A Can of Alphabet Soup

Many local Minneapolis advertising and marketing professionals have heard of the once-a-year event The Alphabet Bash that was heard last night. It is a networking event that gets people from all different organizations together to do what they do best… network! IABC, MIMA, AdFed, PRSA just to name a few.

I have gone to this event the past 4 years and it seems to be the unofficial kick-off to the non-profit season.

From what I know, Heather Cmiel started it and I hope to pick her brain more one day on what the main motivation and reason was to start this along with and organize and run this outstanding networking event.

The Alphabet Bash takes pride in serving really good food and having lots of it, including a giant dessert bar and then also 2 drink tickets for each guest along with outstanding door prizes. Please note I have never won even one prize! The #ABCbash11 (I’ll use their hash-sign) doesn’t have a schedule of events other than ones you can pay more for at the beginning and this year noticed a few inter-mixed throughout the event itself. It is hard to step-away from conversations and wasn’t aware of the topics so I did not participate in these to review.

The buffet greets you and makes you hungry fast centered in the middle of the EPIC dance floor right below the stage. Picking up the large glass plate I made my way through the dinner buffet of cheeses, tomatoes, hard breads, fruits, cold meats, random rice and smoked salmon. Now, I’m not saying the food wasn’t good but I’m holding my first glass of white wine, a fork, napkin, this heavy plate and trying to make my way while seeing people and trying to say hello is not unpleasant or rude.

Holding your 7 lb plate you awkwardly don’t know where to go next, I look up and there are spots upstairs in the VIP areas, but too far to walk and God only knows it would take 25 minutes to make my way through the networking crowd. There is this small drink railing that the dinner plate does not fit on and would not balance, then there are a select number of standing cocktail tables that are full already with 3 people can standing around one because our plates are 15×15 inches round.

I end up putting my glass of wine down on the drink rail (hoping no one roofies it while not looking) and started my pleasant dinner experience talking with a group of 5 colleagues. Meanwhile I’m hoping someone else would walk-up that would be needing an eating buddy too.

After eating only half of my plate and moving around the smoked salmon like I enjoyed it, I then found a random spot to set my plate and walk-away from it back to my mini-high-school-inspired group. A few minutes later see two ladies trying to find a place like myself to set their heavy plates and kindly grab theirs and add to mine.

Moving up-stairs I notice the lack of “booths” or entertainment. The dessert bar is positioned on the left side and the doors to the patio are to the right where I quickly find myself enjoying myself for the next hour.

With little entertainment, this event is purely positioned on the guests that attend. If you don’t find having conversations with people and being able to move around on your own, then you find many people leave at 7pm and so the crowd quickly disappeared, making you wonder where everyone went.

I make sure to stop and say hi to friends that paid to sponsor the VIP sitting areas and the spin the wheel of prizes that Horizontal Integration did that for sure was the best “booth”. Not only because of the attractive blonde running it but my friend walked away with a $5-$25 mystery Target card. I wanted one!

Snap Social had a “Free Massage” booth where they actually positioned 2 masseuses to give on the spot massages. Now, I did give [@CoryVandy] some grief on this one having 4 guys standing there ready to make conversation with you before or after your FREE massages. Needless to say it was buzzing around the Bash and from what I could see there was never an open chair. I’m too germ-a-phobic to even sit down on one of those things, needless to say having 50+ people stare at me from around the room.

The price of the event has grown slightly over the last years which is very normal, but makes me wonder what is making it different or better to increase the price? If anything I noticed the food stations went away and there was less things to look at. Did I mention I have never won a prize over the last 4-5 years?

Highlight of my night was meeting @ArikHanson whom I have followed for a while now on twitter and have overlapped with some mutual contacts. I started a conversation about the event with him and we exchanged cards like a normal networking experience, until he saw my handle @mndesigngal and says “your MN Design Gal? Oh my we are Instagram friends too!” A BIG HUG he then gave me! That was so funny I couldn’t help but laugh and got excited he knew me and made the connection!

Overall give the event a 7 out of 10. They really try to get a variety of people, and the sponsors drive the booths and entertainment. I enjoyed making conversation and seeing friends that don’t see much throughout the year. If you told me there was the same event next month or even in 6 months, I wouldn’t go. But by this time again next year, the Alphabet Bash 2012 will for sure be a must-go.

What would I do slightly differently:

-Small plates and spread out the buffets. You want people to move around the space and people like choices and a variety.

-Venue space, you want it busy but not packed, I suggest a new venue to create buzz too, would 1st Ave be too expensive? Varsity Theater? Large Photography studio downtown or Northeast…

-Entertainment. No bands, no DJ’s but something that gets people buzzing, Lady-Table-Walking buffets or a man on Stilts dressed as advertising celebrities, or how about a 10 minute hypnotist that would be funny and get people talking about it the next day at work for sure.

-Twitter wall is a must (they tried last year) and over all Event-Contest. Everyone there is tweeting using hash-signs, checking-in and seeing who or what is trending and that is so much fun! Make a special prize or treasure hunt focused on QR codes (i know over-done) but something that people can do while networking and there again make conversation.

-Sponsors SPONSOR THINGS or themes… Sponsors love to do cool things rather than just give money. How about the Mexican Station sponsored by Promotions where they can feature all their trinkets on the food station too. Mini-Martini bar sponsored by the Creative Group, Liquid Courage helps you find a job, but only 2 drinks per guest… 3 drinks make you stutter. Chocolate-bar sponsored by US Bank, “money!” and more…

-Every organization should have a “booth”. Now of course I’m with Ad Fed and to be honest don’t even know if we had a booth there last night, but somewhere at least that I can take a flyer. It also makes the random “nonmember” students and people satisfied that they came and learned more about what group they want to be in that next year. Frankly, I wanted to learn more about the MN Women in Marketing group because I have been thinking about joining and getting involved and didn’t see ANYTHING or anybody representing them. Darn.

Now, do not get me wrong I do not like to critique people’s events in a rude way and easier said than done planning one. Believe me, I have planed many events and have respect for anyone doing non-profit work unpaid. Once my President duties with Ad2 wind-down, I would like to focus more on community events and non-profits that I don’t know much about and local events like this one.

This MN gal will keep networking, having a few cocktails with my fellow colleagues and keep meeting new people like yourself, because that is something that will always be part of my design life!

Cheers to us!