The Story Behind SM's Latest Cover Shoot - 2006-09-22

When the editors and I first sat down to discuss Sara Welch's September Successful Meetings cover story about Professor Heywood Sanders and his debate-provoking convention center research, the story brought back a few memories. His relentless opposition to many new and expanding convention centers was similar to a personal battle of my own.

You see, not long ago I stood on an NYC sidewalk every Saturday for weeks on end, getting signatures on a petition against a proposed football stadium to be built within blocks of my home on Manhattan's West Side. Those weren’t fun times, to be sure--thousands of signatures, but not even a few laughs. And although football stadiums and convention centers are sort of like apples and oranges, I can relate to Sanders and all the verbal barbs he must take from politicians, hoteliers, construction firms, unions, and real estate people. A spread of public money attracts quite a flock.

Sanders' plight reminded me of an Esquire cover from the 1960s, by George Lois. It was of Muhammad Ali being shot by six arrows. Sanders' hectic schedule didn't allow for an exclusive photo session for SM, but we did obtain a past shoot from Austin-based photographer, Matthew Mahon, chock full of great pics. One in particular grabbed our attention: the shot of Sanders vigorously talking to the photographer. I added the arrows to complete the cover image.

To read the cover story, click here.


Having the opportunity to go to Milwaukee to photograph the Little People of America's national conference was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. At six feet, one inch, I felt, at first, like an out-of-place giant amongst the 2,000 attendees (roughly half of whom are little people)--but that changed quickly, as the group so warmly accepted me as part of the event. The LPA gave me full clearance to their many events in exchange for allowing LPA Today, their nonprofit magazine, to reprint any of my photos that they liked.

I became part of a celebration of many generations—from eighty-year-old Harriet Stickney, who spoke at the banquet about her experience at the first conference fifty years ago, to the children running around playing football in the hallways, to the toddlers being strolled around by their proud parents.

Scheduling the photo shoot of the conference planners--Allison Lourash, Mike Cekanor, and JoAnn Cekanor---became quite a juggling act. There were always too many events and seminars, not to mention the trade show, going on simultaneously to allow all three planners the luxury of sitting down together for even a moment.

And then there's Murphy's Law. On the day of the shoot, the hotel had a flood! A guest on the tenth floor hung some clothes on a sprinkler nozzle and broke a pipe. The ensuing cascade of water caused mayhem and major relocation problems for the tenth, ninth, eighth, and seventh floors. It amazed me that the three planners looked so happy during the shoot; I can only attribute it to the uncanny ability of meeting planners to be calm and upbeat in even the most trying of times.

To read the cover story, click here.


The morning of July's Successful Meetings cover shoot at the Samsung Experience began according to plan: Futurethink CEO Lisa Bodell looked great, and the lighting equipment was set just right. I was all set to start shooting, when suddenly the place was invaded by a field trip of more than one hundred eighth-graders. They swarmed the place, attaching themselves to this gizmo and that one, this lighting strobe and that one. One child even crawled through the tripod! It was crazy--it did take a few extra frames to get the cover shot without the kids in it--but it was an unexpected bit of fun.

Kinley Levack's cover story for July's SM was about groups meeting outside the usual meeting space; the story explored venues and meeting formats that open and expand attendee thinking. One of her featured subjects, Lisa, the ever-energetic leader of Futurethink, brings her attendees to places that are on marketing's cutting edge of their respective businesses.

As a result, I began trekking around NYC, checking out many places such as the Nike iD (where you design your own shoe), Build-a-Bear (where you tailor a bear after yourself), and ING* banking cafe and coffee shop (where you drink designer coffee, do banking, and surf the internet).

A review of my resulting photos pulled us to the new Samsung Experience located in the Time Warner Center. It has an electronic glow that reeks of cool. It's filled with electronic screens that interact to the visitor's touch. It has kiosks that dance in streaming colors as people spin them. And it has the latest of Samsung's entertainment products set in semi-private sitting areas. We felt the place would make a dramatic backdrop for Lisa's portrait. Samsung's general manager, Robert Brown, was receptive to the idea, and we scheduled it for a slow time at the center: 10:30 a.m. on a Monday. But nobody expected the kids.

I later asked floor manager Gemma (she was the blurred female in the cover photo's background) where all the kids came from. She said that Robert had snagged them from a CNN tour downstairs. The marketing theory was that the kids will go home, tell their parents about the Samsung Experience and then everyone would come back. Ingenious thinking. No wonder the Samsung Experience gets over 1,000 visitors a weekend.

To read the cover story, click here.


Sara Welch's June cover story, 'Crack the Whip' led with the description of how, Tina Newman, CMP, had thrown one meeting policy in the garbage and implemented a new policy of her own. She sounded big time and was based in Indianapolis. When I talked to her, she seemed busy, busy, busy. Typical of all the pros.

During our conversation, she mentioned she was planning a few meetings in the Northeast. I said that the photo shoot might be a fun one because I was going to try to add some graphic drama to meeting policy.

We crossed paths at a conference spill-over-hotel in East Brunswick, NJ -- Tina had blown through her block. I met her at 8:30 PM in the hotel's lobby. I told her we could do the shoot that night or the next morning. Tina seemed agitated and tired; she said she couldn’t do the shoot that night because she was exhausted. She had to go to bed. She added that she had a big day ahead of her, but asked if we could do the shoot at 5:30 AM. I said sure. It sounded like a good plan: she would be well rested and I could catch the second half of the Nets/ Miami game. With her professional pull (not even a slight tug), the manager gave us the hotel’s boardroom.

Tina then asked me what the angle of the shoot was. I told the story was about meeting planners taming costs by setting good meeting policies. “Taming? Are you going to photograph me with a whip or something?” she asked. Her tone suggested she was joking. "Yes," I said. I'm not sure if she believed me or not, but I wasn't joking. Either way I knew it was going to be an interesting shoot.

The next morning she showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed. I will never know how Tina got any sleep, with all of those meeting logistics swirling in her head, but she was wide awake and great. She had never snapped a whip before but was a real quick learner. A few times the whip snapped in front of me quicker than my shutter. She paused at one point to ask if I "really worked for a meetings magazine." I laughed so hard.

To read the cover story, click here.


The Story Behind May's cover

The morning Suzie Amer came into the art department and told me we had an opportunity for a photo shoot with Wolfgang Puck, I almost fell headfirst into my western omelette.

Wolfgang would be at a TV studio in Hollywood for pre- Oscar coverage and also media day of his new partnership with Universal Studios and there was a half hour window to shoot him for Successful Meetings magazine. I immediately thought of the photographer, Jay Silverman. Early in his career Jay worked for Richard Avedon and as the old saying goes: 'The flashbulb doesn't fall too far from the flasher.' Silverman has since become one of the best portrait photographers in the world (some of his work is pictured here).

I called Silverman. He took the job without hesitation. He showed up to the studio with two assistants and said that Wolfgang was absolutely accommodating and that they had a fun photo shoot. Wolfgang even invited them to a dinner the next night.

And how did Jay get Wolfgang to pose with the giant gourd? "I told Wolfgang to just trust me." Jay said, adding "that's what we have to do in this business."