This year the leading lady of corporate event management, Ellen Michaels, celebrates her company’s 25th anniversary with a successful branding makeover. From her Silicon Valley office and in her signature candid style, Ellen walks us through the past, present and future for Ellen Michaels Presents and the event industry as a whole.

Name: Ellen Michaels

Title: Founder & CEO

Years: 25

Favorite or Most Challenging Event to Date: It’s like asking me which one of your children do you like the best. Probably working in some really exotic locations. For example, people expect the same level of stuff you do in California in Africa. In order to make things cost effective, you have to work with local suppliers. You can’t hire a 747 to bring everything in. There just isn’t the infrastructure to support it. I think the challenging events are when we do stuff at the pyramids or in the jungle in Africa.

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What does this new look and branding represent for the company?

This is the 25th year since the company started. I think what it represents is a new, fresh look. One of our businesses is that we build beautiful websites. We are a very contemporary company and the website did not accurately reflect what the company has become nor the future of the company. It’s a new brand, it’s a new logo, new everything.

What was the goal you set when you started Ellen Michaels Presents?

One of the things that really differentiates us from other companies is the fact that we do have all these resources. We do production, event planning, registration and flawless execution all under one roof. My goal was to put together a company that could execute all those disciplines and then have all those disciplines in-house. Which is kind of rare.

What would you say is the company’s mission statement now?

Our mission is to deliver outstanding world class events for our clients that project their culture, fulfill their objectives, gain their trust and exceed their expectations every day.

How has the industry changed since you began?

Oh, it’s changed enormously. When I started there were no cell phones, no PCs, no email, no Microsoft. You had to talk to people! You had a desktop computer and you had a fax machine. There were no registration systems. Everything took longer and everything wasn’t last minute. On the production side, we didn’t have PowerPoint, so what we used was 35mm slides. So the last change you could make was at the last Federal Express delivery. Everything was paper.

The thing that hasn’t changed is the focus on the client. You can have all the technology in the world and all the most beautiful branding in the world, but if you lose sight of the client you’re done. You don’t treat new clients better than old clients. You treat all clients equally. Focus on their needs and what they want and listen to them.

Is there a part of you that wishes you could go back to that time and give people a cut-off, a true hard deadline?

The thing about live events, what makes it harder is the more time you have the higher level of quality you can achieve. Now the challenge is achieving these high levels of quality. It’s a show and the show must go on. There is no saying, ‘we need another day’. So the challenge is keeping the level of quality up. The world went 24/7. And everybody wants everything now and they still want it perfect.

What advances are you looking forward to in event management?

There’s a lot of technology advances. Especially in the registration area. In what we call the airport experience. The fact that companies can tie registration for an event back into their CRM system. So we’re hooking up to Marketo, Eloqua etc. That’s really exciting.

Do you find yourself ahead of other event management companies when clients come to you?

There’s a lot of technology we are taking advantage of. We are way ahead. One of the things to note is that we have always been way ahead. I think the reason for that is because we are located in Silicon Valley and because most of our clients are tech companies. We have to be using cutting edge technology.

What has been your most valuable lesson as a CEO?

I think it’s been really important to me to maintain the growth in a way that you can keep the quality great. Because you’re only as good as the last event you did. It’s hard to turn down stuff, it’s hard to not grow. So that’s one of things I do the most, is to keep things in check so that it doesn’t get away from you.

What do you think is best advice you’ve ever been given?

You really have to hire the best people you possibly can. You have to hire the smartest, the brightest, most innovative and let them do their job. Be there to mentor them but don’t micromanage them.

One of the other things I’ve learned is that you really always have to be calm. The minute you get into an argument you have lost. When I was younger, starting out, I saw other people being promoted in front of me. I learned that to get what I wanted I had to learn to understand how to communicate with people… I have so many, I could go on forever. Are you sure you want them all?

Definitely!

Okay. Well, get the emotions out of it. There’s nobody more passionate than me about this. You might as well walk out the door. You have to be logical and calm.

At any given time, everyone’s not going to love you. What’s important is for people to respect you. It’s not a popularity contest.

Money is important but you always do what is best for the client. Even if it means you may not make as much.