Why Do Corporate Meetings Have Themes?


Why Do Corporate Meetings Have Themes?

On a call recently regarding a meeting theme for a non-profit corporate event, a member of the committee who doesn't typically work in the live event world asked, "What is the purpose of a theme? How does it manifest, and what is it intended to do?".

Admittedly, I was a little shocked at the question... but it made me realize that often we take for granted the purpose of a theme, and that it can be constructive to be reminded of it. When we take themes for granted is when we end up with cliches (i.e. The Power of One), meaningless turns of phrase (i.e. Fight to Win) or inspirational word salad (i.e. any of the themes generated by Gramercy Tech's funny-but-too-true theme generator, seen here).

Meeting themes are intended to do 5 important things:

BE THE CHORUS: The best part of nearly any pop song is the Chorus. It's the part that contains the hook, it is repeated multiple times, and the verses help support it and allow us to keep turning back to the chorus as a sort of homecoming.

BE STICKY: People won't remember two full days of content. They will remember one turn of phrase if it is unique, endowed with meaning, and is repeated often and in novel ways. That's what makes it stick.

DISTILL THE OBJECTIVE: If we understand that people can't remember all the content of a meeting, the theme that they do remember should have a distillation of the overall meeting objective baked into it. That way, when they remember the theme, they remember why they went, and what they are supposed to do now.

BE A FILTER: Inevitably, someone will want to come and deliver a speech at your beautifully themed meeting that is off-message. The theme, when agreed upon in a collaborative way, helps you filter what content should go on the stage, and what should hit the circular file. The strongest themes allow room for variation in presentations, while still maintaining the integrity and truth of your theme's intention.

ENDOW MEANING: Themes shouldn't just be pithy. They may start that way, but over the course of a full meeting experience, the content delivered should deepen the meaning of your theme at the outset. The best themes have layers like an onion that can be unpacked at the meeting, or even beyond in a post-communications campaign. Then, when people see or hear that theme, their bodies can't help but recall the deeper layers of meaning.

Now, with all of that said, IM Creative adds a #6... and that is the element of being BESPOKE.

Gone are the days when a production company can pull a theme off the shelf and sell it to any number of clients.
Clients: if you believe that the company that just pitched you a theme could have pitched that very same theme for someone else, THEY HAVE.

The whole point of these motivational sales events is to help attendees understand why the place they work is special. A recycled theme will never, ever accomplish that.

Themes aren't just taglines. They are a thesis statement. That thesis gets expanded upon, supported, and proven over the course of a meeting, and that's what makes them work.


The Power of Mentorship


The Power of Mentorship

Recently I was fortunate enough to be profiled by #LGBTBold, a division of Pink Banana Media that seeks to highlight stories of LGBT entrepreneurs and what helped them achieve success. In the case of IM Creative, one thread of our story began at the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce's annual LGBT Leadership Conference in 2014 when we took part in their matchmaking activity.

Many of the organizations like NGLCC that support minority-owned businesses (generally defined as being enterprises owned by Women, People of Color, LGBT People, Disabled People, or Veterans) conduct these matchmaking sessions as a value-add for both their corporate partners and the businesses who participate.

2014 was the first year IM Creative was attending the event, and we had no idea what to expect. Upon receiving an invitation to take part in the matchmaking session, we diligently followed the instructions to create a profile and talk about the products and services that we had to offer clients, and why our company was unique. That year, we were lucky enough to be matched with 6 different companies seeking event services, among them was Novartis.

In case you live under a rock, Novartis is one of the largest players in the pharmaceutical space, and back in 2014 we had just begun to set our sights on that industry as one that would appreciate our value proposition and had the budget to pay for it. We were thrilled to be matched with Novartis, and they happened to be our first match of the day. YIKES! Time to go big or go home.

These days of matches are relentless. Corporations accepting matched meetings sit for almost 9 hours straight having 15 minute capabilities conversations with potential suppliers, offering them advice and in-roads on how to form relationships with large corporations.

My colleague Tom and I stood just outside the room where at least 30 matchmaking conversations were about to take place simultaneously, angling to see who from Novartis might be speaking with us. It turns out it was Todd Bittiger, formerly a category manager in Meetings and Events in Novartis Procurement. WIN.

I had my schpiel down. I whipped out my iPad, and with shaking fingers, I brought up the first slide of my short deck, which blares out BEING TOGETHER MATTERS.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Todd applauded.

"You guys did this exactly right. You started with WHY," he told us. Apparently, Todd had read the same Simon Sinek books that we had!

"While I'm no longer sourcing the meetings and events category in particular, I think you guys have something that Novartis needs. Let's stay in touch and see if we can't make something happen."

I feared that this was the same line Todd was going to feed everyone that day, but it turned out not to be. He really did see something special in us. He introduced us to the Associate Director of Supplier Diversity at Novartis, Sheri Shafir.

Sheri is a no-nonsense extravert with passion for supplier diversity oozing out of her every pore, and Todd's endorsement went a long way toward getting her attention, and we did everything we could to KEEP IT.

After a few initial meetings with potential customers and procurement people at Novartis, Todd was transferred to another department, but to this day, he continues to advise (and drink!) with me, and I value his opinion tremendously. But his handoff to Sheri helped result in a year-long, formalized mentorship between IM Creative and Novartis that I'm certain will be a part of our origin story for decades. Sheri Shafir herself took over the responsibility for our mentorship, and she helped orchestrate monthly meetings with members of her team where everything about our approach was looked at critically through the lens of what would work in the world of Pharmaceuticals.

Some days, the feedback was super-positive. Other days, we learned how far we still had to go. Sheri, in particular, has a communication style that assumes you've got some thick skin if you're asking for her opinion, and she doesn't hesitate to tell it like it is. But because we had the chance to understand her affection for supplier diversity, her attraction to a supplier like us and what her comments were intended to do, a year of working with Sheri helped prepare us to dive into the world of Pharma with both feet.

While our mentorship has since ended and a new LGBT vendor has the honor of learning from Sheri how best to work at Novartis, she continues to be one of our greatest champions. Along with Todd and the entire team at Novartis, we learned more in that year than we ever could have in an MBA program. They were honest, direct and caring in a way that is like nothing we've experienced professionally. When you are a child and you have a boo-boo, a parent kisses it. A mentor asks you how you got it, and tells you not to do that again. We didn't need a parent. We needed a mentor, and that's exactly what we got from Sheri and the Novartis team.

While it is explicitly stated that in no way does a mentoring relationship guarantee any business, IM Creative continues to pursue work with Novartis, and is pleased to have made their preferred vendor roster for the next three years... so potential abounds. But even without potential work at Novartis, I consider Sheri, Todd and the entire team at their organization friends that I will treasure for a lifetime given the abundance of love, tough and otherwise, they gave my company to help us reach the next level of success. Mentoring isn't for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned. But it is perfect for the ambitious, the bold, the good-listeners, and those who aren't afraid to change. That's what we needed, and I'm thrilled to have gotten the experience.

In fact, as Sheri and I sat reminiscing about how far we've come together at the recent NGLCC National Dinner, someone wanted to take a photo of the table (yes.. the photo at the top of this post). We all crowded around one side and tried to look a little more sober than we were, and Sheri whispered to me... "Shannon... turn to the side a little. It'll make ya look skinnier!" Once a mentor, always a mentor. Thank you Sheri, Todd and Novartis for a great year together, and here's to an even greater future!

For more information about the NGLCC, click here.

To learn more about Novartis and their commitment to Supplier Diversity, click here.


Innovation Is Not A Strategy


Innovation Is Not A Strategy

The more I work with large corporate clients, whether in tech, pharma, consumer goods, automotive, or other industries, the more I've become aware that most companies are seeking the same thing from their suppliers and vendors -- and event designers are not exempted. They want us to help them get or stay ahead by doing things that are innovative. Sounds great, right?

The only problem with this is that innovation is a retrospective adjective, not a forward-facing, actionable strategy.

When corporations tell you they want innovation, they may as well be telling you they want magic. It is all but impossible. We look at things retrospectively and call them innovative -- sliced bread.. Uber.. drag bingo. But virtually no one ever sat down at a table and said "Let's make INNOVATION". Rather, people set out to do their jobs, and innovation is a consequence of how they do their job, not their initial intention.

The most successful innovators sat down and said "F**k it!". They decided not to be a victim. They grew a pair. They decided not to make excuses. They found guts. They decided to break the rules as much as possible and still get away with it. When they succeeded, people called it innovative. That's the adjective that describes the successful outcome.  

I don't know any entrepreneur who doesn't want that. The difference between the people who get called innovative and the ones who don't isn't a desire to be more innovative than the other guy. It's the person whose attitude says "What are these rules for? Why? Who said?". It's the person who says "Let's pitch the thing that is as close to the line as we can and STILL WIN".

What companies really mean when they say they want innovation is that they want the risk takers... rule breakers... dream makers, don't you mess around with me. In part because so much of giant corporate culture can't take the risks that our small agencies can. They are inherently risk averse, have employees who are motivated by fear, and they incentivise the maintenance of the status quo.

Innovation is an outcome. It's the result of a mindset that questions every limitation. When you combine that mindset with a vision, a team who understands it and is ready to work hard for it, and a bucket of talent, you will aim higher. You will fly farther. You will crash harder. And you will win bigger.

Innovation is the result of having guts. Clients need agencies, suppliers, and partners with chutzpah.

I'm not interested in creating innovation. That's akin to saying I want to create a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. You don't set out to do that. You set out to do something that is so satisfying and singular that it resonates as something heretofore unconsidered. Not because you want to disrupt an industry... but because you dared to be different.

I'm going out there and I'm gonna try to win. And I'm going to do it by breaking as many rules as possible along the way. If I innovate along the way, history will be the judge of that. My job is to deliver on my mindset of breaking through barriers, rules, and assumptions to try and deliver something unexpectedly better. Innovation is a judgement. Breaking rules is a strategy.




Columbus, OH -- Columbus, Ohio-based event production agency IM Creative has recently been named one the fastest growing privately-held companies in America by INC. Magazine.

This is the second year in a row the event design + production firm made the list.  Their rank jumped from #1767 in 2015 to #1328 this year.  

“We’re thrilled to once again be among this list of premier companies that represent the best in entrepreneurship and innovation,” says Scott Ihrig, Founder and CEO of IM Creative.  “Our growth has been fueled by expanded business with our keystone accounts, as well as the cultivation of new relationships in both Technology and Pharmaceutical industries that have responded positively to our value proposition - creating bespoke events that drive business objectives in ways that are memorable.”

Founded in 2000, IM Creative has grown 521% since relocating to Columbus in 2011.  That’s one aspect of their growth that has placed them on the radar of both INC. and clients.  In just the past year, IM Creative was named a preferred vendor for one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and one of the world’s largest investment banks.  

The growth of IM Creative’s business has also created a need for an expansion to their team.  “The nature of our work is such that we need talent that not only has the operational skills to realize the creative ideas that are our signature, but also the emotional intelligence to manage client relationships with the level of Maniacal Client Focus that forms a core value of our culture,” says Shannon Morrison, Chief Creative Officer.  “Our search for people who embody the IM Creative spirit and industry leading skill sets has been national in scope, and we have identified a number of new team members who continue to help fuel our growth and serve the needs of our clients around the globe.”

The newest members of the IM Creative team include:

CHRIS EPPERLY, a Charlotte, NC-based producer of corporate and experiential events.  Chris’s background in events has led him to create memorable experiences for clients including Sprint, Verizon, and NASCAR over the years.  With experience at both production companies and advertising agencies, Chris is an especially unique blend of the tactical and idea-driven processes that makes IM Creative effective.

FATIMAH ADAMS, a former New Yorker born and raised in Texas, Fatimah joined the Columbus headquarters where she brings extensive theatrical and television experience to bear on our experiences and corporate meetings.  In addition to appearing on screens and stages nationwide as a performer, Fatimah has produced television shows including Vacation House for Free, Ice Loves Coco, Cake Boss and more.  

CASSIE BRICKMAN calls Iowa City, IA her home, but IM Creative has become her family.  Cassie brings extensive corporate meeting, conference and experiential talent to the table, which is why she is the Executive Producer of IM Creative’s largest account.  Cassie has worked with the NFL, FOX Sports, and NASCAR among numerous corporate clients from throughout the Fortune 500.  Her infectious positivity, paired with her logistical and budgetary savvy have made her a valuable new addition to the team.

PHIL FREGEAU joined the team most recently to manage IM Creative’s extensive business development and relationship management efforts.  After over a decade with Regus, a real estate management company at which he pioneered the idea of office sharing, he arrived at IM Creative ready to activate the magic that is their unique blend of client service and innovative ideas.  

This news of growth also comes on the heels of IM Creative’s announcement of a new joint venture, an agency offshoot that targets Professional Sports with experiential engagements.  This venture, called AWESOME, pairs IM Creative with Michael Verlatti of NC-based Traction Event Labs.  Verlatti has worked extensively with NASCAR for over a decade specializing in sponsor activation, hospitality and fan engagement that uses technology to enhance and track guest experiences.

“Between our new team members and partnerships, new relationships with companies like Disney and Red Hat, and our established reputation as disrupters in the conference, experiential and event space, we expect 2017 to show even more growth,” adds Ihrig.  “And for that, we can only thank our clients for the trust and dedication they have to working with a small agency that does big things.”

About IM Creative:


We use theatre, technology, and media to deliver on your business goals. Our team has killer ideas that destroy cliche. We bring people together to realize a vision of strength, productivity and excellence where anything is possible.  Visit us on the web at www.i-m-creative.com to learn how our belief that BEING TOGETHER MATTERS can create amazing live events.  

About the INC 5000:

In 1982, Inc. introduced the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States. Since then, this prestigious list of the nation's most successful private companies has become the hallmark of entrepreneurial success and the place where future household names first make their mark. Pandora, 7 Eleven, Toys 'R' Us, Zipcar, Zappos.com and numerous other well-known brands have been honored by the Inc. 5000. In 2007, the Inc. 500 list expanded to the Inc. 5000, giving readers a deeper, richer understanding of the entrepreneurial landscape and capturing a broader spectrum of success.  Today, the list is a distinguished editorial award, a celebration of innovation, a network of entrepreneurial leaders, and an effective public relations showcase. The Inc. 5000 ranks companies by overall revenue growth over a three-year period. All 5,000 honoree companies are individually profiled on Inc.com.


We’re engagement experts specializing in gutsy strategic approaches for sportertainment that drive people to feel more so they do more. Our awesome ideas connect strategy to consumer experiences through panoptic activation. We work across channels to activate people in ways that you can effectively calculate.  Good enough isn’t good enough. That’s what makes us Awesome.  For more information, visit www.hiweareawesome.com.


For More Information, Please Contact:

Phil Fregeau, IM Creative

VP, Business Development