Sequoia Productions’ Cheryl Cecchetto says events make sense. And after 25 years of organising some of the highest profile Hollywood black tie galas she should know.

By Brad Foster

Cheryl Cecchetto was the big international drawcard at the Australian Business Events Expo and Sydney’s Events Showcase seminar series in August, with her session attracting a sell-out crowd.
She spoke of her 25 years organising The Oscars® Governors Ball, her creation of the Emmys® Governors Ball for the past 15, and her decade-long role as event producer of the annual G’Day USA Black Tie Gala which is funded by Tourism Australia, Austrade, Qantas and the Australian Government to promote Australian business and expertise in the United States.
She remains driven to better the 20-odd events she works on annually, finding inspiration and ideas from everything and everywhere she is.
“I start worrying about next year when I know we’ve done a good job on an event we’ve just had,” she says.

“Outdoing what we’ve done in the past is certainly a driving factor for me.
“For me ideas come from everywhere. To me the internet is a world where you can receive knowledge but it’s not for inspiration. I can’t feel it, I can’t touch it. For me, ideas come from the environment that surrounds me.
“I look at an event we’ve had and I say okay, this is what we’ve done for the last 10 years and this is what we’ve accomplished. Where do I want to go next? Is there are new CEO? A new President? What’s happening in the world? Do we want to address something politically? Is there a special anniversary? What’s new? I look at fashion, trends, and history.”
Ms Cecchetto believes that when you combine what’s happening in the outside world with a seamless event they are the most powerful forms of communications available to any marketer.
“They allow the guest to experience the situation. In other mediums you can see it or read it or watch it. In our medium you can utilise all five senses – you see it, you taste it, you hear it, you touch it, and you smell it. You’re actually walking through – physically – THE message.
“And there’s always a message. Whether it’s raising money for a hospital or celebrating Australians at the G’Day USA Black Tie Gala, or celebrating the film business, there’s always a mission statement… a message that you have to get across.

“An event is very similar to a film except you have just one take. Your audience is not just watching it, they’re living it – they’re swimming in your event, and that’s what’s so powerful. It’s a great form of communication. It’s a great way to raise money, and it’s a great way to make money. It’s a great way to do business because of the messaging that you can incorporate on so many levels.”
That messaging must start from the moment the announcement of the event is communicated to guests.
“Whether that’s with an invitation or a `save the date’ notice, it’s really important that the invitation works with the messaging you’re trying to achieve at the event. Equally important is that the invitation is dropped at the right time, communicated at the right time.
“The event ends months after the event has actually been held where the messages from the event hopefully remain in the memories of your guests.”

Price v professionalism

With 15 full-time and five part-time staff, and during an event often up to 1000 staff on-site, Ms Cecchetto’s Sequoia Productions organises around 20 events annually.
She argues against the tendering process for events, and event planners dropping their price to secure a piece of business.
“If it’s a first-time event then I appreciate that there may be a bid [tender] process. However, if I had done an event for a client and in the second year they said they were going to go out to bid this time I’d say absolutely not.
“I would say was everything fantastic? If everything was fantastic then let’s move on. It becomes very expensive when a production company has to go out to bid and we will not do it.

“I don’t think you should cut your costs so you or your staff are paid unfairly. We all have mortgages to pay. Now that being said, I will get onboard with a group and an organisation for their first event, at a reduced price, if I think that what they are doing is a brilliant idea and there is the potential for further business. I did this with G’Day USA, and we are now coming up to our 11th year with them.” m

Top right and left: G’Day USA courtesy of Sequoia Productions and Barbara Green.
FAR RIGHT: 85th Oscars® Governors Ball by Line 8 Photography. Produced and designed by Sequoia Productions.