In business, knowing how to navigate your way through the complex aspects of the journey is often the key to real longevity. A huge part of mastering that navigation is being able to tune out the noise and zero in on what it really takes to get the job done.
As President and CEO of her company, Captivate Marketing Group, Yvonne McNair has worked alongside some of the biggest names in entertainment and been the mastermind behind productions for some the biggest brands in the world throughout the course of her 20-year career. From massive productions within the ESSENCE Festival experience, to large and small-scale experiences for clientele like Apple Music, Walmart, CBS, AT&T, Toyota, BET, McDonald’s and Target, to unforgettable events with the likes of Prince, Michael Jackson, Teddy Riley, Pharrell, Timbaland, Doug E. Fresh, Bell Biv Devoe, MAJOR., Estelle, MC Lyte, and many more, she certainly knows a thing or two about all that goes into bringing a successful production to life.
ESSENCE recently caught up with the marketing and event production visionary for a candid discussion about the real truths behind some of the widespread myths about various elements of event production, including planning, budget management, staffing, talent relations and more.
THE MYTH: I Know Everyone Will Love My Great Idea
“With ideas, one of the biggest myths is thinking that everyone will love your idea—even for me,” Yvonne says. “When I have an idea, that’s my first thought. I think, ‘this is dope, everyone is going to love it.’ But then, I have to take my emotion and my feelings about the idea out of the thought process and also think about whether or not it actually makes sense before I present it for consideration. I try to really think about things like, “Why wouldn’t this work?” Or “Why would someone would say ‘no,'” before I move forward with the idea. So, I really put some thought into it and put some strategy around it so that by the time I go to somebody with it, I’m closing the deal, I’m confident that whoever is receiving it is going to love it like I do and I’m able to explain why, as opposed to just throwing it out there without having any facts around it. Initially [when I was first starting out], I didn’t do it that way. But now, I am more strategic about what I do and I really think it through and map it out in my mind first.”
THE MYTH: I Can Tell What A Budget Will Be Based On The Size Of A Brand Or Starpower Of A Client
“The people you think have a big budget often don’t and the people you think don’t have a big budget, often do,” she says. “That’s always a myth and I’m always surprised. When I want to pull of this large-scale production, I initially think about it as if we do have the biggest budget ever so I don’t limit the ideas. As the ideation process continues, I also think about, “Well, how can I still pull this off but scale it down, if I need to?” So, I always have an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ budget, but, I’m always surprised when I go in for that first meeting with a client and find out the budget; it’s never what I think it will be. Another thing when it comes to budgets is that it’s really important to understand that if you have solid relationships, vendors are more willing to work with you and throw in items to make sure that each event really represents your brand. Once you really understand the power of relationships, you can work with any budget.”
THE MYTH: A Big Budget Means A Big Spend
“I have really good retention with my clients and I think part of the reason for that is that when I’m given a budget, I manage it as if it’s my own money,” Yvonne says. “I have seen people who are like, ‘Oh, that’s what it costs? Great, that’s the budget.’ But through experience, I’ve learned to be able to see the cost of something and say, ‘That’s too high even if it IS in the budget.’ Just because you’ve given me a $1 million budget, it doesn’t mean I’m going to spend $1 million. As an event producer with technical knowledge, I understand what pricing should be, so I can make sure that clients aren’t being overcharged. I have been able to save clients hundreds of thousands of dollars by reviewing the overall budget and going line by line. I really look through things and scale down and negotiate where I can. I think that by viewing my clients as partners, it has helped with my retention. A lot of times, people just don’t know and the unknown can cause you to lose money when you don’t need to. If there are places to save and not compromise the event, we are definitely saving”
THE MYTH: Women Don’t Know Production
“Another big myth is that women don’t know production, but I would say that there are actually a lot of women that know it even better than men because we are more detail- oriented,” Yvonne says. “I am constantly doing my research and continued education to make sure that I’m aware of the latest technology and trends. There are so many times when I walk into a room and people are not expecting me to be me. And I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a woman, or specifically because I’m a Black woman. I’ve even had people ask, “Do you know when Yvonne is going to arrive,” assuming that I’ll be late, when I’m actually already there. And then so many times, when I arrive, it’s an all-male crew and they talk to me in very simplistic terms, thinking that I don’t know the technical terms or thinking that I don’t know lighting or don’t know audio and just assuming that I don’t really know how things should go in general. I feel like I’m always having to prove myself, even though I have an extensive resume and have worked with some of the best. And it does get frustrating because men rarely have to do that but, women do. Another thing you often have to deal with is being labeled a “bitch” when you have to be firm, but then if I wasn’t firm and the person who was there to do a job couldn’t do a job like they needed to because certain directives weren’t in place, I would be the one held accountable for that. So, you have to be firm, especially when you’re a woman working predominantly with men. “
“My hope is that other young women will learn production in a way where they know all of those ins and outs. I feel like sometimes with event production, people wake up and say, “I’m an event producer, I did a birthday party!” There’s a big difference between an event planner and an event producer and I’ve done everything to get the credentials and really learn this craft to be the best at it. So, my hope is that if people, and specifically young women, really want to be in the event space, that they will really, really learn the business, especially if the goal is to do large-scale events.”
THE MYTH: Creating Staffing Opportunities For Event Production Is Usually Easy
“I find that at times, people aren’t resourceful and feel a sense of entitlement, but this is hard work,” Yvonne continues. “I have so many people who will e-mail or call and say that they want to work with me but, when it gets to the real work, it turns out that they really just wanted to be at the event. So, they just aren’t as dependable as it seemed that they were in the beginning. When I’m leading a big production, there are times that I am up for 24 hours straight and people don’t realize that that’s what it takes for a flawless production. They’ll ask, “What time do I have to be there?” And when I say, “We’re loading in at 3AM and loading out at 3AM,” they change their tune. A lot of people think they want to get to this level but, once they find out what it really takes, they don’t want to put in that same work ethic. So, it’s been really challenging because, I do want to work with younger women and help give them opportunities but, it’s just hard sometimes to find people with the work ethic and resourcefulness that match their initial enthusiasm once it’s time to put the work in. But I will say that when I do find people who really want it and are willing to put the work in, it is very refreshing.”
THE MYTH: Event Producers Live The Same Lifestyles As The Clientele They Produce For
“I feel sometimes that people imagine that I’m sitting back drinking champagne and eating caviar with my clients,” Yvonne says. “And I’m laughing, thinking, ‘Do you realize that I was just carrying boxes and running around to make sure this client is happy?’ So, I think another myth is that the lifestyle of the client who has earned that lifestyle is also the lifestyle of the person who is overseeing the production of their event(s). The reality is that this job usually means I’m working 3 to 4 times harder just to make sure that that client is good. Sometimes, people also have a certain perception based solely on some of the few fun moments that I choose to show. A lot of times, when you see me and I’m working, it can look fun but it’s because I CHOOSE to make the work that I do fun and to show a little of that side of things, but rarely is that ever the bulk of the job.”
THE MYTH: Having Contact Information Is Equally As Valuable As Maintaining A Relationship
“One time someone asked me for my contact list, which was such a weird request, first of all. But, secondly, I thought, just because you have the number doesn’t mean that that’s enough to make the deal happen,” Yvonne says. “Relationships are work and I pride myself on trying to make sure that I check in with people. Even when we’re not doing business together, I really try to not be seasonal and to always stay in contact. You have to let people know that you really do care and that they’re not just paychecks for you. Most of my clients, I really truly end up becoming friends with and it’s not forced; it’s a natural progression. Sometimes people want me to book talent for them for something that I’m not producing and I can’t do it because I can’t vouch for how they’re going to be treated when they get there…and I’m not going to set them up. They have an expectation of me because I really try to take care of the people that I work with. I’m not perfect, but, I really try my hardest to make sure that they’re good and that their experience is good. Sometimes, people don’t understand the value and importance of maintaining those relationships in that way.”
THE MYTH: A Roadblock Usually Means The End Of Your Event
“To pull off any kind of large-scale event, you’re going to have an issue,” Yvonne says. “I can’t think of one production that I did where there wasn’t one. So, anticipating that there will be roadblocks and knowing that there’s almost always a solve for it, helps tremendously. Cancellations, last-minute changes; it’s all part of the process.”
THE MYTH: Those Around You Will Remember To Put You First When It’s Needed
“A lesson I’ve learned in the past 5 years—I was putting so much into everyone else and what I found is that people will just keep pulling until you have no more,” Yvonne says. “It’s up to you to slow that down and find that balance. So, I’ve really tried to do that. Especially as I get older, I have lost some friends and had other life challenges and I really started to realize that I don’t want my legacy to be just that I was great at business. I want to have great personal relationships as well and I want to have great friendships. At the end of it all, I want to be able to say that I was great at both and not just that I worked really hard. And to have it be the truth.”