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 We caught up with a local expert, Chais Sweat, concerning our topic this week, The Individual, The Team, The Organization. We will learn how the ethics of an individual, a team, and an organization all have a legal impact on one another. Here is what he had to say...


What makes this topic so relevant today?

In the modern marketplace, particularly with the ever-growing prevalence of social media, reputations can be damaged in the blink of an eye.  Ethical and professional missteps can be shared, discussed, and evaluated by dozens (or more) colleagues and customers all across the country in a matter of minutes, but responding to and repairing the damage done by such critiques can take far longer.  Worse, violating some ethical and professional norms could even lead to legal troubles.  Being aware of potential ethical and professional pitfalls, and consciously avoiding them, is the best way to protect and build your reputation and prevent any legal liability.

Do you believe there could be personal liability that would be helpful information to someone attending this event?

Driven by falling legal costs and a change in our society's attitude about using the courts to resolve disputes, our country is more litigious than ever.  For most professionals, this means there is an increasing likelihood that professional and ethical violations can and will lead to lawsuits.  Social media issues, employment issues, privacy matters, intellectual property disputes, and contract disputes are increasingly becoming areas where meeting industry professionals find themselves being sued in their personal capacity.  This presentation will discuss "traps for the unwary" - areas where you might not realize there is a potential for legal troubles, including personal liability - and ways to protect yourself and your business.

Will we learn to better protect ourselves and our company?

Absolutely.  Each topic discussed will cover a hypothetical ethical dilemma, followed by discussion of possible response to that dilemma, the consequences of each possible course of action, recommendations for how to handle each situation, and what to do when things go wrong.  We have a lot to cover, but if we do not reach all of the topics, Rebecca and I will be around after the event to discuss further, and will provide our contact information if anyone would like advice after the event.

What is the most interesting current example of an ethical violation that inspires you to speak on this topic?

Two good current examples highlight the importance of some of the topics we'll be covering.  First, we were recently involved in a lawsuit in which two employees (one subject to a non-compete agreement, and the other was not) left a job to work for a competitor and brought certain client information with them to the new job.  The former employer sued the employees individually, as well as their new employer, for breach of the non-compete agreement and breach of fiduciary duty seeking over $1 million in damages.  The attorneys' fees incurred to defend that lawsuit alone were over $250,000.  Second, on September 7, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to at least 21 "social media influencers" (people who use their social media accounts to advertise products and are compensated for doing so) for failure to properly disclose the nature of their relationship to the product.  The names of those 21 "influencers" has not been released, but we are aware that there is a growing trend among meeting professionals to work with other people or companies to cross-sell products via social media, which could trigger FTC scrutiny if not done properly.  



Chais Sweat is an attorney with Middleberg Riddle Group whose practice focuses on commercial litigation and hospitality.  He has represented national hotel chains, resorts, boutique properties, and event space clients in a wide range of operational matters including drafting contracts, providing regulatory compliance advice, and class action defense.  He has settled or disposed of over 100 lawsuits involving contracts, and has litigated hotel event contracts in multiple states.

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This months blog features a dynamic New Orleanian, Tonya Armbruster whose creativity and energy is unparalelled!  Enjoy her gorgeous photography and our discussion about our jewel of a city. 

Holly-Anne – Tonya, I'm so thrilled to get your feedback for our MPI Gulf States Blog for November!!!  Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

Tonya Armbruster – Thanks so much for having me!

H-A – You are a busy lady wearing many hats here in NOLA and beyond!  For our members that haven’t been lucky enough to meet you yet can you let us know a little bit about what you do in your day to day professional life, as well as other positions that you take on outside of the 9 to 5?

TA – By day, I’m a mild-mannered HR Manager working in the healthcare industry.  However, on the side I am also a photographer capturing weddings, portraits, and more.  


H-A – Being a New Orleans native, you’ve clearly attended your fair share of events, parties, Mardi Gras Balls….if you had to pick three – ONLY THREE that were you absolutely favorite and stand out in your mind – what are they and why?

TA – Oooh...good question!  Surprisingly enough, this isn’t a hard one to answer:  one of my favorite events to attend all year is the 610 Stomper Debutante Ball.  Those guys know how to throw a party!  I also love the Mr. Legs competition in support of Bridge House.  Perfect girls’ night out, and absolutely hysterical!  Last but not least would be any Krewe of Tucks event.  I ride on the signature Tucksedeauxs float and absolutely adore my Mardi Gras family.


H-A – As a photographer, what is your favorite type of event to shoot here in New Orleans?  What makes the subjects of those shoots unique?  Do you feel like there are elements of these events could ONLY happen in New Orleans?

TA –  Funny you should mention “Only in New Orleans”.  I’m actually working on a coffee table book by the same title!  There are SO many events that are unique to our city.  Where else can you catch cabbages off of a parade float, see homes with For Sale signs declaring “not haunted”, and have a funeral procession where dancing is not only involved but encouraged?  I’d have to say my favorite event to shoot are the Super Sundays with the Mardi Gras Indians.  First of all, they’re all very kind and obliging to pose for my camera.  Secondly, I’m always amazed at the detail in their costumes - it’s incredible!  Knowing the origination of this tradition makes it truly special.



H-A – Thinking about some of your travels during the last year (for business or pleasure) can you describe a memorable evening for us, be it a dinner, a music event or something out in nature?  Is there something about this event that you would like to incorporate into future events here in NOLA, or photo shoots for clients?

TA – This past March I travelled with some girlfriends to Thailand, and one of my favorite moments from that trip was our first night in Krabi - the islands.  We arrived to our hotel late at night and were encouraged to walk three doors down to a little bar.  To our delight, this bar was an elaborate sort of tree house that wasn’t an actual formal establishment.  The owner simply provided beer (for a small price) to anyone who happened in.  He was cooking up prawn and mango sticky rice, and shared some with us while we drank and listened to music and chatted with a handful of other tourists.  I love those serendipitous moments!

Being such a random moment, I’m not sure how you could recreate it here in NOLA.  That said, my photography tends to be a study in contrasts.  I love the juxtaposition of placing a pretty dancer in a flowy dress in an abandoned building surrounded by graffiti.  I suppose the current Diner en Blanc event could be an example of this.  The idea of dropping a formal event into a formerly neglected place appeals to me.


H-A – I’ve been speaking to a great deal of HR Executives over the past few months and very interested in the role that they play in not only inviting new employees into the business culture but building company morale.   Let's say you're looking to put together a team building event for an HR client after giving a talk about how to better communicate in the workplace.  What would the "after hours" team building event be?  What would the goals of the event be, and how could a planner help you to achieve them? 

TA –  I haven’t personally done one of these yet, but the use of one of those “Escape Rooms” seems to me like it would be perfectly suited for such a scenario.  The team would be forced to communicate effectively and collaboratively in order to escape the room and afterwards, the group could rehash the exercise and discuss what worked, what didn’t, and how they could bring what they learned back into the work environment.


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My name is Holly-Anne Palmer!  I'm the Owner of Happy Hour Entertainment and a proud member of MPI Gulf States.  I'm honored to be a part of the Communications and Event Team of MPI this year and am looking forward to a wonderful year of blogging about current members, trends and exciting changes in our industry!  For my first interview I reached out to my dear friend Valerie Grubb, the powerhouse behind Human Resource Consulting and Training Firm, Val Grubb and Associates, author of best selling books including the newly released "Clash of The Generations" and the newly minted President of the New Orleans Film Society.   Check out what she has to say!

H-A – Val, I'm so thrilled to get your feedback for our MPI Gulf States Blog for August! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! 

VG – My pleasure to have the opportunity!

H-A – For our members that haven’t had the incredible opportunity of meeting you, please give us a little bit of your background.  

VG – I’ve had my own HR Consulting and Training practice, Val Grubb & Associates, for nine years.  Prior to this, I helped to found the Oxygen Channel for Oprah Winfrey, Geraldine Laybourne and Marcy Carsey. It was fantastic fun (in addition to being a lot of work) and when we sold the company to NBC Universal, I took a senior role at the new parent company, but it just wasn’t the same.  I yearned for the freedom that comes with running your own show and thus, I went out on my own, specializing in Human Resources/Operations.  I regularly consult for small to mid-range companies wishing to expand, and larger companies seeking efficiencies in their operations.

Meanwhile, I’m a recent transplant to New Orleans (I moved here in January of 2016 after 18 years in NYC) and a few months after arriving, a dear friend approached me about joining the Board of the New Orleans Film Society.  I immediately said yes and am thrilled to share that I took over as President of the Board July 1st, 2017!  I’m honored to be helming the Society as we enter into our 28th Film Festival this fall!

H-A – Now that you have been in New Orleans for over a year? and have begun to immerse yourself in the event community, what do you find are some of the strengths of the New Orleans event industry versus New York, where you have spent a great deal of time? What makes New Orleans stand out?  And what can be improved upon? 

VG – Oh my goodness! I thought New York was a party town – NYC has nothing on New Orleans!!!! NOTHING!! There is such a love of life in New Orleans that is unlike anywhere else in the world and that joie de vivre shows up everywhere: parties, galas, Mardi Gras and other holidays.  The general frivolity and excitement of events in New Orleans constantly permeates the city. There is a lightness of spirit in NOLA that NYC just doesn’t have and I think that allows for greater FUN here. New Orleans allows you to be who you are - and events can really reflect what matters to a person at their core.  NYC can be about “upping the Joneses” while here it’s about catering to your soul. And NOLA knows soul. That is certainly one thing that makes NOLA stand-out from NYC and the rest of the world to be honest.

Other strengths of the event community here is the Southern Hospitality element.  I thought that was a myth before moving here but people really do care that you have a great time at an event and that you feel well taken care of at every turn.  You’re not a number here – you’re somebody who matters!  As an example, I’m pretty involved with SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), which hosted its annual conference here in June of this year, and I threw several parties in conjunction with the conference.  One party at the New Orleans School of Cooking was particularly concerning for me as it was for current and future clients.  I cannot even begin to tell you how NOSC  went over-the-top to ensure that my event blew my clients’ socks off! They cared as much as I did and that is unique and very special. That’s simply just not the norm in NYC or a lot of other cities. And I’ve seen that same level of caring in other parties I’ve thrown for the Film Society.

Hmmmmm…improvements. That’s a tough one for me as I’m just so in love with New Orleans right now!  Ha, ha, ha. Can I say parking?  I’ve gotten thousands of dollars’ worth of parking tickets and I drive a Vespa! So better parking would be great! And holy cow FIX THE POTHOLES!!  Oh wait, not sure MPI members can fix that, but ya never know!

H-A – What type of environment do you want to focus on when planning your upcoming NOFS events - for example, VIP Parties, Your Fall Opening Party, Your Spring Gala?  What do you think will make NOFS's events stand out, and why? 

VG – The Film Society parties really span the gamut! The opening night party to kick off the Film Festival (October 11th, 2017) tops out at 1,000 guests and really requires a va-va-voom environment to WOW sponsors, celebrities and guests.  And this is just the beginning, as we host parties every other night during the Festival, including the filmmakers awards ceremony where prizes are given out to the top movie picks.  It’s a really magical (but exhausting!) nine days in October.  Over the coming weeks, I will be excited to share hotels, restaurants and party spaces that we’ve partnered with for our upcoming 28th Film Festival!

Each Spring we hold a fundraising gala that absolutely requires a WOW factor.  We like to have our guests celebrate the achievements of the year and celebrate in fantastic Great Gatsby style.  This is typically one of our top rated events, and I love to see our guests feeling so decadent on this fabulous night out!

H-A – What has been the BEST event that you have attended in New Orleans thus far, and why?  What stood out?  What was memorable?  

VG – Wow this is a Sophie’s Choice moment – how can I pick just one?!?! I hate to say it, but I’m not sure I can pick a single event as I’m still a kid in a candy store while mom and dad wait outside! I’m loving every party I go to and feel I’m still learning and exploring. I must admit though that those parties that stand-out are those that embrace the culture of New Orleans such as including a Second Line, serving local dishes and cocktails, incorporating masks and boas or other Mardi Gras themes, providing entertainment from a brass band or other local favorites. Those small touches can go a long way for tourists hosting events in New Orleans as well as locals who all have a very hefty sense of pride in our community.

H-A – Let's say you're looking to put together a team building event for an HR client after giving a talk about how to better communicate in the workplace.  What would the "after hours" team building event be?  What would the goals of the event be, and how could a planner help you to achieve them? 

VG –  Another event I hosted in June during the SHRM conference is a great example of how a planner is such an asset when planning an event.  I led a workshop on themes from my new book Clash of the Generations: Managing the New Workplace Reality (which deals with how to manage multiple generations in the office).  I needed a space that was conducive to hardcore networking including several activities that required interaction amongst the generations, a working lunch and break-out space that varied in size throughout the day.

My planner started with my goals for the workshop: learning, interaction, flow, intimate yet large enough to move around, multi-purpose, etc.  Then she had me walk through the presentation, focusing on the exercises, and we talked through logistically how we could accomplish everything in the same space.  I was originally thinking of renting one large room with smaller rooms nearby, but she was able to create a lay-out that gave privacy amongst the groups. It was perfect as I could move quickly and easily from group to group (and I figured out it would have been a nightmare if I had to move from room to room). I needed to see when the teams as a whole were done so I could move on (and not lose anyone because they finished so early and got distracted).  Another thing she was very cognizant of is my pet peeve with hearing dishes clanging while someone is speaking.  It sends me over the edge.  My planner made sure that didn’t happen!  In addition to all of this, she helped me plan all my after-hours festivities which built on the themes from the day, while also highlighting the beauty of the city.  It was a marvelous day (and most importantly, I got business out of the event!).

A great event planner educates me on how they can help me achieve my goals. They take the burden of logistics off my back, but they go beyond that to help me create a brand image that makes attendees want to work with me. And THAT is an AMAZING thing and really separates the great planners from the merely good ones.



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On this day, 20 years ago, MPI Gulf States Chapter became official! As an organization, we provide innovative and relevant education, networking opportunities, business exchanges, and act as a prominent voice for the promotion and growth of the meetings industry. We are proud to be 172 members strong and look forward to the next 20 years as the premiere meetings and events organization in the Gulf States.

Join us in celebrating 20 years at 11:00 AM on Friday, January 20, 2017 at Marché for our monthly luncheon and education topic “TRENDS & PREDICTIONS IN THE MEETINGS INDUSTRY”, presented by Michael Dominguez, Chief Sales Officer of MGM Resorts International and a member of the MPI International Board of Directors. 

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