Month: October 2017

5 Reasons You Should Ditch Your Conference and Plan an Unconference


For many companies and industries, annual conferences are a critical part of doing business. After all, it’s not always easy to gather employees, clients, prospects and industry stakeholders in one place! It’s easy to take a formulaic approach to conferences, especially if your company’s hosted one for several years. But as strategy plays a bigger role in conference and meeting planning and attendees demand more engaging, memorable experiences, this is the prime time to ditch the traditional conference format and, instead, plan an unconference.

Where a conference is typically guided by a formal agenda that includes presentations and breakout sessions, an unconference is more informal. The focus is on the participants, giving them the power to drive the conversation while collaborating and exchanging ideas. You can still provide structure in an unconference with an agenda that helps attendees navigate the available opportunities throughout the event. Yet instead of focusing the schedule on passive learning opportunities and little free time, an unconference offers a chance to learn, share and engage in a participant-driven setting.

Intrigued about what an unconference could do for your business? Let’s take a look at 5 reasons you should swap your next conference for an unconference.

Make a Lasting Impression

Your annual conference is likely a significant branding opportunity, as well as a chance to get attendees excited about what your company is doing and what’s ahead. There’s no better way to make that powerful and lasting impression than with an unconference. The goal with an unconference is to engage, and that extends beyond the conversations and learning opportunities. That also means an opportunity to capture your employees’ attention and imagination with a mix of insight-driven discussions, collaborative opportunities to learn and build, and experience-focused downtime that provides a brain break without extinguishing the spark of inspiration.

As you consider the art of the possible, it’s important to first ask yourself what you want to accomplish at your unconference, how the event ties into your business goals and what you want attendees to feel and think about your brand. Then, you can begin brainstorming the unconference elements that will get you to those end points.

Break Out of a Rut

If an annual conference has been a longtime part of your company’s event strategy, you might feel like you’re in a rut. And an unconference is the perfect opportunity to ditch the tried-and-true in favor of something that’s new and exciting.

Here’s the thing. If there are elements of your existing conference that work, you don’t have to eliminate them. Instead, look at how you can weave those things into a more participant-driven unconference. Keynote remarks, for example, can be a great way to set the tone for what’s ahead and provide that initial burst of energy and inspiration. Rather than immediately following a keynote with a day of presentations, why not add more workshop-like sessions so that attendees can build on the momentum you’ve just established? Or intersperse a few collaborative discussions—similar to a focus group—that help give attendees with similar interests and challenges a chance to connect. These sorts of opportunities don’t just make for a more interesting and engaging event; they also help give attendees solid, actionable steps that they can implement as soon as they get back to the office, extending the value of your unconference far past the event’s end date.

Less Talk, More Action

It’s time for a little honesty. Conferences can be exhausting, right? You wouldn’t think that listening to speakers for 2 or 3 days could be so draining, but it certainly can be!

Learning elements like keynotes and presentations can still be a focal point at an unconference, but the key is to give attendees more opportunities to act on what they’re hearing and help drive the event format. One way to do that is to give attendees something to accomplish during the unconference. For example, a non-profit that’s focused on empowering entrepreneurs recently hosted an unconference that kicked off with a rooftop barbecue. During the barbecue, attendees were divided into teams and were tasked with creating a team banner that would be displayed throughout the event. Teams were also given opportunities to work together during the summit, including at an interactive science fair.

Learning is a critical part of any conference. But action is equally important. And that’s one of the reasons that an unconference format is so compelling. How can you give your attendees opportunities to take action and do or build during the event? Not only will this help engage their brains in different ways; it’s also an effective way to help attendees connect and build lasting relationships. And speaking of…

Go Beyond Networking: Collaborate

Meeting other people in your industry is always a favorite conference outcome. Yet rather than simply go with the tried-and-true mixer or dinner, why not shake things up? We talked earlier about how unconferences can be ideal opportunities for attendees to collaborate on a shared project. Creating an environment that fosters (and encourages) collaboration can be an equally effective networking tool. After all, there’s no better way to get to know someone than by tackling a project together!

We also mentioned workshop- or focus group-type sessions earlier in the post. Those sorts of collaborative discussions are also a helpful way for attendees to not only learn from others in their field, but also build relationships with industry peers. Those lasting connections—in addition to lessons learned and action-oriented next steps—are one of those most effective ways to provide value to your attendees long after the event ends. And that’s a key consideration. You don’t want the learning and sharing and collaborating to come to an abrupt halt when the unconference ends. Instead, you want to keep that momentum going as you build excitement about what’s ahead, both for the company and the next unconference.

Value Your Attendees’ Time (and Expertise)

When you think about it, conferences are a big ask. They’re informative and (hopefully) fun, but attendees also have to adjust their workload and current priorities to attend. That’s why it’s important to give them maximum value in exchange for their time, attention and commitment. And that’s where an unconference can deliver a significant return.

One of the things we love most about an unconference is that it gives attendees a chance to collectively pool their insight, experience and lessons learned. Think about it this way: your conference attendees are there for a reason. They want to learn—but they also have a wealth of knowledge to offer. Why not tap into that in a way that benefits the rest of the group? That isn’t to say you need to completely eliminate presenters or keynote speakers. But one of the advantages of an unconference is the chance to let participants take a turn in the driver’s seat and guide the conversations and sessions in a way that delivers optimal value for their day-to-day responsibilities and challenges. An unconference is a chance to learn and connect. But it can also be a welcome (and rare) opportunity to think big. What can you and your attendees dream up together? And how can you work together to make that vision a reality? As we mentioned earlier, conferences are a chance to unite a knowledgeable, talented group of people in one place. What can you do to inspire that group to share, discover and build?

Just as you want unconference attendees to have the freedom and space to dream big, we hope this post has helped you consider how you can embrace the concept of an unconference to bring both immediate and lasting value to your attendees. We’ve had some incredible success with helping clients plan and implement recent unconferences, and we’d love an opportunity to do the same for you. Feel free to send us a note and we’ll explore how an unconference fits into your larger events and business strategy.

Unlock Your Event or Meeting’s Potential with a Creative Agency Partner

Creative partner

You’re in the midst of planning a big corporate meeting or annual event. You’ve identified the story you want to tell, as well as the strategic business goals you want to accomplish. And now, it’s time to start pulling the pieces together. But as you survey what needs to be done, you start to feel more overwhelmed. You want to push the creative envelope, but that willingness to experiment has produced a slew of smaller projects you didn’t anticipate. Suddenly, that event or meeting deadline starts to look so much closer. And then the anxiety really sets in…

Sound familiar? If it does, take a deep breath! This is an anxiety-free zone—we promise. There’s a solution to your needs. We’ve talked in earlier blogs about the need for a strategic event or meeting partner, as opposed to a one-and-done service provider. When you weave your meetings or events into your company’s narrative, messaging and business goals, it helps to work directly with someone who can match your 50,000-foot vision, then roll up their sleeves and dig in to the details with you to ensure a flawless and successful experience.

Here’s something else to consider. What if that strategic events or meeting partner also served as your personalized creative agency? There’s no shortage of creative and branding projects that can enhance your event, even down to the smallest details like branded elevator buttons.

But what about the rest of the year? After all, you want to keep the momentum of that incredible, unforgettable event or meeting going, right? You want to continue to tell the story you established during that timeframe. You want to connect with attendees to revive the energy they felt during that experience and remind them of how they can contribute to the company’s success in their own day-to-day work lives. After all, a significant annual corporate event or meeting is far from something you merely check off your to-do list. It’s sort of like a website—a living entity that’s always evolving and improving. Yet you need to actively tend to it—it won’t morph and grow and get better on its own.

Another benefit to working with your own creative agency? That little push you need to try a big idea. We know—it can be scary to step out of the box, especially if you’re working with an event or meeting that’s been a staple of your company for years (or decades). That’s where we come in. We’ve carefully cultivated a team of bold thinkers and creative go-getters that can spark inspiration, identify opportunities to make a lasting impact and then bring those ideas to life. And if you need someone to take on the mundane or even overwhelming tasks, we can handle those, too. That means you have more time to work on what matters to you, what you’re passionate about. Sounds refreshing, doesn’t it?

At this point, we hope you’re breathing a little easier—a lot easier, in fact. Maybe, just maybe, those wheels are starting to turn as you contemplate that daunting but tantalizing concept: “What if?” Maybe you’ve had a big idea for awhile and you haven’t been sure how to execute it. Or perhaps you know you need to innovate your event or meeting, but you’re not sure where to start. Let’s plan a time to talk and explore what you need, what you want and how Wellington can make it happen. Instead of your strategic event and meeting partner and creative agency, think of Wellington as your microphone. We’ll help you grab your audience’s attention and keep them captivated by your message. Speaking of microphones—if you want to cut loose in the evening with a little karaoke, well, we’ll be right there with you.

Instead of fretting over your upcoming event or meeting’s to-do list, here’s a new task for you. Reach out to Wellington and let us know how we can help. We’d love an opportunity to prove how our creativity, bold thinking and expertise can pay off in a big way for your company.

4 Ways to Make Your Incentive Gifts Stand Out (Without Breaking Your Budget)

incentive gift

Incentive gifts can be tricky. You might feel like you’re under pressure to continually push the bar higher and deliver gifts that are always more: more luxurious, more distinctive and more expensive.

Yet a price tag isn’t necessarily indicative of an incentive gift’s success. And while you undoubtedly want to make recipients feel rewarded and appreciated, you don’t need to wreck your company’s budget to deliver the incentive gift that your employees deserve.

As you examine the strategy and details of your incentive gifting, we’ve compiled four ways to help your gifts stand out from the crowd and deliver the “wow” factor that will surprise and delight your employees. Just as you approach your corporate meetings and events with thoughtful intention, effective incentive gifting takes some planning, strategy and problem-free execution. The following tips will help get you on the path to successful incentive gifting that will keep your employees feeling engaged, appreciated and valued from start to finish.

The gift of experience

People increasingly crave the immersion and memories of experience. It’s a rising trend that’s sparking change in a variety of industries, including travel and corporate meetings and events. And it’s one to consider as you plan your incentive gifts, especially if they include travel.

Experiences not only indulge our senses; they can also pique our curiosity, giving us an opportunity to step outside the familiar and try something new in a way that makes us feel more connected to our surroundings. Think about how you can deliver an incentive experience that evokes similar feelings. Enrich your guests’ itineraries with immersive opportunities like cooking lessons, walking or other tours, or a hands-on class, demonstration or workshop.

Delivering a one-of-a-kind experience can be especially impactful if you opt to return to the same location for your incentive travel. There’s certainly something to be said for the convenience and familiarity that comes from returning to a favorite spot, but you can also add a dash of the unexpected with new, experiential additions to the itinerary.

As you’re planning, it sometimes helps to look ahead. What sort of impression do you want to leave with your guests? How do you want them to feel at the end of the trip? What do you want them to remember most about the incentive gift and how it validated their hard work and dedication? Use those answers to guide your gift planning as you consider experiences that produce your desired end results.

Take your luxury local

Even as the rise of technology-enabled verticals like eCommerce continues to reshape the retail industry, consumers still prefer local, small retailers. The top two reasons, according to the 2015 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, are finding unique products and the ability to find items that aren’t available from traditional sources.

Why not leverage the advantages of local businesses and products in your incentive gifting? You could take it a step further and weave together a travel experience that capitalizes on local flavors and signature events—an intimate meal with a renowned local chef, for example, or a behind-the-scenes tour of a celebrated local landmark.

A recent incentive trip we helped plan and execute is a prime example. Guests traveled to a refined, charming beach resort in Georgia. We found a vendor that created gold-plated versions of Georgia’s state shell to offer as a one-of-a-kind parting gift. And in celebration of two favorite Southern beverages, guests had a choice of a local single-barrel bourbon whiskey or high-end sweet tea concentrate. Guests also received marble coasters engraved with a map of the resort’s location.

As you plan your own incentive gifts and getaways, think about what sort of local elements you can add to not only pay homage to a location that’s important to you and your guests, but that also leaves a lasting, treasured memory that makes the incentive gift truly special.

Add a philanthropic twist

Incentive gifts haven’t traditionally been associated with philanthropy and social responsibility. Yet in the wake of the last decade’s economic turbulence—as well as a widespread, increasing focus on both individuals and companies giving back—philanthropy adds a genuine, heartfelt touch to an incentive gift.

To look for opportunities to add an opportunity for giving to your incentive gift, think first about your company’s values. What’s important to your business? And are there any organizations you currently support that might offer an opportunity for a philanthropic outing or team-building activity? Adding this sort of experiential community service opportunity to your incentive travel isn’t unlike volunteer tourism or “voluntourism,” which continues to be among the fastest growing travel trends.

If a service project or other philanthropic outing isn’t possible for your scheduled incentive trip, you can still find ways to add a service-minded element to the gift package. We already mentioned a recent incentive trip that we helped plan at a Georgia beach resort. That travel and gift experience also included endangered sea turtle nests that were adopted in each attendee’s name as a reminder not only of the trip, but also the impact of their brand. Consider similar opportunities to help local wildlife and treasured natural areas for a gift that’s not only unforgettable, but that also makes a difference where it’s needed most.

Leave your mark with branded touchpoints

Incentive gifting—especially if it includes travel—is similar to a corporate meeting or event. You have your signature offering (the equivalent of a meeting), and then you have the branded gifts to support that offering—similar to the gifts and swag you might include at a meeting or event.

These sorts of supporting gifts may seem like small details, but they’re just as important when it comes to delivering a larger message or narrative. In the case of incentive gifts, branded touchpoints can add a sense of thoughtfulness and personal attention that resonates with each guest.

Let’s use an incentive trip as an example. Perhaps you could set the stage for the adventure with a branded luggage tag, a kit of travel essentials and a branded notebook in which to capture notes about the experience. It’s also a good idea to have a few small gifts waiting for each guest when they arrive at their destination. Try to strike a balance between gifts that evoke your company’s brand and are also connected to the experiences to come throughout the trip. That way, you can help establish an inextricable link between your business and the incentive experience, which leaves a more powerful impression on your guests and gets them truly excited and passionate about not just the incentive gift, but also how they can continue to play a key role in your company’s success. And when in doubt about branded touchpoints, think of some of our favorite attributes: custom, interactive and memorable.

We hope the aforementioned tips will help inspire you to shake up your incentive gifts and step out of the box to try something new. And if you need a sounding board for your ideas—or help executing your gifting plan—we’re just a message away. Reach out to us anytime!

New Hire Onboarding Gifts: How to Make Your Company Stand Out


There’s no denying that giving someone a gift—especially an unexpected one—is an effective way to make them feel valued and appreciated. And creating a company culture that delivers those sentiments is a key part of attracting and retaining employees. One way to meet this goal is by offering thoughtful welcome gifts to new employees as part of the onboarding process. As a result, you deliver a strong, lasting message right off the bat: “We’re so glad you’re here and we value you as part of the team.”

But before you go on an onboarding gift-buying spree, take a look at your planned purchases. This is the perfect time to forego typical branded gift items like pens, stationary or glassware in favor of thoughtful, unexpected and personalized gifts that leave a lingering impact on the recipient. Consider these 6 ways to ensure your welcome gifts stand out from the crowd.

6 Tips to Make Your Employee Onboarding Gifts Stand Out

Start the Story

Corporate meetings and events are generally more memorable, engaging and interesting when they’re driven by strategic narratives—in other words, you want to tell attendees a story. The same goes for your new employees. Your company (in fact, every company) has a story. And now that your new employee is here, they’re part of the plot. Think about your company’s story and message and how you can reflect that in an onboarding gift. You’ll not only welcome the new employee, but also make that person feel as if they’re an immediate stakeholder in the company—and, as a result, motivate them to perform and contribute at optimal levels.

Involve Your Company’s Strategic Priorities

What’s important to your company? What do you, as a business, want to accomplish? Answering these questions can help prompt ideas for onboarding gifts that help new employees feel like they can have an immediate impact.

Let’s say, for example, that one of your company’s priorities is to increase community service and philanthropic giving. You could present a new employee with an onboarding gift basket that includes a certificate for a paid day off to participate in a volunteer opportunity. Or maybe you’re trying to increase business in a certain industry. Include a gift or two from that industry with some brief accompanying information about why that vertical matters and how the new employee can play a part in building that success.

Set the Stage for a Great First Day

There’s nothing quite like the night before starting a new job. Emotions can run the gamut from a few butterflies in the stomach to full-fledged anxiety. Why not take the edge off and deliver a pre-first day gift package that’s filled with essentials to help a new employee navigate their first day? Here’s where you could incorporate some more traditional items like a branded coffee mug and a package of coffee or tea with some unexpected additions. Poll your colleagues to see what items or quirks they associate with the company, then find gifts that match that input. Buy a gift certificate for a nearby restaurant or coffee shop where employees like to gather. If there’s a certain book or publication that’s been especially inspiring to the company, include a copy or a subscription. This is also a great opportunity to indulge your creative side and involve existing employees in the new hire onboarding process. If you have a graphic designer on staff, for example, you could create an eye-catching map of the area around the office to highlight places to eat, grab a snack, take a midday break or unwind at the end of the day.

Personalize When Possible

Depending on how many new employees your company hires, it can sometimes be difficult to offer truly personalized welcome gifts—especially when you factor in things like dietary and other preferences. Yet when at all possible, it helps to personalize gifts to make employees feel even more welcome and valued. If your company equips employees with work phones, consider a gift to a site where an employee can create a custom phone case with their own photos or other art. Another idea? Offer a picture frame (an engraved silver frame is a timeless choice, no matter the office décor) so that the employee can add a favorite photo as desk décor. Other meaningful ideas include a handwritten note from the employee’s new boss or the company’s CEO; a monogrammed messenger bag or backpack; or business cards with a carrying case. You could also add an item that’s specific to the new employee’s position. If they’ll be traveling a lot, consider a monogrammed luggage tag or passport holder. You don’t need to present employees with an entirely personalized onboarding gift assortment, but including one or two customized items makes an employee feel like they’re an appreciated and important member of the team.

Ignite the Spark of Your New Brand Ambassadors

Employees are some of your most effective and powerful brand ambassadors, so why not start them early? If your company sells a product or service, can you involve that in the onboarding gift? According to an article on, Dropbox gives new employees free unlimited storage, while Airbnb offers new employees a $2,000 annual travel stipend. Or perhaps your company works with clients whose products or services could be part of an onboarding gift package? Of course, no new employee is complete without company swag like apparel. Consider making a T-shirt or hoodie a part of the gift—the quirkier the design, the better. Or if your company has a branded store, include a gift certificate so the new employee can make their own selection.

Packaging: A Powerful First Impression

Packaging is a critical influence on purchasing, and it can also leave a lasting impression when giving gifts. Take some time to create thoughtful packaging that wows the recipient and makes the moment feel more special. Use your company’s brand colors for inspiration. And that said, don’t feel like you need to spend more money on packaging than the gifts themselves. Something as simple as a delicious treat like a locally made and iced cookie is made more memorable by nestling the item in gift basket filler and a box that coordinate with your company’s colors. If you do opt for a more traditional array of branded swag like a coffee mug, pen, notebook and USB drive, arranging those items in a sleek keepsake box elevates the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Remember that the goal of a successful first day is to make an employee feel welcome, engaged and enthusiastic about what’s ahead. Think about your own experience at your company and what sort of onboarding gifts you can offer that convey those feelings. And as we mentioned earlier, don’t hesitate to do some informal polling among your colleagues to see what suggestions they have.

One other tip? Don’t stop the gift-giving once the onboarding process is over. Occasionally surprising employees with thoughtful, purposeful gifts (and not just during the holiday season) goes a long way in making them feel like an integral part of the team. Sure, a pay raise is nice. But you can’t always put a price on what it means to make an employee feel like a truly valued part of a company’s success. That’s where a strategic gift-giving program can add an important dimension to your company’s culture, giving you a chance to surprise and delight employees just as you would your clients and event attendees. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to explore your company’s gift-giving strategy. As a result, you’ll unwrap the key to increased employee engagement that fuels your company’s long-term success and growth (see what we did there?). And if you need help identifying effective, unforgettable onboarding gifts, we’re happy to join you in a brainstorming session. Reach out to us anytime.

Preparing for Emergencies

security, emergency

It’s an unfortunate reality that a major piece of event planning and strategy is event security and emergency preparedness. Weather events and mass casualty events can and do happen without discrimination or advanced notice. The best thing any event professional can do is simply be prepared, and be aware.

Have a plan

If you don’t already, make sure you have a written-out plan for every eventuality. You should be prepared to deal with the most common types of incidents, including fire, bomb threat, explosion, active shooter, medical incident, or food borne illness. This document should include important medical information, maps, important contact information, and communications strategies for the emergency. If you don’t have a plan for an upcoming event or meeting, make sure to connect with an event planning firm with experience doing so. If you do have one, just like your smoke detectors it is good to review each year.

Communicate the plan

When you get to your event site or venue, request to meet with the property’s security director to go through emergency procedures – this can be done in advance as well. You’ll want to address the mutual expectations of your responsibilities versus the venue’s should an emergency arise. Generally, the three major areas to address are the venue’s plans for evacuation events (i.e. hurricane), shelter-in-place events (i.e. active shooter), and medical emergencies (i.e. Food borne illness). Make sure to address the venue’s expectations with regard to attendee communication after an incident, and coordinate the plan to communicate with attendees – you’ll also want a back-up plan should that method not be available. Determine who will communicate with attendees, police, family members, etc. and who will manage the emotions of the attendees and staff. Though it is less of an immediate need, crisis counselors and people trained to deal with the emotional needs of everyone involved are important members of every crisis team.

Security Q&A

Our friends at BizBash conducted an informative Q&A with Todd Madison, a former Secret Service agent and security professional. See our key takeaways below and read the full article here.

  • What would you tell event organizers to look for—and to ask of—their venues, both for indoor and outdoor events?
    • Open the lines of communication prior to an event and engage with the event management team at the facility.
    • Be aware of all access points and be sure the venue can provide security. If not, seek out a security consulting company that’s well versed in issues that might arise.
  • What are some fixes to problems that may arise which event planners can make before an event starts?
    • Connect with local and federal law enforcement officials so that they know about your event and if there is something to watch out for, like a controversial speaker or attendee, they are prepared.
  • What would you advise event planners tell potential event attendees regarding security concerns?
    • Provide them with information and look for ways to make them comfortable.
    • Put in layers of security that aren’t so noticeable and try to make the monitoring of activity as seamless as possible.
    • You want to prepare guests so there are no surprises, but there’s no reason to scare them.

If you need help taking a look through your emergency plan give us a ring and we will be happy to help.