Thoughts on Engage!10: Cayman Islands

by seanlow on June 14, 2010

Last week, I attended Engage!10, a luxury wedding business summit, in the Cayman Islands.  Run by Rebecca Grinnals and her Director of Amazing, Kathryn Arce, it is far and away the best conference for those in the wedding business.  If you would like to read more about the conference, just take a look at the wonderful recaps and insights posted by Liene Stevens, Jasmine Star, Harmony Walton, Ami Elizabeth and Tom McCallum with many many more to follow, I am sure.

My biggest takeaway, applicable to all creative businesses is, to paraphrase Rebecca, Cindy Novotny, Carley Roney and Colin Cowie: change, be changed or be rendered obsolete (and broke).  You could literally see each of the speaker’s minds at work on what the next version of their business is going to look like.  Whether it is Cindy talking about how she constantly innovates at her restaurant (i.e., offering her golf crazed clientele an opportunity to go to the Masters), Carley talking about The Knot’s new initiatives in China, or Colin talking about his new date-specific wedding newsletter.  The audience too was a reflection of the innovation on stage.  Rosalind Bordo and Siri Eklund of Two Bright Lights presented some of their findings from a fantastic industry survey they recently conducted.  Among the most powerful statistics was the overwhelming success of those businesses using inspiration board technology to market their businesses relative to those that do not.  Hard for me to imagine any creative business NOT using inspiration boards after seeing the numbers.  The days of impersonal, unrelated communication with potential (and actual) clients are behind us.  Personal, related dialogue is here, thankfully, to stay.

What was also apparent is that we are all on uncertain ground.  Truly, no one knows where we will be a year from now, let alone five.  However, what is equally apparent is that trends are forming that I believe will only get stronger.  Among the biggest is the idea that design and production are diverging, leaving very little room for those that are trying to straddle both.  If you are a producer without the vertical integration and analytical capability of Todd Fiscus of Todd Events, Byron Boone of Heffernan Morgan Design, or Warren Dietel of Puff n’ Stuff Catering, you are going to get run over unless you can get to their scale quickly and effectively.  But trying to reach that scale might prevent you from acquiring the true design capabilities necessary to communicate with Todd, Byron or Warren.  Talk with Todd Avery Lenahan for five minutes and hear about his staff of fifteen who work all day long to provide developers the information they need to complete one of his designs and you will know just how much there is to be done behind the scenes if you are to be a designer.  In this divergence though, there exists enormous opportunity on both sides.  Producers will be able to extend their reach into new territories and markets. Designers will be able to go global on a scale we have not ever seen before.

It does not stretch the imagination to believe that Todd Avery Lenahan could be the next great event designer (on a global par with Colin and Preston) if he chose to be.  Nor would it shock me if Todd Events became the producer of all events (not just weddings) for The Ritz Carlton at every one of their hotels in the United States.  Less obvious are the opportunities that will exist when either of these ideas (or something like them) becomes a reality.  J.R. Simplot’s story is largely dependent on McDonald’s but no less important.

The beauty of a conference like Engage!10 is that it is simultaneously the catalyst and the facilitator.  Rebecca is singularly genius at putting before the audience a vision of what can be in the wedding business and making sure that the room is filled with those in a position and with a desire to do something about it.  The Breakers cannot come soon enough.


1 Tom McCallum June 14, 2010 at 10:30 am

Thanks Sean… great to hear everyone’s different takes on the event.

When I spoke to Rebecca towards the end of Engage, my focus was that I felt the event was awesome, but what lifted it to another level was that she brought in some stars from other industries to contribute.

She seemed to have been a little concerned about whether or not the attendees would truly appreciate and “get” what the likes of Cindy and Todd had to say and add to the event.

Suffice to say…. she hit a home run 🙂 There are many stars in the wedding industry firmament that Rebecca does a great job of getting to her Engage events (yourself included, naturally!), but I’ll be waiting to see who she brings in from outside for her next event at Breakers !

Hmm.. in fact, I’m going to email her a few suggestions now 🙂

2 Sarai Flores June 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Thank you Sean! It was a pleasure to meet you and attend your session on Wednesday. As a Mexican company, working with American market, it was hard for me to find the right events and conferences. Engage!10 is by far the best conference I have ever attended. Thanks to all speakers and wedding professionals, I carry with me not only good memories but great ideas and lots of useful information!

3 JasmineStar June 14, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Sean…it was awesome meeting you and this post was perfectly written. Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything else! 🙂

4 Katie Martin June 14, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Sean…I could not agree with you enough. I felt a sense of urgency to be constantly moving forward. It was such a jam-packed conference and I can’t wait to talk more with you! I need to bounce some more ideas around – but my mind is full of new ideas for this year through 2012! An amazing time for sure!

5 Donnie Bell Design June 15, 2010 at 10:29 am

It’s not easy and a lot of people will complain the whole time, but you have to change or adapt almost quarterly. Changing is the hardest, but it means you hold the power and don’t look like a copycat.

6 Ashley Davis June 15, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Hi Sean! Thanks for the good post- informative for those of us who werent there. I’ve seen inspiration boards on blogs (like Style Me Pretty), but what’s the ‘technology’ you mention…and how else are people using it to market their businesses? Thanks for any additional info you can add.

7 seanlow June 15, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Hi Ashley:

Thanks so much for the comment. Apart from Style Me Pretty, inspiration boards are a big part of what Two Bright Lights ( offers to vendors (photographers included). Once the database of images is created, customizing the presentation for each potential client is super easy and effective. If you don’t know about them, you should go check them out and talk to Rosalind and/or Siri. Both are major smarties and totally accessible.

8 bridalbar June 15, 2010 at 2:42 pm

As always – so timely and spot on for me. You’ve tried to drill change into me for ages and I’m finally coming around. When young and new at this, there’s no fear of change, nothing to lose. When you have something to lose, change is so much slower and scarier. But as always, you’re beyond wise and thanks to you, Rebecca, and Engage10 – I’m finally swimming in the deep end again and brave enough to embrace any changes we make. Thank you Sean! xo

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