The Godfather and Diet Coke: My Life as a Convention Services Manager

GodfatherDuring my time as a Convention Services Manager, one of my industry partners referred to me as a “Godfather” on my ability to make things happen on my events. I like to think that this was because I had a very good working knowledge of my client’s events, had a thorough knowledge of my venue’s strengths and weakness, and for delivering what I promised to people.  I also owe a huge debt to a case of Diet Coke.

Early on in my career, I had an event that was taking 3 of the 4 exhibit halls in the venue. This client was co-locating two shows (one in Hall 2 and the other in Halls 3-4) during the three days.  There were some miscommunications during the contracting phase, since there was no public entrance to Hall 2 – it was designed to be used in conjunction with either Halls 1 or 3. Hall 1 was empty on the first two days, but was contracted by another client of mine starting on the third and final day of my first client’s event.  We were able to work out a solution of using one of the entrances to Hall 1 and having the client’s decorator create a 90 foot “tunnel” out of tall pipe and drape leading to an opening in the air wall in Hall 2. My first client was happy with this solution and my second client had no issues as it was only a set-up day for their general session.

Day 3 arrives and I am in the empty Hall 1 with the staging crew for my second client.  We hear the truck outside the large roll-up door that allowed them to drive onto the floor and unload.  We started to open this door and when we were about 18 inches off the ground, I realized that the opening in the air wall to the other exhibit hall was creating a wind tunnel through my empty hall.  It was too late – all 90 feet of the tall (16 foot) pipe and drape came crashing down.  This was about two hours before the other show would open and I was horrified.

I went off to find the foreman of the decorators – John – and let him know what happened.  I sheepishly admitted to John that it was my fault and to say he was less than pleased would be an understatement.  The next ten minutes were spent with each of us standing toe to toe out on the loading dock and swearing at each other like sailors. I headed back over to the empty hall and begged the staging crew to help me reset the pipe and drape, and thankfully they agreed to help.  About 30 minutes later, John comes over with a crew to reset the pipe and drape – only to discover that the staging crew and I had about 75% of the drape back in place.  John’s crew takes over from us, and I hear two of his guys telling him that I am really not the Devil.

The next morning, I am at the gas station on my way into work.  While paying for my fill-up, off to my right is a pallet of Diet Coke cans – a 24 pack for $5.  I remembered that I am always see John drinking Diet Coke.  On a whim, I buy a case as a peace offering to John.  It was probably the best $5 I have ever spent.

I arrive at work and John is now moving another show into our other building.  Tempers have cooled over the previous 24 hours, we exchange apologies for our behavior and I give John the case of Diet Coke.

Fast forward 6 weeks – I am awoken by my cell phone ringing at 5:30 in the morning on a day off for me.  John is now calling me in an act of desperation – he has a crew coming on duty in 30 minutes, but they forgot to order forklifts to unload the trucks and can we help him out?  I respond that I cannot authorize loaning our equipment and that I am not optimistic, but let me make a few calls.  I call my venue’s Command Center to inquire if any senior managers were on site (no) and request they page one of them to call me ASAP.  About 10 minutes later, I get a call back and I explain the situation to one of my senior managers.  I also reminded him of a favor we requested from that same decorator in the last month for an internal event of ours.  To my surprise, he agreed to help out and I asked him to call our crew leaders directly, as they would never believe this coming from me.  While he called the crew leaders, I called John back and let him know that help would be on its way shortly.  For about three hours, they were able to use our forklifts until the emergency order from their vendor arrived.

From that day on, I could do no wrong in John’s eyes.  If I needed blueprints of the exhibit hall for an upcoming show with his decorator, John would make sure I got them with 72 hours.  John would let me know when issues arose on our shows – alerting me to issues with bathrooms or overflowing trash cans.  Over the course of time, John referred his colleagues to me for assistance, and as folks switched from working for one decorator to another – I developed a pretty good network.  I would check to see if we had additional loading docks that they could use during move-in or move-out, or could they access the halls early to mark the floors (and give my crews a jump in dropping power to exhibitor booths).  My philosophy was that if I made things easier for my industry partners, it would be better for our mutual client.

Fast forward about two years now.  It is early in the morning and we are about 30 minutes from opening the doors to that day’s keynote session for my client.  My contact comes to me running, and tells me she forgot to give me specs for a meeting that will kick off in 90 minutes.  I call my operations crew to get this set done and am told that they are short-handed and are currently working on a large change-over in our ballroom for the other client in our venue.  For a few seconds, I start to panic and then I remember that my friend John is handling the other client’s show.

I run over to the other show and ask John if he could help me in getting my room set for my client.  John is reluctant at first – my show was not a client of his company.  I replied with one word – “Forklifts.”  One of my Convention Services Manager co-workers was walking through the meeting room level about 30 minutes later and saw me with John’s crew finishing the new room set.  She looked at me, smiled, shook her head and then walked away.


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