When the IndyCar Series announced the addition of the Music City Grand Prix as a street circuit race in downtown Nashville for its 2021 schedule, it got the attention of Joan Garr Hamrick, Gresham Smith’s client experience specialist. What really captured her imagination, however, was the bird’s-eye view of the future race circuit from the 13th, 14th and 15th floors of Gresham Smith’s Nashville headquarters, ideally positioned in SoBro at 222 Second Avenue South:
“The roaring of the engines! The electrifying energy that surrounds the event! Could this be the perfect opportunity to provide our clients with a truly unique and unforgettable experience that shows our appreciation for their partnership?”
Flash forward two years and Joan now knows the answer to her aha-moment-question is a resounding Yes! as Gresham Smith revs up to host its third annual Music City Grand Prix client event aptly dubbed: Vroom With a View. We recently sat down with Joan to discuss this one-of-a-kind event which offers the perfect opportunity to build relationships and leave a lasting impression on our clients.
How did you come up with the “blue-sky” idea of hosting an in-house client event around a major sporting event, and how easy was it to make that vision become a reality?
Joan Garr Hamrick: My background is in college athletics marketing and promotions, and I’m familiar with building relationships with donors, sponsors, ticket holders and fans. So, the grand prix event seemed like a natural extension and a great opportunity for me to draw on those skills. However, when I think back to the first year we hosted the event, it reminds me of that old analogy about driving at night in the fog with only your headlights and your instincts to guide you.
There were just so many questions right off the bat, like: How many clients might have an interest in attending? How many invitations should we send out from each of our markets? How many days should we host the event? What floors of our office are we going to use? What are our catering needs going to be? But bit by bit, the path slowly revealed itself, and our inaugural event went over like gangbusters.
What were some of the lessons learned from the first client event and how did they inform the next?
Joan: One of the biggest lessons learned the first year was the value of building a team. For example, many of the Administrative Assistants [AAs] and other employees who helped me with the 2021 event became our “Pit Crew” in 2022, which truly took things to the next level. They worked on everything from brainstorming and planning the event to ordering the food, beverages, swag, and furniture, to registering the clients, working with the vendors, and handling all of the daily operations tied to hosting the event. So, they truly embraced being a member of the Pit Crew, and each person played an integral part in both creating and supporting the event.
Also, since the event was on a Sunday, we decided to make it more family friendly. For example, we added a “Kidzone” that featured video games and a Super Mario Kart course. We also provided corn-hole boards and an interactive photo wall. That way, if there was a yellow flag or a rain delay, the kids were engaged beyond the race that was happening outside our window. Of course, we had plenty of food and beverages to keep everybody occupied as well!
“There were just so many questions right off the bat… but bit by bit, the path slowly revealed itself, and our inaugural event went over like gangbusters.”
I can honestly say that we were running like a “well-oiled machine” by the second year, and essentially had the entire day orchestrated. For instance, each member of the Pit Crew—there were 12 in total—rotated out to each of the event zones every 30 minutes. So, they weren’t just siloed to one area and had time to take a break as well. Our overarching goal was to make the event seamless for our clients, and elements like QR codes that showed them where the food stations or restrooms were located made it an easy event for them to navigate.
What else was new in 2022?
Joan: We transformed the office to give it a totally different ambiance for the event. For instance, we retitled the conference rooms with race-themed names to help get our clients into the spirit of the event. We also added comfy furniture, which created a more cozy and social atmosphere, along with big-screen TVs that showed the live broadcast of the race that was taking place right on our doorstep.
What other extra touches made last year’s event such a special experience for our clients?
Joan: We look at this event as an opportunity to truly get to know the client if they’re a new client to Gresham Smith, and to further cultivate our relationship with them if they’re an existing client. For this reason, each of our clients was assigned a personal Gresham Smith host for the event—either a project manager, a project executive, or a member of our C-suite—and they were there to “meet and greet” the client from the moment they arrived.
Additionally, a week before the event, we had a session with all the designated hosts and the Pit Crew in which we went through a PowerPoint presentation of every guest who’d be attending. Our goal was to make sure that when they walked through the door, every Gresham Smith employee attending knew exactly who they were.
“… it’s all about building relationships and growing the business. That’s why it’s so important to create an orchestrated and seamless event that provides an unforgettable experience for your clients.”
You recently gave a talk on maximizing opportunities to create an extraordinary client event at the 2023 CXps Conference in Durham, North Carolina. What tips did you offer at the conference, and what other things do you think are critical in terms of creating an exceptional client experience?
Joan: I’ve heard it said that when you’re putting together a client event that you should always begin with the end in mind. I disagree. First and foremost, I believe that you should always begin with the client in mind. Whatever decisions you make for the event need to be of benefit to the client and your relationship with the client. If an event is seamless for them, it will make it a better event for both you and the client.
I’ve also heard it said that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. But I think it’s just the opposite—you should sweat the small stuff because it’s those small details that make a big event like this work. At last year’s grand prix event, for example, none of our guests knew that the Pit Crew had 30-minute shifts and were switching out zones every half-hour. We were essentially like ducks paddling our feet as fast as we could beneath the surface of the water to get things done, but nobody needed to know that. And that’s what helped to make the event so seamless.
Also, it’s important to create teams of champions. In the case of the grand prix event, those champions were the Pit Crew and the hosts, and this year will also include Team Gresham Smith, which will consist of select points of contact from each market to further enhance communication with our clients. The bottom line is to surround yourself with people who buy into the event—people who see the value of the event and understand the benefits of hosting clients outside of regular meetings.
“I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. But I think it’s just the opposite—you should sweat the small stuff because it’s those small details that make a big event like this work.”
Perhaps most importantly, trust your instincts! For the first grand prix client event, we were building an event that simply didn’t exist. So, we had to decide that it was going to work and we made it work. At the end of the day, it’s all about building relationships and growing the business. That’s why it’s so important to create an orchestrated and seamless event that provides an unforgettable experience for your clients. And that means taking care of all the details—both big and small.
We’re proud that we went the extra mile with our first two grand prix client events, and we look forward to giving our all again this year as we build on our past successes.