Themes and Business Insights from engage!14 #engage14

Monday, June 09, 2014

Photo of Rebecca Grinnals and Katrhyn Arce by Laura Dee Photography

engage!14 was this past week at the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek, Colorado. I've been fortunate to have been a part of this semi-annual event since its first in June 2008, and I can easily say this one was the best yet. Co-founders Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Arce have redefined what a business conference can be and continue to raise the bar with each event.

Every year an unofficial theme emerges at engage!, which serves as a touchstone to where the luxury wedding industry is really at (previous theme recaps: engage!13 The Biltmore, engage!11 Grand Del Mar, engage!12 The Breakers, engage!10 Grand Cayman). This year, three themes that came up over and over again in the different presentations were owning your expertise, performing with excellence and doing so from a place of joy.

Photo by John Cain Sargent

I spoke during Sunday's opening sessions about the neuroscience behind millennials as employees and how they approach and relate to work. It's a key issue that's largely been overlooked as wedding professionals have been recovering and refocusing post-recession as well as trying to figure out sales and marketing in a world now dominated by social media and ecommerce. The wedding industry is one of the few industries where well-paid women are the rule rather than the exception, and millennials (the generation born between 1979 and 2000) are eager to work hard and with excellence as well as learn from the people who have gone before them. In order to do that they need Gen Xers and Boomers who are willing to show up and lead from a place of inclusion rather than complain about the "new kids."

In six years millennials will make up more than half of the workforce worldwide and in the next three to five years we'll start having employees who don't remember a pre-September 11th world. Growing a business in the coming years will require a depth of understanding of this generation both as clients and as team members. Resorting to lazy stereotypes will only lead to a mediocre business. (A side note: for those of you asking if a copy of my talk is available as a recording, the answer is no. This particular presentation was developed exclusively for engage! and the people who made the commitment to attend.)

Photo of Carley Roney by Sofia Negron

Carley Roney, co-founder of XO Group and its family of brands including The Knot, The Nest and The Bump, spoke about building a multi-million dollar business from the ground up based on brand and core values. She talked about the fact that while styles and ideas evolve, everything comes back to the values that make up the foundation of who you are. She also spoke about the importance of sticking to those values even when it comes at a very real and literal cost, such as the threat of losing major investment dollars because of her commitment to gay marriage and equal rights.

Photo of Debbie Geller by John Cain Sargent

Debbie Geller, of Geller Events and one of the top three event planners in the world, spoke on the topic of success and building trust through experience. Key quote on owning your expertise: "Clients have a hard time believing you'll look out for their interests if you won't look out for your own."

Photo of Mariam Naficy by Tammy Swales

Mariam Naficy, founder of Minted (and who also previously founded and successfully sold, spoke about not trying to do it all and the importance of leaving what you truly love on your plate and delegating the rest.

Photo of Cindy Novotny by John Cain Sargent

Cindy Novotny, widely regarded as one of the best sales trainers in the world, spoke on the era of being an expert and on being open to being mentored (and open to being a mentor) in order to realize your full potential and build a better business.

photo of Todd Fiscus by John Cain Sargent

Todd Fiscus, of Todd Events, spoke about building a lucrative business but realizing that he wasn't managing his team, clients or projects from a place of joy but rather from a place of fear.

Photo of Colin Cowie by Tammy Swales

Colin Cowie talked about how excellence includes how you treat your staff and mentioned that he provides professional hair and makeup for his female team members before every event. This boosts employee morale and raises the perception of excellence at his events. You can't build a brand predicated on style and glamour if your team looks worn out from producing an event.

Photo of Bryan Rafanelli by Sofia Negron

Bryan Rafanelli, of Rafanelli Events, spoke about the "something extra" that goes into creating and running a business with excellence and his belief that no matter how successful they've been up to now, he still doesn't believe they've arrived yet and is always pushing for more. He also spoke about the relationships necessary to make all of that happen and that if you're not focused on nurturing those relationships, the rest doesn't really matter.

Photo of Kfir Gavrieli by John Cain Sargent

Kfir Gavrieli, co-founder of Tieks, spoke about unrelentless focus and perfecting the basics as the foundation of success.

Photo of Meredith Kurosko of Regas Studio and Xochitl Gonzalez by Carla Ten Eyck

Xochitl Gonzalez, of AaB Creates and Art, for Cocktails, talked about finally reaching a point in her career that she and her business partner, Mayra Castillo, had always dreamed of and yet they both found themselves completely miserable. She spoke about learning to manage client relationships and expectations so that staying in business was sustainable from a soul level and not just a financial level.

Photo of Jes Gordon by John Cain Sargent

Jes Gordon, of JesGORDON/ProperFUN, spoke about having two speeds: all in or completely uninterested, and that embracing who she is rather than who others may expect her to be helped her create a business that she loves going to every day. The entire room hung on her every dirty word.

Photo of Jill Meister by Sofia Negron

Jill Meister, a national television news producer, spoke about owning your expertise in a way that sets you apart when it comes to press as well as the importance of aligning with other experts. She mentioned all the non-expert advice out there about getting on TV (including the trend of starting your own YouTube channel, etc) and that while there are some exceptions, most of it is plain bad advice when it comes to getting high-profile television press.

These are just a few summaries from the speaker line up, but these unofficial themes held throughout the week. This is the sixth year of engage! and this coming November will be the fourteenth event. If you haven't attended before, I'd encourage you to look into it. engage! is attended every year by wedding photographers, retailers, stationers, planners, caterers, venues and so forth. While it's not designed for everyone, if you work in the luxury wedding space, it's worth the investment.

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