Winding up in an experiential or visual rut is one of the potential consequences of big-deal themes falling out of favor. Where does that leave the destination-based approach? For most meetings, location is the one major element that changes every year. Can you leverage that without being overly cutesy, contrived, or elaborate? Organizers show no signs of not trying. Even Starwalt,
who says he doesn’t think 4A’s would ever do a full-on theme, said that at the group’s Transformation 2011 conference, in Austin, a guitars motif was used for the website and overall signage. “It’s all about keeping it fresh and new,” he said, “without an explicit theme.” Or, you can try tying the theme of a reception to the des- tination, booking local entertainment and procuring local décor, to bring the flavor of the place home to attendees
— while you’re still in a convention center or hotel ballroom. When ASME went to Vancouver in November 2010, it met in the city’s convention center, which offers great views of the mountains and the water. The association needed to divide the center’s foyer in two for its Honors Assembly Recep- tion — so Klasky had tall spruce trees, ferns, and totem poles brought in to divide the space. Along with local beverages and “a couple of animal things in there, for some smiles,” that helped give attendees a themed experience of some of what Vancouver has to offer.
48 PCMA CONVENE JUNE 2012 Counterintuitively, generic destinations also can be good
for theming. “Some destinations really shout a theme,” Hope said, “and you’d be silly to go against it” — such as Las Vegas and entertainment, Orlando and theme parks, and New Orleans and Mardi Gras. Now consider Boise, Idaho, or Roa- noke, Va. “These give you more of a blank slate to play with,” Hope said. “You’re not fighting a Mardi Gras theme.” Tying your program to a destination is especially good for
an incentive trip, according to English. “You can do a theme at a location that has nothing to do with the destination,” she said, “but it’s harder to do on a limited budget.” During the heyday of theming, planners used to do, say, “winter wonder- land” at a beach resort — but that’s very cost-prohibitive. Finally, for corporate planners, doing any sort of theme
— even a relatively mild, location-based one — may not be appropriate. When asked whether her company would con- sider a destination-centric theme, Wiesenfeld said, “I don’t think so, because we don’t focus on a social impact. We focus more on a management and empowerment impact.” She added: “So the location of the meeting doesn’t really drive it. Instead it’s the content of the meeting itself.”
. Hunter R. Slaton is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. PCMA.ORG
If You Must Have a Theme …
1 Understand the objective of the meeting, and keep referring back to it.
2 Ask yourself, “Will a theme enhance my ability to achieve the meeting’s objective?”
3 Think like Goldilocks: Choose a theme that is just the right size for your meeting’s scope, time frame, and budget.
4 Remember the demographics of your meeting attendees — will they appreciate the theme you’ve selected?Will they get it?
5 Stay the course — be consistent throughout the entire lifecycle of the meeting.
SOURCE: Meeting and Event Planning Certificate Program, California State University San Marcos at Temecula