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Making Profitable Lemonade From Lemons!
By Eileen McDargh   Printer Friendly Version

This October 31 turned cold, wet and dreary across Chicago and its suburbs. A rotten night for Halloween. And it could have been a lousy night for this business traveler, cheered only by the prospect of conducting an interactive team session the next day for an area bank.

But Halloween evening was anything but cheerless at the 421-room Arlington Park Hilton in Arlington Heights, IL. Creativity, energy, and vision produced an event that not only garnered immediate press and local attention, but is also sure to have long-term residual effects for new business. Take heed and see what ideas you can extrapolate for your business. Here's the recipe:

First ingredient: a lemon. In the hotel business, that means low occupancy. Second: a surrounding residential neighborhood with growing families, schools, businesses, and senior citizens. Third: An empowered and creative director of catering, a town mayor, an eager-to-have-fun-high-energy hotel team from sales, catering, and conference services. Fourth: a dash of courage and a generous dash of money. Mix well with laughter, fun, and childhood fantasy.

The result: a Halloween party for 3,000 children, their parents and 150 younger-than-Springtime folks over 65 years of age, an energized work force, tremendous goodwill, increased awareness of the hotel, and lots of press.

But this event did not occur by magic. It first took the Director of Catering, Samantha Agnew, to realize that lemonade could be made from the seasonal low of room count and meeting rooms. The hotel approached senior citizens for their help, offering a free room and dinner for Halloween if the seniors would decorate their hotel door of Halloween, pass out a hotel-furnished pillow case of candy to the children walking down the halls, and take fliers out to the local grade schools to get attendance.

Response was overwhelming. Parking was at such a premium that a shuttle ran excited children and their relieved parents to and from their cars. The third and fourth floors were taken over by senior citizens who decorated not only their doors but also themselves. One high-flying grandmother even wore a burlap dress and proclaimed herself "an old bag".

Fifty high school volunteers were fed dinner and then served as guides taking children through both floors. The hotel staff dressed in costume and worked the haunted house, a dozen carnival games, the movies, arts & crafts, and a storytelling session.

The town mayor, Arlene Mulder, greeted the guests in her best Minnie Mouse dress. The hotel's in-house production company, The Meeting House, festooned fixtures with cobwebs, built the sets, and created special effects. The children were bug-eyed with delight and amazingly well behaved for all the adrenaline rush that comes from make-believe and "treats".

Did the parents love it? You bet! No worry about rain, darkness, safety, or dangerous play.

And what about the hotel's paying guests? I can only speak for myself. The tiny clowns, brides, animals, spooks, power rangers, Alladins, lion kings, cowboys, and cowgirls carried me back to a time when I played outside at dark, carried flashlights with Mom & Dad, and warmed my cold hands with hot chocolate. The twins who appeared as oreo cookies, the miniature Charlie Chaplin (even to his walk), and the youngster who came as a quilted bag of M&Ms assured me that creativity and innovation were not dead.

There are lessons to be gleaned from Hilton's experience. What might you do to involve employees, community, and untapped resources that could generate short, mid-term, and long terms gains? Or are the people with budgetary controls concerned more with what they'll lose rather than what they will gain? What would it take to see possibilities rather than problems?

As for me, I think I had better call now for my next Halloween reservation. This first-time event is, I'm sure, destined to become an annual treat.


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