Over the past couple of years, Jeff Rogers, president of communications agency ZAP Creative in Chicago, noticed that many of his big-budget corporate clients were pulling him aside and saying the same thing. It always began with, “Hey, we’ve got this other meeting…” That “other” meeting didn’t have a large budget, they’d say, but they wanted to make it special. It was low budget but they didn’t want it to appear low value.
“We found there is an underserved niche—the sub-$100,000 meetings, with 100 to 300 people, which represent 80 percent of meetings across the country,” says Rogers. “They aren’t at the dollar amount where they can hire a whole production company. But these meetings need to be more engaging, more focused, and better aligned with the company’s overall strategic message.”
To serve this niche, Rogers launched The Meeting Department, an extension of ZAP Creative that offers pre-themed production packages that provide a framework for a basic business meeting. The new company also offers a la carte production services—everything from an emcee to a speech coach to a graphic designer.
At the most basic level are the Meetings Express packages, available with thematic outlines such as “Game Day,” which has an ESPN-style sports-desk feel and is designed to motivate a sales force to compete. Other themes include “Content Tonight,” with the look and feel of an entertainment magazine program, designed for product launches and marketing meetings; “The Morning Show,” a conversational format that works well for mid-year updates or webcasts; “The Big Idea,” an interview format designed to spark creativity and innovation; and several others.
Each package includes a plug-and-play opening video (two of which won 2011 Telly Awards in the non-broadcast video category); PowerPoint templates that echo the theme; music for walk-in, walk-up, awards, segues, and walk-out; a planner guide with a site-inspection checklist, Web site checklist, and minute-by-minute show-flow template; and even e-mail templates for pre- and post-event communication, including save-the-date notes, registration reminders, and event surveys.
“You can customize everything,” Rogers explains. “Videos are delivered in high-res, so if you have an in-house editor you can edit it, add to it, whatever.” And if you don’t, you can use it as is. Or, you can hire an editor from The Meeting Department on an hourly basis.
“We offer many services that are a la carte, based on hourly fees and equipment use,” Rogers says, including creative consultation, stage design, Web site design, and event management. “We can put a group together, and what’s nice is you don’t have to pay for what you’re not using. With a production company, you’ve got the whole team so you might be paying for personnel you don’t need. I have total respect for the production company model, but I really believe that there are many clients who aren’t able to partner with them” because their spending doesn’t reach a high enough level.
“We are moving toward democratized versions of vertical industries,” says Rogers, citing Pandora for music/radio and Mint.com in the financial planning sphere. “But there hasn’t been that approach in event production.” Now, companies can buy the pieces and put them together themselves. And the creative heavy-lifting is already done—a huge savings in time, effort, and, probably, committee-work. Rogers also points out that the modules offer planners the ability to make meetings globally cohesive. “Clients want to better leverage their meeting spend, and they need something they can use on a regular basis, a global basis, so they can cascade the same content companywide,” he says.
The Meeting Department’s next-level offering is Meetings Select, which might be appropriate for a planner with less experience, or one who has an understaffed department and needs an event producer to pull everything together. At the top end is Meetings Premier. “That is our standalone concierge-level service, a more typical event-production partnering,” Rogers explains. “Our goal is to help out with the lower end, but where we come from is the higher end.”
The Meetings Express packages are $5,000, while the Meetings Select and Meetings Premier services have variable pricing. “We’ve found that there are three levels of meetings in terms of production,” Rogers says. “It starts at $5,000, then moves to $25,000, then you jump to the higher-end meeting.”