Best in Show

2015 Best in Show

Join us as we celebrate summer and our annual Best in Show awards.

Each year, we celebrate our 50 innovations, initiatives, accomplishments, and achievements in ten categories, including F&B, technology, room sets, CSR, and more, all chosen by our readers and editors. 

Best Places for Small Meetings

The Graylyn conference center sits on 55 acres.
The Graylyn conference center sits on 55 acres.

Not that the Waikiki Beach Marriott needs anything else to recommend it — beyond the blinding white beaches, the swaying palm trees, and the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean. But in fact, the 1,300-room resort is also a natural fit for smaller meetings, with a variety of spaces, including 16 breakout rooms, three ballrooms, and three terraces. “I’ve always found Hawaii to be a great learning atmosphere, and the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa exemplifies so many of the reasons that is true,” said Brian Peterkin-Vertanesian, owner of P-V Conference & Event Planning. “Its location on the edge of Waikiki lets you be right there, but not in the middle of what passes for hustle and bustle in Hawaii. The meeting rooms are just the right size, the abundant open or outdoor space allows easy exposure to the always soft and pleasant Hawaiian air, the food is excellent, and the service is a shining example of the spirit of Aloha.”

For Niecie Washington, conference coordinator for Academic Impressions, the appeal of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans is that the staff there makes her smaller events feel like a big deal. “I love booking our meetings at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans because the people there show true Southern hospitality,” Washington said. “Our sales manager, Dottie Guidry, goes above and beyond for us, always looking for creative solutions. Our conference service manager, Lesley Alexander, is a true gem. Lesley truly epitomizes the statement ‘The answer is yes, what is your question?’ The two of them and the rest of the staff there always make us feel like our small conferences are the only thing going on in the hotel.”

For small meetings, Brandon Lindley, CMP, CSEP, CPCE, an independent planner based in São Paulo, Brazil, is partial to a local option: the Renaissance São Paulo Hotel, whose 29,000 square feet of space includes 15 event rooms and a 420-seat auditorium. Lindley has given this a lot of thought. “Located just one block off the bustling Paulista Avenue in the Jardim neighborhood of the largest metropolis in South America, the Renaissance allows corporate travelers to get business done efficiently and in the care of their professional staff,” he said. “Whether it is an intimate boardroom meeting for 10 or a presentation with theater seating for 420, the Renaissance offers three levels of inspirational meeting space. Notably, their events team represents several parts of Brazil and speaks both Portuguese and English. The catering options reflect top-notch presentation with both local and international specialties which are tailored to all group sizes.”

Built in the 1920s by Bowman Gray, then-president and chairman of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Graylyn today is owned and operated as a nonprofit organization by Wake Forest University. Set on a rolling 55-acre estate, the facility offers 86 guest rooms and a variety of classically beautiful conference facilities. “I nominated Graylyn [for Best in Show] because the Wake Forest University School of Business enjoys having events there, such as student events, team-building activities, and conferences,” said Sydnee Alms, special projects manager for Wake Forest. “Graylyn is an 86-room boutique hotel and conference center with meeting spaces that are unlike any other, and ideal for small meetings and training agendas. Each meeting space is uniquely different in size, design, and architectural detail.”

The boutique Cork Factory Hotel occupies a 19th-century, red-brick building in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania — part of the Urban Place mixed-use complex, which originally was home first to the Armstrong Cork Company and then to the Kerr Glass Company. Cork Factory’s meeting attendees feel every bit of this history. The 77-room property’s 5,225-square-foot ballroom features exposed wood rafters, a vaulted wood-beam ceiling, and a covered terrace that overlooks the restored cork factory. Its new, 2,555-square-foot Warehouse event space is garnished with cork-lined walls and antique hardwood floors. And its Cork & Cap Restaurant offers outdoor dining around Urban Place’s colossal smokestack.

Best High-Tech Venues

Video boards, Wi-Fi, and more at Levi’s Stadium.
Video boards, Wi-Fi, and more at Levi’s Stadium.

With its Southern California waterfront setting and striking glass-domed façade, the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center has been a magnet for memorable conferences since it opened in 1978. But the center’s technology is very much of-the-moment. A cornerstone of a recent $40-million upgrade was connectivity, and new wiring provides what the center’s website calls “instant” Wi-Fi connections for attendees. Long Beach’s on-site audiovisual team uses state-of-the-art lighting and sound design to create “multisensory experiences” — and even before they’re on site, planners can visualize their events via a 3D “Convention Center Campus” tool on the center’s website.

Austin lands on a lot of best-of lists, usually having to do with food or live music. But the city is also a center for tech innovation — so it’s no surprise that planner Rocio Lancaster nominated the Austin Convention Center as the ultimate high-tech venue for meetings. The in-house audiovisual team at the center was thrilled with the news, as they take their tech very seriously. “We’re a gigabit-rated building that can move voice, video, and data at over 1 billion bits a second,” said Brandon Peacy, a marketing representative for the center. “A prime reason why we are a preferred meetings facility is our ability to tailor our technological capabilities to any client’s needs.”

Whether it’s hosting a conference or a Grateful Dead reunion concert — or, on any given Sunday, a San Francisco 49ers football game — Silicon Valley’s Levi’s Stadium stands out when it comes to technology. “We have two huge, 9,600-square-foot video boards in each end zone, LED ribbon boards that span the length of the field, and 2,200 high-definition televisions throughout the stadium,” said Roger Hacker, the stadium’s senior manager for corporate communications. “These offer endless branding and marketing opportunities.” In addition, the stadium’s built-in club-audio system allows attendees to plug into the house sound system and play music as well as use wireless microphones for speaking programs. “Levi’s Stadium also features an industry-leading stadium Wi-Fi system,” Hacker said, “that is free to use for meetings and events or [just to] browse the Internet.”

Chicago’s intimate Venue One meeting and event center was built specifically “to immerse the audience into a digital and physical branding experience,” said Jennifer Kimball, vice president of business development for Event Creative, which manages Venue One. The facility’s 25,000 square feet of customizable space comes equipped with cutting-edge audiovisual components supported by an in-house technical department that uses industrial projection screens, a surround-sound system, LED lighting, and large-format plasma displays for what Venue One’s website describes as “360-degree experiences.”

It’s a little-known secret, at least for planners outside Tennessee, that the University of Memphis has a state-of-the-art meeting facility at its sleek FedEx Institute of Technology — a venue where planners’ needs are handled by a single department, and the city is literally just outside the meeting-room doors. The Institute has meeting options that range “from mid-tech to extreme tech,” according to its website, as befits a venue that’s home to tech entrepreneurship, research, and innovation. Consider The Zone, the Institute’s 190-seat, tiered amphitheater. “The Zone boasts the second-largest implementation of digital congress units outside the United Nations, as well as the world’s largest implementation of the Bose Tower Speaker System,” said Julie Green, sales and marketing coordinator for conference and event services at the University of Memphis. “It’s also complemented by an 85-seat, high-definition presentation theater and multiple meeting rooms. Large projection screens, webcams, touch-panel screens, and videoconferencing are just some of the cutting-edge features of this facility.” 

Best Food & Beverage

‘Signature Boston experiences’ at BCEC.
‘Signature Boston experiences’ at BCEC.

Meeting planner Patrice Bey gushes when it comes to describing the F&B at the Marriott Indianapolis Downtown, which she nominated for Best in Show. “I love working with them,” Bey said. That could be because the hotel’s executive chef, Michael Vlasich, offers playful and mouth-watering menu options for planners, from themed lunches (think “Andretti Italian Buffet” with antipasto and cannoli) and savory break treats (jumbo pretzels with mustard, anyone?) to dinner entrées that put a spin on Midwestern cuisine, such as maple-leaf, pan-seared duck breast with a coriander-sage crust.

With its massive commissary and 15 kitchens, the culinary operation at the 2,882-room Gaylord Opryland can feed an enormous crowd — or even just a handful of attendees — really well. It’s second nature for the resort’s chefs to customize menus for each event, and many items are freshly made in-house, such as breads and pastries. “We view each plate, each cocktail, and each gesture,” said Michael Hiltabidel, director of catering operations, “as our signature difference from ordinary dining.”

It’s no easy feat to distinguish your F&B in the culinary jungle of New York City — but that’s exactly what Langham Place, New York, Fifth Avenue does. While executive chef David Vandenabeele relishes creating tailored menus for planners, “he also finds inspiration in the events themselves,” said Louise O’Brien, Langham’s regional director of public relations. For the recent launch of the hotel’s redesigned meeting rooms, Vandenabeele created individual stations named for the neighborhoods around the hotel — fresh shellfish for Kips Bay; pretzels to represent Broadway; and Middle Eastern skewers to capture the diverse culinary offerings of Murray Hill. “He is also a master of the unexpected,” O’Brien said. “Some of his most popular menu items for banquets and private parties are shooters of savory teas like ChickenTea, a hybrid of consommé and herbal tea, and Tomato Iced Tea, a gazpacho-type broth.”

Boston is rich in both history and innovation — so the Levy Restaurants team at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) is always seeking creative ways to deliver “Signature Boston experiences” to attendees. “Many conference-goers don’t have enough time to get out and explore the city,” said Timothy Townsell, Levy’s general manager, “so we work hard to bring local brands and flavors to them.” Led by executive chef Christopher Pulling, BCEC’s culinary team spent 74 percent of their food budget on local products last year to deliver memorable Boston-centric dishes to attendees, such as “Fin-Tin-Tin,” a Cape Bay scallop with red-chili-spiked, blood-orange marmalade, yuzu-tobiko caviar, and tempura chips.

Attendees who have visited the Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC) can’t readily forget its spectacular setting and dramatic architecture — but its F&B may leave the most lasting impression. Since 1991, VCC has had a world-renowned chef, Blair Rasmussen, behind the whisk. Rasmussen not only leads a world-class Centerplate catering team, but has helped shape modern British Columbian cuisine, which fuses Asian Rim flavors with incredibly fresh ingredients. Planners who want to take those dishes out for a test run can do so in the heart of VCC’s kitchen, where staff serve up their customized menus in a private, white-tablecloth dining room.

Best Room Sets

The absinthe dream of the CharityWorks Dream Ball.
The absinthe dream of the CharityWorks Dream Ball.

Amid the glittering spread of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Condessa Commons — the 9,860-square-foot prefunction area in the center of the casino resort’s second-floor conference space — is a quietly self-contained blank canvas. And that’s exactly how the 200-to-300-attendee Mid-Sized Retirement & Healthcare Plan Management Conference, organized by University Conference Services (UCS), regularly uses it. “The layout of the classrooms allows for easy access to individual workshops, while the common area — where our sponsors are — promotes an engaging atmosphere that Vegas can often steal away from conferences,” said Laura Kenny, conference coordinator for UCS. “Our sponsors appreciate being front and center during networking breaks and receptions, and consistently rank Condessa Commons — as well as the hotel itself — their favorite space throughout our national circuit.”

Soaring 75 feet high and buttressed by gigantic Corinthian columns, the Great Hall at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., cries out for a bold vision. The CharityWorks 2014 Dream Ball, held at the museum last September, obliged with a fantastical room set that turned the cavernous space into an emerald dreamscape. Working around the theme “absinthe dream,” and drawing inspiration from the stage musical “Into the Woods” and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” event producer Hargrove Inc. even incorporated fairy-themed ribbon dancers and aerialists into its design. “Guests were able to live an evening in a breathtakingly beautiful absinthe dream world,” said Chris Fulghum, senior director of events strategy and development for Hargrove, “while allowing others to realize their own dreams by greatly benefiting those in need.”

Marriott doesn’t just host other organizations’ creative meetings and events — the hotel giant also produces some of its own. Its 2014 Association Masters program, held at the Gaylord Palms Resorts & Convention Center in Kissimmee, Florida, last June, offered four days of education and networking, plus an optional pre- or post-event stay at an area Marriott property. But attendee Stephie Young, CMP, a consultant for the National Black MBA Association, was also impressed with the form and functionality of its room sets — especially for general sessions. “There were multiple styles of seating in one space,” Young said. “The front of the room had soft executive chairs. Immediately behind those were comfortable ergonomic chairs. To the left of the room were highboy tables with backless stools. In the rear of the room was a 36-inch-high riser with sofas and chairs with a coffee table. The room was awesome.”

Sara Pletcher had been to the B Resort & Spa in Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney complex before — but that was when it operated under a different brand. When she arrived for a site visit at the newly renovated, newly reopened, newly chic property last August, she thought to herself: I’ve never been here before. “Every space was better than the last,” said Pletcher, marketing and communications coordinator for GROWMARK FS, “and the meeting space was jaw-dropping.” Rather than one specific room set, she was impressed by the overall flow of B Resort’s 14,000 square feet of ballroom space, 11 breakout rooms, and 5,000-square-foot outdoor terrace. “The layout of the meeting space is concise, well-planned, away from the hotel hustle and bustle, and perfect for a group of 170 with breakout sessions,” Pletcher said. “Plus, the ability to use the large outdoor patio for either a reception or to hang out during meeting breaks is an added bonus, since it’s connected to the meeting floor plan.”

Perched on the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago in the Persian Gulf, the 1,500-room, 110-acre Atlantis, The Palm luxury beach resort is perhaps the last place you’d expect to single out for the quality of its individual room sets. But while the magnificent property dazzles with its lavish décor and sheer size, it’s honeycombed with human-scale meeting spaces, including 14 breakout rooms, three ballrooms, and two boardrooms — to say nothing of the Royal Terrace, offering views of the Dubai Marina, or special-event venues such as the Lost Chambers Aquarium and the Royal Beach. The advantage of meeting at Atlantis, The Palm: Even when you’re there for business, your program will be impeccably, gorgeously staged. As its website says: “From the moment you arrive, you will be immersed in a dazzling world of imagination, pleasure, and luxury.”

Best Off-Site Venues

Mountain sunsets at Tamber Bey Vineyards.
Mountain sunsets at Tamber Bey Vineyards.

How stunning is the setting for events at Tamber Bey Vineyards? So much so that Mandy McWherter, marketing coordinator for Conference Event Management (CEM), which organized a dinner there, still uses a photograph taken at the event as her computer wallpaper at her office in Des Moines. The Napa Valley winery and vineyard is a local standout, even in a part of the world that’s renowned for its natural beauty. The winery was established on a working Arabian-horse ranch, and offers visitors views of vines, rolling hills, and nearby Mount St. Helena. At the CEM-organized event, the 60 guests had private access to the vineyard, where a caterer “created a unique event on the back lawn that had never been done there before,” McWherter said. “We also brought in musicians to play during dinner.” And Tamber Bey’s lighting deserves special mention. “The sunset over the mountains,” McWherter said, “made dinner very beautiful.”

Fans of the 1986 movie “Top Gun” are likely to get a special thrill out of visiting Marine Corps Air Station Miramar — it’s the former home of the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School (NFWS) and its TOPGUN training program, around which the movie was based. But the experience is unique even for someone who has never heard of Maverick or Iceman. When Laura Wilkin, CMP, director of marketing and events for the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA), held an event for about 500 people at the air station, guests spent time on the tarmac for an up-close, hands-on experience inside several different Marine aircraft, including Ospreys and fighter jets. CIPA’s event included dinner at the Officers’ Club — used as a filming location for “Top Gun” — with pilots, officers, and a flag ceremony complete with a band playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” “My group loved this event!” Wilkin said. “And I’m guessing there aren’t many places where you can have such an intimate encounter with our nation’s fighting forces. It was inspiring.”

The Pinery at the Hill is a resort-style venue that won over Tiffany Lord, CMP, meeting manager for Colorado Springs–based nonprofit CPCD, for three main reasons:

1. AMBIANCE “The property is gorgeous, with incredible views of downtown Colorado Springs as well as
Pikes Peak.”

2. VALUE “Pricing is exceptional for the high-quality F&B you receive, and they are more than willing to work with you on any budget.”

3. SERVICE “The staff is attentive and knowledgeable — not to mention extremely fun to work with. They take care of every detail and ensure the event is executed flawlessly.”

Lord also praised the Pinery at the Hill for its ability to accommodate groups of all kinds. When she organized a casual staff-appreciation event for 300 people, with food stations, a photo booth, a dance floor, and a DJ, Lord said, “almost everyone stayed to the end, since they were enjoying it so much.” And it was a perfect fit for a more elegant fundraising event for 200 that featured a cocktail hour, a three-course meal, and entertainment by a world-renowned pianist and 17-piece swing band.

The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere — and it’s also “uniquely Chicago,” said Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, PCMA’s senior vice president of education and events. “Its architecture and history date back to the Columbian World’s Exposition of 1893, and its location next to Lake Michigan makes it a must-see for anyone visiting Chicago.” In fact, the museum served as an introduction to the city for attendees at PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2015 in Chicago last January. For the opening reception, organizers used music, food and drink, décor, and props to create zones representing Chicago’s distinctive neighborhoods. “The space is vast,” Peacy said. “Our 4,000-person event didn’t even take up the entire facility.”

The venue “is a museum, but they understand events and how people flow through their space,” added Jody Egel, CMP, PCMA’s director of events. “The event space works well for groups of many sizes because of its hub-and-spoke layout. There is a center area, and then areas jutting out from there, which made it easy for people to navigate.” And the building itself is something of a conversation piece. “The exhibits were closed during our event,” Egel said, “but the museum has so much to see — airplanes hanging from the ceiling, railroad exhibit, etc. — that it was a very engaging environment.”

While Austin is well known for its laid-back, Hill Country groove, the Texas capital has its swankier side. One place to find it is at Speakeasy, a bar, restaurant, performance space, and event venue that has been a fixture on Congress Avenue for two decades. Guests enter through a Prohibition-worthy alley that opens up into a three-story venue where red upholstery, dark, polished wood, and signature cocktails evoke the Roaring Twenties. But there is much more to do at Speakeasy than sip bathtub gin. The venue’s facilities include a music lounge, a bowling mezzanine overlooking a stage, the Kabaret Room, and the Rooftop Lounge Terrace59, which offers views of Austin’s skyline. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll spot a celebrity, but Speakeasy’s long list of famous patrons includes Bono and George Clooney along with Austinites Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey.

Best CSR Initiatives

The Greener Meeting Challenge at ACS 2014.
The Greener Meeting Challenge at ACS 2014.

Last year, the American Chemical Society (ACS) launched the ACS Greener Meeting Challenge to encourage attendees at its two annual National Meetings to adopt sustainable best practices on site — recommending six simple actions, such as bringing their own water bottle, walking or taking the carbon-neutral ACS shuttle, and downloading the mobile app instead of getting a printed program. ACS communicated about the Challenge via its mobile app, on-site program, social media, an on-site Greener Meetings Booth, and other marketing outlets. Attendees participated in the Challenge via an online platform, indicating the green practices they supported and sharing how they embodied the spirit of greener meetings. The four attendees whose stories were rated best were awarded an iPod Nano, a Kindle Fire, and Visa gift cards. Since the program’s launch, more than 230 attendees have taken the Challenge, and traffic to ACS’s Greener Meetings webpage increased by more than 7,400 unique visitors from 2013 to 2014. As an added benefit, said Vanessa Johnson-Evans, ACS’s manager for national meetings logistics and attendee and exhibitor services, the Challenge has helped ACS gather insightful feedback on attendee thinking and behavior on sustainability.

Since 1992, the Specialty Food Association’s Summer and Winter Fancy Food Shows have operated an extensive Exhibitor Food Donation Program, which each year delivers approximately 200,000 pounds of food to those in need in the events’ host cities — New York (Summer) and San Francisco (Winter). Last year, to support its strategic initiative to reduce hunger and increase food-recovery efforts worldwide, the association established the Specialty Food Foundation, which focuses on this objective via grant-making, education, and industry events.

“We embrace hunger relief with our Fancy Food Show event efforts in a number of ways,” said Roger Grant, operations associate at Specialty Food. “In New York, we partner with City Harvest, which rescues over 46 million pounds of excess food each year and delivers it to over 400 community organizations. In San Francisco, we work with Feed the Hungry, a humanitarian group that responds to emergency and targeted relief domestically and overseas while feeding over 35,000 children daily. Through the generosity of our member/exhibitor community, the hard work of hundreds of volunteers, and the cooperation and assistance of our center partners, we have been able to provide 906,300 pounds of food to those in need just since we began our sustainable event tracking [in summer 2012].”

Now in its sixth year, Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s Meet and Be Green program, according to Hyatt’s website, is part of the company’s “larger pledge to conserve energy, minimize waste, and create responsible, sustainable corporate practices to care for the Earth and guests. By empowering guests to do the same, Hyatt and its planners can help minimize the environmental impact of meetings.” Those planners who want to participate in the program pledge to take 10 specific steps to go green, from printing materials locally to using products with 100-percent recycled content. The measures help minimize not only a meeting’s environmental footprint but its bottom-line cost.

Just ask Sara Schnack, CMP, senior meeting planner, meetings and corporate travel, at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, who — as a result of participating in Meet and Be Green — was able to save more than $10,000 on a 350-person meeting at a Hyatt property this past March. “It was very easy to do,” Schnack said. “The hotel provided us with all the things we needed to help us obtain our [sustainability] goal. They provided a clear list of their green initiatives and asked us to comply with the list. They gave us water stations so that we could fill our water bottles — which also worked as our welcome gift — and provided recycle bins throughout the [meeting] area.”


Editor’s Note: The following entry was submitted and then later withdrawn when the planner involved learned that her organization avoids media coverage of its events. The initiative struck us as a truly stellar example of a CSR activity, so we have stripped out references to the company to be able to include this initiative among our winners.

A four-day incentive meeting for a corporation’s best customers brought 750 guests, staff, and vendors to a Cancun resort. As part of the program, attendees had the option to participate in a variety of off-site activities, including snorkeling, a day trip to Mayan ruins — or building a new library and fixing up a playground at a local school. Many guests chose the humanitarian option.

Working with its DMC partner, the company created a morning program that would allow guests to visit the school and interact with the students. At a breakfast meeting in the hotel, participants saw the 800 Scholastic school books they would be donating to the library spread out on tables. Participants cut out laminated items to decorate the library (wall calendars, letters, and bulletin-board borders) and placed “From the library of” labels on each book. The school’s principal joined the group at the hotel, where he explained what impact the donation would have.

Participants then packed up all the books into boxes and headed to the school. When they arrived, they were greeted by students dressed in traditional Mexican outfits who performed a special dance for them. Half the group then went to work on the library — cleaning the room, setting up and placing the books on shelves, and putting up the wall décor. The other half hit the playground, painting special messages on the swing set and monkey bars that had been professionally installed that morning. And there was time left in the program for participants to see how much pleasure the children got out of their new library and playground.

The 231-room Embassy Row Hotel loves its Washington, D.C., home — and as part of its ongoing commitment to giving back, the property has a partnership with So Others Might Eat (SOME), a local nonprofit that provides food, clothing, shelter, and other services for disadvantaged people. Under the program, the hotel donates to SOME 1 percent of the revenue from its eighth-floor SOME Suite; 5 percent of the revenue from the continuous break stations it offers meetings and conferences; and 25 cents for each special of the day ordered in its Station Kitchen & Cocktails restaurant — with each serving arriving in a ceramic bowl created by students at D.C.’s Corcoran School of the Arts. & Design. “We’re in the hospitality business, so teaming up with a program like SOME that regularly makes people feel welcome was a no-brainer for us,” said Shawn Jervis, the hotel’s general manager. “More and more our guests tell us they want an authentic experience. SOME provides the perfect platform for us to serve our neighbors and give our guests the opportunity to actually impact the destination.”

Best Technology Tools

Schedule-management app Doodle makes things simple.
Schedule-management app Doodle makes things simple.

Attendee Interactive provides a variety of tools to plan and run conferences, from session-builders and schedulers, to customizable ePoster templates, to tailored microsites where exhibitors can enter and update their information before a show. “The completely customizable options make creating function sheets for anyone from staff to hotel to AV to catering a seamless process,” said Jennifer E. Coy, director of meetings and events at the National Contract Management Association. “The chance for missing a last-minute change is not only minimized, it’s nearly impossible.”

Fifteen-year-old CadmiumCD provides on-site audiovisual services as well as a suite of event-management programs, including an interactive floor-plan tool, an “abstract scorecard” to help meeting organizers vet submissions, and a unified data-management system. Organizers also have the option to create event apps, event recordings, and pre- and post-event surveys.

Cloud-based floor-plan-management and check-in tool Social Tables has become indispensible to many planners. “Social Tables has been a lifesaver for creating unique sets,” said Danielle Himes, event coordinator for the Pittsburgh-based Grant Street Group. “Instead of having to try to articulate every detail via email or over the phone, I can simply show the venue what I want by drawing on shared diagrams myself!”

The spreadsheet program in Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office suite is a tried-but-true event-management tool. Brian Peterkin-Vertanesian, a Washington, D.C.–based independent conference and event planner, explained how he uses Excel to manage his programs: “Budgets, travel details, rooming lists, F&B plans, session-room assignments and tech needs, staffing, and more all get their own tabs in one workbook. Everything is there, and by using formulas, I can link all kinds of information, not just numbers.”

Schedule-management app Doodle is a lifesaver for all the smaller meetings and appointments leading up to the big one. “I arrange meetings and site visits for a huge volume of internal and external clients,” said Malinda Harrell, CMP, CASE, director of sales for the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Instead of exchanging emails back and forth about what date would work best for the group, they are able to easily provide their availability and I am able to view at a glance, select a date, and we are confirmed.”

Meeting Apps

The Lifesavers app included  included the ability to take notes within the app and download handouts and videos.
The Lifesavers app included included the ability to take notes within the app and download handouts and videos.

Given the fact that the CleanMed conference is an annual forum where health-care administrators, clinicians, medical researchers, building designers, and product vendors gather to share information and learn about best practices for creating environmental sustainability in the medical sector, it’s no small thing that the mobile app allows the event to be virtually paper-free. But the app for CleanMed 2015, held this past May in Portland, Oregon, did much more than save trees. “The app was pure engagement,” said Carrie Abernathy, CMP, CEM, CSEP, director of education and events at Practice Greenhealth, which organizes the conference.

In addition to providing nuts-and-bolts information about the conference agenda, schedule, speakers, attendees, and sponsors, the app featured an expo “treasure map” that rewarded attendees for traversing the show floor and connecting with peers. The app also allowed attendees to take notes and download session materials, and made it easy for them to gain continuing education units for qualifying sessions — when they entered a PIN, the app automatically generated a survey and sent out a CEU certificate. Polling features included a “word cloud” option, which asked attendees to type in words and phrases that the app then aggregated and visually weighted according to how many times they were submitted.

Organizers also made sure that access to the app was not a problem for anyone. “All attendees could borrow an iPod Touch for the entire conference,” Abernathy said.

The Lifesavers Conference on Highway Safety Priorities brings together a diverse group of public-health and -safety professionals, academics, volunteers, and others who are dedicated to reducing death and injury by motor-vehicle crashes.  The group is passionate about the subject of public safely, and when organizers introduced the meeting’s first app at Lifesavers 2015 in Chicago this past March, attendees adopted it with their characteristic zeal. More than 50 percent downloaded the app — a higher-than-average rate for the debut of a meeting app, according to Mary Magnini, CMP, president of Meetings Management, which organizes the conference.

Standout features included the ability to take notes within the app and download handouts and videos, along with real-time survey responses that gave instant feedback to speakers and conference planners. Attendees also appreciated the ability to connect with one another, as well as the app’s environmental impact. “With the program contents on the app,” Magnini said, “there was less need for a printed program.”

The app for the National Restaurant Association’s NRA Show offered a state-of-the-art experience, such as the inclusion of a digital instructional overlay that guided first-time users through the app’s features and then could be dismissed for good. But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. “I think every show organizer should test their app by pretending they are at an info counter — which is where I was working during the show,” said Jennifer Kimball, a vice president of business development at Event Creative, who worked the show for NRA. Kimball used the app to field queries from attendees, and found “it was easy to go from a question like ‘What is the purpose of the World Culinary Showcase?’ to ‘Where is Lot A?’ to the keynote location to a booth location. It was easy to navigate, and everyone who saw me use it saw the efficiency of it. It was really useful in a fast-paced, real-life scenario.”

The 49,000-member American College of Cardiology (ACC) has been using meeting apps for six years, according to Thomas Walker, ACC’s senior director for IT and business services. But it wasn’t until the association developed a comprehensive mobile app that included all of the elements of its Annual Scientific Sessions & Expo in one place — including sessions, exhibitors, slides, and more — that the adoption rate soared. ACC partners with ATIV to develop the app, Walker said, and works to improve the user experience every year. The mobile app synchronizes with the web version, so attendees can use both versions to plan their schedules.

For the meeting app for ACC.15, a new feature allowed users to mark a session for continuing medical education (CME) credit, then easily claim CME any time during or after the meeting. The integration with the CME process was a significant improvement for ACC.15 and well received by attendees. “With the success of the app, we’ve been able to eliminate our printed program,” Walker said, “and we’re able to print and distribute less collateral overall — helping the ACC to go green.”

SOT 2015
The Society of Toxicology (SOT) has 7,800 members in 60 countries, and the data set from its Annual Meeting and ToxExpo is, in a word, huge. For its conference app, SOT needs to help attendees navigate not just the five-day physical meeting but the more than 3,000 offline abstracts and PDF files associated with the program. This year’s meeting, which was held at the San Diego Convention Center in March, brought together 6,000 scientists and 350 vendors, and included 3,600 sessions and presentations along with papers by nearly 10,000 authors.

SOT found what it needed in EventPilot, a platform that was designed for scientific and medical meetings with more than 1,000 sessions and a large volume of offline abstracts. Attendees gave the app, which SOT used this year for the first time, nearly perfect scores in the App Store and on Google Play. And they not only ranked it highly, they used it heavily, averaging 70 visits per user during the first few days of the meeting. Indeed, SOT reports that there were more downloads than actual meeting attendees.

Best Social Media Initiatives

SCAA 2015’s hyper-caffeinated hashtag hub.
SCAA 2015’s hyper-caffeinated hashtag hub.

Hitachi Healthcare Group brought in Freeman XP to help build social buzz around Hitachi Healthcare, a new suite of medical-technology products that launched at RSNA 2014, the 100th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Freeman XP ran giveaways and contests throughout the show, facilitated “Meet the Speaker” Twitter chats, and continually updated a Twitter/Instagram wall highlighting social shout-outs to Hitachi’s products.

More than 5,000 elementary and high-school educators and school-board members flocked to Nashville earlier this year for the National School Boards Association’s 2015 Annual Conference. NSBA’s own booth presence on the show floor included marketing firm a2z Inc.’s ChirpE Photo Booth, a tablet-enabled platform that allowed 158 attendees to pose for Twitter photos in front of a “Stand Up 4 Public Schools” backdrop while holding signs printed with slogans for change within public education. “NSBA integrated the ChirpE Photo Booth into their national campaign,” said Nishita Jain, senior director of digital marketing for a2z, “and harnessed the solution’s audience-engagement and social-reach capabilities to spread the message far and wide.”

Glitz and glamour are staples of the music industry’s biggest awards show — and social media is a natural fit for amping up the excitement. That was especially evident at this year’s show, held on Feb. 8. “Grammy producers truly engaged social media to democratize the content used during the actual awards show,” said Tamela Blalock, CMP, director of membership services for the National Association of Wholesale Distributors. “I will definitely make sure to continue to watch the Grammy Awards while on Twitter and Instagram, because I don’t want to miss out on this new community of viewers that brought the show to life for me.”

A joint meeting of the Society of University Surgeons and the Association of Academic Surgeons, this year’s Academic Surgical Congress (ASC) — held in Las Vegas in February — began using the hashtag #ASC2015 on Twitter, Facebook, and Storify months before the meeting to encourage attendance and raise its visibility. “During the meeting, Twitter became the primary communications channel for the attendees to talk to each other about various presentations, call attention to important or controversial statements made during talks, and solicit opinions and debate from attendees who couldn’t make it,” said Jason Levine, vice president of information technology at BSC Management Inc., ASC’s conference-planning company. “Our mobile app for the meeting also encouraged social discussion and sharing, and the upshot was a five-fold increase in activity from 2014 to 2015, ending up with more than 6.4 million impressions generated by 4,200-plus tweets over a three-day conference.”

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) set up a dedicated microsite that embedded Tweets and Instagram photos related to its 2015 SCAA Event, which was held in Seattle in April. Social-media posts with the hashtag #SCAA2015 were displayed in an attractive, infinite-scroll interface during the meeting, and are now archived on the landing page for SCAA’s 2016 Event. SCAA ran a similar campaign for the 2015 U.S. Coffee Championships, a competition for baristas and brewers — presented by SCAA and the Baristas Guild of America — that was held in Long Beach this past February.

Best Destination Videos

‘MiniAbe’s Ultimate Illinois Holiday.’

Hosting a political convention isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it is a once-in-every-four-years one, and Destination Cleveland is determined to get everything it can from the experience. Its powerfully direct video ties the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC), coming to Cleveland next July, to the city’s ongoing revival — and, not incidentally, plugs the $200 million in direct spending that will result from the RNC. “The goal of this video was to showcase Cleveland’s rebirth fueled by $3 billion in infrastructure development, which is putting our city back on the map as a leading meetings and conventions destination,” said Colette Jones, vice president of marketing for Destination Cleveland. “We want meeting planners to know that Cleveland’s growing meetings industry doesn’t stop at hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention, and that our city’s renaissance is just getting started.”

What are three things you don’t necessarily think of together? Okay, probably lots of combinations — but “tacos, coffee, and Savannah” is particularly out there. Which is what makes Visit Savannah’s video so much fun. Part of #TrendingSavannah, a series of culinary-themed videos, “Tacos & Coffee” profiles Foxy Loxy Café, which serves … well, take a guess. “First, we wanted to expand people’s knowledge about our culinary experiences,” said Jeremy Harvey, vice president of communications and marketing for Visit Savannah. “We’re well known for our awesome Southern and coastal (seafood) cuisine, so this video gave us a chance to highlight some creative offerings outside of those more well-known options. Second, we were hoping to expand the experience of a Savannah visit to outside the traditional ‘historic district’ boundary. Foxy Loxy Café is in an area south of our historic district’s southern border of Forsyth Park, in an area called the Starland District, and we want visitors to extend their visit by going off the beaten path a bit. Third, we are looking to attract Millennials and other younger demographic visitors, so this video focusing on those regulars [at Foxy Loxy] and coffee/tacos worked well to tell the story of where locals who fit that demographic like to hang.”

How best to sum up the offbeat, inclusive vibe of Portland, Oregon? With a joyously insane video about a handmade, 24-foot tall, three-ton cuckoo clock that Travel Portland took on the road for a tourism campaign in Seattle and British Columbia — a campaign that also featured Sasquatch, a unicycle-riding bagpiper, a standup comic, and a singer backed by a mime. The video was “a way for us to share the creative process behind a project that grew to be a success story in the eyes of Portlanders and our partners alike,” said Megan Conway, Travel Portland’s vice president of communications and public relations. “The craftsmanship is an important part of the story, but we also utilized this visual platform to share the results with our staff, board, hotel funding partners, and city officials. In addition to serving these purposes, the end result is a nice snapshot of our winter ad campaign, and will serve as a case study for our teams in future years.”

Sometimes, you need to get out of your own way and let your customers tell your story. That’s the approach Fort Worth took with its video, which juxtaposes classic destination footage with relaxed, authentic testimonials from planners with the Southwest Veterinary Symposium, Experient, HPN Global, and other organizations that have met in Cowtown. “We intentionally included representatives from a variety of companies and associations, so the videos would offer insightful information to planners of similar-sized organizations,” said John Cychol, vice president of meeting sales for the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The videos are used in our web, social-media, and emarketing efforts directed to current and potential clients.”

Go big or go home. Unless you’re the Land of Lincoln, which goes small with its favorite son — to pretty darn charming effect. The Illinois Office of Tourism has made MiniAbe — yes, an action-figure version of the 16th president of the United States — the centerpiece of a campaign that takes him all around the state. “MiniAbe serves as a great travel ambassador for Illinois,” said Cory M. Jobe, director of the Office of Tourism. “By looking through his eyes to see some of our state’s greatest travel gems, the ‘Ultimate Illinois Holiday’ video has inspired thousands of people from across the country and around the world to come and visit Illinois.”


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