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Show & Sell

At the height of the real estate boom, the parties that developers threw to herald a new condo complex underwent a boom of their own. Particularly in south Florida, even the tamest opening of a condo sales office required high-end food, neon-colored cocktails, loud music, wild decorations and barely dressed models dancing into the wee hours.

Model with cognac bottle
A model flaunts Remy Martin’s new cognac bottle designed by David LaChappelle at a party hosted by Remy Martin and put on by Zhantra Entertainment in Miami. [Photo: Zhantra Entertainment]

In 2005, it wasn’t uncommon for a condo party to cost between $200,000 and $300,000. “The developers were spending huge dollars,” says Elaine Meier, owner of a south Florida marketing and public relations firm. “Each opening had to be bigger and better than the one before.”

Eventually, however, attendees came to care more about the parties than the condos. “Toward the end, there wasn’t much buying. It was, ‘Where’s the party?’ ” says Yaffa Mizrachi, a principal with Langston Mizrachi & Co., a Plantation public relations firm.

Post-boom, with the broader economy cooling along with the real estate sector, Florida’s multimillion-dollar event business has had to adapt. Heather Wilson, an event manager for ME Productions in Orlando, says there are still plenty of corporate events statewide, including awards dinners, seminars, sales meetings and gatherings of professional associations. Hoopla is still a staple at many events, but targeted-marketing events with a sharply defined focus — and budgets — have replaced the extravaganzas.

“There’s less spending on fluff and more on meaning,” Wilson says. “Corporations, they really want to make sure that you’re just not enjoying an event but that you’re also understanding the meaning behind it and getting a message. There’s more branding.”

ConceptBAIT floor design
ConceptBAIT designed a tropical Florida theme when the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau threw a party last year to celebrate the unveiling of its new name, Tampa Bay & Company. [Photo: Chanele Hernandez]

Living Table
A living table display by Event Show Productions.. [Photo: Brion Price]
Theatrics still play a big role, says Gayle Jackson-Menk, who runs Event Epiphany near Jacksonville. For a recent gathering of 500 meeting planners at the Sawgrass Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, she organized a luncheon that included a presentation by the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex. The space-theme party included projected images of a space shuttle lifting off, a greeter dressed like an astronaut, fog machines and a mission control-type countdown before the guests were allowed in the room. “It looked like the Milky Way in there,” Jackson-Menk says. “The imaging and the branding ran throughout the entire event.”

Florida’s economy hasn’t slowed down fund-raising events and, in fact, many non-profits have to put more emphasis on fund-raisers. The Pier Aquarium in St. Petersburg, for example, lost $90,000 in outside funding this year, says Executive Director Howard Rutherford. The aquarium is counting on its annual Fish Head Ball to raise $35,000 this year to help fund educational programs and summer camps. This year’s version, with an “underwater ruins” motif, attracted 400 people.

Water wall
Chameleon Designs created a water wall above a koi pond that displays one of the sponsors of the Headdress Ball in Orlando last month. [Photo: Event Show Productions]
One of the state’s showiest fund-raisers, the Headdress Ball in Orlando, is staged each year by the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, a non-profit that last year helped 8,500 people infected with HIV/AIDS. The center, which lost $50,000 in federal funding this year, depends on the ball to fund more than 15% of its nearly $2-million budget. Last year, the ball raised $355,000. This year’s version, with 970 guests, flamboyant costumes and a Las Vegas-style show, raised $357,000. “This event is critical for us,” says Maggie King, the center’s director of development.

Florida remains a major party state, behind only New York and California in the number of major events, says Channing Muller, editor of BizBash Florida, a magazine that covers the state’s event industry. She expects this year’s party season, which starts about now and runs through April, will be a little slower than last year — but still plenty active.

“People always have a reason to meet, good times or bad,” Wilson says. “If it’s a good time, you need to celebrate your success. If it’s a bad time, you need to regroup and think about where you’re going to go in the future.”

Corporate ‘Razzmatazz’

Event Show Productions
Dorene Collier (center), owner of Event Show Productions in Tampa, specializes in corporate events. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
When Delray Beach event planner Elaine Meier needs someone to perform at one of her events painted blue or dressed up like a fairy, she gets on the phone with Dorene Collier. Collier, owner of Event Show Productions in Tampa, is one of the state’s leading providers of corporate-event entertainment. She says corporate gatherings are evolving from the days when it was enough to put a CEO on stage with a PowerPoint presentation. Now, she says, there’s more stagecraft — but with a corporate communications twist. That can mean a 15-minute “jam session,” with the company’s CEO joining a band on stage to play a conga drum or an elaborate Cirque du Soleil-type production with rhythmic gymnasts, acrobats, dramatic lighting, changing visuals and loud music — all pounding home whatever message the company wants to make. “A little more razzmatazz is needed today,” Collier says.

Painted models
Human bodies were the canvas for the artwork exhibited at an International Sales Group Marketing Reception in Miami. Andrea Sherman Events in Miami was the event planner. [Photo: Andrea Sherman]
Event Amenities

Fog machine: $100 to $150

Bartender: $85 to $150

Costumed (or painted) actor to greet and mingle: $250 to $400

Hors d’oeuvres for 100 guests: $2,000 to $2,500


A Gimmick for Every Occasion

After 25 years as an event planner in south Florida, Andrea Sherman has seen just about everything. Airbrush-painted naked women? She’s seen hundreds. Human centerpieces? Old hat. Live animals? No big deal — usually. “We did a party in South Beach, and we had flamingos and then we had fireworks — and that’s when we learned that flamingos don’t like fireworks,” she says. The weirdest act she has seen recently was a woman dressed up like a fountain. “She’s literally a working water fountain,” Sherman says.

Painted models
Orlando-based 2nd Nature Productions puts on Living Garden performances with human water fountains. [Photo: 2nd Nature Productions]

Super Opportunity

The state’s event planners are jockeying for a big payday Feb. 1, when Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium hosts Super Bowl XLIII. The last Super Bowl in the state — Super Bowl XLI in Miami — saw big parties that included 2,000 people in Miami’s American Airlines Arena for a Playboy magazine-hosted gathering. The NFL, which sponsors many of the events, “likes to partner with local businesses,” says Heather Wilson, an Orlando-based event planner.