Going for WOW
Grand Junction’s David Wall and Gina Bishop spend date nights in home improvement stores.
They have to.
As two of the primary, and most utilized, special events planners in this area, Wall, founder of Snob Productions, and Bishop, founder of Elite Events, browse plumbing, electrical and hardware aisles in their own time to search for innovative ideas for private or corporate affairs, nonprofit galas and other events.
(Admittedly, the couple love the creativity of their careers, so finding unexpected ways to use, say, PVC pipe is sort of romantic.)
Event planning is an ever-changing, competitive industry, and the days of filling a vase with flowers and passing it off as décor are gone, both nationally and in western Colorado.
In fact, BizBash, a reputable publication and website for event professionals, had a two-day national style awards event this fall for the first time in 10 years because event planning “is spreading everywhere,” said BizBash Media Executive Editor Anna Sekula in an Oct. 9 Wall Street Journal story about how event planners across the country “are competing for new heights.”
The BizBash awards highlighted the best in event design from national entries with various budgets.
Locally, HopeWest and St. Mary’s Hospital are interested in submitting concepts from their galas to future BizBash awards, said Wall, who works with both groups on gala planning.
“The whole event design concept within the past five years (in western Colorado) has changed dramatically,” Wall said. “It’s got to be the big ‘wow factor’ that everyone’s talking about.”
Galas, scheduled throughout the year but primarily in fall and winter, give attendees the chance to see a room transformed through sound, lighting and décor to create an evening of escape that may generate valuable donations, social buzz and increased attendance in future years, which nonprofits count on to support their organization.
It is the role of event planners to make that happen.
“What we try to do now is stay up on trends,” said Trisha Whittington, special events coordinator with HopeWest and a member of the January 2014 gala planning committee. She agrees with the saying: “Good event planners study other events. Great event planners study everything.”
“Everyone’s event is unique and special,” Whittington said. “I think (for) every event, particularly galas, to differentiate yourself is important.”
The theme and how it is creatively executed is the primary way galas distinguish themselves because most use the same local venues.
“You can only go into the same space so many times before it’s just the same space,” Wall said. “(Gala committees) want people to show up and stay. You are asking people for money. It has to have value. You have to be entertaining.”
“You have to give people an experience,” Bishop said.
The creative use of lighting is a trend Grand Valley event planners increasingly have used in the past several years.
“Once we introduced the look and how much a difference it makes, it took off like a wildfire,” said Wall, who opened Snob Productions in 1997. Now, “some clients we work with have specific lighting budgets.”
Other national trends seen locally include video mapping, which is using one projector to project multiple images onto multiple surfaces. Zombie Prom recently used this lighting method at Mesa Theater and Lounge.
And using an LED screen — smaller screens grouped to form a large video wall — was utilized by Wall at the Ronnie Dunn show earlier this year at Colorado Mesa University.
The special event budgets of nonprofits often are more limited than those for corporate or private events, but that doesn’t have to be limiting. It just requires more creativity, Wall and Bishop said.
When Kristi Pollard, part of the planning committee for Feast of Skulls, approached Wall about the Museum of Western Colorado’s Sept. 6 gala at Dinosaur Journey, she mentioned the budget was less than $10,000. But the museum still wanted to “make a splash,” Pollard said.
So Wall and Bishop helped the museum transform Dinosaur Journey’s unique floor space into a jungle with a gigantic 14-foot tree that extended nearly 40 feet, creating a canopy above the attendees.
The tree was homemade — custom ordering a similar tree would have cost nearly $10,000, Wall said — which helped Wall and Bishop stay within the museum’s budget while still giving the Feast of Skulls a new look and creating buzz for the 2014 event.
“We were very, very pleased with the return,” said Pollard, who already has received inquiries about next year’s Feast of Skulls.
The reaction from clients and patrons when seeing the overall look of an event is one of the best parts of the event planning business, Wall and Bishop said.
“Being creative is awesome,” Wall said. “Seeing that response from people, I almost get emotional.”