Marc Friedland got a behind-the-scenes, hard-hat tour of hotelier Steve Wynn's latest Las Vegas mega-resort long before its opening while most details were still a well-guarded secret.
But Friedland wasn't part of the hotel's design team. Instead, the Wynns hired his Creative Intelligence Inc. to create a brand for the $2.7 billion hotel's grand opening events.
"They showed us architectural elements, the interior design elements," Friedland recalled. "We worked really closely with the interior designers getting fabrics and getting all the materials. It was a fantastic process."
While most people have never heard of event branding (or "experiential branding," a phrase Friedland coined), the process basically involves combining marketing strategies, design, and a consistent style to "brand" an event, making the overall experience and therefore by extension the host or company behind it more memorable from the start.
Friedland's first task for Wynn Las Vegas was to create an invitation to grand opening festivities that would give almost 3,000 high rollers their first glimpse of the highly-anticipated property. The elaborate invitation weighed nearly two pounds and was printed in four languages. The hard-bound invitation arrived in a taffeta-lined box and included a re-creation of the hotel's hand-painted wallpaper and an embossed design taken from the building's molding.
It's the kind of work for which Los Angeles-based Creative Intelligence has developed a reputation.
"I've known Marc for probably two decades and I've always found his work to be thorough, creative, and no pun intended envelope pushing," said John Wentworth, executive vice president, marketing & media relations of Paramount Television, where Friedland worked on the wrap party for the hit series "Frasier."
Friedland, a 46-year-old New Jersey native, said he was always a creative kid who used to sketch postcards on the back of air sickness bags on plane trips he just never knew how far those passions would take him.
An undergraduate at the University of Miami who went on to get a masters in public health from UCLA, Friedland ditched his medical school dreams after taking his first art class at the Brentwood Art Center just prior to getting his masters. That prompted him to begin making hand-painted greeting cards that he began selling to local stationery stores and boutiques.
When a staff member from the Museum of Contemporary Art saw the cards in a store, she tracked Friedland down and had him hand-paint 5,000 invitations for a museum event with help from museum volunteers. Then actors Dudley Moore and Molly Ringwald, who had both received the museum invitations, hired Friedland to create invitations for their parties. He picked up a Hollywood following and started his company in 1986 with just $2,000 in savings.
Since then, Creative Intelligence has been hired by scores of corporate clients, who make up about two-thirds of the company's customer base. Twenty percent still comes from "social" clients, for whom Creative Intelligence custom designs invitations for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and parties. The remaining client base consists mostly of non-profit organizations.
Over the years Friedland has created Travolta Global Airlines-themed materials (including fake boarding passes) for aviation enthusiast John Travolta's surprise birthday weekend; golden tickets for the premiere of Warner Bros.' "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory"; and invitations, programs, and logos for the opening gala of a fictitious museum (which was actually the wrap party for the NBC's "Frasier" series). Oprah Winfrey is also a client.
Creative Intelligence's fees vary per job, with a simple invitation to a non-profit event as little as a few dollars, while intricate corporate materials can cost $40 to hundreds of dollars per piece. All of the company's production takes place at its 7,000-square-foot Los Angeles office.
More recently, Friedland designed a line of Wynn stationery, which will be sold at the hotel. Friedland already has a line of Swarovski crystal stationery available at Swarovski stores and online. He hopes to expand the stationery side of the business, branded the Marc Friedland Collection.
"What's really important is trying not to be too trendy but definitely being design-centric," he said. "It's really about being up on what's going on in interior design, in fashion, pop culture. Those are all things that affect how we design."
* CREATIVE INTELLIGENCE INC.
Year Founded: 1986
Core Business: Event branding and high-end invitations
Revenues 2004: $1.8 million
Revenues 2005: $2.5 million
Employees in 2004: 13
Employees in 2005: 18
Goal: To gain global recognition, especially in the world of advertising and public relations, and to expand stationery sales
Driving Force: Clients who recognize the impact of design, creativity and social graces
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