Episode 10: Why The Live Events Industry Needs Advocacy feat. Nancy Shaffer & Dwayne Thomas
In this episode, Nancy Shaffer and Dwayne Thomas of the Live Events Coalition, a non-profit group that speaks out and advocates for the live events...
President and CEO of MVP Collaborative, Kevin Danaj, sits down with Angela Alea to share what he thinks live event companies should and shouldn't be focusing on this year.
Angela Alea: Welcome back to Corralling the Chaos. I am super excited today to have a very special guest one of the leaders in our industry. And we're just gonna of dive into all things live events. Please join me in welcoming Kevin Dai. He is the president and c e O of M V P Collaborative. They are based in Michigan [00:01:00] and they're a leading digital video, live virtual and hybrid event agency.
Angela Alea: And so Kevin is driven by his infectious energy. He has over 30 years of experience in all aspects of marketing and community. He's highly regarded as a servant leader, which we are absolutely gonna dig into, and he can motivate his team to deliver programs beyond clients' expectations, clients and colleagues value Kevin's unique blend of strategic brand insight, creative capacity, and disciplined attention to detail.
Angela Alea: So welcome, Kevin. I'm so grateful that you are here with us today. Thanks
Kevin Danaj: for the nice introduction.
Angela Alea: Yeah. So I wanna talk about, Concept of servant leadership. It's something I think a lot of companies throw around, but it's sometimes hard to exemplify, right? Because it means, it takes sacrifice and it means something different to everybody.
Angela Alea: So what does a servant leader mean to you, and how has that impacted your [00:02:00] business at?
Kevin Danaj: You're right, the word servant leader is used a lot. And and I don't know if there's a great example of what that definition could be, but for me it's about putting others in front of, myself, right?
Kevin Danaj: It's about the connection, the culture we create. I started in this industry as a video producer, right? So I started as a video producer worked my way up. I came to M V P as a video producer. Had no intention ever about becoming the president and CEO O of the. . Over time, the one thing I did was just learn to connect with people, right?
Kevin Danaj: And always be willing to roll my sleeves, jump in there, serve others, put others in front of myself. And I saw my career path just kept escalating, move in different positions. And for me it was always this idea of always go where your most needed, right? I have this philosophy and I believe that in life.
Kevin Danaj: I believe that at work, Sometimes it might be, Hey, we need you on this job for a week or a month. Or sometimes it's, we need you to career change, go here for a year. But if you go there and you give it your best effort and you serve the people that you're with great things will happen. And that's what I did.
Kevin Danaj: And they just, my career escalated and [00:03:00] moved up to one day was the president and CEO o of the company. And I'd never lost that connection. I hear people talk, Hey, I'm the guy that walks in the back room where they're loading up a truck and I'm willing to say, Hey, do you guys need a hand? And it's not just, do you need a hand?
Kevin Danaj: I'll actually, help them do something. So it's just showing that everybody on our team is, we're equals. We're all in this together. Nobody's higher than somebody else, in my opinion. Everybody just has a different role. Could,
Angela Alea: could not agree more when I think of some of the strong.
Angela Alea: Servant leaders I've had the pleasure to work with and work for. I think that they have empathy. They have the ability to take themselves out of their shoes and put themselves in somebody else's and really feel where they are, like in that example Hey, the truck needs to be loaded or unloaded and there's a big job ahead of them.
Angela Alea: How meaningful, right? It's such a small gesture. To step in and do it, but it means so much to them knowing what they have ahead of them. And so that's one thing. And the second thing I think, Is the ability to just go [00:04:00] meet people where they are, and being sensitive to the needs of those around you.
Angela Alea: You definitely have a reputation for that. And I think our industry does a good job with that. We're always looking for more, but I think, anytime we can be sensitive to the needs of others around us, whether, and it's not just our client, right? It's our colleagues, it's the people that work under us above us.
Angela Alea: It's really everybody, right? Title really doesn't matter at that point. So I think that's great. If you could change Kevin, one thing about the live events industry, what would it be?
Kevin Danaj: I think it would be about Certainly post pandemic would be about clients better understanding the rising costs of events, right?
Kevin Danaj: We're seeing just the sticker shock that, that people are doing a live event in 2022 and 2023 compared to 2019. And there's just so many different reasons and variables of why just you think about just food and beverage, right? It's like what it costs to, to do food and beverage on an event in Las Vegas is.
Kevin Danaj: Through the roof, what it used to be in 2019. So that [00:05:00] alone is a sticker shock. And then you think about the technology, the cost of doing a hybrid event, right? So you do a live event and you're still in person, that's great. But now there's a hybrid, component, so that costs more money. So everything has gone up and I think that the clients are in this sticker shock.
Kevin Danaj: and it's concerning because they start right away to go, okay, we gotta cut and yeah, we gotta feed people, right? So you gotta, you can't cut that. So all of a sudden what happens in our industry, we start to see things like, do you really need a backup projector? Do you really need these backup things? And do we really need that many people on site?
Kevin Danaj: And you start to, to sacrifice what could be quality. Hum was just trying to get our industry and our clients understand a little bit better. The cost has gone through the roof, and it's hard to, there's ways to manage it, of course, but it's, we're seeing a lot of sticker shock right now.
Angela Alea: How does our industry play a part in educating the incline?
Angela Alea: Like, how do we help them understand? [00:06:00]
Kevin Danaj: Yeah. I think it's just walking them through the whole process, right? Letting them understand from the start of the project to the end of the project what those costs could be, right? It's just about educat. . And I think more and more we're seeing detailed breakdown of budgets, right?
Kevin Danaj: So where are these costs coming from? Where before, know, maybe it was easy to say here's, pre-production onsite and cost, and you had these buckets of cost. Now we're seeing clients say, Hey, can you help us break this down? And we're doing it intentionally, going to them say here's where we're seeing it, and also educating them a little bit of where there could be some cost savings.
Kevin Danaj: Yeah. How. leverage some of this in different ideas and techniques. I think it's all on education. Yeah.
Angela Alea: Yeah. So being transparent with the pricing and then being consultative and making recommendations on, hey, , if this is your budget, I wouldn't recommend cutting this corner, but this is really the only corner you have to cut and here's the impact of what that cut is gonna look like.
Angela Alea: Yeah, I continue to hear that a lot and hopefully it's getting better, right? As the incline is becoming more aware and, they [00:07:00] don't have the misconception that they use too to think, oh hybrid must be. Less expensive since we'll have fewer attendees. That's not how it always works.
Angela Alea: You're basically doing two productions. And so I remember, when that first happened, there were some education there. Sounds like we're still not quite there yet, especially with the rising cost of everything. Even shipping gear across country. Oh my gosh, right? And all that it takes with labor and food and beverage and all of those other
Kevin Danaj: things.
Kevin Danaj: And the other thing we're seeing, which is a little bit scary, is that we're seeing some clients want to internalize things, right? So they're looking at and saying what if. What if we did this? I have an admin or somebody on staff that could help us do some things.
Kevin Danaj: It might just be like, we're gonna do location scouting, we're gonna help. They're gonna, they're gonna find the place, or they're gonna maybe even design their own PowerPoint graphics. And we're seeing that being a, a scary thing because they're not, certainly not qualified. And then, and it's an easy way to cut costs.
Kevin Danaj: But in the long run, it really.
Angela Alea: So Kevin, what's an event? Production Hill? You would die on that.
Kevin Danaj: It's a great question. I think it's around [00:08:00] collaboration, right? It for us, m mvp, collaborative, it's in our name for a reason. It's about how we collaborate on a project, how we, and it's not just with our clients, it's with our partners, our vendors.
Kevin Danaj: The more people we can collaborate, We've seen the results of it, right? It's, there's no doubt when we're at our very best, when it, when that project is done, everyone's high fiving each other, they're all excited. It's because there was great collaboration from the beginning. It's just, it's the best way to make our clients look great.
Kevin Danaj: That's part of our mission, right? How do we make our clients look great and how them, how they can enjoy the journey getting there right when you collaborate within your
Angela Alea: name. Yeah. So that's a, that makes complete sense, but how do you. The clients to be intentional about doing that. And them opening up and them collaborating with your team, right?
Angela Alea: Because it's gotta be two way, right? So you guys can show up and have all the creative ideas and ask for input, but they have to be a participant in that. So how do you get your customers to collaborate with you? You
Kevin Danaj: know I think it's it's from the beginning, right? We. When you think about v mvp, we're not a [00:09:00] production company.
Kevin Danaj: We're not just an ad agency. We're this under one roof organization that we've been doing it for 40 years. So I think we have figured out the secret sauce and the magic sauce. For us, it's about really diving deep into our client's business objectives. Like we, we really wanna know how can we create meaningful business impact to your.
Kevin Danaj: What the techniques we do with a lot of clients is this thing called phase zero, right? So it's before we even start, our goal is to have this phase zero highly structured meeting where all the key stakeholders get together in one room. It works way better when we're physically in a room together and we go through what are the objectives, what does success look like at the end of the day, and if you can get alignment on that, right?
Kevin Danaj: So if you get everyone aligned on that early on in the. My goodness. It's, there's no, you just see the collaboration start to kick in, right? So everybody's knows, these are the objectives. And so you could convey those to your key partners, right? So when you're hiring somebody, it's Hey, by the way, this is what we wanna do.
Kevin Danaj: This is the reason why we wanna have a quick lunch because of this reason what [00:10:00] they, if everybody's on the same page it's amazing how great a program can be. And it's just that we've learned over the years and it's often skipped, right? A lot of companies just skip it. Let's get to tactics, let's get to figure out what it is.
Kevin Danaj: Yeah. Without taking that step back, that's what we call it phase zero. Like we gotta get to back to zero. Let's move back one step and look, let's talk about what
Angela Alea: this could be. Yeah. I love that you call it phase zero. You're right, because so many people are anxious to get in and you've gotta.
Angela Alea: you gotta set the table first, right? You've gotta have the foundational things there first, cuz that's what dictates phase two, three form. It's all built on phase zero and it begins to come apart if you're not, if you're not taking that extra step. So I love that. Yeah, of course. And I love that collaboratives in your name.
Angela Alea: Yep. So make it makes sense. In your opinion, what should all event companies be doing at this very moment that they probably
Kevin Danaj: aren't? I think all it, and again, it's. If you're looking at pure event companies that are handling the project management side of it I think it's about being conscious about the [00:11:00] attendee experience, right?
Kevin Danaj: It's what does that attendee experience? It's always been a, something at the forefront. I think post the pandemic, it's now more critical than ever. What does it look like before they get on site? What are the touchpoints? How are they being communicated to and then long after the event's over, right?
Kevin Danaj: How, what's to follow? What do you do? When those people are on the plane and they're driving, their attendees are flying back home, what do you want in their brain? What do you want them thinking about? So it's like, what is that whole experience look like? And, and then it's I think of often Now, here we are at 2023, how precious our time has become.
Kevin Danaj: As humans, or we started to realize like what we missed out in those, in 2020 and 2021 and all those family gatherings and now of a sudden, here we are in 2023, it's like our time has just become more precious than ever. And yeah, we're seeing where events. Where people can have you heard the term leisure in events?
Kevin Danaj: No. So tell me about that. It's this concept that's really taken, getting a lot of traction, right? And we've used it with our [00:12:00] archives. It's really about mixing business travel and leisure travel together, right? Everyone has done that before in the past, but now what? I think it's more and more you can embrace it, right?
Kevin Danaj: So if you're gonna go fly to Phoenix for three, as a brand, as a client, if you offer that up, say, Hey, by the way, we've extended the stay an extra two days at a reduced cost. You can get the hotel room. We also have a, an event that we can, you guys can, people can do on a tour or we've set up golfing or something where people now look at it and say, I'm okay with traveling two or three days because I'm gonna extend my leisure vacation, with that and enjoy that a little bit.
Kevin Danaj: It's this BLE thing that's it's, you're here to more and more. I know hotels are jumping on board on that because they want people to stay. So we've worked with clients on them thinking it, this is a great tool. Don't use it. If people think, oh, it's a boondoggle, they consider it a boondog, I'm gonna go fly out two days and go golf And no it's not it's being conscious about the attending experience going, these people have to make a decision.
Kevin Danaj: Am I gonna show up? Am I, do [00:13:00] I want to attend this event or. Make it more attractive
Angela Alea: to o. Yeah, and it's about the efficiency even for the traveler and the attendee, right? Man, if I can check the box, I'm gonna learn something professionally and attend something. I get to visit a new city and I get to have fun while I'm there and doing something, from a leisure perspective.
Angela Alea: That's very different than I'm just gonna go attend. I'm gonna invest, two to three days of my life to attend a business event. It's very different. Feels very different. That's, it's, yeah.
Kevin Danaj: I love that. That's exciting. It's cool. It's I we're Leisure. Leisure, yeah. Everyone remembered that. You remember, you'll hear it.
Kevin Danaj: And I, Kevin told me that.
Angela Alea: That's right. That's right. Any thoughts on what you think event companies should stop doing right now?
Kevin Danaj: They should stop using Venue space as a, as an out of not being allowed to like, to create an event, right? Because it's really hard to get venue space right now, right?
Kevin Danaj: Everywhere you go, places are booked up. Everyone wants to get these events. All events they did do in during the pandemic, they're catching up. And so we're seeing like we can't find locations or somebody can't find [00:14:00] location, we're, getting out of the ballroom is. Is really cool.
Kevin Danaj: Like how do you make it something that we've always done?
Angela Alea: Literally thinking outside the box. For
Kevin Danaj: literally you don't have to be in a ballroom to do your event, right? To get people together there. No. There are cool locations that people actually desire and want to be part of. We've been doing it for years.
Kevin Danaj: I'm seeing this as a now, almost saying excuse of we can't do an event, especially for clients cause we can't find a great location at it's You don't really necessarily need it. There's ways around it. There are cool venues that you could be doing stuff in. From anywhere, from an arena, right?
Kevin Danaj: It's really neat. We've done events, on the field at the Rose Bowl, right? We've done a event or we're in a in part of using a locker room at a stadium. It's really cool because it also creates a great attending experience. I want to go to that event because I'm gonna be on the field at the Rose Bowl.
Kevin Danaj: That's pretty. .
Angela Alea: I love that. Yeah. Yet again, checking more boxes for the attendees. Not only do they go to the event, they get to see behind the scenes in the locker room, you get a tour. The experience of it. Yeah. It's really cool. Yeah, I love that. All right, so thinking bigger. Stop thinking. Just venues [00:15:00] reimagine what?
Angela Alea: What the experience could be outside of a ball ring. Got it. What's one thing that. Has always been done this way in our industry that you think it's time to be reevaluated. I feel like our industry is has done so much of this reevaluation in the last couple years, but what's something that, our industry continues to say that's just the way it's always been done, that we should reevaluate.
Angela Alea: I
Kevin Danaj: think it's about content, right? It's, we you do a business meeting, they wanna do something around it and there's, it's content driven, right? And content is. Especially when you look at the virtual audience, when you're gonna do a hybrid thing, the content can't be the same. Your virtual audience cannot be the same as your in-person audience with content.
Kevin Danaj: But we've seen a lot of organizations just do that. Say, Hey, we're just gonna live stream our event to our virtual audience. The ones who can't attend it, they can get it. It can't be that way. So the content is, has to. Driven when you're sitting in a grand ballroom or wherever your location is at, and there's energy there, right?
Kevin Danaj: There's music and there's [00:16:00] lights moving, and you feel this thing and you're talking to people. There, there's a ton of energy watching that live stream of the exact same thing. Is deadly boring? And people just don't, do not, it may be on their camera, may be on, they're, and they're watching it in theory, but are they really, they're not.
Kevin Danaj: They're not paying attention. They're doing 10 different things. I think people have to really look at content. in a different light. And again, about this whole time being precious, right? Do you really need 200 PowerPoint slides to get your message through, right? Can, yeah. Can you change the content?
Kevin Danaj: Can you do more storytelling? Can you do more role playing, whatever that is get people more engaged, to understand the content versus let's look at slide chart number 17 in this bar graph, right? It, I think that things have changed. I think times have changed and people want to be. engaged, more activated and more stimulated.
Kevin Danaj: And I think content does that is the cue. Yeah.
Angela Alea: Yeah. I also think about creativity. I continue to read article after article, as maybe we're going into a recession, maybe we're not, that's up for debate. [00:17:00] Everyone has a different opinion, but, with these big tech companies doing layoffs, and it doesn't matter whether you're a SaaS company, healthcare company, an event production company.
Angela Alea: Agency. They keep saying the companies that will win and weather the storms are the ones that get creative with their clients, right? It's rethinking the content. It's talking about things differently. It's thinking outside the box. And so to your point, content is keying and all around that is the creative aspect of it.
Angela Alea: And certainly events have evolved and if you think about what events look like even 10 years, we've evolved significantly as an industry, not just the capabilities, but the expectation. The bar just continues to get raised and raised every year. And so you're right, we should never get satisfied with pitching the same idea, the same process.
Angela Alea: Cuz it's easy, right? Because easy doesn't win the day. It's thinking outside the box. And the creative ones, the creative pitches those are the ones that win. That's what people are looking for, is how do they raise the bar for their attendees. So I love. One last [00:18:00] question for you, and I'd love to ask all of my guests this, but what is your hope for the live events industry
Kevin Danaj: that we never really see what we saw in 2020 and 2021?
Kevin Danaj: It the, to see both, we're our, we're big into business events and consumer events. So our business was all around in, in person interaction. Human connection. My hope is that we keep moving forward to continue with that human connection interaction. Like I sure did. Was did the virtual events play a place?
Kevin Danaj: During the lockdown? It did, right? It served this purpose. I think everybody tried to, a different technique and trying to make it more interactive and do all these cool things and the fact. it, these virtual chat rooms and we tried 'em all as well. And the fact is didn't really work right?
Kevin Danaj: It, because the one thing that was missing was that human interaction. That human connection. It's never gonna go away. And as humans, I think we need that more and more. And so I, my hope is that organizations and brands see the [00:19:00] value of what that means. Bringing people together, camaraderie.
Kevin Danaj: If it's all about just showing 'em a PowerPoint deck and that's it then sure do it virtually. But if you want that interaction, you want that bond and you want that people to call home and think, I'm an ambassador, I'm a fan of our brand. I'm glad I went to that event. Then I think we gotta keep people back together.
Kevin Danaj: We gotta be doing these events. We can't let 'em, we can't let 'em slide. And I know cost is a, is an issue for some brands. We just have to figure it out. We're take those marketing dollars from someplace else and shift them over to that because what having engaged employees and an engaged audience is, is priceless.
Angela Alea: Yeah. I would love to see some of the studies, and I'm sure they're out there being done now, as people continue to evaluate the effectiveness of a virtual versus an in-person, and you just hit the nail on the head. The goal, especially if it's a user conference, right? You wanna create brand ambassadors, you want people.
Angela Alea: Fall in love with your brand. Be loyal to it, be fired up about it. Carry that flag with them, and you just don't do that [00:20:00] behind a screen that doesn't evoke emotion, right? Sitting in a room like you talked about with the lights and the lasers and the music, and sitting next to a colleague and you're fired up about what you just saw or learned, you know that it's just lost when you do it virtually.
Angela Alea: I am sure there are some great data out there. If there isn't, I would love to see some of that if somebody hasn't produced that about the return on live versus virtual, because it's gotta be a no-brainer. And through the roof. And of course it's gonna be more expensive to do live, but you're there for a return, right?
Angela Alea: You're there for the experience. You're there to create brand loyalty to your products or whatever type of, event you're doing. And so I think it would be interesting to see some. You've been great Kevin to sit with us. I know our audience always loves getting some insight into the mind of a lot of the leaders within the industry, and so we appreciate you taking the time to sit with us and share what.
Angela Alea: Happening, what you hope that some of the things will stop and just what you hope for the industry. So thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. We
Kevin Danaj: appreciate it. Thank you for [00:21:00] having me out here. This has been great. I love this conversation.
Kevin Danaj: It's fun. And as you can see I'm very passionate about the business we're in. It's great too. Yeah. I think, we're very blessed to be in this industry.
Angela Alea: Absolutely. Absolutely. Thanks again, and if you all like what you hear, be sure to subscribe to corralling the Chaos Podcast.
Angela Alea: And if you have any questions, comments, feedbacks, or ideas for upcoming shows, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks everybody.
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