Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Interview with David Merrell on BizBash IdeaFest

With BizBash IdeaFest coming up soon in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to talk with David Merrell, president and creative director at AOO Events about the workshop he will be facilitating which will mentor planners through "Brainstorming Your Way to Better Events."  After talking with David, I felt we had just scratched the surface of this topic, and I encourage anyone who is designing events and experiences who is at IdeaFest to make sure you stop by and join this conversation.  Below you will find some of the questions I asked and David’s responses.

TE: Thank you for taking the time to talk to day. Can you tell me first how you approach brainstorming in your own team?
DM: It is important to have multiple perspectives and we include producers, designers, our VP of Operations and those who want to have their voice heard – ideas and seeds of ideas can come from people you least expect.  I will start with a description of the client, the event and what they want to accomplish.  We make it clear that we are here to share ideas and “no idea is stupid – throw it all at us” and then let it flow, capturing the ideas where we can all see them.

TE: Do you have any tips for drawing ideas out of quieter people? 
DM: We are in an industry and company full of strong “A-Type personalities” and we are brainstorming to share ideas, and if you don’t want your voice to be heard, it won’t be.  We have had people that we stopped inviting to these sessions because they were not contributing, and when we talked about why they were not attending, they returned, and returned to have their ideas heard, and their contributions have been great.

TE: Do you brainstorm with key vendor partners – and when would you choose this approach?  I ask this as we live in our world of events filled with “competitive colleagues” and often challenging RFP processes.
DM: In an RFP I don’t want to completely design out the event so less engagement at this stage is normal.  You don’t want to give ALL your clever ideas and total design away!  It should be taken on a case by case basis.  The exception to this would be if we need really clever ideas around entertainment or technology in particular, as these change so quickly, and sometimes it will be that one clever idea the focuses the client and wins the business. Once we know that we have the business then we want to bring in the best and brightest of our partners and together collaborate to make each event the best it can be using all our resources and ideas.

TE: When is it appropriate to do a brainstorm with clients – vs guiding them from your own experience and brainstorming around their event / How do you guide your clients through the process to collaborative success?
Note: this next part of our interview became a rather passionate discussion as Dave and I completely agree that our industry has set itself up for a backwards approach to successful design.
DM: The biggest challenge with the RFP process is that corporations completely skip this step of including their creative teams. Clients should be hiring for ideas and expertise but in the RFP they ask for one set of ideas with firm budgets attached, but without any collaboration or discussion. For example, when you are hiring an interior designer you select based on their portfolio, experience and fit with your needs and then you decide on a retainer and begin designing. Event designers should also be engaged in this way, rather than in an RFP that is about buying stuff rather than focused on creativity or contribution to the process.  

TE: Let’s talk about the timing of brainstorming.
DM: Clients would be best served to bring us in early and share objectives, and then you can build  a team that offers a variety of perspectives, different lenses to view the ideas through, particularly when we are working alongside agency partners in PR and Marketing.  Here the producers, event designers and vendor partners have the depth and experience to take the great experiential ideas and concepts that clients may be dreaming of, and determine ways to execute these in a meaningful and memorable way.  You will be able to brainstorm ways to accomplish their objectives in ways that would never have been addressed if you are not engaged early enough. 

TE: How did you learn how to brainstorm and do you have a favorite approach?
DM: I got really good at understanding brainstorming when I first became involved with my local chapter of ISES, in various leadership roles up to President of ISES-Los Angeles.  You have to move a strong group of talented individuals through a collective process as a Board, understanding there are egos involved, perspectives to consider, and that you must exercise patience and inclusion.  If you let your own ego get in the way, you will have one dimensional ideas. There is always more power in collaboration and inviting a third set of eyes will allow you to see things you don’t see on your own.

TE: Any final thoughts?
DM: Enroll everyone in the content of an idea and then stand back, the ideas WILL start flowing!

David Merrell will be mentoring planners in the Workshop Series at BizBash IdeaFest Los Angeles on June 19 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For more information, and to register, please visit www.bizbash.com/ideafestla

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