by Allen J. Sheinman | December 01, 2016

As the CEO and chief creative officer of Colin Cowie Celebrations, Colin Cowie has worked with many top clients over the years, from corporations to the likes of celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez and Oprah Winfrey. A regular contributor to NBC's The Today Show and the Home Shopping Network, Cowie uses an experiential approach to create events that become an extension of the client's personal or corporate brand. Here are key steps that can apply to any type of event.

Collect information. "Every company, product or person has a unique DNA," says Cowie. To begin the planning process, he advises learning as much about the client as you can from research and direct communication. Find out their history, identify their values (always check the company's mission statement) and discuss business goals. Talk about what's on-brand at the moment, and, of course, the specific idea and objectives of the event itself. This will be the genesis for everything from venue selection to entertainment, décor, menus and more.

Step back to assess. Next take a look at the big picture and think about how you can take your guests/attendees on a journey that, says Cowie, "immerses them in the brand by addressing what they will smell, touch, taste, feel and hear."

Create a customized experience. When designing the meeting room space, for example, instead of using standard tables, linens, mints and bottled water, consider using linens or printed materials in the respective corporate colors. For a client like Apple, Cowie says he would think in terms of a sleek, clean, minimal design. Another company might require more embellishment in the space.

Part of this customization also means taking into consideration the season the event is held in and how that affects your menu. "In summer you could offer gelato stations and chilled infusions in place of coffee and cookies" notes Cowie. "In winter it might be hot chocolate and fondue stations."

Also consider locally sourced ingredients. At the Event Studio by Colin Cowie at the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel in Northern California, he suggests dishes that take advantage of the rich farm-to-table movement there.

If an event runs for several days, have a unique concept for each day. "Nothing should be repeated," says Cowie, who adds that when directly dealing with a hotel in the planning stage, "give specific instructions so they don't default to the simplest solutions. Challenge them!" 

Ultimately, "the objective is to create an environment that is conducive to creative thinking and enjoyment," he says. See examples at left and below.