People of distinction

Profiling some of Canada’s best planners

Hats off to Canada’s top event managers, who orchestrated some major moments in 2010.

Our four planners put in much time and energy making their events shine – now it’s our turn to make them shine.  We tip the spotlight on Joel Hock, whose team brought in millions for corporate charities; on Carole Saad, whose team organized events for world leader spouses around the G8 and G20 summits; on Jonathan Buchwald, whose team achieved victory creating 100 events around the Olympics; and on Cyndy Jewett, whose team won two meetings excellence awards.

Joel Hock, Canadian Event Industry’s 2010 Event Professional of the YearJoel Hock, Canadian Event Industry’s 2010 Event Professional of the Year

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is as beneficent as he is biting.

The British TV personality, known for his abrasiveness and cuss-filled commands in the kitchen, was exceptionally courteous when he was in Toronto for Chef’s Challenge, a gala cook-off to benefit Mount Sinai Hospital, says event manager Joel Hock.

“Gordon Ramsay is one of the best celebs I have ever been associated with,” says Hock, whose event management firm Solutions with Impact (SWI) brought to life the November culinary spectacle, which put local fundraisers on teams cooking under five of the country’s best chefs, raising $1.1 million for breast and ovarian cancer.

“He was spectacular, witty, engaged and a gentleman at the same time. What you see on TV is the real him,” he said. “He uses the swear words in his private and public life equally sufficient. But he has a big heart and at the end of the day he wants to make a difference.”

Taking photos, mingling until 2 a.m. and even chatting up a few participants’ grandmothers on the phone, Ramsay demonstrated the utmost generosity with his time and was a contributing factor to the overall feeling of an event well done.

It’s unique and successful events like these that has earned Hock, award-winning founder and president of Toronto-based SWI, recognition among the industry’s finest. He was awarded 2010 Event Professional of the Year by the Canadian Event Industry, which recognizes outstanding achievements in special events, meeting management, conference planning and exhibition management. SWI, which prides itself on “breakthrough concepts” in “uncharted territory,” has taken home awards in several categories over the years.

“For corporate events, it’s all about trying to overachieve in the objectives you were given so the client feels they got value and will hire you back the following year,” Hock said. “On the charity side we do the creative (right through) to providing a fundraising mechanism – raffle, live auction, ticket sales. We try to deliver the highest possible ROI (return on investment) for the foundation, because at the end of the day that money will be used to benefit a number of people.”

SWI is a fully integrated event management, promotional marketing and public relations agency that represents leading corporations and charities for event management, event design and production, celebrity marketing, communications and public relations, promotional marketing and graphic design and print production. SWI has conceptualized events for such clients as Tourism Toronto, Parmalat, Make-A-Wish, MasterCard and Second Cup.

For the last decade, with a staff of 15 in Toronto and four in American cities, Hock has been driving numerous successful and unique corporate and charitable events, including the Scotiabank Pro-Am Hockey Tournament, which drafts former NHL pros to play on each of the 60 fundraising teams. SWI also created such star-studded events as North York General Human Race and the Bell Celebrity Gala, the latter of which has become the largest star-studded event in Canada for seven years running.

The two-day Car Rally for Kids with Cancer, held during the Toronto International Film Festival and also in Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago, joins celebrity navigators with luxury-car owners for a city-wide scavenger hunt. Drivers must raise $25,000 to enter, and the Toronto event, complete with accompanying parties and meal events, raised about $2.5 million in 2010 for the Hospital for Sick Children’s cancer fund, totaling $6 million in all four cities to date.

Hock is dialed in to the celebrity circuit. He believes the general public’s hunger for celebs is “staggering,” and featuring a celebrity component acts as leverage for planners to differentiate events. Over the years he has fostered many relationships with movie, TV and sports stars, including Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria and silver screen’s Goldie Hawn, who have both chaired Hock’s events.

“Eva is very philanthropic – (at her first Car Rally in 2009) she said, ‘You guys put the fun back in fundraising,’” said Hock. “Once you have Eva on board and she introduces us to all her friends, you continue to leverage (celeb power).”

With SWI’s charity events usually hitting seven figures, it’s no wonder those at SWI feel like a million bucks – especially when children are the benefactors.

“We’re very close to and interact with the kids fighting for their lives … when you see what you’ve done and what a difference it makes to the kids, you feel pretty awesome,” Hock said.

Hock said his entrance into the event planning business happened by accident, as he had never before thought of the events business as an opportunity. When SWI approached Bell to do promotional marketing, Bell said it had an event to put on and asked if SWI wanted to do it.

“We hadn’t even done a Bar Mitzvah,” laughed Hock. “But we decided to compete with other agencies to win the project, which we did and we ended up turning it into the largest corporate charity event in the country.”

SWI found its place in the large-scale event world, creating the now sixth annual Book Lover’s Ball for Toronto Public Library, Michael “Pinball” Clemons Foundation Gala, the Ontario Science Centre’s Innovators Ball and the national Baycrest Pro-Am Hockey Invitational.

Hock says the ticket to being a successful event planner is passion and creativity.

“You wouldn’t be in the events business if you weren’t passionate,” he said. “At SWI, we think creatively first and then fiscally, (which) brings us back to reality. We try to push the envelope on every occasion. How to make it bigger, how to make it better, how to be more interesting – those are the different challenges.

“Meeting all the celebs isn’t so bad … my three boys haven’t found that an issue.”

Carole Saad, CMP, special programs for the G8 & G20

Carole Saad, CMP, special programs for the G8 & G20

Saad with the Canadian Tenors, at the G20 Summit’s Welcome and Dessert Reception

Not many people can say that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi complimented them on their shoes.

Carole Saad can.

While receiving a nice compliment from a head of state might provide a little rush, nothing can compare to the feeling the Ottawa meeting planner experienced when she peeked into the welcome reception she had organized for June’s G20 Summit in Toronto and saw 32 world leaders together under one roof.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, all the world leaders are in this room at this moment, how freaky is that?” she marveled. “All that power in one room at that moment.”

After 12 years in the business and a busy and successful 2010 with her meeting and events company Chic & Swell, Saad got a call that would elevate her client portfolio and endear her to her open-toed, cream and black patent-leather shoes forever.

Would she head up the spousal program and cultural events for both Ontario-hosted G8 and G20 summits?

That would be an unequivocal yes.

Saad was handed the task of taking care of all special events for the spouses of the world leaders during the summits, which took place almost simultaneously in Muskoka, Ont., and Toronto in June. The opportunity presented itself via a link from Meeting Professionals International (MPI), where she serves as president of the Ottawa chapter.

Saad was part of a team of 12 overseeing official events, working with two others on spousal events. During the G8, the spouses, who were unable to go to Muskoka due to security and lack of space, experienced Taste of Muskoka, an event Saad organized at the Fairmont Royal York, where the majority of spousal events took place. Saad also organized a concert by Canadian country singer Beverley Mahhood for the world leaders in Huntsville, a G20 welcome reception, a dessert reception for leaders and spouses with a performance by the Canadian Tenors, and a brunch for G20 spouses at the top of the CN Tower, hosted by the Prime Minister’s wife, Laureen Harper, who invited 12 Canadian women of distinction.

For Saad – whose corporate clients include Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Delta Hotels, Travel Alberta and Deloitte – had previously worked on a high-profile event for His Highness the Aga Khan in Ottawa, nothing could prepare her for the experience of working on a project of such magnitude.

“Organizing an event for one world leader is one thing but when you are organizing an event for 32 world leaders …” she said. “I didn’t know the scale of what I was getting myself into. Unless you’ve worked on a G20 summit before, it’s very difficult to grasp the notion of how big this is.”

Saad said she was responsible for a small but important portion of the summit, and it was an honour to represent Mrs. Harper, who hosted the majority of the spousal events.

“We were part of such a big team. It’s like this big, big machine so it’s not like it’s resting on your shoulders alone. It’s not as scary as it sounds,” said Saad, who is also a part-time professor in the Events Management Program at Algonquin College and also teaches Event & Meeting Management for government agencies and the private sector in both English and French.

Working on the G8 and G20 was not only an uplifting experience, but an uprooting one, as Saad was one of 250 staff who left home for three months and moved to Toronto.

“It was like we were back in university – lots of friendships were formed,” said Saad, of the collective group who lived in hotel suites, herself at the Residences of Marriott. “We spent a lot of time with the people we worked with and formed lifelong friendships.”

Working on this project, she said, was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“It was an absolute great honour, there’s no question about it. When I’m part of the team that represents Canada, and we’re receiving the world into one of our cities … it is very humbling,” she said.  “Canada received the world with grace and elegance and they did a fantastic job. The summits were a huge success. And it was the first time the summits were hosted back to back … kudos to Canada for pulling off back-to-back summits.

“As a planner I can’t compare anything else to that,” she said. “It was a very unique experience.”

A collection of Saad’s personal thoughts while greeting the world leaders as they came into the welcome reception at the Fairmont Royal York:

  • Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was flamboyant and funny.
  • French President Nicolas Sarkozy was charismatic, with intensely direct eye contact and a firm handshake
  • Michele Obama and Laureen Harper walked together into the room in front of their husbands
  • Laureen Harper introduced Saad to Michele Obama as her friend, saying she was responsible for the attractive decor
  • Michele Obama was beautiful and tall, with a warm smile and a lovely presence
  • Barack Obama walked into the welcome reception without his security guards surrounding him.  ‘I am never going to be that close again to the President of the United States,” she said. “That was one of those (amazing) moments.”

Jonathan Buchwald, President and CEO, Pr1me, directed more than 100 events around the OlympicsJonathan Buchwald, President and CEO, Pr1me, directed more than 100 events around the Olympics

Vancouver’s Winter Olympics was prime time not just for Canadian athletes, but for companies involved in Games-related activities.

The year 2010 was big business for Vancouver-based meetings and events company Pr1me, which ran a significant amount of corporate business during the Games. Pr1me put together more than 100 events in total, carrying out a year’s worth of business in the month of February alone, said President and CEO Jonathan Buchwald.

Pr1me, which is approaching 20 years as a full-service meeting, incentive and event management company, works with clients across North America primarily in the health care and financial telecommunications sectors, including a large number of Fortune 500 companies and high-profile government agencies. In a typical year Pr1me runs 60 to 80 programs.

The tricky part about taking on a massive amount of new business is what to do about existing business. Pr1me secured Olympics-related event contracts for Air Canada, the Government of Canada, GFS Foods, and numerous Russian campaigns, including Bosco Sport, the outfitters for Russia’s Olympic Team. With the Olympics a one-off event, Buchwald was faced with the decision of whether or not to bump their loyal clientele to make room on their roster.

Buchwald knew planning for the biggest winter event in the world would consume about a year’s worth of effort and energy. After some deliberation he decided it was imperative for Pr1me to keep its core clients happy and uphold business as usual. Instead of ceasing non-Olympics-related contracts, he expanded Pr1me by 10 people a year prior, increasing to 25 two to three months out, and reaching more than 100 staff on the grounds during the Games themselves.

“For Pr1me this was an opportunity for us to grow. We strategically chose to ensure all those clients who were loyal to us continued to remain supported,” said Buchwald, who started Pr1me in 1991. “It was really important that we didn’t let those people down. We invested in building out a sports services department which was entirely focused on VIP hospitality programs and support for security and infrastructure for the games.”

The Olympics project began in 2003, when Pr1me coordinated the logistics and travel for Vancouver’s Olympic bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Prague.

“That was very exciting back in July 2003 … there was a lot of anticipation and enthusiasm,” he said. “It was a bit awkward as a meeting planner as we had to plan a celebration event whether we won or lost, but we came out on top.

“What ensued over the next six and half years, to build the Games, like any big project it takes a lot of work to get it off the ground. But the resulting impact of the Games … the city the province and the country came together in a way we never had.”

Pr1me built the Acer pavilion in David Lam Park, one of several non-sports attractions in Vancouver and Whistler.

“With (computer manufacturer) Acer being a brand new sponsor, a top IOC sponsor, they were really trying to create a presence at the games without having done so before. Their budget was low in comparison, so the challenge for Pr1me was to create a presence for them in spite of not having a significant budget.”

Pr1me worked with several Russian organizations, coordinating most of the accommodations and transportation detail for security to support a visit by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. With Sochi, Krasnodar Krai, Russia, named as the site of the XX11 Winter Games in 2014, Russia sought to make an impact and create excitement for the next Olympics. Pr1me took over a number of venues, turning them into country houses to act as promotional and Olympics headquarters. It secured the Telus World of Science venue and transformed it into Russia House, located in the heart of the action a block away from Robson Square, hosting gatherings and dinners for the Russian contingent.

He called the planning process for the Games “highly complex.”

“When the IOC comes in, they pretty much take over the city. That includes closing roads and designating a variety of roads for Olympic lanes,” said Buchwald, drawing similarities to the G20 in Toronto, where officials closed a large part of the downtown core. “These major world events take over and change the city and there’s a whole level of support that is required. When you bring in a (massive) group for security that isn’t normally there, where do they stay, how do they get around?”

Pr1me created for the international Young Presidents’ Organization what Buchwald called the “biggest tailgate party of all time.” The YPO hosted members from around the world and had executives from companies such as Coca-Cola, the premier of British Columbia, several medal-winning Olympians and the executive director for the Canadian Freestyle Ski team address the party.

“It was hugely successful, there were 400-plus people, and we did it in advance of the opening ceremonies and got people in the mood and pumped up for the Games,” said Buchwald.

He said Pr1me made the right strategic decision in expanding the company.

“It was rewarding to see that decision be successful and give us an opportunity to get involved in something we would never have been able to do otherwise,” said Buchwald. “We were able to balance the long-term future and legacy of what we are trying to accomplish.”

Cyndy Jewett – Crowne Meetings Director at Crowne Plaza Fredericton Lord BeaverbrookCyndy Jewett – Crowne Meetings Director at Crowne Plaza Fredericton Lord Beaverbrook

Forget food and beverage managers and AV equipment, meeting planner Cyndy Jewett has Mother Nature to contend with.

Jewett, Crowne Meetings Director for the Crowne Plaza Fredericton Lord Beaverbrook, has had to stare down the mighty Saint John River many times while contemplating her event planning. The river, which is adjacent to the hotel, is known to flood in the spring, threatening to jeopardize the events she organizes for her clients. Evacuations are not uncommon, and last year Jewett had to devise a quick Plan B when the river flooded at the start of a four-day conference.

The only Certified Meeting Professional in New Brunswick, Jewett has been honing her management and conference-planning skills for the last 25 years. She has led her team to win two InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) Meetings Service Excellence awards, bestowed on an IHG hotel that has received the highest three-month Meetings Overall Satisfaction score possible for a Crowne Plaza hotel in North America. Jewett and her team received a perfect Meetings Overall Satisfaction score of 100 per cent in each of the winning quarters.

“It’s so great to get the feedback to make you feel like you’re making a difference, and helping out by doing what you do,” Jewett said.

Jewett joined the Crowne Plaza Fredericton Lord Beaverbrook in 1989 and worked her way up the ladder from catering coordinator to banquet manager and then to meetings director.

“I got into the hospitality industry while I was going to university part time and I realized I liked being around people and continued on the path,” said Jewett, who took business administration at the University of New Brunswick.

Jewett has organized thousands of successful corporate meetings and events for her clients, which include the New Brunswick Union, CIAA/CICMA Joint Seminar, Carriage Place Business Centre, McCain, McInness Cooper, xwave and Bell.

As a meeting planner, it is imperative to be able to think fast and act faster.

The Crowne Plaza Fredericton, located on the banks of the majestic St John River, can take advantage of a walking trail, boat docks and lighthouse, all within a few steps from the back door. Each spring however the hotel faces the risk of flooding from the rising river; in 2008, the worst flooding in 35 years closed 50 streets.

The hotel was to host a four-day national conference for the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. On the day in which the delegates were to arrive, the flooding reached critical levels and the hotel was forced to evacuate its guests and shut down for an indefinite amount of time.

As the announcement was made, delegates from coast to coast were en route to the city. Jewett immediately contacted the Delta Hotel, located about 2 kilometres away, and within hours had communicated hundreds of event details, leading to the relocation of the entire conference.

When the first of the delegates, including the two CHFS conference planners, arrived at the hotel, Jewett drove the planners to the Delta where she introduced them to the key personnel on site and facilitated the seamless transition to the new hotel. The conference stayed on track and was a success.

“No event is the same as the last one … that’s what keeps (my job) exciting,” said Jewett. “It’s always different.”

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