The economy hasn't affected special events in the direct-selling industry. Just ask Herbalife's Margaret Launzel-Pennes.

The downturn in the economy hasn't made a dent in the event schedule at Herbalife, the Los Angeles–based global nutrition and direct-selling company. Margaret Launzel-Pennes, vice president of worldwide events, distributor communications, and video production, is busier than ever, overseeing international events for as many as 100,000 independent distributors in a dozen different countries each year.

Lisa Hurley, the Pacific Palisades, Calif.–based editor of our sister magazine Special Events, stole some time with her when Launzel-Pennes was in town.

LISA HURLEY: How do your special events help the company prosper?
MARGARET LAUNZEL-PENNES: Herbalife events drive sales, recognize achievement, provide inspiration, and forge a strong connection between distributors and the corporate entity. Our distributors' experiences at special events create the stories they will tell to customers and new distributor prospects they are hoping to recruit—"I just got back from XYZ, and you can't imagine the amazing event I attended!" It helps them paint the picture of what a special company we are and how happy that person would be to either use or sell our products. We are a company of stories.

HURLEY: What are hallmarks of an Herbalife special event?
LAUNZEL-PENNES: We find the most unusual venues in the myriad of international cities where we host events, then develop our own "creative white paper," if you will. We [come up with] the theme and bring it to life through decor, entertainment, and a variety of other ways.

Some of our special events attract upwards of 15,000 people, and it's nearly impossible to create one event that will cater to the variety of tastes and interests of a diverse group. So we execute the theme on a variety of levels, giving everyone an opportunity to enjoy. I personally walk through every event with my event managers and supplier partners and ask "What if…?" so that no matter where our distributors look or what they see or hear, they are continually surprised and amazed by their experience. You won't experience our special events anywhere else—ever. We guarantee it.

HURLEY: Is the economy changing how you create and produce events?
LAUNZEL-PENNES: One of the unique things about the Herbalife events team is our extraordinary breadth of experience. There isn't a single type of event that I or someone on my team hasn't produced. We are very strategic about how we work in terms of pricing, margins, and markup. I ran a destination management group for four years, so I know what to look for. We know how costs can escalate out of control when numbers of attendees increase or things get added on, and we are very stringent about meeting and beating our numbers without ever compromising the distributor experience.

HURLEY: How do you produce events worldwide?
LAUNZEL-PENNES: Our "Extravaganzas" attract upwards of 18,000 people in some regions, so to a degree, where we host events is largely predicated upon the size of the main venue. A core part of my team comes out of the concert industry—producing tours for artists as diverse as Prince and the Irish Tenors—so they know the cities that have the venues of the size we need. Once we have selected a city, which is a long and arduous process where we try to gain as much convention and visitor support as possible and also distributor leadership buy-in, then we begin to drill in. We have key individuals in Europe, the Middle East & Africa, as well as Asia and Latin America, who work closely with us to identify venues, caterers, decor companies, entertainment, and so on.

A key factor in our ability to create a consistent experience from region to region and to maximize our overall spend is the fact that we are really good at streamlining the process. We have one theme, create one RFP—which is translated into multiple languages depending on the cities we are selecting—create a comparison grid that compares qualitative and quantitative factors, and then assign teams that comprise our worldwide events group members, our corporate regional team members, and our distributor leadership to analyze, recommend, and select the various elements.

We do a series of site visits attended by key internal and external team members, ranging from a technical overview of the main venue to a tasting. In other words, we stay very, very close to the process at all times.

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