Planning the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is an annual tradition.

Just when you thought you were buried in details planning your next conference, meet Rick Pomer, creative director, Macy’s Branded Entertainment, tasked with helping orchestrate the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

How is this for pressure? A Thanksgiving tradition, more than 50 million viewers watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving 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.

Creating the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade every year is a monumental undertaking. More than 8,000 volunteers are managed, larger-than-life character balloons must be flown, animated floats, world-class marching bands and performance groups cued.

What can meeting professionals learn from the orchestration of an event like this? “It’s important to know what you know and leverage that,” explains Rick Pomer, creative director, Macy’s Branded Entertainment. “Then, you put your energy into the things you don’t know, and that’s where collaboration comes into play.”

After 93 years, it’s important to come up with things that are new and exciting, adds Pomer. This can be applied to all meetings and events. It is critical to maintain the balance between keeping things fresh and relevant while retaining familiar favorites attendees look forward to year after year.

Clowns galore at Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.
Clowns galore at Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Planning an event like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is an ongoing effort. Many aspects are addressed more than a year out. Take the bands, for instance. “They are chosen 18 months as they come in from all over the country, and we want to give them time to plan their trips,” describes Pomer. “We are always thinking about the next parade, the parade after that, and in some cases, anniversaries and other milestones.”

Macy’s Branded Entertainment team consists of 30 who work in an office in New York City and another 30 who work in the Moonachie, N.J. parade studio. The teams are bulked up before the parade with seasonal help.

Santa closes Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.
Santa closes Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

The parade, broadcast on NBC, runs from 9 a.m. to noon. “We have it down to a science. We know when things should kick off uptown to make it to the finish line on 34th Street. We create a theme, so it doesn’t feel haphazard. It must be cohesive,” says Pomer.

What does the team do at noon, when the parade is officially over? “When Santa comes through at 12, we breathe a bittersweet sigh of relief,” he remarks. The next day, the team gathers together in the NJ parade studio for a turkey dinner with all the fixings.

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