure we're talking to them in a way that they appreciate—if you don't know them well enough, you'll create programs that won't work.

What do today's guests expect at an event?

I think that no matter who the audience is, they want to get a benefit out of an event. Often, guests just go to every event because they're invited, and leave without being entertained or given the information they wanted. A lot of people may be there to have a free drink and something to eat, but they can also blow off steam, network, or learn something new. Whatever the event, it has to meet those things that the consumer wants.

What trends are you seeing in event style?

I think companies are looking to talk to consumers in their language, which means taking more risks, and using edgier and younger language-products like iPod are using a funky look and style to promote themselves. I guess more than ever, companies are speaking to the lifestyle of the consumer.

—Erin Strout

Posted 03.03.04

This Q&A originally appeared in our newspaper, the BiZBash Event Style Reporter.