No one understands all that goes into planning an event like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade better than a meeting professional. There is one in particular who is living the experience as she will be part of the saxophone section of the Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band – Michelle J. Taunton, CMP, CMM, manager, global accounts, HelmsBriscoe. The band of 450 from St. Petersburg, FL, will be performing “Enchano” in front of Macy’s on 34th Street.
“The logistics person in me will be paying particularly close attention to all the logistics involved to put on the Thanksgiving Parade. Something the general public probably doesn’t realize is that there’s a full dress rehearsal for all the performers of their Herald Square show in the wee hours of the morning before the parade starts,” describes Taunton. “We have a 2:00 am lobby call on Thanksgiving morning to catch our buses for a 3:30 am dress rehearsal in Herald Square, so by the time the parade starts at 9:00 am, we’ll have been up for well over seven hours.” This is in addition to a Thanksgiving eve rehearsal that is slated to run until 9:30 pm.
In October, the group had to videotape a dress rehearsal of its Herald Square show and submit that video to the organizers of the Thanksgiving Parade. “Apparently, if the organizers don’t think a band looks or sounds tight enough, they won’t allow the band to perform its drill in Herald Square and will instead have the band just march through without stopping,” she explains. “The organizers have been adamant, though, that no videos of rehearsals be posted online, as they don’t want anyone seeing the bands’ drills until the actual parade.”
How is this for pressure? A Thanksgiving tradition, more than 50 million viewers watch the parade from home every year while another 3.5 million head to the streets of New York City to take in this spectacle in person.
Taunton understands all that goes into planning an event of this magnitude but feels communication could have been improved by providing the schedule much earlier than just a week before the parade. “This experience has reinforced the importance of communication in all areas, and to always try to look at things from the participants’ perspective. The band leadership has done a great job in the majority of areas, but there have been some areas in which the communication has been sorely lacking,” she says.
The group was initially told that they would need to arrive in New York City on Tuesday, as there would be a rehearsal on Wednesday. What they were not told until last week is that the rehearsal would be at 7 pm, and several people purchased tickets to shows for Wednesday night. Others were miffed as to why they didn’t learn this sooner as New York City is only a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Tampa, and many could have saved a night’s hotel cost by flying in on Wednesday morning.
“We didn’t get a formal itinerary for our time in NYC until a week out. Before that, there were just some random emails and posts on the group’s Facebook page,” says Taunton. “Being a planner, I’ve been transferring that information into an itinerary I created myself, but I find it very disorganized to not have a detailed agenda for the group activities. It’s been frustrating trying to make plans in NYC without having all the timing details. Since the band leadership is primarily concerned with the band’s performance, they don’t seem to understand that the participants might want to make other plans during their downtime and need the schedule.”
Dress was another area that was lacking details. “We’re wearing these long raincoats, and they’re fairly thin, but we’ve received no instructions about what we should or shouldn’t wear underneath them. That seems pretty basic to me, but it’s the kind of thing that is commonly overlooked. So, again, as a planner, it’s just reinforced to me how important it is to anticipate all questions a participant might have and communicate the answers early and clearly.”
Taunton is also intrigued by the way emergency medical information is handled. “We’re all supposed to fill out an emergency medical form including allergies, medications, emergency contact info, etc., fold it up, and put it in our left shoe. That way, should someone pass out along the parade route, emergency personnel can just remove your shoe and get the info they need,” she says “I like the idea that my medical information is available to emergency personnel, but not maintained electronically by the group where the data security might not be the greatest as this is an all-volunteer run group, after all.”
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