December 9, 2023

Event Planning

Show & Sell

Hoopla is still big, but Florida's meeting planners say corporate branding events and philanthropic fund-raisers are more focused -- and more expense-conscious.

Art Levy | 10/1/2008

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.”

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