From a cavernous conference hall, to a plush ballroom, to a public museum, transforming a space to meet a target audience is a hurdle faced by all meeting and event planners.
Today we chat with Jamie Kirby, who recently faced the challenge of transforming an entire three-bedroom house into a space that would appeal to their target audience: attendees at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
"The mission was to represent the Great Lakes State at the popular music, film and interactive conference in a way that went beyond the standard booth at the convention center only seen by official attendees," Kirby said.
Kirby and her partners at Middle West curated the house, transforming it into a warm, welcoming, Michigan-made experience where people would be taken care of.
"We moved in at 2 p.m. on Sunday, and we opened the doors at 10 a.m. on Monday," she said.
They took out all the furniture and moved in comfortable Herman Miller pieces. They replaced all the art on the wall with that of Michigan artists. The lawn furniture was taken away and Michigan-shaped adirondack chairs took their place. The kitchen was stocked with Founders Beer, Faygo soda, Good People Popcorn, Detroit Distillery liquors and many other Michigan-sourced treats. And the entertainment came from Michigan bands and Michigan-made jukeboxes.
"Our focus was hospitality," she said. "We tried to focus on that one thing – hospitality and care – and do it really well."
And that is Kirby's advice for meeting planners: If you have limited time and a tight budget to transform your space, focus on one thing, and hit it out of the park to make it memorable.
"We wanted people leaving the Michigan House thinking, 'I was taken care of in the best way, and there was awesome music playing all the time.'"
She sees that happen in her role as global brand conference manager for Wolverine Worldwide Inc., the Michigan-based manufacturer of Merrell's, Hush Puppies and Sperry Top-Siders, among others.
Each brand has a limited time at the seasonal conferences to tell the story behind its new lines.
"Some have brought in marching bands, they've made it rain inside the building to launch a weatherproof line, or people were hula-hooping," she said. "They were taking something really disruptive or memorable and inserting it into a short period of time to get their message across and have people remember that message."
And the success of the Michigan House, where an estimated 500 people came through over four days, shows that planners are not limited to conventions centers and ballrooms.
"With the right resources and imagination, you can create anything, anywhere," she said. "You can be creative, think outside the box a little bit and potentially save money by using an unconventional venue to drive your message home."