“PARA DONDE VAS?!?!?”
It was one of those moments straight out of movie when the music stops, the guests freeze, and then they all turn as one to stare at the perpetrator of the disturbance.
In this case, it was me. And I don’t even speak Spanish.
My company had been asked to plan an annual non-profit gala dinner for a group of 200 professionals. With the current economic climate and associated declining morale, the client didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to celebrate everyone’s achievements, but had scaled the budget back so much that this non-profit event was nicknamed the “non-budget” event. Needless to say, there were hesitations even in the proposal stage.
The organization, consisting of Hispanic real estate agents, was looking to do an ethnic theme, meaning exotic décor options from a Caribbean marketplace, to a cigar roller to flamenco dancers. Music was a priority to the group and despite the cost savings a DJ could offer, the client was set on having a band.
New to working with an event planning company, the gala chairmen wanted to maintain more control and insisted on utilizing vendors that had been contracted years prior, despite our advice to re-evaluate. In particular, the board was adamant about hiring an unusually affordable 10-piece band that had received mixed reviews and had a history of communication issues. Despite our objections, the client went through with the contract and sent the band a deposit.
Given that the band avoided a majority of our pre-event phone calls and e-mail communication, the day of the event, we received a pleasant surprise: They were at the venue, set up and sound-checked according to the production schedule. Upon completion, the band told us they would be right back. It would be smooth sailing from there, I thought.
The event began as planned. Once the cocktail hour ended, the band was scheduled to kick off the entrance into the dinner reception. We walked into the ballroom prior to the guests, only to find that the band had completely disappeared from the venue! All we had for entertainment were a couple of instruments and two event planners with no musical talent.
Fortunately, because of our original apprehensions, a DJ had been hired as a backup. Since the venue was older, however, it wasn’t built for a quick turnaround of a multi-room production. The DJ had to relocate from the lobby-level cocktail reception area up one service elevator used for six separate events to the 20th floor — while moving the equipment through another event’s reception. Needless to say, the process wasn’t simple. Even though we were rushing, the relocation took over 25 minutes — an eternity of silence with the missing band. To our surprise, the band finally reappeared 45 minutes later, telling us they had gone off-property to eat because they were hungry and could not find a morsel of food in the entire banquet hall.
Opting not to upset the client any further and risk the band becoming disgruntled, I asked the performers to get onstage and start performing immediately. They completed their first two sets smoothly enough. Before the third, however, the band leader asked a random guest on the dance floor if they could leave at 11 p.m. The guest responded “yes,” not realizing the implications of that one simple word, with the event ending at midnight and the option to extend overtime.
Before my very eyes at one minute past 11, the band packed up in the middle of the event and started to take off faster than a tornado! We watched in shock as brass horns were put away, drumsticks flew in the air and guitars were stuffed in bags. I turned to my event manager and saw her trying to stop 10 band members from rushing the exit door.
Meanwhile, the band, not acknowledging any English conversation or seeming to care that they were breaching their contract and leaving the DJ to begin playing in panic for a second time, pulled an electrical wire and shorted the DJ’s speaker and we lost the sound. It was in the ensuing chaos that I finally yelled out, “PARA DONDE VAS!?!?!”—“Where are you going!?!?!”
Their response, now in English: “We were told it was OK to leave, so we are.”
What a mess! Knowing enough about audio equipment, I was able to help the DJ fix the short and he started playing to the edgy crowd eager to dance and close out the night of celebration.
Despite the fact that this vendor was a referral from the client, it was still our responsibility to ensure the event’s success. We tried to mitigate the endless pre- and onsite planning damages by having continuous music with the DJ and reassuring the client’s stress level by staying calm and finding solutions to the mishaps as best possible. We also had to deal with endless comments from the committee members to which we realized going forward would insist on ONE point of contact to ensure that all group decisions from the client were made prior to our planning conversations along with enforcing the understanding that we are here to help and not take over the organization. Ideally, this situation was resolved as best as it could be and the client was refunded partial payment for the band’s improper conduct.
Lesson learned: the client instilled the trust to use our preferred vendors and event planning abilities despite budgetary restrictions and understanding how to eliminate relying on “Plan B”.
Guest columnist Christy Bareijsza, a certified meeting professional and meeting manager, is the owner of Jersey City, N.J.-based The Red Carpet Events (theredcarpetevents.com). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org