How The Disney Event Group Turns Wild Ideas Into Reality

By Erin Caslavka Deinzer, May 28, 2013

When you think of Disney World, what comes to mind? Children. Play. Imagination. Maybe a combination of all three. So how can a place built for kids turn into the best place for a meeting for adults?

Your answer: The Disney Event Group, an on-site creative, development and planning team for meeting planners. Armed with a substantial costume closet and settings such as Disney World, the DEG brings ideas to life. If you can imagine it, DEG can create it. “We do it all,” says Rick Barranco, entertainment producer at DEG. “We come up with creative ideas, produce the event, [and] handle the planning and logistics. When a convention comes into town, all of the planning for an event can be done by us.”

An event can take place in Cinderella’s Castle, a three-dimensional set that features the castle rendered in miniature. Or maybe you want a library set that includes a background of bookcases and a podium that rests atop stacks of handcrafted books. Red-carpet entrances, pirate ships and underwater scenes are all possible with the help of a DEG team.

Barranco joined Dawn West, senior marketing manager for Transitions Optical, to talk with Collaborate about their experiences working together to create events for Transitions Optical. Here’s their conversation.

What do you both do?
Rick Barranco: As an event producer with DEG, I act as the point person, but I have a whole team behind me. I help implement all that the client is looking for, which can be something as simple as hiring a piano player for a luncheon to a star-studded event.

Dawn West: I work as a senior marketing manager for a manufacturer of photochromic lenses.

What does The Disney Event Group provide clients?
RB: At Epcot alone, we hold about 3,000 events per year. Because we do thousands of events across all of the parks at the Walt Disney World Resort, we have a core team on-site that can do flowers, photography, entertainment, etc.

DW: Because this is the eighth year we’ve worked with DEG, they know our business extremely well, and they know our attendees, who fly in from all over North America, Latin America and Brazil. We use this event as a platform to launch something new: new products, new campaigns, new slogans. We also offer educational events that need to be coordinated. So we no longer bid this event out because we’re already getting all that we need at an extremely professional level.
RB: The Transition Optical event is very complex and multi-layered.
DW: Which is the main reason we choose Disney…because they help us come up with something new and exciting every year.

DisneyFeature2It’s no secret that taking the family to a theme park can be a pricey affair. How does cost translate to special events at Disney?
RB: We’ve planned events for 2,000 attendees at a $5,000 price point, and we’ve coordinated a 40th birthday party that cost $2 million. The level of need isn’t always about the numbers. For example, if a star talent is brought in, you’re going to spend a lot of money on that one performer alone. Or if your event is a three-to-four day extravaganza versus a one-day affair, it’s going to cost more since the time frame also factors into the overall cost of an event.

DW: When we first started holding this event, it was with 50 people, and we held it at our plant. At approximately our seventh year, we decided to work with planners. Our budget has grown as we’ve grown, but our core needs have always remained the same.

Disney is known as an entertainment company, so what kind of entertainment happens at events?
One of the first questions I ask a planner is, “What do you want your group to leave with?” If it’s just entertainment for entertainment’s sake, OK. But if you have a specific goal, how do you best achieve that? With Disney and ABC, we can provide a very specific and unique type of synergy. Although we have on-staff actors and entertainers, we can and do bring in outside vendors or even a specific celebrity. For instance, last year we had some Chinese acrobats that were under contract to perform at the park, so we could potentially bring them in for outside events. But in the case of the [most recent] Transitions Optical event, the entertainment needed to be relevant to the company’s goals.

DW: This is where DEG really is great to work with. They help us engage our audience by creating a show that unites all of our attendees.
RB: It’s easy to put an act or an actor on a stage, but putting the actual manager on stage—now that makes a difference. There’s a camaraderie that they bring to the stage that’s real.
DW: And it wasn’t scripted. The managers were provided with the general concept as to where we wanted them to go, but they ad-libbed from there.

So the executives from Transitions Optical provided the entertainment?
DW: As it turns out, the manager for North America is a drummer, and he’s very passionate about it.

RB: We had outside musicians we worked with before the event ever began.
DW: What we did was arrange to have a song played on-stage by a group of drummers with a plan to have the manager join in. Following that, we had our GM from South America. He’s passionate about soccer, so when he was on stage, we let soccer set the tone for the intersection of what he is personally passionate about and how that relates to what the company is passionate about.
RB: Most people in the U.S. aren’t super passionate about soccer, but when the North American manager was on stage, and he started to play the drums, it really kicked off the event.

DisneyFeature3The word “passion” has been used to describe what you’re trying to get across to the Transitions Optical attendees. Does that relate to the theme of your event? If so, how does the DEG underscore that theme?
DW: Every year, we decide on what our core theme will be. This year, the word for our event was “Ignite,” so everything tied into that concept including the audiovisual campaign and entertainment components. We brainstormed for an entire day with DEG to help us bring across our message. Then we created an online registration process that would allow our attendees to tell us what they were passionate about so we could select from those passions when we were creating our entertainment program.

RB: As a part of that, we tried to create an intimate feeling with a theater-in-the-round. For previous Transitions Optical events, we had everyone seated on the floor with the stage elevated. This time, we placed the stage at floor level and had stadium-theater seating.
DW: DEG really understands what we are trying to accomplish with our guests. It has to do with professional and personal development, and we want to get across to our attendees that we care about them equally on both levels.

How does the look of the event, then, get determined?
RB: We’ll usually wait for Dawn to come to us with what they’re trying to accomplish. That’s the spark that gets us started. For instance, a jungle look was their marketing campaign strategy, so we decided to construct a huge Mayan temple with walls that had hanging greenery and an explorer theme. We also employ a creative director who works with each client to dream up something that will tie into the whole theme of the event.

Is there something specific to Transitions Optical that DEG has to include in the design?
DW: DEG really tries to enhance what we already look like. They tap into what makes the most sense. For example, they incorporate Transitions Optical’s main colors in the formulation of their production design.

RB: Most of the ideas we end up using come about as a result of a collaborative process. We follow a style guide and create the media portion of the equation, which sometimes means stepping outside the usual.

Does that mean the Transitions Optical event was a unique production for DEG?
RB: Well, yes. The event was actually held at the Rosen Shingle Creek, which is not a Disney property. From time to time, we work with outside hotels in the area with special approval from the Disney Corporation. For example, the Rosen Shingle Creek has 32-foot ceilings so we can so some really cool things there that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to do at Disney.

DisneyFeature4Do you hold rehearsals prior to the event?
RB: We do have dress rehearsals and run-throughs before the event because every production is different. Sometimes, however, we don’t have access to the actual room so we have pre-rehearsals off-site.

DW: Although our participating executives didn’t actually rehearse before the show began, we did alert them to certain words that tied into the overall theme. We also created a unique song for our event, tweaking the words so the sound of it became our own. Everybody loved it.

What happens when something doesn’t go perfectly?
RB: You know, stuff happens with productions this big. I think what works so well for us is that we can go to Dawn or other Transitions Optical personnel when there are issues and have an open dialogue to address problems as they arise.

DW: This year, we forgot an award. So we shifted things around to give us time to get the award into the presenter’s hand. You just figure it out. It’s literally a live event, but as long as it’s seamless to the audience, it doesn’t matter how fast you’re paddling under the water.

Is there a challenge keeping the audience engaged?
DW: Because we have to create an awards ceremony as part of our event, we include some cool entertainment in between the awards being presented, so people in the audience are engaged even if they aren’t winning.

RB: We used an acrobatic group called Traces [who appeared on “America’s Got Talent”] in a part of the show. We called some people up from the audience who’d been pre-selected based on their passions. One of the women was asked to sit on a chair on stage, and then we announced what her passion was, which was reading.
DW: The audience thought she was one of the attendees.
RB: But she was really one of the performers from Traces. She then proceeded to do a whole balancing routine on the chair and the audience went crazy.

So, what does the future hold for potential collaborations?
DW: Well, I can tell you that we’ve already scheduled our first planning meeting for 2014.


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