DNC bookings will likely have ‘ripple effect’ on local 2020 events calendar

Companies encouraged to start planning early


The 2020 Democratic National Convention will take over southeastern Wisconsin this year with an estimated 2,000 ancillary events before and during the high-profile political affair, taking place July 13-16 at Fiserv Forum.

Local venues, event planners, caterers and production companies have been preparing for months to cash in on the DNC boom, hiring additional employees, blocking off availability and listing their services on the local organizer’s search portals.

Given the hype and scope of the DNC, it’s expected to have an effect on the city’s event ecosystem.

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Some corporate events annually held in July have been rescheduled. Northwestern Mutual pushed back its 2020 Annual Meeting to August.

“That has a ripple effect,” said Mike Underwood, president of Underwood Events LLC, a Milwaukee-based corporate event planner and destination management company. “If (companies) move their event from July to September, they’re also displacing (a company) who’s always had their event (that) week of September.”

Underwood expects Milwaukee’s event scene will likely feel the DNC’s impact all year long, not just around the time it takes place. Even November, which is typically a slow month, will be busier than years past as events are shifted around, he said. Those who are planning events unrelated to the convention are encouraged to start the process early to ensure they capture the same level of attention from local venues and planners.

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Corporate Event Planning Credit: Underwood Events LLC
Corporate Event Planning
Credit: Underwood Events LLC

Underwood Events has three corporate clients who have large-scale events booked during the weekend preceding the DNC. Of those three events, one is likely to be rescheduled: a 6,000-person annual company picnic. The main concern is lack of availability and increased price of tents, tables and chairs as well as other services, Underwood said.

The other two, a 4,000-person company picnic at the Milwaukee County Zoo and a 100th anniversary celebration in Kenosha, will go on as scheduled.

The company itself has proactively hired 12 senior event planners, who are contracted through July to attract and handle DNC-related business. It is also getting a head start on 2020 holiday event planning. 

For the local events market, the DNC is seen as a lucrative opportunity, but it’s not necessarily a sustainable one, Underwood said. 

“I think it’s in our best interest not to lose sight of the fact that when the DNC packs up and leaves, along with all of those business opportunities that came along with it, we’re still going to do business here in Milwaukee,” Underwood said.

It’s no different for Milwaukee-based Zilli Hospitality Group, which is behind the events at a number of well-known area venues, including Coast, Boerner Botanical Gardens, the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Mitchell Park Domes.

“We’ve got some very loyal and consistent clients that we take care of and they’re going to be our first priority because they’re here forever, whereas the DNC is a one-stop option,” said Charmaine Gunther, event designer at Zilli Hospitality Group.

But the company isn’t snoozing on the July convention. It’s designated a group of planners from its 20-person event planning team to work specifically with DNC-related clients, Gunther said.

As soon as it was announced that the DNC would be held in Milwaukee, corporate clients who had yearly events scheduled within a 10-day window of the convention were given the option to pick a new date.

“A good portion of them did reconsider the timing of their events and chose to move it either a week prior or a week after, just so that the week could be enjoyable for their group,” she said.

Underwood suggested some ways companies can prepare when holding an event this year:

Expect less flexibility

“I think a lot of us take for granted sometimes that given the amount of venues, and the amount of hotels and the amount of restaurants, we can sometimes call on short notice and find available space or find a block of hotel rooms or eke out a little space in the Wisconsin Center for a program that popped up. What will be difficult in 2020 is we just aren’t going to have the flexibility to do that as much.”

Be patient with vendors

“That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your ideal or sacrifice the quality of your event. It just may mean your vendors are going to be really hard to get ahold of those first couple weeks of July. So maybe don’t save all your questions and requests until then.”

Begin planning sooner rather than later

“If you wait too long for some of these things, there’s a very real chance that the venue you want is not available, the caterer’s not available, the event planning company is not available.” 

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