Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Not-So-Great GoogaMooga: When Inaugural Events are Bashed on the Internet

The weather was ideal for the inaugural Great GoogaMooga, the first ever “foodie festival” in Brooklyn on May 19-20. But most attendees would say this was the only thing that was ideal. Glitches are to be expected with any inaugural event, however the not-so-great GoogaMooga — that seemed to be ruled by Murphy’s Law on Saturday when I attended — experienced heightened backlash from attendees via social media. The fact that the event started a half-hour late, the two-hour-long beverage lines, the mandatory (and confusing) drink tickets called “GoogaMoola,” the spotty cellphone reception, the high prices, the lack of shade, and that fact that some vendors ran out of food by 3 p.m. (even in the V.I.P. section), all combined to make that Saturday a less-than-perfect affair — and prompted a lot of attendees to take their frustration to the net. None of these mishaps would go unnoticed, or un-tweeted — with many references to The Hunger Games.

The crowds gather in front of the main stage at the Great GoogaMooga.
The event featured food from over 75 local restaurants, 20 musical performances, more than 35 winemakers, and 30 beer makers. It was called a “food amusement park,” meant to showcase the gourmet side of New York dining. The vendor booths, some curated by Anthony Bourdain, were arranged in a horseshoe surrounding a large stage where Hall & Oates and The Roots later played. Bourdain also spoke at the event (but only for those with a $250 V.I.P. ticket). 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Site at CT2-MTL

© Barbara Haemmig de Preux

I'm here in beautiful Montreal, attending the first-ever C2-MTL Commerce + Creativity Conference. And this event just oozes creativity. It starts with the location — a former industrial corner of downtown called Griffintown, which is in the midst of revitalization. The conference is housed in a "village" of several distinct spaces. You enter through a large, sophisticated tent with piped-in fragrances and mood lighting, innovative lounges, cafeteria-style rooms, and an art installation of construction-cone walls (inside the center [peephole] of each cone is an image of innovative urban design). Once you exit the tent, you're in an urban outdoor space with a bar, music stage, and conversation pods with oversized Adirondack chairs.  The sessions themselves are held in the 1850s New City Gas building, a beautiful, stone building that was restored and outfitted specifically for the conference.

The conference's creative partner is Cirque du Soleil; content partners include Fast Company, IBM, and pwC, and its presenters include Laurentian Bank, Tourisme Montreal, and HSN. The line-up of speakers is equally impressive — especially considering that this is an inaugural event. Today, Arianna Huffington made use of her stage time to give us a sneak peek at her new "GPS for the Soul" app, and Ian Schrager gave us a glimpse into the creative genius behind each of his hotel designs. One nugget in particular settled in my brain: When asked how he plans the design for each of his hotels, Schrager said: "It's like a journey, not a plan."( I think I will use that line the next time someone asks me why we don't know what our cover story will be four months from now.)

If I put on my meeting-planner hat, I am sure I could find some flaws in this event's execution (the foie-gras-stuffed-flower appetizers yesterday evening, for one). But wow. There is so much to be mined from this event's format and environment — a creative act that reflects and supports the content.

Spicing Up the Trade-Show Floor

MyCEB's "Spice Market" at IMEX 2012
I'm currently at IMEX 2012 in Frankfurt, the annual powerhouse exhibition for incentive travel, meetings, and events. It's challenging for destinations to stand out in the exhibition hall, with exhibitors from more than 150 countries all trying to both get the attention of attendees, and to share the flavor and advantages of their destinations.

But the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) booth was impossible to ignore Wednesday afternoon during its "Spice Market" cocktail reception, where they staged a modern version of the historical markets that thrived 600 years ago along the Silk Road. MyCEB distributed stacks of currency during the exhibition, and during the reception, attendees could buy colorful textiles, fans, and other items from "traders" who spread their wares out on cloths laid on the booth floor.

It was high-energy fun, and underscored the point that MyCEB makes about Malaysia as a meetings destination: the country sits at the crossroads of India and Asia, the fastest-growing economic area in the world, and offers meeting planners a multi-facted, multicultural environment.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Power of People: Events After Controversy

This Mother’s Day, as we do every year, my mother, sister and I participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Philadelphia. Just as I was impressed by the resilience of the breast cancer survivors competing (and kicking butt) in the race, I was also impressed by how, despite controversy faced this year, the Komen sponsored event was just as successful as in years past.

A sea of pink outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Susan G. Komen - Philadelphia
In the wake of a fierce media backlash after cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, and being accused of using their brand to promote unhealthy products, Susan G. Komen for the Cure has still managed to keep a majority of its supports, and not just corporate. At the 2012 Race for the Cure in Philadelphia — a 5k run culminating in a large celebration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — there were more than 40,000 participants and 100,000 spectators, and the event raised over $900,000 dollars for breast cancer research and treatment.

It was reassuring to see that despite an organization’s trip-ups or difficult financial times, you can still count on the people to rally around a cause they’re passionate about. After my first month with Convene magazine, I’ve realized that that is the lifeline of the convention and meeting planning industry — the attendees who continue to show up, to join a group of like-minded people, to represent a subset of the community that they feel connected to, and to learn and grow as a result of these events.

Controversy or no controversy, my family and I, just like the other 140,000 people present that day, will continue to participate in the race, to support a worthy cause, to commemorate the women in our lives we’ve lost to breast cancer, support those that have survived, and fight for the future of women everywhere — proving that an organization is only as strong as its devoted members.

Photo courtesy of Susan G. Komen for the Cure - Philadelphia
Read Convene editor Barbara Palmer's interview with the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Nancy Brinker here:

Friday, May 18, 2012

What Price Knowledge?

I recently spoke with Michael Burke, a partner at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, who chaired the American Bar Association's Section of International Law 2011 Fall Meeting in Dublin last fall. Something he said about the meeting — and the advantages Ireland provided as its host — reminded me of Convene Senior Editor Barbara Palmer's "What Price Knowledge?" sidebar in our May issue cover story.

Barbara talks about PAX East — which has agreed to hold its gaming conference at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center for at least 11 more years — and its unique relationship with Boston's knowledge base, specifically the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute at Becker College.

Michael shared that one of the benefits of holding the fall meeting in Ireland was the ability to "leverage off of" The Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway — a renowned university-based institution for the study and promotion of humanitarian law. "The legal services industry in Ireland is as talented as you're going to get," Michael told me, but to to be able to have a speaker from that "human rights program, you know, it's a whole different perspective than we'd find elsewhere."

Checking In From Checkpoint Charlie

Near "Checkpoint Charlie" in Berlin
Convene is on the road again. I am on a pre-IMEX educational trip to Berlin, with planners from the U.S., Brazil, and China. Berlin is a beautiful city with a fascinating history, and is the fourth most-popular city globally for association meetings. I'll post pictures here, as well as on our newly activated PCMA Convene Facebook page.

My nearly first order of business in the city was to find a store where I could replace a computer cord I'd left behind. (It made me wonder if DMAI's Event Impact Calculator, which Corrie Dosh wrote about in our May cover story, calculates the purchases of all the things that meeting attendees forget and replace.)

But the store where I bought the cord was just a block or so away from "Checkpoint Charlie," the most famous former border crossing into East Berlin. There was a wonderful photographic timeline on the spot, telling the story of the Berlin Wall, which stood between East and West Germany from 1961 until 1989. Tourists waited nearby at a rebuilt guard station to get their photos taken with actors playing American guards.

I felt lucky that my errand gave me the opportunity to stand at that iconic spot — the likelihood of pleasure mixed with business is part of what makes for a great meeting destination.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Convene On Site: Athens, Part 2

Following up on my post the other day, I need to reiterate the benefits of mixing media people and meeting professionals -- at least for we media people. During our many site visits over the last few days (including to the Westin Athens, where I'm sitting on my balcony writing this), it's been hugely instructive to hang back and watch my fellow participants -- an interesting and experience group that includes corporate and association planners, third parties, incentive professionals, and even an organizing committee member -- talk to our hosts and each other. They ask questions, clarify their needs, and offer solutions; you can see them sketching out an event in their heads, and trying to figure out if a specific venue will be an adequate canvas on which to paint it. For me, it's like auditing a master class.

PS The city is beautiful, the local meetings and hospitality community is warm, gracious, and expert, and the food is terrific. Wish you were here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

App-cidents Happen

The Old: 2010 DigitalNow app
Before I attended DigitalNow in late April, I went online to download the conference app, and mistakenly downloaded the app for the 2010 conference. The conference length, name, and the venue, Disney's Contemporary Resort, were the same both years, but it confused me for longer than I probably should admit.

Still, I'm glad I made the mistake, because it was eye-opening. (For starters, I saw the need to label conference apps with the year —lots of people, like me, operate at a gallop online, doing at least two other things while downloading your app.)

But the bigger, more important takeaway was the graphic example it provided of how quickly apps in particular, and tech in general, are evolving.

DigitalNow's bread and butter is technology, but their two-year-old app now seems pretty limited. It listed the agenda and speakers, along with sponsor logos and information about the resort, and offered embedded links to email and websites. But it functioned more like a digital version of a print conference schedule than a digital tool.
The New: 2012 DigitalNow

The 2012 app, by comparison, gave far more detailed and interactive information about sessions and speakers, offering attendees the opportunity to create their own personal agendas. Attendee bios and photographs were loaded into the app, attendees could link directly to the conference hashtag, sign up for text alerts (which were used judiciously), and physically find sessions and breakouts on a map of the convention center.

The app also connects directly to archived content; attendees can access videos of select sessions, including exhibitor presentations.

As good as it was, I wanted more. Specifically, I wanted to know which sessions were popular with attendees who were a lot like me. Social media platforms like Facebook, along with websites like Amazon, are training me to look for "recommendations" from people that I don't know well.

It is surprising to me that I expect so much, because not much more than a year ago,  I wrote a column about organizations that were developing their first conference apps. It was new ground to many of the people I spoke to, and unfamiliar territory for me as well. I didn't even know if I would like to use an app.

Today, I'm a big fan, and a recent Convene survey of meeting planners showed that more than 25 percent of respondents use them, a figure that almost certainly has grown since then.

What about you and your conferences? Are you using apps, and how are they changing?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Convene On Site: Athens

Hello from Athens, where I'm participating in a fam trip sponsored by the Athens Convention Bureau. That beautifully hazy photo to the left is the view from my balcony at the Hilton Athens -- an accurate snapshot of this bright, hot, and heavy Sunday afternoon in the cradle of Western civilization, where it very appropriately happens to be election day.

We've only just hit the ground here, but already this trip has endeared itself to me for a very simple reason: We participants are a mix of media representatives and event planners, heavily weighted toward the latter. As an editor who covers the meetings industry -- reporting and writing on an area in which I have no formal training or education -- I'd much rather tour a destination with practitioners who can share their professional insights throughout our many site visits, meals, and other programs together. It helps me better understand how they approach the events they plan; and it also invariably suggests a lot of different ideas for Convene stories.

Something else that this trip is already doing right: doling out the downtime. Some of us arrived at the Hilton after traveling for more than 18 hours, and upon checking in our gracious hosts told us to relax and freshen up for a while; if we're interested, we can take a bus tour later this afternoon, followed by either an early dinner or simply cocktails and appetizers -- our choice. We're all excited to be here, but as you know it's not uncommon on a trip like this for the spirit to be willing and the flesh to be weak. It's nice to see that reality being taken into account.

If you're curious about what else makes for a good fam trip, check out this CMP Series article we published on the topic. And check back for another dispatch or two from Athens over the next few days.