Before you dive into "doing" big-name events, you need to ensure you have the capability to effectively prepare, organize and execute, as well as afford, the demands of doing business with the rich and famous.
When it comes to celebrity events, one thing limousine operators can count on is finding out the approximate date and venue way ahead of time. In Los Angeles, for example, January and February are typical award-filled months with gala events honoring Hollywood and the music industry. The Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the People’s Choice Awards, the Grammy Awards, the Academy Awards -- all of these "potential prospects" take place practically in the backyard of many limousine companies.
The venues and hotels for these events are often known years in advance, says Jonna Sabroff, president of Integrated Transportation Services (ITS) in Los Angeles, Calif., who adds, "Limousine companies are usually the last thing these major events think about."
But for Music Express, which has offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York Cty and Washington, D.C., its claim to fame is catering to top executives in high-profile markets such as the music industry. Founded by the late Harold Berkman, the company first started out as a messenger service. Prior to this, Berkman worked as a high-ranking executive for many years in the music industry. Because of all the friendships he formed within the industry, Music Express naturally evolved into a limousine business.
Says Craig Friedemann, director of special event projects at Music Express West in Burbank, "We’ve retained the same clients for years, so for celebrity events, we mostly service existing clientele. Unfortunately, talent comes and goes, so it’s the entertainment executives we mostly cater to."
Plan and Prepare
As far as planning, it depends on when you get the information. "We may know about a booking a month ahead of time but we may not get the number of actual passengers until days ahead," says Alan Shanedling, president of Fleetwood Limousine Ltd. in Culver City, Calif. But no matter what type or size the event is or whether you have six cars present or 100, it’s all about preparation, preparation, preparation, he says. If you’re prepared, you can handle anything.
Even the simplest detail, such as making sure you have the chauffeur’s cell phone number to contact him if necessary, can wreak havoc if overlooked. If it’s underground parking at the event, will the two-way radio work? When the event is finished, will the chauffeur call the client or will the client call the chauffeur?
"You should always anticipate what could go wrong so you’re prepared in case a problem arises," Shanedling advises. At large-scale events, a lot of the logistical guesswork is done ahead of time. Organizers already have certain procedures in place, such as where chauffeurs should drop off and pick up attendees, where they’re allowed to park, etc. It is knowing what those procedures are so you can properly prepare, says Shanedling.
To avoid any procedural surprises, Sabroff, who is also a board member of the Greater California Livery Association (GCLA), says the association invites the venue’s security and parking staff to its meeting about one month in advance. “We post the information chauffeurs need to know on our Web site and also have the one-on-one contact with parking and security for the event at our meeting,” she says.
"With the award shows, a security perimeter is set up about 24 hours prior to the event and the area is swept by the Los Angeles Police Department. Prearranged security checkpoints are put in place and chauffeurs must know where these checkpoints are or they will not be allowed to enter the secure perimeter of the event," Sabroff continues. Also, the city in which the event is taking place is involved in designating routes and road closures, she adds.
For Friedemann, whether 10 or 300 cars are booked for the event, the preparation process is the same since the shows are usually a similar size every year. He hands out a basic show package to each chauffeur, which contains a vehicle number and Music Express’ logo. Chauffeurs are instructed to tape this on the windshield so clients can readily identify their vehicle.
Once your plan of action is in place, you need to rally the troops. As soon as the designated chauffeurs are assigned to the event, Music Express selects on-site representatives to help clients return to their cars.
"They act like surrogate chauffeurs in that they help direct clients," says Friedemann. After the event, the representative radios the chauffeur to let him know where the client will be waiting. The event organizers discourage having extra people around because of security issues, says Friedemann, but it’s a necessary evil because it helps with traffic flow.
Fleetwood Limousine also staffs on-site coordinators who open car doors, direct clients to their cars, instruct on parking, etc. To make sure everything runs smoothly, Shanedling intentionally overstaffs his coordinators.
Execute and Accomplish
The big day has arrived, but keep in mind, with all your preparing and attention to detail, things may not always go as planned. "You have to go with the flow because no matter what you’re told, chances are it’s going to change," advises Shanedling. "You need to be flexible."
One thing you do have control of, however, is the role of the chauffeur -- that is, if he or she is properly trained. Says Friedemann, "We always try to maintain the highest level of professionalism whether we’re taking a client to the airport or to the Oscars. Since most of our clientele requests a certain chauffeur, some chauffeurs get very familiar with them. A chauffeur always needs to keep in mind that he is hired help and not a personal friend. There’s that line you can’t cross with any high-profile person. Asking for an autograph is grounds for dismissal."
When it comes to dress code, Music Express does not have their chauffeurs wear tuxedos because "we don’t want them to be better dressed than the client," says Friedemann. They wear a black suit with a white shirt and a tie of their choice.
"We let our chauffeurs express their personality with their ties,” he says. “They have to use a little discretion, though, when selecting a tie. Wearing a tie with an RCA label, for example, won’t go over so well if you’re driving a client to Warner Bros." "At any event, the most important thing is that the chauffeur be on time," says Sabroff. "He is there to provide outstanding professional service to the V.I.P. clients entrusted to him." Also, be sure all chauffeurs have their order, parking information, route information, drop-off information, security checkpoints, etc. It is check, double check and check again, she adds.
The more a chauffeur knows, the more confident he will be with clients and the more comfortable the clients will be with him.
So if you decide to jump aboard the celebrity bandwagon, take advice from these experts and have a tactical plan from beginning to end.
For more on this article, see March 2005, page 38.