Creative freedom in event design is critical in elevating an event from a party into an experience. But creativity can’t work without top-notch operations and logistics.
I spoke to Jimmy and Brandis of Eight One Events about how a partnership between creative and operations leads to exceptional experiences.
Meet The Eight One Events Team
Eight One Events is a Los Angeles based team of event experts. The team of Jimmy Surace, Brandis Protenic, and Liz Smith produce events globally, including exclusive corporate galas, product launches, brand activations, social events, destination incentive trips & global conventions for Fortune 500 companies.
“We want to have a good time,” Brandis told me. “That’s our mantra. We want to have these moments of fulfillment and enjoyment in events that we’ve always had, but also with people we enjoy having them with.”
I asked Jimmy who Eight One’s customers are. He described them as forward-thinking. “If you lined up all our customers, you wouldn’t pinpoint physically what that person is. But they’re all people that I would say have a good time, trust us, and want to be a little edgier than the typical.”
Brandis agreed. “We gravitate,” she said, “towards the more trusting clientele that aren’t afraid of the out of the box idea every once in a while.”
“Yeah, creative freedom,” Jimmy added. “We have to find a way that still stays true to Eight One when we work with clients, and I think that that’s just a personal touch, having fun and customizing it. It’s not going to be your typical boilerplate event. It’s going to be something personal for each client. But yeah, we have clients from all over the spectrum.”
Getting Clients To Give You Creative Freedom In Event Design
Creative freedom in event design begins with the client relationship. I asked Brandis and Jimmy to elaborate on how they set expectations with clients and get the go-ahead for their bold event design.
Brandis told me, “it’s engaging in conversation and establishing a relationship.”
The Eight One Events team takes the time to discover who the clients are as individuals, as a company, and who the attendees are. If possible, they meet in person, but at the very least, there’s a video conference. Brandis makes the point that Jimmy, as a creative director, needs to feel out the energy and vibe. He needs to understand the creative parameters and, as Brandis says, “and you don’t get that from a piece of paper or an RFP. You can’t get that without engaging with them.”
Jimmy explained that “since we are a smaller company, we wanted to make sure that our clients have direct access to the creative director. In previous companies that we worked at, clients never did. It was a telephone call. The salesperson would take the notes, give it to the account manager, then give it to the creative director. There was no relationship with the creative director and the client, or the VP of Operations and the client. It was always shielded by account managers.”
“I try to be on all the first calls,” Jimmy said. “I want to hear the way they say something. Because how a salesperson’s going to type a call note is different to how I’d interpret it on the phone. I want to hear the emotion behind what they’re describing.”
Ease Into The Creative Concepts Incrementally
Jimmy explains that creative freedom is about gaining the client’s trust. But even then, you still need to proceed at a reasonable pace with clients.
“You don’t want to throw a wild card at them right away,” Jimmy said. “You want to give them a few designs with a custom element and then maybe the wild card.”
“And it’s all about how you sell it. If you sell it with conviction and passion. If clients trust you enough, they’ll believe you when you say that this is the best option.”
Logistics, Operation and Creative Freedom In Event Design Processes
Operations and creativity are a partnership, not dueling departments in the event world. And I wanted to dive deeper into how Eight One Events gets it so right. To kick this part of the discussion off, I asked Jimmy and Brandis to share common mistakes.
“I think that people get wrong that it’s just a handoff,” Jimmy said. “That Operations doesn’t need to be in the creative process. It’s essential when I’m designing that I’m not going to develop a look that won’t fit into a space.”
“There have been incidents at previous companies where we built a 20-foot bar, and it did not fit down the hallway. They had to saw it in half. But that’s because Operations wasn’t involved in the Creative. The misconception is that these are two completely different departments and do not have to work hand in hand.”
But Brandis and Jimmy each have experience in both Creative and Operations. “We know the importance of them working side by side.”
Operations Should Come Before Setting Client Expectations
Jimmy explained the importance of tempering the creative spirit with Operations before setting unrealistic expectations with the client. He relies on Brandis’ expertise to stay on track with logistics and budget.
Otherwise, Jimmy explained, “you’re going to give your client false expectations and false hopes by showing them this grand design can’t happen. That’s when the clients get disappointed, and expectations aren’t met, and then you look like those who promise the world and deliver a city block.”
Brandis agreed. “I think the biggest mistake is most treating them as two separate departments.”
But it’s not only about creative being checked by Operations. Operations need to keep their finger on the pulse of the event industry too. “I may not be the most creative person on the block,” Brandis said. “But I know every new linen launch, and every floral trend out there because it helps me communicate better with Jimmy. I think it’s essential to always cross-train. There has to be a synergy, or you just won’t be successful.
And Jimmy makes the point that Creative needs to review the operational assumptions too. Occasionally people interpret concepts differently, so Creative and Operations need to collaborate on an ongoing basis for each event. It takes both to execute a breathtaking event.
Operations And Creative Are Yin And Yang
Creative freedom in event design is supported by Operations. And there’s a process that works for Jimmy and Brandis over at Eight One Events.
“In the beginning,” Jimmy said, “I don’t think of the constraints. I’m not thinking specifically of the venue or the space – I’m designing on a larger scale. That’s the first round. However, after that, Brandis and I have a conversation. We go through the designs, and she will then tell me, ‘That’s not going to work. This is too big. That’s not going to fit in the budget.'”
“And then we fight and battle and don’t talk for a couple of days, but then we come back to a harmony. It’s just much easier if it’s caught before the client falls in love with something because once the client falls in love with something and you say, ‘I can’t do that,’ you lost their trust. That’s how we do that synergy moment.”
Brandis calls herself the cynic in the room. “I’m always the one saying that may not be able to happen, but here’s a solution that could work.”
But Brandis goes on to say, “There’s an element of trust there. I know that he’s trained, and I know that he’s not going to go too far off the spectrum. I’m lucky that I can be a little looser. But I’m still going to be the one going, ‘Wait, let me look at it. Let me get the diagrams. Let me get a CAD and see what we’re looking at in terms of my timeline.”
“Yeah, and there will be a battle,” Jimmy says. “And then there’s a compromise because Brandis will say no to everything, and I will say yes to everything. But then you get to a magical moment where they blend in harmony.”
“Yeah, and it’s important to have a yin to a yang. It’s important to find people that balance you because if you’re all right-brained, you’re going to have very non-operational events. You’re all left-brained, you’re going to have the logistic, boring party in the world.”
“Find the balance,” Jimmy says.
Creative Freedom In Event Design Comes From Trust
Ultimately, creative freedom in event design happens when the client trusts the creative director. And the creative director trusts Operations. It takes a long time to build that level of trust. Luckily the folks over at Eight One Events have been creating extraordinary experiences together for a long time. They have that trust, and it’s something we’re inspired by as we build event planning software for amazing teams like Eight One Events.