According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, special events play a vital role in the overall success of our tourism industry – a window to our economic development. City officials understand and appreciate that community festivals build social capital, create a sense of place, and add to the quality of life.
This past Friday, the best and brightest Arizona events were honored at the APS 17th Annual AzTec Awards at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park. So, we asked event co-chair and long-time HMA friend Vern Biaett, who is teaching special events management classes at ASU these days, to be a special HMATime guest blogger today and tell the world about the awards program as well as the big winners.
Take is away, Vern – What are the AzTEC Awards?
In 1994, the newly formed Arizona Festivals and Events Association, a state chapter of the International Festivals and events Association (IFEA), decided to organize an awards program. Abbie S. Fink who had moved from the Fiesta Bowl to HMA; Julie Hoffer, then with the East Valley Tribune; and myself, then with the city of Phoenix Office of Special Events, volunteered for the project. We got all the nuts and bolts put together, the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed and came up with words that still define the awards program today like, “strives to recognize outstanding examples of festival and event production and promotion in the State of Arizona,” and “a critical component of successful events are their abilities to distinguish themselves in the most attractive and innovative ways possible.” I can’t remember what came first, the acronym AzTEC, or the actual words - Arizona Talent in Event Concepts, but we all thought it was pretty creative and people would like it.
What we didn’t realize at the time was that the AzTECs would one day take on a life of their own. When the IFEA moved from state chapters to regions the AFEA disbanded, becoming an email and LinkedIn networking group of about 120-140 persons known informally as the AZ Festival People. The one thing everybody did not want to give up, however, was the AzTEC Awards program. It is great to connect in the realm of social networking, but once a year everybody has a chance to come together for a day, hug, look each other in the eye, swap stories at length and in great detail, and just celebrate the festival and event industry in Arizona. We have a small volunteer committee that usually organizes in February or March to produce the program that is scheduled annually in August. APS, which is represented by Terry Ricketts; Entertainment Solutions, and KioKam all provide some sponsorship and we charge just enough for entry fees and lunch to be sustainable.
For several years now we’ve programmed an entire day of activities. It kicks off with a half-day seminar to address Arizona-specific event issues, solutions, and creative ideas. This year our committee orchestrated three educational sessions covering the topics of event budgeting, social networking and media, and how to barter. We have a keynote speaker prior to lunch – it was supposed to be Jerry Colangelo this year, but he ended up staying in Europe for the summer so we were lucky to have the Arizona Office of Tourism’s Sherry Henry and Colangelo’s business partner Tom O’Malley step in and fill the bill. To help pay the bills we also have a fundraising raffle that this year that included a five-day cruise as the top prize as well as among many other things including … you guessed it … a few event T-shirts.
Lunch tends to go long, because everyone is so busy talking, and then the highlight of the day the awards ceremony. Gold and silver awards were given for events both under and over 20K in attendance in a number of marketing categories that include:
Last year, we presented special recognition awards for long-time sponsors of Arizona festivals and community events – and this year we did the same for mayors from Avondale, Scottsdale, Glendale, El Mirage, Mesa, and Litchfield Park.
The finale of the awards ceremony is presentation of “Outstanding Awards,” which were:
And – we ended the awards program with a bit of a surprise. This year, we presented a special award, a lifetime achievement award of sorts called the BIG KAHUNA Award, to Ken and Kevin Koziol of Entertainment Solutions, who have been behind the state’s largest events for more than 20 years.
Of course, to end the day, attendees head to the bar for a hosted happy hour networking social – where mostly we tell stories of past events and dream of what is to come.
If anyone is interested in more information or joining the AZ Festival People network, just email me at email@example.com and I’ll get you connected.