Well-dressed people fill the space; conversations are flowing along with the wine as the perfectly pitched music buoys the atmosphere. The lighting shifts subtly and a spotlight picks out one person in the crowd. Then another. Then another. Each person delivers their story: tying together the purpose for the evening, demonstrating the importance of this particular cause, sharing individual impact. The mood is contemplative, yet the audience is energized. After the presentation, the DJ resumes his playlist and the dance floor is packed.
At the end of the evening, the guests are discussing what a great event it was; the board members of the nonprofit are congratulating each other on what will surely be the most successful fundraiser of the year.
Rob Schenk, the proverbial man behind the curtain, just smiles. The majority of the guests are happily oblivious to everything that went into the evening; even the clients are a bit baffled by everything he was able to accomplish. But this is Schenk’s magic.
Schenk has been producing events in Colorado since 1990 and, after more than 30 years in the event production business ranging from weddings and social events to large scale galas and fundraisers, Schenk has developed almost a sixth sense when it comes to figuring out what clients are trying to accomplish—and then delivering it.
“We use technology to create the emotion,” Schenk said. “That’s what events are, right? Whether it’s a birthday party, a wedding or even a corporate marketing junket—trying to create emotion. Emotion to buy something, to love the bride and groom or donate more money to the charity.”
Schenk’s client list is impressive—he’s produced events and conferences for former presidents (George W. Bush, Clinton and Carter) and musicians like Garth Brooks and the Zac Brown Band. If you want someone who knows how to navigate the Secret Service, Schenk’s your guy.
But no matter if it’s political or personal, Schenk said he approaches every event the same way: First, he finds out the “why” behind the event; then he figures out what sort of emotion the client is trying to evoke from the audience.
“My job to get inside their head and understand what they’re really looking for,” Schenk said. “A lot of our customers are people that keep coming back over and over. They know I’m good at really understanding what it is they’re trying to say.”
With his experience, Schenk is very good at translating, “I want it to look ‘more blue,’” into the desire for a more dramatic effect, washing the area with color or incorporating technology to evoke a certain feeling.
In addition to his ability to get inside a customer’s head, Schenk brings excitement and creativity to each event he designs.
Schenk mentioned an upcoming 15th anniversary party a client is holding at Mile High Stadium. As the client described an idea she had, Schenk thought about the perfect piece of new technology—remotely-activated colored wristbands that could be used to illuminate various groups within the audience—to take it up several notches. The client was thrilled and Schenk was off to the races, thinking up innovative ways to ensure the event had emotional impact.
Designing the perfect affair takes time. Schenk said that he works with clients months in advance, brainstorming and gathering details to figure out how to deliver something special. Of course, creating something that seems flawless often requires many moving parts behind the scenes—and that requires a budget. But Schenk isn’t afraid to start with the outlandish, crazy, over-the-top ideas.
“I say, don’t worry about budget (in the beginning). We’re going to get there, but let’s think all the way up at the top and then start to reel it in,” Schenk said. “Okay, so this is a great idea. Now how do we pull that in to earth and make it a reality.”
From audio and visual to event design and talent booking (one client wanted Earth, Wind and Fire to play her birthday party), Schenk can handle all elements of the production and ensure that it goes smoothly. But it’s not the size of the party that’s important—after all, a small event is just as important as a big one to the person who’s hosting.
Schenk’s magic comes from listening—from paying attention to what matters to the clients and then creating those special elements that bring it all together.
“What’s great is when they come back behind the curtain and say, ‘how did you do that?’” Schenk said. “That puts a smile on my face. That’s what gets me jazzed, you know? Everybody wants something special, whether it’s a low budget or high budget, they want something special. So (our job is to figure out) how we can give them something special.”
Katie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Denver covering travel, craft spirits and beer and outdoor adventures. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online outlets like 5280.com and Outside online. She surreptitiously gathered tips for her next big birthday bash while interviewing Rob.
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