February 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions - Head Turners - February 2000

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February 2000
Hospitality huts Hospitality huts: Bravo Productions’ bamboo oasis on the trade show floor

Head Turners

These creative concepts earned accolades from attendees, and even awards from peers

By Cheryl-Anne Sturken

  It takes more than pricey food, splashy entertainment and fancy decor to create a truly special event, one that will have attendees reminiscing for months. To ferret out those creative elements that inject an added sparkle into any event, M&C turned to the experts: special event planners and their favorite suppliers.

From memorable invitations to trendy menu items, these professionals have an intuitive sense of what works and why. All are members of the Indianapolis-based International Special Events Society, and several are winners of the 2,800-member association’s 1999 Esprit awards, an honor ISES bestows annually on members that exhibit outstanding creativity and performance in a variety of categories, from catering to technology.

By invitation only
Bonny Katzman, President
BK Design, Boston

My Bonny: An award-winning invitationPhilosophy:
“I think the importance of the invitation tends to be ignored. The invitation should set the tone and get people excited about attending the event,” says Katzman, a graphic artist specializing in designing and creating three-dimensional invitations.

Last year, when New York City-based Home Box Office wanted to invite 200 corporate sponsors to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s at its Bryant Park film festival, an annual movie screening and picnic that is open to the public, Katzman arranged for each invitee to receive a picnic basket tied with a Tiffany-blue ribbon bearing the HBO logo. Inside were a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth, a video of the movie, a box of Cracker Jack and the invitation printed in Tiffany blue on a picnic napkin.

Katzman says corporate competition drives a great deal of her business. “I had a pharmaceutical company ask me to come up with something really special because there were six parties going on at the same time, and they wanted people to come to theirs,” says Katzman, whose one-of-a-kind invitations are priced at $10 to $75 each.

Signature creation: “Probably the Bonny Doll.” Each guest invited to a client’s birthday bash received a doll a Barbie look-alike dressed in clothes from a different decade. “The whole idea was to come dressed as the doll,” says Katzman, who won an Esprit award for her clever creation. “I had a lot of fun working on that design.”

Stage struck
Michelle Kraemer, Creative Director Oeu’Vre Creative Services Inc., Eagan, Minn.

Philosophy: “The stage is the main focus of the room. Decor can complement your theme, but you are not staring at it all night,” says Kraemer, a nine-year stage-design veteran who started out as a party decorator.

For one Fortune 500 client, Kraemer created a virtual New Orleans street scene complete with streetlamps, buildings, park benches and life-size trees. Through the use of scrim (a transparent fabric that diffuses light) and special lighting, she was able to introduce the pieces of the street scene gradually as the evening unfolded. “As the lighting in the room changed, the scene on stage came to life,” says Kraemer. “It was right under the audience’s noses the whole time, but they never saw it. You could hear them gasp as each new item appeared.”

Signature creation: In 1998, to complete a stage design she was creating for the city of St. Paul, Minn., which hosted a traveling Titanic exhibit, Kraemer flew to Miami to prowl through a ship graveyard for nautical artifacts. She transformed the stage into a re-created stateroom of the ill-fated ship, complete with portholes and stained walls. For her effort, Kraemer earned an Esprit award.

It’s all about the food
Kendall Collier, Partner
Legendary Events, Atlanta

Philosophy: “You can have great entertainment and the best decor, but people will remember if the food was bad,” says Collier, an ISES board member and a member of the Columbia, Md.-based National Association of Catering Executives. Collier, who does both off-site catering and event planning, is a steadfast believer in the fresh-is-best concept.

“We refuse to let our chef have a big freezer, because we want to go only with fresh food,” says Collier, whose roster of clients includes Eli Lilly and Co. and Ford Motor Co.

Signature creation: “We do a ‘smashed potato bar,’ where we fill martini glasses with mashed potato and then top them with a selection of unusual toppings, like a curry sauce or a mushroom ragout.” Another attention-getter is the “Thai-tini bar” fill martini glasses with sticky rice, and offer a selection of Asian sauces.

Beautiful balloons
Martin Greenstein, President
Enchanted Parties, Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

Philosophy: “No real event planner can ignore the fact that balloons give you a rich effect for a fraction of the cost of flowers,” says Greenstein. “They are a major decorating force.”

For one corporate client’s millennium celebration, Greenstein crafted pyramidal centerpieces by attaching 14 stacked balloons to a base. “When the balloons are all one color, it gives a richer color and texture,” he says.

Greenstein has jazzed up events by hiring an illusionist to appear center stage inside a single 10-foot-tall balloon. He also has created enormous balloon tunnels at ballroom entrances for about one-quarter of what it would have cost to use flowers. “Balloon-making technology has changed so much now that you can create just about anything with balloons,” says Greenstein. “They can be whimsical or serious.”

Signature creation: At the 1998 International Balloon Convention in Chicago, Greenstein says, “I was part of a team that created a mural of the New York skyline using 70,884 balloons.”

Tech to impress
Leonard Piotrowski, Senior National Sales Executive, Special Events Division
Hargrove Inc., Lanham, Md.

Philosophy: Good technology does not have to blow the budget. “When it comes down to it, the most important thing is that the mike works when the CEO speaks into it, and that doesn’t change, no matter how many bells and whistles you add,” Piotrowski says.

Jaw-dropping: A liquid-nitrogen fog wallSignature creation: When Manugistics Inc., a Rockville, Md.-based software provider, asked Hargrove Inc. to design a high-tech event that would emphasize the company’s cutting-edge abilities, Piotrowski and his staff created a 20-foot-by-40-foot wall of liquid-nitrogen fog center stage.

“We opened with intense music and lighting that changed colors constantly, making the white fog curtain come to life on stage,” says Piotrowski, who spent four months designing and developing the event. “When we shut down the liquid-nitrogen machine, the fog rolled back just like a stage curtain being lifted.”

With the exception of the fog, Piotrowski notes, none of the technology his staff used to create the event’s dazzling effects laser lighting, pyrotechnics, futuristic music was particularly cutting-edge. “Lasers have been around for 25 years,” he laughs.

Reach out and touch
Gregory Jenkins, Co-owner
Bravo Productions, Long Beach, Calif.

Philosophy: “I am big on fabrics. You want to incorporate them in every possible way to set the mood of the event. Not just with the table, but with the props, too,” says Jenkins, co-owner of the 12-year-old, full-service special event planning firm. “Creating a design is like creating a storyboard. I use fabric to do that. I want people to touch the fabrics, to feel them. People feast with their eyes, but touch is a sensation that makes them feel good.”

Signature creation: At last November’s Comdex show at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Bravo Productions transformed 6,000 square feet of meeting space into two bamboo hospitality huts for San Mateo, Calif.-based International Data Group, a publishing and multimedia corporation. Decor inside the huts included giant Aztec gods sculpted out of foam, three different fabrics on the tables, and leopard and zebra rugs on the floor. Bamboo poles, grapevines, dry grasses and tropical flowers rounded out the jungle theme. As IDG’s clients came off the trade show floor, they were wined and dined in the huts, which were set up to be run like restaurants, complete with changing menus and linens.

Jenkins says his toughest assignment was the 1998 opening ceremony of the Long Beach Aquarium. “We designed the exterior of the building to look like flowing water. We used tons of different types of materials. It took almost two days to install.” The event garnered Bravo an Esprit award.


A former practicing lawyer, Martha K. Bindeman knows the power of attention to details. Alas, she says, the finer points of tabletop presentation often are overlooked by caterers and special events suppliers.

“Guests remember all the little things, the little touches. They really tie all the elements of an event together,” says Bindeman, owner of Finishing Touches, a Bethesda, Md.-based special events firm. “So I concentrate on what people will see when they are seated.”

After 21 years in the industry, Bindeman has compiled a list of “must haves” for her largely not-for-profit and government clients.

  • A lemon leaf on every butter plate
  • A slice of lemon in each water glass
  • Fancy napkin folds
  • Flower heads strewn about the table, when topiary centerpieces are used
  • Elegantly crafted place cards, rather than computer-generated ones
  • Handcrafted chocolate specialties. For example, Bindeman, who moonlights as a confectioner, creates chocolate boxes with edible trinkets inside; the boxes become a wonderful conversation piece, she says.
  • Bindeman’s pet peeve: “Chrome holders in the middle of a table, with the plastic or paper number standing up in the air, spoiling an otherwise completely gorgeous table setting.”



    Finding the perfect off-site venuecan take some effort. Just ask David Merrell. By profession, he is a caterer and president of Los Angeles-based An Original Occasion, a special events firm known for seeking out unique venues. During his downtime, he can be found tooling around L.A. in search of the perfect spot for fussy clients. “The venue dictates everything,” says Merrell, who recently shared some insights with M&C.

    What are clients asking for? “Mansions are a favorite, but it’s a tough market to work in. You can only use them once or twice before the Beverly Hills vice shuts you down because of the neighbors complaining about traffic flow, loud entertainment and parking.”

    Do you have a favorite find? “The Paolina Boxing Club. It’s a real boxing club with a big ring in the middle. It lends itself with the right lighting to a lot of drama. We project old boxing films onto white spandex screens and hire boxers from the club to put on an exhibition. You can have the CEO go up between rounds and carry the round cards. Corporate clients love that.”

    What makes for a great space?“I like to work with raw spaces, where you can start from scratch and you’re not fighting an interior decor.


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