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by Padraic Gilligan, VP, Industry Relations, MCI and VP, Destination Services, Ovation Global DMC

The Importance of Giving Back

Weather around DFW and a runway incident at ORD prevented my attendance at the pre-event reception and dinner at the Hyatt Regency. I was in time, however, to have a night cap with my buddy Jonathan Richards, probably the most broadly experienced person in our industry today, having worked for a major global hotel chain, an incentive company and now a purveyor of premium gifts, our industry’s favourite accessory, Maui Jim Sunglasses. We chatted about life in Dallas, Arsenal Football Club and about giving back to our industry via participation in industry associations like Site.

Riding on a Smile and a Shoeshine

Feeling the impact of 16 hours of transatlantic travel I suddenly needed sleep and sidled out of the bar, expertly sidestepping the triumphant arrival of the usual suspects – Freddy Muller, now of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Jacqueline Goldy, VP of MGM Resorts, Tom Foley of The Westin Diplomat, Ken Lyons of the Ritz Carlton and my colleague Maeve O’Connor of Ovation Ireland amongst many others. These are the real troopers of our industry, the true believers, who, like Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s archetypal salesman, are constantly “out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine”.

A Night at Lonesome Dove

The  evening socials were all wonderful networking affairs although, in fairness, the 20 minute transfer time to downtown San Antonio was more aspirational than real. The spacious airiness of the Lonesome Dove Room guaranteed an easy function flow, facilitated networking and ensured easy access to the buffet stations. Located adjacent to the San Antonio Convention Bureau and two “big box” properties, the Grand Hyatt and the Marriott, this venue is also right on the Riverwalk so you can arrive there by river boat. Upon arrival a country duo performed some rather tasty tunes with wicked harmonies but were largely drowned out by the high pitched ebullience and high jinks of friends meeting again.

Fair Exchange

I swapped musical leads with Jim McGory of Map Marketing and Incentives who gave me The Horrible Crows for Fr John Misty. I exchanged business intelligence with the formidable April Mescher of Excellence in Motivation whose ZipSetGo digital project goes from strength to strength. She connected me with her fellow EIMer Chuck Stain who, with about 5000 others, is desperately seeking a room in Dublin for the Notre Dame v Navy game in late August. He’s taking his father-in-law, who actually played for the Fighting Irish, to the game. I assured him that come hell or high water Ovation Ireland would sort him out! I also caught up with Larry Howell from Minneapolis who told me that Pete Docherty is hail and hearty and still gracing the offices of Docherty Incentives with his wit and wisdom. Plus ca change!

Zigging and Zagging at La Cantera

For Friday’s golf contest John Dowd of DuPont, my guest at IRF, and I were paired with Mark Hubrich of SignUp4 and his guest Steve Damerow of Incentive Solutions. By hole 3 we were up 3 Bloody Marys each, even par for the round and feeling no pain. We zigged and zagged around the magnificent Westin La Cantera course and, approaching our last hole, were 8 under with every one of us having contributed significantly. On the spectacular elevated tee of our last hole Mark was inspired to relate a story from his wild oats days concerning a random, romantic encounter in Sweden. Spurred on by the pleasant memories of his youthful prowess, he stood up and proceeded to drive all 350 yards to the green. I holed the putt for the eagle and we handed our card in, showing gross 10 under for the round. Overcome by emotion as we approached the winners’ podium, Steve commandeered the microphone and told anyone willing to listen “This shows what can happen when losers, under-dogs and hackers are truly motivated, and play as a team”. Touche! A living embodiment of the power of incentives!

He’s back!

Friday night’s dinner and live auction took place at the Grand Hyatt and was hugely successful with a once-in-a-lifetime trip to China with American Airlines in First Class making over $18,000. The ballroom looked amazing with decor donated by Jean James and the team at Capers DMC. We ate Paella and freshly carved beef prepared by the excellent kitchen at the Grand Hyatt and I visited with Mimi Almeida of All Performance Associates whose son has recently performed on the stage of Carnegie Hall. I also discovered that Colin Higgins of Performance Enhancement Incentives is, like me, a passionate Italophile with property in Tuscany! Finally I caught up with one of my favourite people in the industry, Kiwi-resident, Eugene de Villiers of the Extra Mile Company and his lovely wife Marcelle. Eugene missed this event last year and surprised most people by turning up, half the man he used to be having lost God-knows-how many lbs. His candour, camaradie and overall conviviality remain the same, however, and it was great to see him back.

A Horse of a Different Colour

Golf on Saturday was, as my late Mother used to say, a horse of a different colour! Paired with the very tall John Idzik of World Class Incentives and the very small Pat Mueller of PMM & Associates, it started badly and then got worse. Even the mercenary talents of Amy Conover of Windstar Cruises couldn’t keep us with a ball in play for the first hole and I guess we lost our mojo after that. It was partially found again when we visited with Randy Clark of Four Seasons Lana’i who presented an interesting Texan – Hawai’i hybrid in the shape of a very friendly young lady dressed in Cowboy Boots and Daisy Dukes who greeted all comers with “Aloha – Yeeha”. That, and Cosimo Bruzzese treacherous dart game featuring the neighbourhoods of New York, were the highlights of our round. If the golf was poor, the conviviality was anything but and John and I thoroughly enjoyed being with John and Pat. We were delighted to visit with Pat and her husband Brad later that day in their “Meet the Fockers” style luxury RV.

Moving Parts

The Gala dinner was an elegant affair involving a great country band and some spectacular fare from the kitchens at JW Marriott. This was the opportunity to say thanks and IRF President, Melissa Van Dyke, did this with humour, panache and style. I caught up with dear friends, Jim and Paulette Claudio, late of Allstate and chatted with former Site young leader, Cosimo Bruzzese, who will shortly be mayor of New York City. This IRF Annual Invitational has as many moving parts as the magnificent Movado watch which Joe Zanone presented us with on day 1. Assembling it and ensuring it operates with timely perfection takes experience, foresight, great planning and infinite patience. Big kudos, finally, to Lisa Cherry and Chris Perks of The Opus Group for being such diligent watchmakers!

PS – There are so many people who should be thanked for their part in a very successful event but I want to single out the communicators: Sam Stanton at for showing us today what meetings and events will be like tomorrow, Mike Vinup at IML Event Technology for greatly enhancing the experience in the plenary sessions and during the auction and journalists Barbara Scofidio and Lisa Grimaldi for telling the world, constantly, that incentives work!

PPS – A lot more happened at IRF – tours, activities and a spectacular CSR initiative led by Ira Almeas, former Chairman of IRF. As I do not have the gift of bi-location and was committed to playing golf due to my fanatical guest I’ll leave it to others to blog about these aspects of the event.

Padraic Gilligan is VP Industry Relations at MCI, a globally integrated association, communication and event management company 47 offices in 23 Countries. With Patrick Delaney he also heads up the Destination Services practice at MCI which is branded as Ovation Global DMC


One thought on “Behind the Scenes at the IRF – what happened at the parties

  1. eileen reed says:

    Padraic, sounds like great fun and great meet and greet! So glad we had the chance to see you on Sunday! Eileen Reed

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