My background in advertising and environmental graphics allowed us to brand events back in the late ’90s before that was a trend.

Heidi Hiller

Owner | Creative Director

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Innovative Party Planners is passionate about your total event experience. Our event planners and event designers work together with you to personally oversee the design, coordination, production and set up of your event; combining unique design, handmade decor elements and innovative graphic details with expert event planning. From concept to delivery, our creative style and attention to every detail result in an enjoyable and successful experience. We produce your event décor in our 3,000 square foot warehouse and design studio, located in Baltimore, Maryland. Whether we are designing a Corporate Gala or Celebration, planning your child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah, styling your fabulous Wedding, or preparing an intimate gathering of your family and friends, our team will work with you to keep you on track of deadlines, relieve the stress and generate excitement throughout the process, resulting in an enjoyable and successful event experience for you and your guests.

How long has your company been producing events? What is your main focus?

We began creating event decor back in 1996. Back then, we wouldn’t consider what we were doing ‘producing’ events. We were very focused on creating creative and handmade centerpieces and event decor. My background in advertising and environmental graphics allowed us to brand events back in the late ’90s before that was a trend.

Fast forward 23 years and our main focus is producing one of a kind event experiences with the goal of the event in the forefront and vendor relationships the backbone. We have expanded to offer full-service planning, beginning with the selection of vendors, creating the floor plan and room layout in conjunction with the caterer to facilitate their best advice, designing all the event elements including entertainment, lighting, av, linens, furniture, and special effects. We still handcraft centerpieces and focus on event branding.

What do you enjoy most about your role in corporate event planning?

When we first meet, we dive deep into the goal of the corporate client’s reason for hosting the event. We want to get to know the personality of the company and allow it to come alive at the event. Seeing this unfold is the most enjoyable part of the overall experience; when all the hard work pays off. I really enjoy the relationship we have with our clients, the trust between us and the ability to advance their goal.

I would also love to mention that my biggest passion at this moment is to share my knowledge with newer folks entering our field. I began a bar and bat mitzvah networking group on Facebook with Brynne Magaziner – Mitzvah Pros – that has members from all over the world. We meet in the Baltimore/Washington area several times a year with a focus to keep up on what’s new in our event technology, practices and also to discuss best ways to support each other. It has really helped since this particular facet of event planning doesn’t have a professional association and I believe we need to do that. One day I hope to take this national when I have more time.

How do you keep up with the constant change in the industry?

A lot has changed in 23 years since we began the business. As an artist, I was used to doing so much by hand. I still remember so many of our vendors would mail us handwritten proposals, so there was lots of paper and files were thick. Putting your hands on information was much more difficult.

We were quick to embrace the computer and stay up with the fast pace changes of software and hardware. We joined our local chapter of NACE, went to vendor workshops, attended conferences and stayed involved through networking events to meet and learn from other industry professionals. The world of events was changing quickly at that point and we did our best to keep pace while perfecting our art and craft. At one point about 5 years into our business, we invested in computers and built a network. We began to do more online research and it brought the event world closer and did a lot of the learning by traveling around the internet. We invested in new equipment and followed industry trends. We did our best to remain innovative and ahead of trends.

Meanwhile how we market to our clients changed dramatically. Social media became a way to share our inside story. I was passionate about connecting with our clients through this new way and developed our Facebook, then Twitter, then Pinterest and then Instagram accounts. We found education conversations through these channels, too. We know video is trending and a great way to connect with our clients and focusing more time adding to our YouTube channel.

We are also bringing innovation we see to our events when clients allow. Our non-profit clients are using technology for silent auctions and using social media to advertise their events. So the more we are familiar with all of this, the better we can be as advisers.

Do you have any advice for a company having a hard time choosing a theme? Is a theme necessary?

Focus on the event goal first. If a theme can enhance the goal or the event experience for the guest than certainly pick a theme. Having a theme can allow us to be more creative and suggest entertainment, colors, music, a menu and experiences all focused on the theme. It gives us the opportunity to create a fabulous event experience for their guests. So while it isn’t necessary to have a theme, we like it for creative purposes.

If clients are having a hard time selecting a theme, we explain that their theme can just be a suggestion and be used as a platform to make decisions. So perhaps the season the event is held in becomes the theme and platform we use to make choices. In spring the color palette is different than in the fall and that alone can give us something to use to make design decisions.

Another option for clients having a hard time settling on a theme is to suggest the company or non-profit cause be the focus. So if they raise funds for children, then focus on the children and the mission statement. Or perhaps use their corporate colors as the focus. Whatever is the final focus, it is important to string that through all event elements.

What are some ways to personalize a corporate event?

Share the story of the brand. Allow guests to get behind the scene and understand the why. Allow the guests to come away with a new understanding of the company or non-profit. Let clients share their experiences, allow clients to become part of the story.

An example of this is to allow several clients who have been deeply touched by the work of the organization to be featured in either a video that is created for the event or to actually be speakers at your event. Focus on the result of the work and share how the company is effecting change.

Brand everything with the corporate event logo. Give the guests a party favor with the event logo.

Have you used Gamification in your events? If yes, how was it received?

We always suggest silent auctions make use of bidding software. Guests interact with the auction on their personal cell phones and are made aware when they are outbid. This makes it really easy to up the bid. People are used to using their phones to play games on them and the act of outbidding becomes a game. You can also send out messages through the platform to communicate about experiences going on during the event, upcoming events your organization is holding beyond that night and more. Create uses that turn the app into more of a game are very well received.

Sustainability is a current movement that can be challenging for large events. What is your approach?

I sit on the board of a local retreat center that has sustainability at the forefront. Through my time spent on the board, I have learned to incorporate many of the practices they use into the events we plan.

We currently recycle and re-purpose as much as we can. We own a huge inventory of tabletop props which we rent and that means we don’t buy new things for each event. With our talented team, we can change the prop by adding decals or personalizing it to the event, but in the end, it is stripped of the identity and re-shelved to be reused for the next event.

We are also concerned about the waste of candle wax. Romantic candlelight is a huge event trend. Tall pillar candles get lit for a wedding and then are considered spent. To keep wax out of the landfills, we have been collecting previously lit candles from local vendors, storing them and re-purposing them at events. We offer the previously lit candles to our non-profits at a greatly reduced and often at no cost. We relight the votive candles and use them until the wax is burned off and then fill with a new candle.

We are also partners with a local company called Revased. They collect flowers from events and make new arrangements from them, offering them at a discounted price in a subscription program or they get donated to local charities to beautify nursing homes and senior centers and other non-profit facilities.

For clients that want to use disposable products, we encourage eco-friendly products that easily compost. We also encourage recycling and reducing waste as much as possible. We work with eco-conscious caterers and vendors who also are focused on reducing our carbon footprint. We encourage clients to use rental linens and rental products whenever possible.

How do you measure the success of an event?

An event is successful if we have achieved the goals set out at the onset. At the beginning of the event process, we go over these goals. They remain our focus as we plan the event details, decor and event experience.

For corporate and non-profit events, goals have included sustaining attendees from year to year, gaining additional corporate sponsors, reaching a new audience to attend, create and expand awareness about the organization, raising a specific amount of funds, getting the public to notice the event and PR it after to promote further awareness.

For social events the goals have included creating a memorable event experience, making the guest of honor feel special, keeping within a specific budget, getting guests to mingle beyond the people they knew when they arrived, have guests leave with a sense of wanting more, allowing the host to be a guest at the event, surprised the guest of honor and touched them with a personal and meaningful event.

There are so many ways to measure the event’s success. When the client returns or is referred to us and asks us to create another event, we know we created a successful event. Now the new goal is to go beyond the first event.

Heidi Hiller
Author: Heidi Hiller

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