Friday, November 15, 2013

Philadelphia's Best Holiday Happenings

Our guest blogger today is Melanie Forman, President of the Greater Philadelphia Association Management Group. Melanie has an incredible amount of expertise about meeting planning under her belt--we met her when she planned Melinda Emerson's (@SmallBizLady) Reinvention Weekend. We wanted to know what her favorite parts of a Philadelphia holiday season are, and she very kindly told us. Here, in her words, are her picks for a very happy Philly holiday:


Thanksgiving Day Parade
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Possibly the oldest in the country, Philly’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is 94! This 1.4-mile parade is a tradition for many Philadelphians.  For 3.5 hours, giant balloons, huge floats roll down the streets, while performances from the Mummers, various local choirs, dance groups, and marching bands fill the streets of Center City. At some point during the parade Santa arrives, and ushers in the holiday season. It’s a great way to start off your Thanksgiving holiday and kick off the Christmas season.  

 Get there waaaay earlier than the parade’s official start time (8:30 AM) to cop a good spot on the parade route! You'll be done by noon to head back home and settle down for your Thanksgiving meal and football (another Philly fave)! Check out this great list of hotspots to watch the parade along its route. (

Macy’s Christmas Light Show 
Now more than a half-century old, this holiday attraction – featured in Macy's Center City store, housed in the historic Wanamaker Building – is a holiday tradition for generations of Philadelphians.

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Twinkling snowflakes, reindeer and ballerinas fashioned from more than 100,000 energy-efficient colored LED lights float four stories high in the velvet curtain-draped Grand Court atrium, accompanied by festive holiday music such as the Nutcracker Suite, piped from the acclaimed Wanamaker Grand Organ. Enjoy a line-free, ticket-free experience as the light show runs every hour on the hour, starting Friday, November 23rd and through New Year’s Eve at 5pm.  

Pennsylvania Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” 
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Although it has been quite a few years since I myself have been to this production, it will always hold a special place in my memories as one of the greatest Philadelphia holiday traditions. I remember being mesmerized by the gorgeous sets and beautiful costumes, and let’s not forget the graceful dancing of the ballerinas. Set to Tchaikovsky’s original score, brought to life by The Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra and Philadelphia Boys Choir, this is a must-see for children and adults alike. One of the greatest things about this production is it features dozens of young students from The School of Pennsylvania Ballet. This is one of the city’s most popular holiday events, so reserve your tickets early.

Longwood Gardens Christmas
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          No holiday is complete without a visit to Longwood Gardens. Each year the Gardens transform into a brilliant winter wonderland your family is sure to love. As your family strolls the Outdoor Gardens you will take in a floating tree display with what appears to be hundreds of sparkling snowflakes, with more than 400,000 twinkling lights and spectacular fountain shows featuring a 12-foot  fountain of lights in the Main Fountain Garden and so, so much more. You'll need to plan this fun outing in advance. Timed admission tickets are required.

New Years' Eve Fireworks 
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This year you can ring in 2014 TWICE! That’s right, the SugarHouse Casino’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Delaware River Waterfront will feature two firework shows – one at 6 p.m. and another at its traditional midnight timeslot.  
Easily the main attraction in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve, the fireworks extravaganza draws crowds of thousands to the waterfront each year. The 6PM show, “The Fire Within” will be set to a family-friendly musical soundtrack of “Fire Bird Suite,” “Call of the Champions,” “Four Seasons” and other songs to get you in a festive mood.
Pull out those dancing shoes for the midnight show, “Pop’n on the Delaware” which will be set to a soundtrack of your favorite pop artists like Mariah Carey (my personal fave!), The Wanted, FUN, Rihanna, Nikki Minaj, and Usher!

Peddler's Village  
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Nestled in the serene landscape of Bucks County, Peddler’sVillage boasts more than 70 specialty shops and eight restaurants, and is filled with charm and breathtaking decorations. It’s the perfect spot for holiday shopping and a great way to bring in the holidays! 
Schedule a visit on November 16th and enjoy the Grand Illumination Celebration, a fantastic display of nearly one million holiday lights. Watch as Santa “switches on” the Village’s outdoor holiday lights display to start the season. Be sure to grab your free cider and toasted marshmallows. Speaking of Santa, he arrives at Peddler’s Village in a horse-drawn carriage on December 1st and 2nd. Admission to all events is free.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Socially great holiday gifts for clients

If you haven't started buying client gifts yet, well, it's time to start getting some good ideas together.
We took a quick ask around our office and discovered these ideas hiding in the ranks. We like them all, so maybe they'll provide you some thoughts. They all happen to be both sustainable and a little do-goody. We like that.

Kiva gift card. The award-winning not-for-profit and micro-loan provider has a gift-card option: you can choose the amount to gift, like any gift card, only this one allows the recipient to go to and choose someone to donate it to. The recipient can opt to be paid back, or she can make a straight donation. If he or she opts to get paid back, the Kiva web site allows that amount to be put back into the system to do more good. Pretty awesome.

Local wines or olive oils: Near us here in Philadelphia, we have a great wine trail, the Bucks County Wine Trail. We love the idea of supporting our local wineries, so this idea appeals to our "shop local" side. Likewise, we have some good friends who have an oil-and-vinegar taproom (we KNOW! so cool!), and some of their good products might find their way into some lucky baskets. Remember, even though a product's origin might not be local, buying from a local vendor does a lot to keep an economy healthy.

Here's another good gift with global implications: one of our favorite charities, ShelterBox USA, has a cool shop that provides gift options from $25 to $100. The best news is, these options--clean water, mosquito nets, kids' kits--are all components of the charity's bespoke ShelterBox, which is shipped around the world to help families who have been in a disaster.

What do you think your gifts will be this year? We'd love to hear about them. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Being the Perfect Holiday Host. Plus, Bonus Recipes!

This month, Sharifah Masten at PMBDI (Protocol and Meetings by Design, Inc.) gives us a few tips from her toolbox about being a great holiday host no matter what your guests' culinary preferences. Sharifah's an expert on meetings for all different cultures, so without further ado, here she is! (And don't forget to read to the end for bonus recipes.)

Summer has ended, and the leaves begin to change color. The holiday season is getting closer. This is the time when we are either hosting or attending different events. So turns the seasons, and so does holiday stress go way through the roof.

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Hosting a party or reception can be a primary source of stress, especially as we try to make every guest feel welcome. From intimate dinner parties to larger events, as the host, you are ultimately responsible for each of your guests’ experiences. There’s so much to consider, though: Cultural and religious differences; personal preferences…

I’ve put together a list of things that will help to lessen the stress, but I want to make sure you exercise one rule of thumb: Aim to accommodate the majority with options that fit different dietary preferences and restrictions. And, as host, you shouldn’t expect that all your guests will enjoy the same dishes that you do.

For example, I don’t eat coconut, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t expect that coconut shrimp won’t be served. I would look to enjoy something else on offer—and hopefully there is something else. However, if the event is in my honor, the host may—and should--ask my feedback on the menu selections. But once again, this does not mean there may not be items that I would not eat.

Here are a few tips that a host can follow to alleviate some of the stressors that may accompany hosting a function.

1.     Do your research
Have a basic understanding of common dietary restrictions and religious differences that attendees may have when coming to your party. Kosher isn’t the same as Halal, and vegetarian isn’t the same as gluten free. Pick dishes that meet a variety of religious, cultural and personal differences.

2.     Inquire about attendees’ dietary restrictions
On your RSVP, leave a space for your attendee to write down any dietary restrictions. This could save you time when planning your menu.

3.     Offer a variety
Look to make your menu diverse. Offer foods that appeal to a wide range of preferences. Remember, during a reception not everyone will eat everything.

4.     Identify food
Once you have selected a diverse menu, think of the ways that you want to identify the food at the event. For example, by using tent cards to identify the dish and its ingredients, you eliminate the questions of what a dish is and allow the line to flow by not having bottle necks as people attempt to figure out what is being served.

Thanks for reading! As a bonus, here are some tried-and-true, delicious recipes for your holiday party:

Source: Halal Foodie (

Source: My Halal Kitchen (
Warm Olive and Artichoke Dip

By: Vivienne Kalman (

Source: Gourmet Kosher Cooking (

Source: SoS Cuisine (
Note:  This site is uses a good recipe legend and is easy to follow for recipes meeting all or some of the following: Gluten Free, Lactose Free, Nuts & Peanuts Free, Halal, Kosher and Vegetarian

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Project Management 101

We're relaunching our web site soon. It's all very exciting! The experience brought to mind a few things we think every single project needs, apart from the obvious stuff, like a budget.  Heh.

1. A point person
Every project has key stakeholders, but no matter how big it gets, there should be one or two people responsible for managing--and trafficking all the commentary, feedback, and action items generated by these stakeholders. Yes, it's a big job. But it'll make everything work better.

2. A place to live
Sure, in some cases, this could mean a physical place to live. But in others, just making sure that a project has even a virtual home is a nice place for folks to check-in. It could be something as simple as a bi-weekly status meeting, or even a home on Google docs, which is what we ultimately opted for.  Either way, for stakeholders and project point people alike, it's nice to have one place to "go" to for all the information related to a project.

3. Conversation
Everyone should have all the information they need to complete a project. (This is also where number 2, above, comes in handy.) That's all. In our case, our point person handled our information bank, so it was useful to be able to either go to him when we had questions, or know that we could ask him and he'd track down the information.

4. Solid intentions
What's that mean? It just means that everything in the project should be approached with the project's good in mind, whether that be deadlines or meetings. Set agendas and deadlines with good intention, and they'll usually come to pass. As with anything, the end goal is king, and if you consider all the ramifications--as solid intentions are wont to do--then you'll have a good project in hand, and be yards ahead of the competition.

What are your must-haves for a great project experience? Tell us in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is it Greener on the Other Side of the Pond?

Guest blogger Sharifah Masten answers the question: Does everyone see sustainability like Americans do? 

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Businesses around the world are struggling to answer the question of global warming and carbon footprints: Sustainability has become a hot topic. But while businesses and individuals in the U.S. have been moving closer to becoming green, reducing waste comes at a cost both literal and figurative. Most people would be surprised by how strongly attitudes differentiate between American culture and other countries.

Issues of global warming and environmental sustainability often become particularly acute for expats living abroad. While overseas, individuals may find themselves in countries which may have strict guidelines on recycling, water usage and energy consumption. While living in the Netherlands, it took me several months to adjust to using the low energy light bulbs. It was frustrating at first but then I realized when going up a flight of stairs or looking in the closet for a couple of minutes that I did not need a hundred-watt bulb. (Also, the longer I kept the light on, the brighter the bulb got.)

In countries such as Europe and the United Kingdom, becoming more sustainable and green is more of a societal choice, and is enforced by the government. Companies and people both are expected to participate or risk being fined for not complying with the laws. In other words, each person is held accountable to do his and/or her share.

By comparison, going green is more of a culture or life-style choice in the United States. We are given the opportunity to pick and choose which parts of the green efforts or using organic materials we will participate in. As many of us are acutely aware, we may not be able to go green in all aspects of our lives. However, we can take small steps to contribute.

As an example, several airlines now offer passengers the ability to purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the CO2 generated by flights. (Offsets are normally monetary contributions to environmental projects designed to reduce greenhouse gases in proportion to the amount of carbon generated by a singular activity such as flying.)

In international terms like flying, we can still make that choice, but it’s important to recognize that, in other countries, there isn’t a choice: It’s built into regulations there, into the societal fabric. You’ll find that there is no sustainability debate at all.

So don’t be surprised if your international business partners look at you askance when you complain about the enormous hits your business is taking in order to effect a more sustainable bottom line, or if they just shrug when you tell them about having to separate out your recycling. They just don’t think about it there, and maybe, we shouldn’t either.

Maybe it should just be a no-brainer. 
Sharifah Masten is an expert in international events. Her company, Protocol and Meetings by Design, Inc, can help you to plan an event that works in any country. For more, click here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The holidays? Already?: Five reasons to plan early

The other day, we were in a hardware store, and we spotted with absolute horror the Thanksgiving decorations that were already out. Yeah, we know, we couldn't believe it either. But then the event planning side of us took over, and we realized that we'd better start thinking about the holidays. Parties, both the ones you plan for your own employees and the ones you plan as a gesture of goodwill! Annual gift-giving! Here are five reasons we like to plan early:

1. The Guest List
It's a nightmare already: For some parties, you're inviting clients and partners, and maybe media--basically, anyone who's helped make your business a success over the past year. So what's the best way to make sure that you don't leave anyone important off the list? Start thinking about it now. Planning an invitation list is a lot like trying to get someone to name the Seven Dwarves: you never remember them all at the first try, so give yourself plenty of time to get down every single person who counts.

2. Give Yourself Space
We're lucky--we generally hold our parties in our own spaces. But if you're like any other corporation, there's a good chance you'll have to find a place to have your party or event. Guess what? Locking in space early is one of the best, and easiest, things you can do for yourself. Once you've found a place, you can plan around it--food and beverage, activities, so on.

3. Recruiting Help
If you plan to start, um, the planning early enough, one option is to create a committee around the planning. In general, everything goes easier if there's more than one set of shoulders under the burden, so see if you can enlist some help. Asking early will help that.

4. Room for Oopsies
We've all had them--something got misprinted, or you didn't plan for enough people. With enough prior notice, most things can be fixed or Band-Aided. Wait too long, and...yeah. No time for fixes. Or Band-Aids.

5. Peace of Mind. 
This one's kind of self-explanatory. Staying calm during the holiday season is a total myth. But planning early can help take some of the sting out of it.

How early will you start planning your holiday activities? Let us know in the comments, or send us a tweet.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Could Cultural Know-How Have Prevented Oprah's Retail Snafu?

Guest post by Sharifah Masten at Protocol and Meetings By Design, Inc.
There's been a lot of conversation and debate around a certain talk show host's trip to Switzerland and her encounter with a retail establishment. Could Oprah's whole unpleasant experience have been avoided with a little more cultural know-how on both parties' parts? Let's look at the perception of words and actions, and keep one rule in mind: we don't, and can't, control how our actions and words are received.
 As Americans:
  • We consider ourselves open and welcoming, but in some countries they view this as being pushy, loud and intrusive. 
  • We like to celebrate and share accomplishments and successes; others are taught to not boast as not to make others feel inadequate.
  • As professionals, we are told to perfect our thirty-second pitch. In other countries it is not so much what you say and how fast, but the relationship you can build that matters.
  • We are proud of the freedoms that we have and wish for other to have the same opportunities but in other countries we are seen as not respecting their traditions or their traditional way of life.
  • We work hard to play hard and spend money on things we enjoy. In other countries, people are more focused on enjoying life, and not focused on work as the priority.
  • We are brought up to tip those working in service-related fields. However, in Europe especially, a tip is not typically expected and definitely not at 20%.  A generous tip to some means that Americans are trying to show their wealth. Worse, a large tip is sometimes seen as a handout.
  • Our salespersons are normally paid a salary plus commission which means they are taught to try and upsell. In other countries this is not the case.  They are normally paid a salary and whether they make a sale or the amount is immaterial.
What we expect in the US is not necessarily what will be the norm in other countries.  Whether you travel and make it known that you are American or if you are considered a celebrity here in the US, keep in mind that as Americans we are expected to be more tolerant and understanding of others. Not every action is a deliberate slight. Sometimes, it's just a misunderstanding or miscommunication.