Behind the Glitz

Event producer Tracy Kessler ’97, owner of TK New York, Inc., routinely works with celebrity superstars, but she’s never forgotten her URI roots or the basics of good customer service. In an email interview, the Stony Brook, N.Y., native shared specific URI memories, along with advice for event producers and entrepreneurs.

URI Experiences

I started college as an accounting major but realized I was far too boisterous to be stuck behind a desk. So I changed to marketing with a minor in communications.

My most memorable class was Management 410 with Professor [Robert A.] Comerford, who completely engaged us and encouraged creativity on challenging group projects that truly prepared us for the working world. I welcomed the opportunity to test all that I had learned in my four years. One night as part of my internship for the radio station, I was driving the band Barenaked Ladies to their concert in Providence and they asked me if I wanted to hang out backstage. I told them I had class that evening with Professor Comerford, and since it was only once a week I didn’t want to miss it, so I’d have to pass!

Musician Wyclef Jean brings the house down at Roseland Ballroom in NYC.

How to Throw a Great Party: Tips From Expert Tracy Kessler ’97

1. Give guests something to do other than eating and drinking. I follow this rule whether I’m doing a 3,000-person bash or my sister’s birthday party. The easiest and most popular option is a photo booth. Project the photos onto a screen during the party for everyone to see. You can splurge on a backdrop and hire a photographer, or just use your own camera. Pull out hats, scarves, sunglasses—maybe even some wigs or Halloween costumes—and guests will have a ball. They’ll be talking about it for months afterwards!

In advance, create a blog or space on a social networking site where you can post the photos immediately after the event. Create little cards that match your invitation and give the URL of where to view the photos. Hand these cards out as guests are leaving, so they can enjoy the photos right away and relive the fun over and over.

2. Establish a theme.This can mean simply using a color scheme, or using the occasion (such as a holiday or sports event). From beginning to end, intertwine the theme through all the elements of the party—even if you’re not working with big budgets. Pick three details to really stand out and tie back to your theme.

One example is to create a custom recipe that goes with your theme. For the TK New York 5-Year Anniversary Party, we created the “T-Kila” Sunrise with Patrón L’Orange, simple syrup, club soda, and an orange peel twist. Get a plain black frame and print out the recipe on a 5 x 7 card that matches your invitation. Display this frame at the bar and you’ll be surprised how many people will try it for fun.

3. Lists, lists, and more lists. Write everything down—the spreadsheet is your best friend! You want to have thought through every possible scenario. Have a plan A and a plan B. The more organized you are, the calmer you’re able to remain if you have to come up with emergency plan C the day or week of the event.

Career Path

Right after graduation, I worked as a client account manager at a telecommunications company. While it was a great foray into the business world, I knew it wasn’t my life’s calling, so I began volunteering with several nonprofit organizations, including The Revlon Run/Walk for Women, produced by Rehage Entertainment. After three years of volunteering, I was offered the position of office assistant. Besides the Revlon Run/Walk, Rehage was starting the Voodoo Music Festival in New Orleans, and I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of developing this event. Through my five years with the company, I rose to vice president.

Her Own Company

My first large-scale event as TK New York (TKNY) was with then-publishing-powerhouse Dennis Publishing which owned Maxim, Stuff, and Blender magazines. “All Access,” as the event was called, incorporated all three magazines into a weekend-long extravaganza at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City. The weekend included over 20 different events involving appearances and performances by P. Diddy, Carmen Electra, the cast of [the TV series] Entourage, and many more. Working on this event began an eight-year partnership with Maxim magazine that has brought TKNY to the Super Bowl, the VMAs [MTV’s Video Music Awards], Mardi Gras, and events all over the country.

In 2005, we were in Miami for the VMAs, producing a party for Stuff magazine. Everything was going smoothly until we heard that a hurricane was coming. The party was to take place on the back lawn of a private mansion on Star Island, and it was very difficult to make the decision to move the venue while standing on the back dock in 80-degree sunshine. But the national weather center said Katrina was going to be a big one. Meanwhile, none of our signage arrived because the courier wouldn’t fly to the area, so we found a new vendor in Tampa to reprint everything and had someone drive it down to the event. Two days and a lot of phone calls later, we had our VMA party at the Moore Space in Miami’s Design District. No one was the wiser about all that we’d had to go through to pull it off.

The Women in the World Summit is the brainchild of Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek Daily Beast, and TKNY has been lucky enough to be a part of this event since its inception. It brings together world leaders with ordinary women who are making strides to improve women’s lives in their region. This last year, at Lincoln Center, we honored the work that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton has done to better the lives of women everywhere. Actress Meryl Streep prepared a presentation for the secretary, including her Oscar as a prop (which I got to hand to her from off-stage). Following this tribute and Clinton’s inspiring speech, a young Nepalese woman named Suma performed a song about her life as an indentured servant. It was an incredible moment to witness as the summit came to an end with Suma receiving hugs from Secretary Clinton, Tina Brown, and Meryl Streep.

In 2008, Major League Baseball took its All-Star game to New York, and we were hired to produce the big bash. We really wanted to outdo ourselves, so we decided on Roseland Ballroom, a large venue known for its big concerts and down-and-dirty NYC feel, but we wanted to make it “shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.” We hung over 40 giant chandeliers of varying sizes at different heights and brought in crystal weeping willow trees and illuminated them. The stage backdrop was the event logo in 3D and glitter-edging, and Wyclef Jean brought the house down along with DJ Jazzy Jeff. The bartender came up to me and told me that in 15 years of working at Roseland, she’d never seen it look so beautiful. To this day, it is still my favorite TKNY event, as it was the first time my vision came to life exactly as I had seen it in my head.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton and actress Meryl Streep speaking at the Women in the World Summit in Lincoln Center, NYC. Center:

Words of Wisdom for Professionals

Regardless of what kind of work you are doing, how big or small the budget is, treat every client as if they are your first and only. In today’s economy, I know events are a luxury and event professionals are a dime a dozen. It’s my goal to make every client feel they got the star treatment and that their money was spent wisely. Referrals are the only way I get new business, so repeat clients are my best asset.

Over the lifetime of TKNY, we have welcomed new clients each year and, unfortunately, also seen some of our clients close down or cancel events due to the economy. Through it all, TKNY has been able to adjust to the ever-changing economy by always maintaining a reputation for superior client service and a team that is willing to make things happen for our clients no matter the budget. This past year, we opened a second location on Long Island and brought on additional staff. Meanwhile, through all the celebrity and glitz, I’ve always kept a healthy nonprofit client base, because I think it’s important to give back and have an impact on the world. As we celebrate our eight-year anniversary on January 11th, I am excited to see where 2013 will take us.

—Interview by Gigi Edwards