2015 Meeting & Corporate Events Guide

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Corporate events not only mean business, they also give professional people a chance to recharge their batteries while they reshape business strategy. In our annual Meeting & Corporate Events Guide, we present a clean dozen topical matters of interest to both novice and professional meeting planners.

Not Your Typical Event

Backyard parties don’t often defy convention, but when it’s July and people are dying to break out of the typical corporate setting, a little creativity goes a long way. When Wisconsin Meetings and Events was chosen to host the monthly Downtown Madison New Faces, New Places event, WME CEO Sandra Daniel was determined to abandon the formulaic approach and put a different twist on it.

The company called on Two Classy Broads (for wine) and Wisconsin Brewing Co. (for beer), but here are two unconventional things that made the event a hit for the 140 attendees:

Neighborhood Networking

The back parking lot of Wisconsin Meetings and Events’ Willy Street office was transformed into a festive event space, complete with a large tent (Bucky’s Rental), a Mercedes (Gallant Knight Limousine Service) parked in front of the building, and a red carpet along the driveway. The event also provided an opportunity to highlight the company’s renovated space, a 105-year-old converted home, and show off the “neighborhood side of downtown,” Daniel said.

Fun features

A blackjack table, wine tastings, a photo booth, and a DJ combined to make this an “outside-the-box” event.

A signature cocktail

A table skirt added a unique flair to one recent DMI event.

Channeling her days as a bartender, one employee created a signature drink, while Quince & Apple donated Door County cherry syrup and Belaya Rus provided the vodka. A patio bar was used to serve drinks, while a woman from Event Essentials donned an actual table skirt upon which the signature cocktail was served.

The willingness to depart from the norm made the event a hit, said John Cerniglia, senior director of programs and communications for DMI. “People really enjoyed the opportunity to network and socialize in such a unique venue,” he noted, “and that’s part of what made it a very successful event.”

4 Ways the Hotel Room Tax Promotes Tourism

In 2015, the City of Madison will generate an estimated $12.9 million in revenue from its 9% hotel room tax. Have you ever wondered how the city uses those proceeds to promote tourism? Taking advantage of a grandfathered portion of state law that otherwise requires 70% of the proceeds from room taxes to support tourism, the city will devote $4.6 million to general purposes, but the remainder of that $12.9 million supports the following:

Monona Terrace receives the bulk of room-tax revenue collected by the City of Madison.

1. Monona Terrace ($4.8M)

With about $900,000 in debt service tied to construction loans, a $3.2 million operating subsidy, plus $525,000 in capital purchases and another $150,000 in reserves, Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center receives the bulk of city room-tax revenue. The facility, designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, pays it forward by hosting between 625 and 650 events each year, about 10% of which are conferences and conventions. The rest range from prestigious affairs like the Governor’s Inaugural Ball to free community programs, with consumer shows and concerts in between.

2. Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau ($2.8M)

The GMCVB’s convention sales, destination marketing and promotion, and public relations will claim about $2.6 million in room-tax revenues, and an event-booking-assistance subsidy carries another $200,000. This enables President and CEO Deb Archer and her staff to make the sales pitch for Madison, such as when the city beat out several other communities for the June 2014 American Meat Science Association’s Meat Industry Research Conference. Calling on meat scientists from Oscar Mayer and UW-Madison, the GMCVB was not only able to lure the event, it also leveraged the community’s public and private assets.

3. Overture Center for the Arts

The 2015 city budget allocates $425,000 to help operate the area’s cultural crown jewel, the Overture Center. Another $79,000 is allocated to arts grants, and $60,000 is budgeted for Madison Music City.

4. Good Sports

This year, the Madison Area Sports Commission will receive room-tax revenue ($100,000 worth), and the city has earmarked $30,000 to cover this month’s Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Boys Basketball Tournament.

A Compelling Reason for Careful Calendaring

Part of knowing your conference audience is avoiding the scheduling of events on various religious holidays. It conveys a respect that your more spiritual attendees will appreciate and reward with loyalty, and makes it more likely that they will attend.

There are endless examples of calendars for Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths — a quick Google search will reveal plenty of each — and the more prominent computer calendaring systems stand ready to assist, according to the GMCVB’s Deb Archer: “Microsoft Outlook actually populates your calendar with whatever holidays or religious sect you’d like,” she noted.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for Greater Madison meeting planners to be mindful about scheduling around religious holidays is the wisdom of following the leader — Epic. As Archer notes, Dane County’s largest employer is moving its annual Users Group Meeting up a couple of weeks (Aug. 31-Sept. 3, 2015) to avoid conflicting with the Jewish observances of Rosh Hashanah (the new year) and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). According to Jewish tradition, work is not permitted on either day.

It’s not as though the Users Group Meeting was losing attendees because it has been held in mid-September, but it ran the risk of conflicting with at least one of the two holidays, Archer noted. “They are moving it because they wanted to respect the Jewish holidays,” she said, “and they picked an August date [to start] so their attendees won’t have any conflicts.”

5 Reasons to Support a Second Convention Hotel

Despite skeptics in the local hotel industry, some believe a second convention hotel to serve Monona Terrace would not only meet capacity demands but also serve as a rising tide that lifts all boats. Here are five reasons supporters say a second convention hotel, which would be part of the Judge Doyle Square project, is needed:

1. Capital capacity  

Deb Archer (GMCVB) believes her organization will be able to expand the hospitality industry because of the additional capacity the hotel would bring to downtown Madison. “It creates capacity in a place where capacity is needed,” she stated. “We have a convention facility downtown that has a minimum number of rooms attached to it.”

2. Demand generation  

A second convention hotel would create opportunity for capacity in other hotels. “We know we have opportunities for larger business or more simultaneous business, but we are limited by the capacity that can be handled in the downtown market,” Archer noted.

3. Making the most of Monona   

The city’s signature convention facility is underutilized, according to Archer. “We can’t really optimize Monona Terrace without a second hotel, based on what attendees and meeting planners expect in terms of proximity,” she noted.

4. More corporate business   

“One of our biggest disadvantages in competing with other cities is that we do not have the hotel space downtown that we need,” says Sandra Daniel (Wisconsin Meetings and Events). “It’s one of the biggest drawbacks I’ve had in bringing in corporate business.”

5. Necessary evolution    

Madison has to evolve in order to move the tourism needle. “I realize that there are people who want to keep Madison the same, but I don’t think we can if we want to evolve and draw in new business and new opportunities,” Daniel says.



5 Reasons Madison Can Attract Winter Tourists

The Inukshuk Fat Tire Bicycle Race is one attraction that helps Madison compete in winter tourism.

One justification for a second convention hotel is that the city isn’t fully exploiting its potential to secure winter business. Many observers insist that Madison can become a top winter tourist destination, even if some local hoteliers view that as a pipe dream. Here are five reasons why the dreamers might be right:

1. Not everyone wants to hibernate

The same winter activities that Madisonians enjoy also appeal to visitors. “The people who live here really love winter because there are so many things to do,” notes Deb Archer (GMCVB). “Everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s winter,’ but then we revel in it.”

2. No big-city hassles

The flip side of the “we can’t compete with Chicago” attitude is that sometimes, big cities intimidate visitors. “They like to come here because it’s so easy to enjoy events,” Archer noted. “Chicago and Minneapolis are great cities, but events there are very spread out.”

3. More bang for the buck

There’s more value here in terms of what visitors can experience for their dollar. “One of the common requests I get from travel writers is, ‘Can you get me a city pass?’ notes the CVB’s Judy Frankel. “You don’t need a city pass in Madison because our attractions are very reasonable. In Chicago, you can blow the travel budget on Shedd Aquarium or the museum. They need those bundles to make it attractive.”

4. Fat Tire traction

In February, Madison hosted the Inukshuk Fat Tire Bicycle Race. Fat tire is a sub-category of cycling that has taken off recently and become one of the sport’s hottest trends, and the event is considered a prime example of the kind of offbeat winter fun that Madison can cultivate.

5. Frozen lakes, frozen fun

When Mendota and Monona and other lakes freeze over, they present opportunities for winter fun. “You have ice bars outside, and you embrace the cold,” noted Sandra Daniel. “It’s all in your approach.”

Unique Spots for Diverse Events

They are as relaxing as Betty Lou Cruises or as new as The Stream at Edgewood College, and they can be as picturesque as Aldo Leopold Nature Center or Olbrich Gardens. But one thing unique event spaces have in common is a different kind of environment.

“What’s great about those out-of-the-box meeting spaces is they yield great meetings, so whether it’s a corporate retreat, a get-together, or a chance to brainstorm, it takes you out of that staid boardroom space and the creativity really flows,” noted Judy Frankel (GMCVB).

Last year, we profiled venues such as Badger Farms and the Livingston Inn. This time, we highlight three more special spots.

Madison Children’s Museum: If you’re looking to stimulate a creative, boundary-busting meeting or memorable networking event, consider holding it at Madison Children’s Museum.

Like a kid again: Even adults can enjoy meetings at the Madison Children's Museum.

Located in the heart of Madison, the museum offers breathtaking views of the state Capitol and Lake Mendota, and a chance to sip cocktails or soak up the scenery on the rooftop garden.

You can also surround guests with the work of more than 200 regional artists in a venue that offers up to 7,000 square feet for events and can accommodate up to 600 guests. AV equipment is available, including a lectern, projector, screen, and a portable speaker system with microphone and iPod input. To reserve space or ask for more information, contact Sarah Davidson at 608-354-0540 or sdavidson@madisonchildrensmuseum.org.

Fresh Madison Market: Along with full-service catering and a state-of-the-art kitchen, Fresh Madison Market offers more than 900 square feet of space for small business meetings of up to 49 people. The event room is complete with flat screens, audio-visual and media services, and free Wi-Fi. The room can be supported by teleconferencing for those off-site. Call 608-287-0000 for more details.

Cave of the Mounds: If you’d like to get out of town but not travel too far, Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark in southwest Wisconsin offers meeting spaces for up to 100 people in its Historic Barn or Visitor Center. Wi-Fi and audio-visual capabilities are available in some locations, and you can tour the cave before or after your meeting at a discounted rate for groups with 10 or more participants. And Cave of the Mounds is not just a spring, summer, and fall destination; it’s open year-round for events or meetings. For more information, contact Kim Anderson at 608-437-3038 or kim@caveofthemounds.com.

Rooftop at the Edgewater: For a picturesque setting and some power networking, nothing beats the view this venue can offer, as this photo attests. Contact Julie Woodward, director of catering, at 608-535-8171.

How AV Adds Spice

Now more than ever, corporate meetings are being enhanced through audio-visual aids. Whether that’s high-definition projection on extremely large screens or live streams to remote users, meeting planners have learned that AV can be used before, during, and after events. Video in particular “harnesses the power and synergy between sight, sound, and emotion,” notes Travis Wichmann, director of creative services for Charter Media Creative. Here are four ways video and other AV technologies are communicating business messages.

  • Beyond YouTube channels and websites, organizations use embedded video links in promotional emails. Video links have two to three times the click-through and share rate of standard email, according to Wichmann.
  • Live streaming and video capture (for on-demand playback) are ideal for what Sonic Foundry’s Robert Lipps calls hybrid events (for those onsite and watching remotely). Video capture helps organizations create a digital library of their most meaningful content for users and subscribers to view throughout the year, creating a revenue stream and promotional material. Companies like Autodesk and Citrix use content recorded with Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite technology and offer some online content for free.
  • PowerPoint has come to high-definition, widescreen technology, according to Monona Terrace AV technician Matt Bittorf. The same technology that came to your television several years back is now being put to use in conference presentations. “What we see now is that people are more willing to embed videos because they can fill up the screen,” Bittorf said.
  • Projection mapping, where light is mapped onto different surfaces, turning them into interactive displays, is increasingly used to break up the stage. In the corporate world, “we may use a projection map on walls or on stage,” noted Studio Gear’s John McDonald. “You can highlight different things.”

Finding Greener Spaces

It’s not always easy being green, but Madison-area meeting planners are finding plenty of environmentally sustainable venues worthy of hosting their events.
Sustain Dane, a local business sustainability advocacy group, cites Monona Terrace, the Goodman Community Center, and the Madison Concourse Hotel as three different — and very distinct — meeting venues that have stepped up their sustainability game.

According to Sustain Dane Executive Director Jessie Lerner, whether you’re looking for a big space like Monona Terrace or a more intimate venue like the Goodman Center, it’s important to ask the right questions.

In addition to inquiring about LEED certification (an easy starting point), meeting planners should ask about transit options, natural lighting, air quality, water management, and the venue’s internal sustainability policies and practices. It’s also important to ask about purchasing policies. What cleaning products, paper products, and catering materials are being used? What about the food itself? Are vegetarian options available, and has the venue considered buying bulk food items in order to minimize excess packaging?

“Any questions a potential client asks about green options increases the demand,” said Lerner. “If you make a choice when booking because of green options, make sure to tell the sales rep to reinforce this value.”

Some planners are even attempting to create zero-waste events, but venues need to have the proper systems in place to accommodate them, so it’s important to ask probing questions at the outset.

“If the venue does not have the appropriate means to provide recycling or composting, these events might not reach their goal,” said Lerner.

Of course, making your meetings greener isn’t just about doing the right thing. Increasingly, attendees themselves are looking for a greener experience.

“A friend of mine recently attended a conference at Monona Terrace and emailed me saying, ‘Hey, did you know they are LEED?’” said Lerner. “So not only are attendees becoming more aware, they notice when venues are not green.”



5 Ways to Attract or Retain Event Sponsors

When it comes to wooing event sponsors, it’s all about inclusion and relationship-building, according to Fran Puleo, manager of community and public relations for Monona Terrace. “If the sponsors feel they are invested in the event, it’s about more than just giving us their money,” she said. In that spirit, we present five ways to attract or retain event sponsors.

1. Attach sponsors to an experience.

Whether it’s the morning yoga class before the day’s sessions or a painting that’s raffled off during the evening meal, put a sponsor’s name on it. By tying sponsorship to the experience, the sponsors gain more visibility and are linked to something attendees look forward to.

2. Start playing games.

Gamification is increasingly used not only to foster engagement (by having attendees compete for prizes provided by sponsors) but also to connect attendees with sponsors.

3. Get in their face.

Face time before attendees, especially if they are part of a sponsor’s target market, is extremely important. “We get their name on a golf beverage cart or a specific giveaway or a specific activity,” said Sandra Daniel (Wisconsin Meetings and Events). “The big thing for sponsors is getting the face time with their ultimate customer.”

4. Leverage social media.

On behalf of sponsors, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn present ideal opportunities to create top-of-mind awareness with attendees. “We are interactive on social media with our sponsors,” Puleo noted. “We tag them, they share our posts, and we engage with them on social media.”

5. Flash your digital sign.

Those ever-changing digital signs not only promote conference sessions, they also serve sponsors. “You once had to print everything on boards and easels, and now it’s digital,” noted the GMCVB’s Judy Frankel, “and you can change your sponsors’ signage by the hour.”

Airbnb: Lodging Option or Looming Headache?

One lodging website gaining traction among travelers looking for unique options is Airbnb, which provides visitors the opportunity to rent a privately owned single room or apartment — or an entire home — in a local neighborhood.

In Madison, Airbnb properties must have permits to operate and must undergo a public health inspection, and a room tax is charged on them to bring rentals more in line with hotels.

“A lot of people are complying,” said City Treasurer Dave Gawenda. “Do we know if everyone is? No.”

But what impact will options like Airbnb have on local hotels? Tom Ziarnik, general manager at the Doubletree by Hilton Madison, believes these short-term (under 30 days) rental options can put guests at risk because safety and security requirements, such as room sprinklers, are lacking.

That said, here are some advantages both Airbnb and traditional hotels offer conference attendees:

Why consider Airbnb?

• Price. In a 2013 study of America’s largest cities, Priceonomics.com found that, on average, Airbnb charges 21.2% less for an entire apartment and 49.5% less for a private room than hotels typically charge for accommodations.
• In Madison, the study lists these average per-night price comparisons:
› Hotel: $90
› Airbnb apartment: $75
› Airbnb private room: $67

• If traveling with a family, renting an entire home may be more convenient, though you may need to rent a car.

Why book a hotel room?

• Convenience. Conferences typically book blocks of hotel rooms within close proximity to the meeting, sometimes in the same building. Airport shuttles may be available as well.

• In addition to daily maid service, hotels often include an exercise room, swimming pool, an on-site restaurant, and a free breakfast.

• No surprises. You remain close to other conference attendees and can easily retreat to your room without hailing a cab.

5 Dominant Event Apps

According to area meeting planners, convention apps vary widely in quality, and there aren’t many people clamoring for them, but some apps do stand out. Meeting planners tout the usefulness of event apps that can be customized, and they identified five that are either dominant or have a realistic chance of gaining wider adoption.

QuickMobile and Cvent

They started out as online event management apps with standard features like registration, agenda, and speaker information, but they have since added pieces to keep up with consumer needs. The latest example is gamification, which helps connect attendees with sponsors, enriching the experience of both. “You buy into their platform,” noted Sandra Daniel, “and then each event is customized off that main platform.”


An event app focused on conference networking, Topi gives users the ability to engage in real-time group messaging with perfect strangers who share their interests. The mobile app (for iPhone, Android, and Windows Mobile) relies on social media accounts to make connections with other attendees, creates chat rooms full of people with common interests, and enables the group to keep communicating after the event ends. Planners can use its real-time polling to generate immediate feedback.


“Go app yourself” might not be Yapp’s slogan, but creating your own mobile app is the concept behind the service. With templates for invitations, scheduling, photo sharing, and more, app creators have an unlimited number of pages to work with. Apps can be created for a variety of events — conferences, retreats, weddings, etc. — and functions like push alerts and offline viewing can be added.


Zerista is a mobile app used to personalize the event experience, not only through tailored scheduling but also with greater connectivity, interaction, and collaboration. The Zerista meeting hub enables pre-show engagement, onsite interaction, and continuing (post-show) collaboration, while its gamification is designed to foster networking and its interactive maps help attendees find their way around.

The Impact of Uber and Lyft

Union Cab of Madison would like a level playing field when competing with services like Uber and Lyft.

Is the local taxi industry in deep trouble if the city allows app-based taxi alternatives like Uber and ride-sharing options like Lyft to operate outside of local ordinances? Local cabbies believe so; they are pleading for a level playing field. Here are five competitive/economic impacts of these controversial transportation alternatives.

For group/convention business, the impact is not huge, but it’s a different story when it comes to individual leisure travelers and local events. “If there’s a big event like the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest, which we organize transportation for, we figure they [Uber] had more numbers than we had,” said Paul Bittorf, business manager of Union Cab of Madison.

Other than a couple of enforcement actions, Madison has yet to regulate Uber in any meaningful fashion. Local cab companies are crying foul, especially because they believe the city taxi ordinance is overdue for a rewrite. “They are operating outside of the taxi ordinances, and we are the ones who are paying all the licensing fees, registering our drivers, and buying commercial auto insurance [$330,000 per year],” Bittorf stated.

Union Cab’s call counts are down about 15%, according to Bittorf. The drop-off is most noticeable during big events and on weekend nights. “They are taking money at our peak times, when we usually can make the money we need to stay in operation,” he said.

Alternative services use a smartphone app to receive ride requests, but the situation is creating a class divide that will become worse if cab companies fail. Bittorf noted that taxis are needed to serve people who don’t have smartphones, and to serve domestic abuse shelters.

Transportation alternatives are creating job opportunities for area residents to serve as drivers. Chelsea Wilson, public policy communications manager for Lyft, said prospective drivers undergo screening that includes criminal background checks and mentoring from other drivers. “Drivers traditionally keep 80% of the payments they receive,” she noted, “but they are independent contractors.”

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