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Local Event Planner Changes Tactics, Reaps Rewards

When the financial crisis hit, the hum of ringing phones quieted at Extraordinary Events in Sherman Oaks. So instead, employees picked up the receiver, began dialing and hit the pavement. “Instead of (clients) calling us, we are trying to be aggressive and go after things that might be mutually beneficial,” said Jon Michaels, co-owner and executive vice president. That tact—along with a slightly improved economy—is paying off. The family-owned event planning company expects to take in between $7 million and $9 million this year compared to $4.45 million in 2010. That’s a big turnaround from a dismal 2009, when the firm said it failed to turn a profit and reported revenue that plummeted more than 75 percent from the year before. In a new twist, Extraordinary Events began managing an event space at Santa Monica Place last month. Working for the mall the firm will seek out events to occur in the space , coordinate catering and show the location to potential clients. While not the de-facto event planner for the space, the firm can make itself available for any potential client that needs one, the company said. Jenna Linnekens, an Extraordinary Events account executive, a Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce board member and a commissioner for the city’s Recreation & Parks Commission, helped secure the Santa Monica Place event space for the Valley-based company. Relationships and strategic partnerships are important, Linnekens said. “That is the only way business is being done now,” she said. Founded in 1988 by Andrea Michaels (Jon’s mother), the event planning company has won more than 30 Gala Awards from Special Events magazine. It employs 17 people in the greater Valley area and has an office in Monterrey, Mexico. “It’s not just about where do you hang a chandelier,” said president and co-owner Andrea Michaels. “It’s really about how you take every element of the event and make it into one cohesive experience.” During most of the 2000s business was busy — and flashy. Corporate clients shelled out top dollars for lavish food, entertainment and venues. Even more intimate moments got top billing, Jon Michaels pointed out. “We have hired Richie Sambora to play a wedding,” he said. But then came the recession and the financial collapse. Many times, Michaels said, corporations trimmed event expenses based not on dollars but looks — unwilling to risk the perception they were partying while most Americans struggled. To adjust its business model, Extraordinary Events has increased its number of contractors, allowing for additional flexibility when the economy fluctuates between lows and highs. Clients began letting the dollars flow again last year, albeit slightly and not in the same way. Corporations are now directing more dollars toward events geared at boosting revenue—such as an event that introduces a new product to their sales team, said Lisa Hurley, editor of Special Events magazine. “The sense that the sky’s the limit for beautiful décor, and long as it’s gorgeous than it’s worth the time and trouble is gone,” Hurley said. Last year, the trade show and event planning industry grew slightly to $12 billion after falling off the previous two years, according to market researcher IBISWorld Inc. This year, the industry is expected to grow 3.7 percent to $12.5 billion as businesses increase their marketing budgets, the researcher said. During the next five years revenue is expected to continue to grow, IBISWorld said in a July report, but the Internet could hamper growth if online events replace in-person meetings. Social networking websites, the report said, will pose a “minimal” threat, because it is likely to supplement rather than replacing networking events. Extraordinary Events is already online. Early this year, the company helped produce an event of the social media-mold for Mini — a car brand owned by BMW Group. Extraordinary Events worked with “life-style influencers — folks who have a high following online” to plan events across the country, said Beth Stephenson, who managed the Mini events for Extraordinary Events. It also chronicled the cross-country events on its blog. Event-goers were encouraged to Tweet to share their experience, leaving much of the buzz-generation with attendees — not media, Mini or Extraordinary Events. “It was a really interesting, new way to do business that two years ago we wouldn’t have thought of,” Jon Michaels said.

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