Students in Kari Miller’s class, PR for Entertainment & Fashion, were treated to an inspiring special guest speaker this week. Dave Merrell, the Founder and CEO of AOO Events, Inc., spoke to the students about his experience and continued success in the events industry, what to expect when they launch their careers, and helpful tips along the way.
The first thing he brought to the attention of the students is the business side of event planning. He said, “Budget is the hardest part. You cannot sustain business if you don’t make money.” If you’re strictly creative, that’s great, just find a business partner.
He started his company in 1989, seven years after graduating from college with an accounting degree. His goal was always to own his own business. It was when he took a bartending side job to make extra money, that he started learning about event planning and management. He soon became the VP of Sales and Marketing for that company.
It piqued his interest in events, and he wanted to learn everything so he started reading The Special Event Magazine and took every job he could. He recommended to all the students that they subscribe to it, which is now available online only.
His goal was to learn everything about events so that he when he eventually became a manager, he would know all aspects. He loaded trucks, waited tables, made props, and hung around the lighting and sound crews to learn about their equipment and what they do. He learned about valet, tenting, pipe and drape, and got real life practical experience in things like how to load chairs through a single door.
Everything was a valuable learning experience. He said, “The more you know, the more you can bring to your clients.”
He found something he loved, so he worked hard to save up to start his own company. With $10K saved, he was ready. An Original Occasion came to life, known today as AOO Events.
His business has morphed over the years. In the beginning, he had his own catering company, but soon realized it was not for him. Dropping the catering part of the business was the thing that transformed it. He redefined himself, and decided to do only event decor, and hire caterers instead. He discovered he had a flair for design. He now has a 22,000 square foot facility just outside downtown Los Angeles, with a floral shop, and a woodworking and metal shop. He even has his own lines of furniture.
These days AOO Events thrives not only in Los Angeles, but all over. His corporate clients are taking him around the world with them. In fact, he’s doing an event in Scotland next.
He said that about 75% of his business is corporate, and 25% social (meaning weddings and other personal events). With his Hollywood connections, he’s doing the upcoming Jackie premiere, starring Natalie Portman.
Although Hollywood is glamorous, it does not pay well, he told the students. It’s great for your portfolio, but corporate is where the money is.
AOO Events has been doing Gatorade’s Super Bowl events for the last 14 years. The decor at an event of that caliber can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s huge business.
As the students in Kari Miller’s class are about to embark on their careers, they asked him for advice. He said to be kind to everyone. Be patient. Say what you mean, and deliver what you say. Deliver on time, and in budget. And communicate.
It’s what he’s done and it’s what he attributes his success to. He delivers a consistently good product, year after year.
One thing is sure. Dave Merrell loves what he does. “I’ve been in this industry for 28 years,” he said. “And I am as excited to wake up today as I was when I started.”
Categories: Vis Comm
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