Author: Aleksandra Milewski

Our 25th Anniversary: Wellington CEO Shares Lessons Learned, the Word That’s Shaped How We Do Business

In 1994, a gallon of gas cost $1.04. The Channel Tunnel opened between England and France. The Netscape Navigator web browser debuted. And on July 1, 1994, Joan Wells and Jada Hill founded Wellington.

“Jada and I were both K-Staters and both worked at Proctor & Gamble,” Joan says. “When I was there, I was frequently put on special assignment to develop unique and creative ways to produce our sales meetings and contests.”

That’s when Joan had a light bulb moment: it’s these meetings, contests, events and experiences that provide value not just to a sales organization, but also to the entire company. And so she made a deal with herself.

“My husband and I lived in St. Louis at the time,” she says. “He got a job back in Kansas City, and I was interviewing for a job at Hallmark. I told myself that if I got the job, I’d take it. And if I didn’t, I’d start my own event planning company.”

Together, Joan and Jada set out to put their own spin on the meetings and events industry. That includes keeping pace with—and often leading the way—in an industry that’s undergone a momentous shift.

“We’ve taken the gamut of live experiences and morphed that to really refine the industry,” she says. “Instead of meetings and events being what they were in the 80s and 90s—you produce an event, you create an event—we realized our clients wanted more. As a result, we’re owning the whole live experience.”

That’s a key word: experience. As you’ve no doubt found in your own meetings and events, attendees want experiences. They want to engage, discover and share, both within the attendee population and to their larger networks through social media.

That focus on experiences has also impacted segments within the meetings and events industry. Take gifting, for example. With the explosive growth of eCommerce sites like Amazon, consumers have more buying power than ever. That means that once-coveted gifts like high-end backpacks or luggage make less of an impact. As Wellington worked more frequently with gifting clients, Joan spotted another opportunity to lead the way.

“We added a full-service gifting division in 2001,” she says. “We create the customized experiences the gifting occurs within. By changing gifting to an experience, you create a psychological resonance that also helps build the power of your brand.”

There’s so much to celebrate in this last 25 years. But there’s been a fair share of challenges, too. Joan remembers receiving an unsettling phone call in 2000 after years of working with a major auto manufacturer.

“They said, ‘Just so you know, there are 250 companies like yours that people in Ford have worked with over the last decade,’” Joan says. “They told us they narrowed that list to six companies, and Wellington wasn’t on it.”

Rather than accept defeat and focus on finding a new line of work, Joan and Jada took a proactive approach to the unexpected obstacle. They asked their existing clients in the auto company to lobby for them. Then, they secured an appointment with the company’s executive team. After a successful presentation, Wellington was approved to oversee the company’s global events. And in recent years, they’ve proved their value and staying power.

“Throughout the years, the other companies either went out of business or were removed from the program,” Joan says. “Now it’s just Wellington and one other company. It would have been devastating to lose that business, but instead, it shows a part of who we are: we’ll hop on a plane and pitch to anyone, anywhere, any time.”

That willingness to meet with and pitch to anyone, regardless of location, played a pivotal role in how Wellington weathered the mid-2000s recession. Instead of putting prospective business on the back burner, Joan and the Wellington team were out talking to companies about what they wanted to accomplish once the economy recovered.

“When the companies received their budgets, they called us and we hit the ground running,” she says.

Now, Wellington is in the midst of another strategic pivot: association management, which now has its own division within the company. Just as meetings and events have shifted from purely logistical to experiential, association management companies are more focused on moving away from operating simply as a membership model and instead toward a role as a community builder.

“We’re helping people in the association management industry understand that community building is experience,” Joan says. “It’s tied to the association management company’s brand, programming and experiences that add value to these associations.”

In addition to building Wellington’s association management division, Joan says technology continues to be a top priority. Plans for several pieces of proprietary technology are in the works, which will reduce the need for third-party platforms for engagement-building event tools like mobile apps and registration websites. It’s mind-boggling to think that, when Wellington was founded, there was no Internet—just fax machines and phones!

Yet if anyone can stay ahead of a fast-moving industry curve, it’s Wellington. No matter how much the industry has changed, the company stays committed to the core values that Joan and Jada helped establish in Wellington’s early days. Joan and Jada also remember the early lessons they learned that continue to guide the company today.

“When we first started Wellington, a man interviewed with us but we didn’t hire him,” Joan says. “Yet when his father-in-law, an international scientist, needed help with producing an event for 5,000 global attendees in Seattle, he gave his father-in-law our names. Things fall into your lap that way because of those personal touch points. You never know who you’re talking to and how they might help you when you least expect it.

We’ll be celebrating our 25th anniversary throughout 2019, so stay tuned to our blog for more lessons learned, success stories and company milestones. Here’s to the next 25!

The Top Gifting Trends for 2019 at CES, PPAI

At Wellington, we work hard to ensure we’re not just keeping pace with industry trends—we also want to help lead the way. That’s why members of our full-service gifts division spend time each year at two key industry shows — the Consumer Electronics Show and the Promotional Products Association International Expo — to see what products and trends are making waves. We recently caught up with David Frazier, Wellington’s Director of Gifts, to share more about what he saw at each show.

Consumer Electronics Show: Affordable AI

CES draws nearly 200,000 attendees each year to Las Vegas to see the latest and greatest in technology and tech-related products. David says artificial intelligence (AI) was among the top trends for two key reasons.

“One of the big things at CES was 5G, which is really 8K technology — it’s lightning fast and allows AI to be embedded in products,” he says. “And now that AI is more prevalent in the marketplace, it’s affordable.”

Consider one of David’s favorite items from CES: a smart suitcase. Thanks to embedded AI technology, the suitcase is equipped with a handle that recognizes the owner’s handprint. Once activated by touch, the suitcase wheels next to you, hands-free! And if someone tries to swipe it or the suitcase falls over, it sounds an alarm and also updates your phone with its location.

“The suitcase rolls itself at up to 5 miles per hour, so if you’re running to catch that last-minute flight, it comes with you,” David says. “I can’t wait to get one and walk through the airport while people watch it!”

To David’s earlier point, AI’s prevalence in the market has helped dropped the price for many AI-enhanced items. The traveling suitcase retails for $499, which makes it more attainable for more people. And for companies considering high-end gifts that leave a lasting impression, something like the traveling suitcase could be a big hit.

Health and wellness continue to dominate both conversation and consumption, so it’s probably not a surprise that AI’s having a big impact there, too. David saw products like a smart mirror, an AI-equipped mirror that scans your face, tells you how you’re aging compared to your peers, points out areas of your skin to pay attention to and also shares cosmetic and skincare tips.

“You can also program it to share positive affirmations like ‘You’re an amazing person!’” David says.

Other attention-drawing AI applications include AI-equipped drones that are controlled by hand motions, plus bike helmets that compile and deliver data including maps, speeds, heart rate and calories burned. David even spotted a smart toothbrush at CES!

Promotional Products Association International: Travel, home are tops

 If you work in the promotional products industry, there’s a good chance you’ve been to the PPAI Expo. The annual event showcases everything happening with promotional products, and David says he spotted several key trends.

First up? Travel, including accessories like bags, cases and portfolios. What’s more: many of the travel items are stylish yet affordable. And customization is becoming a must-have.

“The ordering processes are built around lots of variations,” David says. “You can customize colors, engraving and branding directly at the vendor level. Not too long ago, you’d have to find a third party to provide that customization. Now, many companies offer it in-house.”

Another popular category is home, including décor and accessories like pillows, throws and candles.

“Oh my gosh—candles were everywhere,” David says. “They’re available in great scents and high quality.”

Just as a demand for experiences is driving pivotal changes in the events and meeting industry, those in the gifts industry are also looking for ways to deliver not just a gift, but a gifting experience. David saw a number of vendors at PPAI that will set up on-site at an event or business to create experiential gifts.

“I saw a company out of Redwood, Calif., that takes slices of redwood trees and a carving machine on-site to create caricatures, signatures or images directly on the wood,” he says. “They also laminate and cover it, all within a 20-30 minute period.”

And if you thought AI was only big at CES, think again! Remember those digital photo frames that would connect to your digital photo library or social media profile and scroll a variety of pictures? David spotted AI-equipped artwork that you hang on the wall and, at the touch of a button, can change the art that’s displayed. You can also connect the display to WiFi, so you can share your favorite art with your network.

Consider the information and insight that David collected and consider how you might refine your own gifting strategy. You don’t necessarily need to go AI or go home, but if a technology-enhanced experience fits your attendees and your brand, this is an ideal time to explore options that will deliver a big impact without derailing your budget.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to our gifts division if you need ideas or are looking for ways to take your gifting strategy to the next level. David and our team have no shortage of ideas and creativity that will delight your recipients and help deliver on your business goals, too. Maybe David will bring his self-rolling suitcase!

Crisis Planning: Six Things To Do When the Unexpected Happens

As if corporate event and meeting planning isn’t challenging enough, you may find your event disrupted by a crisis.

How you deal with the situation will be somewhat influenced by the type of crisis. Is it an internal company disruption? An unforeseen problem with an event venue or vendor? A natural disaster?

Ideally, you’ll already have at least a basic crisis plan in place to more quickly resolve the situation and move toward a positive outcome.

But as all of us at Wellington have found out firsthand, you can’t always plan for every crisis situation. We recently sat down with one of our account executives, Monica Evans-Lombe, who knows a thing or two about navigating a crisis. She helped one of our clients successfully scramble to find a new venue for an international event. And did we mention that Monica and our client team had a little over a month to essentially re-plan the conference?!

Based on that experience, Monica helped us develop a list of six things to do to help steer your company or client through a crisis. Let’s dive in!

Six Steps to Take During a Crisis

Make a plan, then act: When a crisis occurs, it’s natural to want to immediately scramble and do what you can to fix the problem.

Yet it’s better if you can stop, think through your next steps and collectively decide on a course of action.

“You can freak out and start running around, or you can gather stakeholders, have a conversation and make a plan,” Evans-Lombe said. “When we found out about the event venue, we ended up pulling in another team member to work on planning the event — we needed someone who could quickly and efficiently oversee the next steps.”

Leverage your network: Depending on what you need to move forward, look for opportunities to tap into your network and its resources. Evans-Lombe said one of the relationships that proved invaluable in this particular situation was a tourism bureau.

“One of our saving graces was our relationship with this organization,” she said. “They helped provide ideas and gave us support.”

Pull a few people together and brainstorm individuals, groups or companies that can help you when you’re in a jam. And if someone does come through with assistance, be sure to send a thank you note or even a small gift once the crisis has passed to let them know how much you appreciate the help.

Know your priorities: If you’re dealing with a crisis that affects your event or meeting’s logistics, understand that you’ll likely have to make some compromises, especially if you’re working on a tight schedule.

Revisit your initial event or meeting strategy to take stock of your top event priorities, then do what you can to still deliver on those elements.

Evans-Lombe and her team had to make some tough decisions. They found two possible replacement venues, but each location offered its own set of challenges. They ended up sacrificing proximity to the city center and ambiance in favor of almost immediate accessibility to the airport, which, with hundreds of worldwide attendees, was much appreciated.

“Many of the attendees felt the new location was more convenient and removed the scare factor of having to navigate a foreign city,” Evans-Lombe said.

Be ready to travel: If circumstances allow and you’re dealing with a crisis that affects your event logistics, do what you can to get people to the host city. For Evans-Lombe and her team, that meant unexpected overseas trips.

Yet if you find yourself needing to quickly scout new venues, meet with clients or other stakeholders, or research new vendors or service providers, it’s often easier to navigate those tasks in person. Of course, crisis situations often come with unexpected costs, and you don’t necessarily want to derail the event budget with unplanned travel. But if you can make at least one pre-event or meeting trip happen, you can make the most of that face time while other team members focus on details back at the home office.

Create meaningful messaging: You’ll likely want to keep attendees informed about what’s happening, especially if there are any last-minute changes to the event logistics or agenda.

This is another opportunity to step back and make a plan before you simply dash off a mass email and hit send. You’ll want to consider the details of the crisis, how it’s affecting your event and what questions or concerns your attendees might have, among other factors.

Information sharing and communications were pivotal parts of Wellington’s crisis response, Evans-Lombe said. They considered how much information to share with attendees, as well as how to communicate the last-minute changes with a positive focus that wouldn’t deter people from attending the event.

Understand legal basics: Having at least a basic grasp of regulations, guidelines and other legal stipulations that could affect your meeting or event can be a huge help in a crisis situation, especially if you’re dealing with an international location.

It’s also important to understand your company or client’s internal governance structure. For example, our client’s organization is overseen by a board of directors, so as Evans-Lombe pointed out, it was imperative to gather that board at the onset of the venue crisis to keep the new plan moving forward through the proper channels.

“Our normal contracting process would have more people involved, but we knew just a couple of people needed decision-making authority so that we could act quickly,” she said. “We were able to sign a contract with our new venue in just a few days.”

If need be, enlist legal help to navigate applicable situations like a breach of contract. And if you’re planning an event or meeting in another country, make it a priority during the planning process to identify possible legal contacts. Hopefully you won’t need them, but this sort of proactive due diligence can be a huge asset if a crisis arises.

Here’s one of the most important takeaways in crisis preparation: no matter how proactive you are, “you can’t plan for everything,” Evans-Lombe said.

The panic, the scramble, the anxiety — those are natural parts of dealing with a crisis. That’s why, no matter what you’re facing, it’s so important to take a step back, assess and make a plan before you dive into action.

And if you’re worried about the size of your team or available resources, we’d be happy to chat with you about working together to fill in the gaps.

“If you’re a small team or organization, you might not always have all of the resources you need readily available,” Evans-Lombe said. “The benefit of working with Wellington is we have a variety of resources and expertise that we can pull in at different times to help you resolve the situation.”

Ready, Set, Gift: 4 Corporate Holiday Gift Trends for 2018

Brace yourself: the holiday season will be here before you know it!

And that’s why early to mid-fall is the ideal time to plan your corporate holiday gifts. You’ll feel less rushed and you’ll be able to explore your options to deliver a thoughtful gift that delights the recipient and supports your larger brand goals.

To help get the ideas flowing, we’ve compiled four corporate holiday gift trends based on our recent client collaborations and market research. Let’s dive in!

Quality, not quantity

We all love a tower of chocolate as much as the next person, but current corporate gifting trends indicate a preference for quality over quantity.

It makes sense, right? Most people would likely prefer receiving a well-made and/or valuable gift that will bring lasting enjoyment, rather than a handful of tchotchkes that will be tossed in a drawer and forgotten.

Plus, opting for a high-quality gift is an effective way to extend your brand experience. The message: “Our company cares about you and values our relationship.”

Yet you don’t have to bust your budget to deliver quality over quantity. Think first about the experience or emotion that you want the gift to evoke. Then, brainstorm some options. Perhaps you can source a locally made gift—a set of two or four glasses, for example, and a local beer or wine.

Or, instead of the classic “coffee mug and coffee” combo, what about swapping that for an insulated travel mug and a bag of locally roasted coffee? Bonus points if you can work with the roaster to create a blend just for your company!

Regardless of the gift you choose, you want your recipients to feel valued. Opting for a higher quality item that shows the thought you put into the gift can help you do just that.

Wellness is always welcome

Kara Quinn, senior brand experience coordinator at Wellington, recently attended the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market and said she noticed “a huge trend in wellness.”

Corporate holiday gifts can be an ideal time to incorporate items related to improving health and wellness, especially with the new year just around the corner (hello, resolutions!).

Kara noticed several innovative wellness gifts at the Atlanta Gift Show, including gem-infused water that offers a variety of health benefits; blue light-blocking glasses; and essential oil blends.

Again, think back to the experience and emotion that you want to evoke, then brainstorm options for a gift that will be the most effective in helping to create that experience.

For example, the holidays might be a high-stress time for your recipients. To help counter that stress, you could give some relaxation-themed gifts that might include a calming candle or tea, yoga accessories, or, depending on how many recipients you’re buying for, a gift certificate for a spa service or massage. Talk about surprise and delight!

Tech (still) rules

Think high-tech gifts already had their time in the spotlight? Not so fast! Kara noticed at the Atlanta Gift Show that tech-themed gifts continue to be popular. One of the current favorites: wireless charging pads.

One of the benefits of giving high-tech gifts is that you can hit multiple trends at once. Nothing says quality like a coveted, brand name device. Consider a smart speaker, noise-cancelling headphones, a foldable keyboard or a portable charger.

You could also combine tech and wellness with a fitness tracker or, if your gifting budget allows, a smart watch.

Because tech gifts are so popular, this is one trend category that definitely warrants some strategic planning. We’ve said it before in this post, but focus on the experience you want to convey and what will be most appreciated by your audience. Not all companies view them this way, but corporate holiday gifts really are part of your larger series of touch points with a valued group of recipients. By delivering an experience, you also help evoke lasting emotion, which benefits your company in a variety of ways.

Creative curation

Put your own spin on corporate holiday gifts with a curated gift box. Start with a theme and then stock a small basket or keepsake box with thoughtfully chosen items that support your brand experience.

A popular option is a “shop local” box that includes locally made or artisan gifts. Think of it as a way to treat your recipients while also showcasing some of your city’s talent. A “travel essentials” box is another ideal option, especially if your recipients are frequent travelers.

This is another chance for you to tap into multiple trends. A health and wellness-themed collection will likely be a hit. Or, you could compile a few thoughtfully selected tech accessories like a portable charger, ear buds and a screen cleaning kit, for example, to help your recipients get more use out of their devices.

If you opt for a curated gift box, don’t overlook the packaging. Gift presentation can be an equally effective way to support the intended experience. Instead of a cardboard box, could you opt for a wooden container? Acrylic boxes can also make an engaging first impression. Your packaging choices depend, of course, on your budget, and also how many gifts you’ll be shipping.

No matter which gift you ultimately choose, remember this: it’s all about the experience. You want to convey emotion and also make your recipient feel like a valued part of your brand. Adhere to that line of thinking, and we have no doubt your corporate holiday gifts will be a huge success!

Improve Attendee Engagement, Part 1: 3 Ways to Engage Attendees Before Your Event


In a market that’s crowded with conferences, meetings and annual events, it’s more important than ever to stand out — and that means keeping your attendees engaged, interested and entertained throughout your meeting or event.

Yet here’s an area that’s often overlooked — the days and weeks leading up to the event. This is a prime time to get attendees excited about what they’ll experience, but it can be easy to get distracted, even overwhelmed, by the need to finalize event logistics and details.

“It takes time and effort to come to any meeting or event, so people want to be captivated from the very start,” according to 2018 Meetings & Events Future Trends, a whitepaper produced by CWT Meetings & Events. “And that process now starts way before attendees arrive.”

Let’s take a look at some ways you can start to engage attendees in the run-up to your event. And if the timeline of your next event or meeting allows, go ahead and put one (or all) of these ideas in action!

3 Ways to Engage Attendees Before Your Event

  1. Share event details

One of the most effective ways to help create pre-event buzz is by keeping your attendees in the loop. Once they register, consider sending out something like an eye-catching infographic that will give them the scoop on important event details like the location, hashtag, social media handles, the event app and some fun facts about the event/meeting and/or host city.

If you think your attendees might have a fair amount of time for sightseeing, you could also share a few recommendations for things to see, eat and experience while they’re in town for your event. Again, be sure to brand any sort of conference-related collateral with applicable hashtags and social media handles and encourage your attendees to share their experiences with their networks.

  1. Simplify the attendee experience

The more enjoyable and seamless an experience you can deliver to attendees, the better it will reflect not just on your event, but also your company. And here’s the good news: it’s often the smallest details that make the biggest difference.

For example, once an attendee registers, consider following up with an email that offers help with travel arrangements. Maybe you’ve secured a block of rooms at a particular hotel — if so, share that information (or, if not, feel free to recommend a few nearby lodging options). CWT Meetings & Events also offered another great suggestion in their whitepaper: provide a link to an airfare booking site that’s already populated with a few applicable flights, so attendees can book their air travel with just a few clicks.

You might also check to make sure you’re giving your attendees plenty of information about the meeting or event before it starts. If you’re hosting a large event like a conference or tradeshow, supply attendees with detailed itineraries and maps so that they can plan their show experience (more on that in a moment).

  1. Start conversations

Why wait until your event or meeting starts to talk about it? Start the buzz early by initiating conversations on your social media channels. This is also an ideal opportunity to start engaging your speakers or featured guests, too. Consider hosting a Twitter chat on a topic related to your event and a speaker’s expertise. Or use your social media channels to crowdsource ideas and questions from your attendees. Examples include:

  • What are they hoping to take away from the event?
  • Who are they most excited to see or meet?
  • What one thing do they want to see or try in the event’s host city?
  • What professional challenges are they facing that could be solved with insights learned during the event?

If you’re going to host something like a Twitter chat or a live Facebook or Instagram Q&A, just be sure to give yourself some time to promote the event to your attendees (and larger audience) so that they can make a note to join in.

Here’s one more idea: can you incorporate sneak peeks into the pre-event promotion to get attendees excited about what’s ahead? Perhaps you could conceal the identity of a keynote speaker. Or book surprise entertainment, like a musical act, and then give clues and encourage attendees to guess who they’ll be seeing. Not only will this get attendees pumped about your event or meeting, but it also helps spread a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) among prospective attendees so they’re more likely to register!

As we mentioned earlier, you don’t need to feel pressured to put all of these ideas in action all at once. Take a look at your timeline, what you can do and what might resonate with your attendees. For example, if most of your attendees have already registered and booked travel, perhaps you could still reach out with some sightseeing and event recommendations or helpful logistical tips. It’s never a bad idea to start small and then grow your attendee engagement strategy, especially as you gather insights into what works (and what doesn’t) for your particular audience.

Keep an eye on the blog for the next post in our three-part attendee engagement series. We’ll look at ways to boost engagement during your event or meeting and why attendee engagement continues to be such a critical focus for meeting and event planners.