Hailing originally from New England, I grew up experiencing the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox. Each Spring, listening to talk show callers espouse their optimism for a season that, surely, would finally lead to the promised land. The airwaves were littered with talk of shrewd off-season transactions, dominant pitching and a lineup built to take us all the way. “Hope Springs Eternal” became the battle cry, and marketing slogan, of the rabid fan base. Inevitably, by June, those same callers were begging for a trade to shore up their terrible pitching. By July, calls for the entire management team to be fired were commonplace. And by August, the fan base had turned their attention to what off-season moves could be made to get some more hitting in here! Although the park was filled, and tickets were hard to come by, the shine was off the diamond by the fall, and the battle cry became “wait till next year!”. In a way, this experience prepared me well for the acquisition of a competitor last year. A hopeful Spring, turned into a grinding summer, and a fall littered with cries of “wait till next year!” We even had fresh popped popcorn – and I think maybe a heckler or two! But true to Corporate Events Unlimited fashion, the one shining difference is we DID make it to the promised land, and we look forward to a repeat in 2018!
Looking in the rear view mirror of our acquisition at this time in 2017, there were moments I thought I would never have the time to even contemplate writing a retrospective blog. To be sure, many great people did tremendous work to get us to this point. The integration of events in our fabric and culture was rocky, at best, but successful in the end. And like any great learning experience, I’m not sure I would trade any of it because I believe it has made us stronger on the back end. Insurmountable tasks have become easily achieved goals. Operational differences that looked like they may derail the process have been blended into our existing procedures. Fear and anxiety have been replaced with a “what’s next” attitude, which will spur our next evolution of growth. None of this happens without a great team – people you can push to the edge but they never fall off. Without them, this blog does not get written, and this organization does not survive. If you are going through a major change, take a moment to say thank you to your team – DAILY!
So what have we learned? What would we do different?
Embrace the Ridiculousness of It All More Often Than Not
As you can imagine with any acquisition, you acquire new equipment. In the event business, it may be equipment you have never seen before, or knew even existed. For instance, we acquired some 20 x 30 tents that were the same color as the 20 x 20 tents. Event after event, we received feedback in the field that we, once again, loaded the wrong size tent. On one particular event, our Director pulled the wrong size tent from the truck, buried it deep on the shelves in a remote corner of the warehouse, and dropped the correct size tent at the bay door of the warehouse. When he arrived on site, his satisfaction of knowing he did not have the wrong size tent turned to horror when he realized he had ZERO tents because he left it at the bay door! And sure enough, on the next event, that other tent he buried deep turned up like a lost sock from the dryer! On the way home from the event, I remember calling him, and we just started laughing until the tears were running down our face. In that moment, we knew it was all we needed to do, because the sun would rise tomorrow and there would be a new chance to be better. Embrace the failure, celebrate it, learn from it and DO NOT let it affect your team’s momentum towards your goal. Make sure you show them that you hope for better, but you embrace these moments, and so should they because they will make you better. And the moments will make for an amusing story, or twelve.
Manage Client Expectations
I used to like corn on the cob. Huge fan, with memories of sitting at my Grandmother’s summer camp in Maine shucking corn while swinging on a wooden bench swing. So when one of our clients wanted corn to serve 5000 over two days, I was excited by the concept. We met, calculated our needs and got the client to agree to a price. Within two hours of the event, the corn proved more popular than imagined, and I found myself standing in line at Wal-Mart with a basket full of corn. One hour later, I was once again elbows deep in the corn bin cleaning them out. And on day two, the clients cries of “we are out of corn” over the radio became a steel wire brush running across my soul. As painful as the memory is of opening the back door of the SUV and watching corn roll down Main Street, what sticks out to me is how we managed the expectations of this client inherited in the purchase. With a silent fear, and a reluctance to have a frank discussion about the additional cost and burden, we diminished our value by our own doing, and allowed a new client to set the tone for the future. Meeting client expectations is everyone’s goals, but should it be to the detriment of your organization? Your people? Your bottom line? It’s understandable that a client you acquired may be weary of how you may be different from what they are used to, but approach it with confidence and not fear. Respect yourself, and your value, and communicate with the client as equals looking for a successful outcome. By putting ourselves on equal footing, the conversation about additional cost, and impact to manpower, becomes easier when you have to track down 70 ears of corn in 15 minutes! And in the end, the client will respect your candor and honesty, and if they don’t, you have a larger question to ask about the future of that client to you. Don’t fear that your clients will jump ship for a competitor because they don’t know you. Show them your confidence that you will provide a better experience, and thus why you are the acquirer, and not the acquired.
Clearly Understand the New Markets You Are Entering
When you do events all over the country, you experience a variety of business practices. Admittedly, we pride ourselves on processes that emphasize safety and security both physically, and financially. Proper insurance, proper legal documentation and detailed communication about expectations. For the most part, we encounter the same with the vendors we deal with, but an acquisition can force you into a relationship, however temporary, that may add a layer of frustration you never anticipated. While producing one event in a remote part of the country, I communicated via phone and email with a vendor that, historically, had provided the rides for the event. Pressed for time, and ensured of their quality by the client, we soldiered forward working with this vendor. Multiple requests for a W9, certificate of insurance and formal invoice went unmet. Finally, when I got him on the phone and explained in detail why I needed these things, he said he would email them to me right now. What I received was a photocopy of an 8 1/2″ x 11″ white lined, college ruled piece of paper, with the words, “I’m insured. You owe me $34000. Please pay before event”. Going back to my first point, all I could do was laugh. In time, I worked it out, but there will be stress on your team. You may need to manage your expectations about certain documents, but never compromise your integrity, and the safety of your client, just to make it happen. Establish with your vendors, and your client, that this is the way you do business, and you understand it may be different from the company you acquired, but it’s in their best interest. Have a plan in place to bring extra help on to deal with the inevitable log jam of paperwork. Your team will thank you for it.
In late October, while visiting one of our events, I found myself standing alone reflecting on the year, and what had transpired. A staff member came up beside me and asked if I was okay. I explained I was just reflecting on a job well done, looking forward to what next year brings and asking myself if I would do it all again knowing what I know. He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and said, “Who are you?” Which leads me to my final point – don’t lose sight of the little things, like introducing yourself to your team.