Ready for the crowds – Cobo Center Atrium

What’s Going On? We have just helped produce Facing Race 2018, the largest national gathering of organizers, educators, creatives and other thought leaders in racial equity and justice, at Cobo Center, Detroit. In tribute to the music that Motor City is famous for, here is a playlist of what went right.

First, let’s Get Into the Groove, and head over to the velvety posh Candy Bar, in the Siren Hotel, in the gorgeously renovated Wurlitzer building. Now sit back and enjoy the most beautifully designed bar in Michigan, and I’ll order you a proper Daiquiri. Bartender Harry crafts his with Angostura Rum, Rhum JM from Martinique, fresh lime and simple syrup, served in a chilled crystal coupe glass. Divine!

This is my 5th Facing Race, but this one is different. With the perfect storm of expert content curation, marketing efforts, and an upwelling of activism since the 2016 election, our 2,100-person hotel-size conference caught a tsunami and delivered 3,700 people to Cobo Convention Center.

Mercy Mercy Me, when a conference scales like this, so does its environmental impact. Consider that our 3,700 attendees are here for 3.5 days. Our only hope for delivering a smooth and sustainable event was a venue that could support our growth and our green standards, and that’s just what Cobo Center did.

It’s a Shame. A shocking 77% of the 50 billion plastic bottles used by Americans each year don’t get recycled. They end up in landfill or contaminating our rivers and oceans. At Facing Race, we used Zero plastic water bottles! We kept attendees hydrated with 238 5-gallon reusable water jugs – the equivalent of 19,100 8 oz. plastic bottles. Although our motivations were social and environmental, we also saved close to $31,000, proving once again the business case for sustainability. A huge kudos to Cobo, Centerplate and our own Nicolette Oliaro for making this happen. A few details for when you try this at your show: We ordered custom branded water cooler covers, provided compostable cups, and used elegant pitchers at the podiums and head tables.

If you only had one opportunity, would you let it slip?

The Main Stage in Hall D was lit, thanks to Premier AV

Or would you hire Premier AV, so you can Lose Yourself on the Main Stage in Hall D, where our attendees were so pumped up, they got out of their seats and danced to DJ Holographic on opening night. Our technical director Casey Terrazas couldn’t say enough about the Premier crew that helped produce 5 general sessions, making it possible to manage the 70+ main stage performers, speakers, and thought leaders such as Tarana Burke (author of the #MeToo hashtag) and Hari Kondabolu.

It was not Just my Imagination, Alyssa Young was our rock star Cobo event manager. First off, she kept our floor plans current. Floor plans are the single best event planning tool. They are how we get content, AV, facilities, electrical, and IT to become One Nation Under a Groove. She also fielded every question we could think of about space, branding, logistics and more: all in all, we logged over 780 e-mails. That’s customer service. One more thing – often a convention center switches your primary contact once you get on site. It was incredibly helpful to have our pre-show event manager turn into our on-site event manager – her knowledge of our show made her an MVP player on our team.

Time for Another? Let’s stroll over toThe Standby, on The Belt alley, where the jaw-dropping world-class street murals – such as “Vanity” by street artist Hush – inspire some Respect.

There was No Mountain High Enough to keep Kelly Tocco and the Centerplate catering team from helping us. They helped work with our budget to create hot meals to warm up our attendees and leave them satiated during a chilly November. (Why don’t more catering companies try this? We all know hot meals have a direct correlation to high marks on the event survey!) On site, they worked with us to respond to changes in our attendance, and proactively suggested an “All Staff” call to help elegantly execute a back-to-back keynote/lunch program.

Alyssa Young & me in front our giant floor plans

All leftover meals  – about 200 salad and lunches – were donated to Forgotten Harvest, who redistributes food to those in need.

Going the extra 8 Mile – on Green Standards. Thanks to Kristin Shaw & Cobo’s sustainability team, Facing Race was able to donate or recycle ALL leftover conference materials. It total, we were able to divert 1,530 pounds of material from landfill including donations, recyclable and compostable materials. The back of house sustainability tour showcased the many APEX/ASTM standard features of the center, including the 10,000 square foot green roof, and daylight harvesting sensors that turn off lights when there is enough sunlight to illuminate the building.

Alanna Powers from GEMS Exhibition made producing our back stage, exhibit area, and rigging signage as easy as ABC. She is a way better person than me, smiling at all our pop-up requests and helping support our table top exhibitors. We logged 445 e-mails; her responsiveness and resourcefulness were simply outstanding.

When we weren’t planning the event we did Get Around (Just testing you – this was not written by a Detroit native). A few highlights to share:

I’ll Be There – If we are going to Mudgies Deli and Wine Bar for a world changing pastrami sandwich. Mudgies is an excellent place for a team dinner, with food for all eaters, in-house roasted deli meats, a terrific wine, beer and cocktail list, excellent service, and casual atmosphere.

You didn’t just Hear it Through the Grapevine, the planning team was caught up in some Dancing in the Street, over in Eastern Market, outside of Bert’s BBQ, on a June evening, dancing The Wobble and singing, after a fantastic Pizza extravaganza at Supino’s.

“Vanity” by street artist Hush, on The Belt alley in Detroit

What I like about You – Special thanks to “Cobo Dave” Austin for making the contract so easy, Debra Taylor at the Marriott for outstanding support with our massive ever-changing housing block, and CVB friends Sheila Neal and Brian Walker for all the help with connecting us to resources. And if this blog makes you want to learn more about Detroit’s rich musical history, well, you might want to talk to Cobo’s Director of Sales Greg DeSandy, a walking Wikipedia of pop culture and Detroit history.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m yours, until next time!