Mastermind: An Interview with Dave Merrell – Part IV

David Merrell founded AOO Events in 1989. As one  the nation’s most respected and sought-after award-winning design and production firms, AOO provides innovative event design, cutting-edge stage and logistics production. The company designs and produces movie premieres, corporate events, private parties and various milestone celebrations throughout the nation and internationally. As a former ISES LA President, Merrell continues his involvement as an industry adviser, expert and advocate. His leadership, achievement and dedication make him a true Mastermind. Continue reading for the details on Merrell’s journey to become an award-winning event designer and producer.

An Interview with David Merrell (Part IV)
Founder, AOO Events

By Paula Estes

Q: What are some tips for planners to use in developing meaningful partnerships with vendors?

A: Communication is the most important thing. When I choose a vendor, it’s basically because I need to work with

David Merrell

them. If I like their work then I develop a relationship with them. You can’t work with people just because you like them; you want to work with them because they have a good product and because their price is right. You have to kiss a lot of frogs until you find the right combination of a good price and a good product. We are event planners, it is our job to use different vendors every time and stretch our own boundaries and comfort levels and use whatever is right for the client and the event and the geographic area and the budget. So it’s all about communication. If you don’t communicate and if you are too dismissive in getting information out to vendors then you are going to pay for it on site and you are going to pay for it in the product.

Q: And tips to vendors especially looking at networking in the context of ISES… What tips can you give to vendors looking to expand their client base and connect with planners and get repeat business?

A: I don’t think that ISES is necessarily a place you should look for additional business. ISES is a place you look for camaraderie. There will be business that comes from it, but you’re never going to find business if you’re just handing out a card at an ISES meeting. You have to develop relationships with them, you have to be on the boards with ISES members because if you are on the board you are going to work with people side by side and you’re going to find out “God this person is flaky” or “Wow, this persons amazing” and you’ll decide which ones you’re going to want to work with. That’s how someone goes, “you know what, I’ve watched this person work, they’re good,” and I want to refer you to them. You’ll get more business from referrals and from people who like you than from just handing out cards.

If I want to talk to a client and if I’m selling to a client, I want them to consider me, and all I can look for is hopefully an introduction from someone they know so they will consider me with an open mind. If they are speaking to you it is because they have to be open to change. So when you are in front of their face you have to convince them somehow that you are going to help them in this transition and actually help their position. It’s a matter of a lot of numbers games knocking on a lot of doors to find that one person that you want to work with.  But once you get them, then you are golden. You’ve got really great vendors and clients. I can honestly say in this point of my life that when 90% of this stuff comes in I don’t feel like I ever have to take it. There are few pieces and obligations that I have to take but those are from clients who gave me the bigger picture, but there is a lot where I can go, you know what? This job isn’t worth it for us, I don’t feel right about this client, I don’t feel right about the budget, and I think it’s an uphill battle. We should all strive to put ourselves in that position.

Q: And you would refer that person to someone else?

A: I was talking broadly between clients and clients coming to me and making a decision but if a client came to me and I wanted to turn them down I would very graciously offer help if they needed it with a referral or happy to  give them some advice. You never know when that person is going to come back to you with a bigger job or something that does fit. There are quite a number of people in this industry purchasing events that don’t understand the business and don’t know how to ask the right questions. So it’s our job to kind of steer them into what they want even though they might not know it.

Q: What do you wish someone would have told you about becoming an event professional?

A:  First thing that comes to mind is I wish that I had people to talk to because when I started in the business back in the 80’s early 90’s this kind of open dialogue and having people talk to you was a lot more closed back then. In the event business in LA no one talked to anybody. ISES was tough because no one wanted to communicate or share. Now it’s changed and you have a lot of resources available to you.

Q: Including the internet?

A: Including the internet, but there is always more information available, and it is advice. Getting advice from people is important and that’s what ISES   brings…this camaraderie with people in the same shoes as me. You know…what do I do in this situation…a second opinion from someone who’s been there is invaluable. You asked a question though and I didn’t answer it…What would I say is the one thing event planners should do?

Visit the ISES LA Blog Tomorrow for Part V, the final installment of, Mastermind: An Interview with David Merrell.

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