100 Ways to Please a VIP

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Nowadays, all participants at a well-executed meeting expect royal treatment. Even for an average-Joe attendee, a smart meeting planner and sharp hotel staff need to stay on their toes to provide executive-level attention to any issues that arise.
    But if the masses are treated like VIPs, how do you give the real executives service appropriate to their ranks?
    The answer, planners of the very swankiest events agree, can be boiled down to two words: personalized service. This means finding out what the VIP likes, providing it before he or she asks and maintaining unobtrusive contact to make sure nothing goes wrong.
    Read on for a comprehensive list of details to attend to in order to give a meeting’s Very Important People the very intimate care they deserve.

Gathering information
1. Figure out who the VIPs are. Are they the CEO and chairman of the board? The entire board? Top incentive winners? A special speaker or guest?
     2. Do your homework. Some tidbits to ask executives’ assistants:
    " Does he have a nickname?
    " Does she drink? What is her favorite kind of wine or liquor?
    " Does he like cigars? Which brands?
    " What is her favorite flower?
    " At what temperature should his room be set before check-in?
    " Any requests for in-room amenities?
    " What are her favorite foods?
    " What is his favorite kind of coffee?
    " Does she have kids? A spouse or significant other?
    " When is his birthday/anniversary?
    3. Find photos... Dig up snapshots of the family and put them in the VIP’s guest room in an attractive frame.
    4. ...and pass them around. For recognition and exemplary service, copy and distribute photos of attending VIPs to the hotel’s concierge, convention services manager, front desk manager, banquet captain and head bellman. If the VIP is checking in under an assumed name, find out what name she wants the staff to call her.
    5. Keep in touch. Periodically before the meeting, call the VIP to make sure no plans have changed.

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Organizing transportation

6. Treat VIPs to a private jet. The service is white-glove all the way, and it’s softer on your wallet than you think, according to North Hampton, N.H.-based Private Jet Services Group.
    7. Use the hotel’s cars. Transportation companies might not offer VIP-level service. For airport pickups, an upscale hotel will probably do a snazzier job with its own cars. Have the car washed and waxed the morning of the pickup.
    8. Consider smokers and non. If the VIP doesn’t puff, be sure to use a nonsmoking car.
    9. Juice up the car. For long transfers, arrange for soft drinks, liquor and snacks. Throw in one of the VIP’s favorite magazines, suggests Michelle Caporicci, senior corporate director of catering and conference services for Ritz-Carlton.
    10. Apply palm grease. Tip the driver extra beforehand, and ask that a VIP’s tips be demurred on the first attempt.
    11. Send a greeter. Someone on the planning team (preferably you) should wait with the driver, but first ask if the VIP would like to be greeted; some prefer a little time off the radar before having to be “on.”
    12. Apologize with chocolate. If you can’t make it, the driver should slip the VIP a note from you, along with a small edible amenity.
    13. Recruit volunteers. Running short on staff? Draft some prominent locals who would like to escort your VIPs and share pointers on local hot spots.
    14. Make it glossy. Don’t just scribble the name on a piece of paper. Print out and laminate a slick sign, as does the Alan Waxler Group, a preeminent Las Vegas destination management company. And always triple-check the spelling of VIP names on all printed material.
    15. Specify the pick-up. Tell the VIP exactly where in the airport the greeter will be waiting, down to the carousel.
    16. Lug the luggage. Don’t expect VIPs to carry anything. And if the car is parked far from the door, the driver should leave his passenger in a safe, comfy spot and go get it.
    17. Call the driver. Be sure drivers have cell phones and stay in contact with you. If there’s a delay, you can inform the welcome party and hotel security team.
    18. Keep a town car on call. Two or three VIPs can share a car for any local transportation needs, suggests Brian Acheson, CSEP, president of VIP Events in Dallas.
    19. Pimp the ride. Break from the traditional limousine, advises Rick Forman, director of sales and marketing for the Alan Waxler Group. Some alternative vehicles:
    " Stretch Hummer
    " Limo coach, an upscale, 15-seat bus with the interior of a limousine
    " Cadillac Escalade, a high-end SUV
    " Horse-drawn carriage
    " ’57 Chevy
    " Classic Ford model
    " Rolls Royce
    " Harley Davidson motorcycle with sidecar (the luggage goes by car). Don’t make this one a surprise; not everyone will want to arrive on a Hog.
    20. Lob the return. Remember to arrange transportation back to the airport, and confirm the flight left on time.

SPORTS AUTHORITIES
It’s no secret that major sporting events have long been playgrounds for celebrities and CEOs. But how does one snag those exclusive front-row seats? Although access to high-profile competitions can be daunting, hiring a sports-tour specialist can help.
    London-based Keith Prowse Ltd. (www.keithprowse.co.uk) arranges luxury programs at Wimbledon, the world’s grandest tennis tournament. VIPs are whisked by limo from five-star London hotels to a champagne reception at Wimbledon’s Gatsby Club. After a round of canapés, guests stroll to Center Court so close to the action they can practically smell the manicured grass.
    For a special event stateside, popular draws include the Superbowl, the World Series, the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500, the NBA Finals and college basketball’s Final Four.
    Following is a sampling of firms that specialize in bringing groups to exclusive sporting events. -- BRUCE MYINT

Cartan Tours, Sports Division
Manhattan Beach, Calif.
(310) 546-9662; www.cartan.com

Keith Prowse Ltd.
Pinckneyville, Ill.
(618) 357-3884
www.wimbledon-experience.com

Roadtrips
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
(800) 465-1765; www.roadtrips.com

Sports Empire
Lakewood, Calif.
(800) 255-5258
www.sports-empire.com

Sports Traveler
Chicago, Ill.
(888) 654-7755; www.sportstraveler.net

Sports Travel Inc.
Hatfield, Mass.
(800) 662-4424
www.sportstravelandtours.com

The welcome
21. Offer prime real estate.
Make sure no VIP has to walk half a mile to get to a room. Some VIPs won’t want to be on a high floor, in case of an evacuation.
    22. Work the rooms. With multiple VIPs, room types should reflect their status. Discuss with the client who gets which suites, and don’t allow the hotel to upgrade anyone without permission from you. A good rule of thumb: Give the host the largest suite, for holding meetings, says Gerald Niesen, CMP, a consultant who planned 20 years of executive meetings for Morristown, N.J.-based Honeywell.
    23. Preregister each VIP. Don’t make them wait at the front desk.
    24. Ask for Jeeves. Hotel staff should be asked to do the following.
    " Offer butler service
    " Print up personalized stationery for guest-room desks
    " Fill ice buckets at least once a day
    " Leave a bouquet in the bedroom and a bud in the bathroom.
    " Play her favorite CD in the room
    " Provide turndown, and leave something extra-special, perhaps cookies and milk or, as Ritz-Carlton’s Michelle Caporicci suggests, a custom-shaped chocolate (e.g., a car for an auto executive).
    25. Provide a welcome amenity. Personalize it to the guest as well as the locale. Handwrite a note on a custom-made card, and include your cell phone number. Some good amenities:
    " Stamped postcards
    " Golf balls
    " Designer water (try Voss or Ty Nant)
    " A selection of DVDs based on the VIP’s taste in film
    " Spa products
    " A local guidebook
    26. Get booze clues. Some clients won’t want alcohol left in the rooms.
    27. Perish the thought. Consider asking that the hotel not leave food that will spoil. “I get cheese and crackers, and I never eat it,” says Stuart Gold, vice president of strategic alliances (and a planner of multimillion-dollar executive conferences) for BEA in San Jose, Calif. “By the third day, the strawberries are turning blue and the cheese is moldy, but they never know when I’m finished with it.”
    28. Provide in-room tech. Some examples: a laptop with Internet and printer, extra disks and a fax machine.
    29. Sweep the room. A half-hour before the VIP arrives, make sure the room is clean, the lights work and the welcome amenity is in place, says Elizabeth Zielinski, CMP, CMM, principal of Meeting Horizons in Fairfax, Va.
    30. Greet, greet, greet! Ask the meeting staffer assigned to tend to the VIP, the hotel general manager and the guest services manager to introduce themselves and ask if anything is needed. If Irene Perez, director of guest relations for Club InterContinental at the InterContinental San Juan Resort & Casino in Puerto Rico, cannot make it, she leaves a handwritten apology in the guest room.
    31. Refresh on entry. Hand the VIP a cold towel and a drink in the lobby.
    32. Book it. Irene Perez gives each VIP a wallet-size booklet with important hotel extensions and other useful phone numbers. She also includes a detailed individual itinerary.
    33. Help them kick jet lag. Jet lag recovery kits are available through catalogs and some spas and are packed with everything from vitamins to moisturizers and facial mist. For guests who stumble in at 2 a.m. and don’t want to unpack before bedtime, Perez adds a toothbrush and, for women, a makeup removal pad.
    34. Avoid ragtag name tags. Flimsy, dangly badges are for the rank and file. Provide the VIP with a small metal ID.
    35. Talk on the walk. On the way to the suite, review the itinerary, confirming all reservations, and ask which lucky souls he wants in his golf foursome.
    36. Sneak in. For high-profile guests, use the back entrance or concierge-floor elevator, says Jackie Boyer, a meeting manager who plans for celebrities and royalty at American Express Corporate Meeting Solutions in Toronto.

The stay
37. Start spreading the news. Instead of the typical USA Today or TimesDigest, give each VIP her hometown newspaper.
    38. Confirm judiciously. Before every appointment on the itinerary, double-check that everything is ready to go.
    39. Massage the ego. Connect the VIP with a concierge at the spa who can custom-design a treatment program. Ask that each treatment be made extra-special with aromatherapy or a foot bath.
    40. Give the gift of goop. Slip a few special scrubs and cleansers into the VIP’s locker before the treatment, suggests Anne McCall, general manager of Fairmont Spas Inc. in Toronto.
    41. Privatize the spa. VIPs who don’t want to traipse through the locker room in their birthday suits might want treatments in their rooms or in a private spa suite. The Boulders Resort and Golden Door SpaA Wyndham Luxury Resort in Carefree, Ariz., will convert a three-bedroom villa into a mini-spa.
    42. Massage at off-hours. For larger groups, rent out and close off the whole spa for executives’ treatments. Save money by doing it after hours.
    43. Arrange for finer dining. If the VIP is dining privately off-site, don’t let the waiter hand her the bill. Also, ask the restaurant to provide a glass of wine, compliments of you.
    44. Station a planner in the lobby to keep track of VIP arrivals and departures during the event and be an easy point of contact, says Jean O’Donnell, an independent meetings industry consultant and trainer in Woodbury, N.J., and a 20-year veteran of large medical associations.
    45. Tip early and often. Hand the head bellman, the banquet captain and the housekeeping manager $100 each at the start of the event, and the same amount after the meeting. “Tip heavy at the beginning, and someone will always be there to get something done,” says BEA’s Stuart Gold.

Special events
46. Reach for the stars.
Celebrities can lend cachet to off-site activities. Some ideas: A small-group cooking demonstration led by a celebrity chef; dinner in a local dignitary’s home; a concert by a well-known musician.
    47. Ask, and ye shall receive access. Even venues that don’t allow private events can be convinced to let a small group of the elite in for an intimate dinner. Ask a destination management company or the convention and visitors bureau to arrange a discussion with the person in charge at that facility, suggests Wendy Moffatt, managing director of Spectra, a top London DMC.
    48. Be charitable. Another good way to secure venues or celebrity appearances is to donate time or money to a charity of their choice.
    49. Don’t do lines. To give VIPs easy access to a typically restricted activity, such as driving race cars at a track, arrange an early, pre-opening appointment, suggests Brian Acheson. The early rule works elsewhere, too. For example, Wendy Moffatt can arrange a special visit to Stonehenge at dawn, before the masses trundle in. Also, when they’ll be part of a large incentive group, invite the VIPs a day or two early for special activities.
    50. Overstaff the valet. “It’s a really happy experience when your car comes up quickly your little chariot to whisk you home,” says Serena Westwell, owner of Serena Westwell Marketing, a celebrity event planning company based in Santa Monica, Calif.
    51. Customize the centerpieces... Use a VIP’s favorite flower in the decor, suggests Jean O’Donnell.
    52. ...but not the menu... You don’t need to put a VIP’s favorites on the menu, but do be sure to avoid foods he expressly dislikes. “If they happen to like ostrich, we’re not serving that to the whole group,” says Linda Abbey, vice president of Great Performances, a top New York City catering company.
    53. ...except dessert. Dessert is ripe for customizing, says Colleen Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP, president/owner of Colleen Rickenbacher Inc., based in Dallas. Find out what the VIP loves, find a restaurant or chef who can make it, and have the concoction prepared for her table.
    54. Double the waitstaff. The place should be crawling with staff, two per VIP table, and three for royalty and celebs, so no one has to go fishing to catch an eye. And don’t let a VIP interact with just any waiter make sure his table is assigned to the venue’s best.
    55. Double the bartenders to avoid drink lines.
    56. Let them choose the wine. They’ll appreciate the opportunity, but consider offering a limited, relatively inexpensive selection some VIPs are used to popping the cork on liquid gold.
    57. Serve their favorite drinks. To keep costs down if a VIP’s preferred liquor is pricey, buy one bottle and keep it with one bartender for the VIP’s exclusive enjoyment.
    58. Assign an F&B minder. At cocktail parties, reserve a member of the waitstaff refilling the VIP’s drink and passing hors d’oeuvres in front of him. The minder should perfect a happy medium between fawning and distant.
    59. Overstaff the buffet. The chef should offer to bring the VIP a plate so she doesn’t have to fight the crowd.
    60. Let them blend in. It might not be wise to give VIPs conspicuously better treatment when among other attendees, says LuAnn Jalet, executive vice president of the Irvine, Calif.-based JNR Inc., which handles incentives for the likes of BMW.
    61. Camouflage requests. If a VIP requests a special meal, ask that the plate be prepared to mimic what everyone else is eating, so few guests notice.
    62. Coordinate the presentation. Ask that all plates at the VIP table be served simultaneously, in one swoop.
     63. Cover up. When a VIP goes to the rest room, have the waiter cover his plate to keep the food warm.
    64. Watch for picky eaters. Abbey keeps track of who’s just nibbling and asks if they’d prefer something else. “A lot of high-powered people don’t like to make a stink,” she notes.

Gifts
65. Think like a VIP.
When considering gifts, “I ask myself, is it something I want? Would I use it?” says Stuart Gold.
    66. Shower them with amenities, but limit gifts. One or two heart-popping presents should suffice. LuAnn Jalet suggests giving the major gifts on the first and last days.
    67. Think inside the box... For passes to a sporting event or concert, ask your client if corporate box seats are available, suggests Al Freeman, owner of the New York City-based Computron Technologies Inc., who hosts executive meetings for software companies.
    68. ...but think outside the blue one. Gold complains everyone uses Tiffany’s corporate gift catalog. Try Baccarat, Christophle, Steuben or Waterford.
    69. Let’s get digital. It’s hard to miss with high-end electronics like plasma-screen TVs, digital cameras or iPods.
    70. No-go on the logos... At home, most VIPs will not serve a meal on a logoed platter, no matter how heavy the crystal or shiny the silver.
    71. ...except when it’s done carefully. To dodge the no-logo rule, try blind-embossing leather, using tone-on-tone embroidery for fabrics other than clothing, or emblazoning the logo inside a piece of luggage, suggests Susan Roth, president of Los Angeles-based Trims Unlimited, a company that specializes in executive gifts.
    72. Make it a surprise. Give something thoughtful when it’s least expected, maybe after dinner the first night or upon the VIP’s return to the office.
    73. Get inside advice. Ask the assistant or spouse what the VIP loves, hates and has a million of.
    74. Piggyback. Find out what gifts she came away with at past events; maybe a new gift could complement a previous one. For example, in the case of an outdoorsman, Gold gave him a Swiss Army watch, then a set of Swiss Army binoculars six months later.
    75. Don’t weigh them down. Always offer to ship gifts home, and limit turndown amenities to small, useful items, such as a stylish deck of cards.
    76. Thank the VIP’s assistant. “After all, that person was a key to helping you get to that boss,” Colleen Rickenbacher notes. Send a gift to this vital resource in appreciation.
    77. Thank the family. For instant warming of a very important heart, give a gift specifically intended for the VIP’s spouse or children.
    78. Honor their loss. If the VIP has recently lost someone dear, give to an appropriate charity or a fund set up in the loved one’s name.
    79. Or give nothing. If the VIP is a paid speaker, consider giving just a glowing thank-you letter and your name as a reference. Quips Zielinski, “If I’m paying for their services, then my best gift to them is a check that clears.”

Security
80. Buddy up. VIPs who need to be protected likely will travel with their own entourage, including security. Be cooperative, and they’ll handle everything.
    81. Keep mum on the number. Don’t give anyone the VIP’s room number, period. Be sure the hotel knows that, too.
    82. Study history. Find out about security breaches in your meeting’s history, suggests Jay Crawford, CPP (Certified Protection Professional), an independent security consultant in Mount Dora, Fla.
    83. Create signage. Crawford advises putting up a sign that lists security rules for the meeting room, for the safety of the VIP (and everyone else). That way, whether it’s a bag search or prohibiting a pocketknife, security personnel can point to the sign to reinforce the rules.
    84. Stay on orange alert. Things to keep an eye out for at a high-risk meeting are cars parked very close to buildings, garbage cans close to where a VIP will be walking and loiterers outside, suggests Crawford.
    85. Take care of the staff. Zielinski takes special pains to ensure the VIP’s security staff is comfortable by sending them a banquet plate and plenty of ice water. “Anybody’s who’s in a monotonous service capacity likes to know somebody cares about them,” she says.
    86. Consult proper authorities. Work with the local fire department if any elevators need to be blocked off for a VIP’s security. A hotel’s engineering department can usually do it, but the fire department has the final say.
    87. Lock meeting rooms. Be sure you know everyone who has possession of a key to every room the VIP is likely to enter, says Niesen.
    88. Hire police for outdoor events. They cost a little more than security guards, but their badges will convince celebrity hounds or possible trouble makers to focus on someone else.
    89. Sign confidentiality agreements with your suppliers. This will help keep the media away from private celebrity events, says Serena Westwell. If media find a celebrity event, help reporters get the information and photos they need for their stories, and they’ll be less likely to bother VIPs.
    90. Follow him around. At an event, a staff member (not necessarily a security expert) should walk with the VIP, to keep the gauche from approaching.

Troubleshooting
91. Prepare for suite surrender. Give suites to a few of the meetings’ hosts, so if a VIP agrees to pop in at the last minute, a switch can be made and proper accommodations will be available. At this year’s Convention Industry Council Hall of Leaders induction ceremony, for example, J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr. wound up staying in a regular guest room so all award recipients could have suites. “He was fine with that,” says Rickenbacher.
    92. Combine two rooms. If an unexpected VIP requires a last-minute suite, two adjacent rooms can be put together. In such cases, the Ritz-Carlton will actually renovate one room to turn it into a living room. It’s expensive but can be done quickly, notes Caporicci.
    93. Enlist another hotel. It might be wise to put the executive in a different hotel altogether, for security reasons, says AmEx’s Jackie Boyer.
    94. There’s no place like home. If no suites are available, ask the client if anyone at the top owns a penthouse or town house nearby, suggests Al Freeman.
    95. Leave rooms empty. The year after one VIP was put in a room next to noisemakers, Rickenbacher bought up the adjacent rooms to leave empty as sound buffers.
    96. Remedy lost luggage. If the airline can’t find a VIP’s bags, Niesen suggests putting together a package of toiletries for the VIP (which often will be reimbursed by the airline). Ask the VIP if you can assist with getting new clothes.
    97. Write a rider. To keep VIPs’ complaints to a minimum, Acheson creates a rider in the contract he signs with his client for each VIP, mentioning every service and amenity to be provided.
    98. Ask the assistant. If you can’t figure out how to appease an angry VIP, confer with his assistant for suggestions on how to proceed.
    99. Never say no. For a VIP’s more expensive requests, Stuart Gold says employees should politely respond with, “Let me get back to you,” and then contact someone in charge. If the answer truly must be “no,” offer something else as an appeasement.
    100. Always have a Plan B.