Michael Cerbelli is the very definition of international events. For over 42 years, Michael has done more than change the paradigm of prestigious happenings – Michael has become the paradigm.
If you have been one of the fortunate invitees to a Cerbelli creation, you know who he is. But more importantly, you have experienced first-hand Michael’s breathtaking creativity and mad technical expertise. His success is the result of more than just his mind-blowing concepts, it’s also because his events go off with a military – yet transparent – precision. Though a fixture in the New York City events scene, Michael’s influence is worldwide; from the Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to a birthday party for the King of Morocco, to a signature event at the palace of Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg, Russia, Cerbelli Creative’s events are legendary.
Michael’s recent multi-million-dollar ‘Brooklyn Bar-Mitzvah’ at the Barclay Center grabbed the attention of the worldwide press from CNN to the BBC. Still, Michael’s passion is to do more than create incredible experiences. He would much rather be ‘giving back’ to the event community than fielding calls from the press. Michael’s heart is expressed through his wildly successful, “Michael Cerbelli’s: The Hot List™” events. With “The Hot List™,” Michael works to inspire producers throughout the industry, reveal the latest trends, and fill their creative toolbox with the latest event resources.
In 2019 Michael was inducted into the event industry Hall of Fame by BizBash a respected multi-million readership for his decades of experience working in event design and production, meetings, hospitality and sponsorships, corporate events, rentals, and more.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced while planning an event and how did you overcome it?
As every event is unique, they all come with their respective sets of challenges that one can never prepare for. No matter the amount of time I have to plan an event, anywhere from two years or only four hours, challenges and unforeseen difficulties are inevitable.
What I deem to be the most challenging in event planning is achieving perfection and consistency in every event, no matter the size or parameters. In order to keep my clients happy, be proud of what I have created, and keep my reputation as a leader in this industry, I must constantly push the boundaries of my creativity and remain relevant with the ever-changing trends.
What are 2 trends in the event planning industry that you’re excited about?
I must say that one trend I am excited for is that event planners are now being recognized more for their capabilities to “design” an event, instead of being looked at as the people that can only “throw together a pretty party”. It has taken some time for the industry to be seen in such a light, but I do feel that we are truly in a place where we can be seen as innovators and are being trusted to take events to new heights.
With the event planning industry finally catching up to the 21st Century, I truly feel that the advancement and accessibility to new and cutting-edge technology have given us an additional platform to bring our designs to life. The possibilities are now endless from projection mapping, holographic materials to smart-phone check-in systems. Technology has truly played a major role in our industry’s evolution and ability to push the boundaries of creativity and expand our networks to make events even more memorable.
What are some tips for creating an elegant and memorable event on a tight budget?
A tight budget doesn’t mean that an elegant and memorable event can’t be created. To sum up any tips I would share in one word, it would have to be SIMPLICITY. If you have a tight budget, take a step back and see what you can enhance that’s already at your disposal.
I believe candles can go a long way in any event especially since adding an open flame adds an element of elegance to any event. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on high-end furniture or florals. Just picking up light and making the room darker by enhancing the surroundings and using shadowing will give you the elegant feel you are looking for without going over budget.
If you had unlimited resources, what would your dream client and event look like?
A dream client for me is anyone who has an event wish and trusts me to bring it to life.
A dream event would look like every event that we already do, SPECTACULAR!
How important are your relationships with vendors and what are some ways that you successfully cultivate and ensure good rapport?
Relationships with vendors are one of the most important parts of the success of the business. Your vendors should always love working and partnering with you.
We treat our vendors as an extension of Cerbelli Creative. When we are transparent and inclusive with our vendors, and we share our client’s goals, then we all know what needs to be done to get it to the next level, and it becomes a win-win for everyone.
Our mindset at Cerbelli Creative is to respect your vendors and give them the support they need. The more they are given the ability to make a solid contribution in their area of expertise, the more successful the event will be. It’s not all about us as a company, but us working together as a team to make great things happen.
What advice would you give someone who needs to plan a fundraiser but isn’t sure where to start?
Anyone planning a fundraiser should enter the initial planning process with financial parameters in mind. Balance how much needs to go into the event in order to be able to raise enough money to make an impact on the organization, and not only cover the cost of the event itself. Once a realistic number is reached, the organization can spend their time focusing on other areas such as sponsorships, attendee list or content. Leave the tedious behind the scene tasks for us.
Ensuring that you are doing outreach to the right audience is a major component of the overall success of a fundraiser. Although it is easy to fill a room with those near and dear to you, expanding your network to introduce your cause to a new audience really goes a long way.
Most importantly, focus on the impact and amount of gratitude you would like the evening to leave on your attendees. Making it a fun, memorable evening that is completely different from traditional fundraisers, allows your organization to gain momentum and excitement for future events.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
2020 is the next decade for us! Every 10 years Cerbelli has reached new milestones: in the ’70s the business succeeded with one employee as a block party DJ, in the ’80s our expansion in the social market skyrocketed, and by the ’90s we tapped into the corporate market. In the new millennium, we took our areas of expertise and really focused on being recognizable industry leaders with a respectable track record in the corporate and social markets. The last ten years have been a decade of true growth as industry leaders and innovators, with great network expansion and full immersion into the 21st century and evolving trends.
We are entering 2020 with a new exciting Cerbelli Creative Headquarters in Manhattan as a shared event space with the who’s who in the event industry working alongside us. My vision with this space is to give the best names in the industry a place to expand, create, collaborate and grow tremendously for the next ten years and many more to come.
What inspired you to launch your own company in the event industry? How long did it take from initially having the idea of setting up and starting to attract a client base?
I knew from early on that I wanted to be an actor and an architect. When I started out as a disc jockey in 1977, it granted me the freedom to pursue acting and have fun on the social scene. To my surprise, I was pretty personable and well-liked when I was running around with a microphone at social events. As a performer, I wanted to know more about every client and event. I genuinely wanted to get as much information as possible in order to be sure that I was doing the best job that catered to each client no matter how big or small my role was in the event. In 1984, I realized that I could have a successful business.
By asking the right questions, I formed partnerships and relationships, and I gained knowledge that has helped take my career on an incredible ride over the past 42 years. To this day, it is vital to my career and Cerbelli Creative as a whole, to remain relevant, grasp a full understanding of our clients’ needs, and know that some years will be better than others. Loyalty, transparency, patience and never saying no have been major contributing factors to building the clientele and success that I still have today.
We keep track of what the trends are and what our clients want and never turn away from a new challenge, even if we’ve never attempted it before. We always want to know what the next best thing is. It’s a long journey, but the more you love your achievements and learn from your failures, the more you will grow. And never forget, a company is run by a team, not by one person. Every voice counts.
What’s the first event you can ever remember planning and how did it go?
When I was 10 years old, we created a fundraiser for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. It was held in a childhood friend’s garage. For an entire day, we repeatedly put on a show for this cause. Spectators would come and leave a few dollars in a cup we had left out to collect any donations. Others from around the neighborhood came by to cheer us on. It was a great success, and it was fun!
What are some things you wished you knew before starting your businesses?
Before starting my business, I wish I knew how multifaceted and ever-changing this industry was. I would have wanted to soak up every ounce of knowledge there was about every and any type of event to jump-start my business in high gear, but in hindsight, I understand that would have not been possible. With every event, there is a new lesson to be learned. The events industry is so vast and broad that although you can become an expert in florals, invites, décor, entertainment, catering or production, you can never be fully prepared to tackle every task alone.
The only way to become a true professional in this industry, even in this time and age, is by getting your hands dirty and valuing the knowledge and expertise from the peers around you. Every late night, long day of travel and countless pitches that never came to fruition have helped shape my career and who I am as a designer, boss, business partner and mentor in this industry. Now I know that putting your all into what you love to do will shower you with unimaginable opportunities, experiences, and relationships.
What’s the most surprising or unusual request you have ever received from a client and were you able to fulfill it?
I can tell you a million war stories, but of course, there are a few unusual requests. We like looking at it as unique requests that challenge us to be better and more innovative. Everyone has a dream, vision, or a plan to execute. For example, Mr. Rourke of Fantasy Island’s role was to bring a wish to life. When someone comes to us and has a wish, a dream, a vision, or a boss’s request to fulfill, we step up to the plate to make it happen.
We live by a motto in our office; “If you want a monkey on a high wire across 5th Avenue, we will figure it out!” No request is too far-fetched to fulfill, but it may require you to push your creative boundaries and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Just as the newest “Color of the Year” for 2020 was released over social media, I was surprised by my peers’ reactions to the color. Comments on the color being “boring”, “dreadful” or even as strong as “hated” were made. I quickly thought to myself, if a client presented this color to Cerbelli Creative, we would never tell them we hated it and that it was boring. We would gladly take their dream and vision and bring it to life. We are in roles that allow us to create and design and make it spectacular no matter what the medium is.
Anything else you’d like to comment on while we have you?
We believe in sharing the wealth at Cerbelli Creative. Never be afraid to ask a vendor to be creative. Never say, I can’t afford that. Challenge everyone you want to work with to be the best and tell people what you are trying to do. You would be amazed at all you can accomplish.