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haute city 2012

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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Gone are the days when Brie, begonias and a Budweiser could cut the mustard (honey Dijon or otherwise) in any marketing mix worth its weight in wasabi. A 2005 study by George P. Johnson Company and Meeting Professionals International found that 93 percent of marketing executives considered the importance of event marketing to be “constant or increasing,” a trend that has accelerated the race to connect with consumers in new and more effective ways.

Don’t look to CAROLINE HINRICHS and RACHEL RICHARDS to have a wine, cheese and flowers hand in the formulaic world of passive, ho-hum parties. The founders of STEP GROUP see power in a new brand of branding, that of experiential marketing.

Now entering their second year of business, the duo that met through their mutual involvement in Omaha Fashion Week is about to launch Haute City, their most ambitious undertaking to date.

Featuring over 50 participants in Midtown Crossing’s Turner Park on May 19th, Haute City is a pioneering initiative in interactive, pop-up shopping.

“Omaha is a blank canvas in the realm of experiential marketing and Haute City is a great opportunity to both create and educate,” said Hinrichs, a veteran of marketing positions at Creighton University and the Strategic Air and Space Museum. “This is an experience-based event that will connect people with brands in new and creative ways. To our clients, the pop-up platform will allow them to brand themselves in an innovative environment. To the public, Haute City will allow consumers to become engaged in lifestyle offerings in new and more meaningful ways.”

lifestyle options bloom

“Haute Spots” in the arenas of fashion and beauty, entertainment, culinary arts, design and décor, and fitness and wellness will bloom in Turner Park. The day’s music and entertainment-filled tasting, sampling and shopping will culminate in a VIP rooftop soiree featuring a fashion show highlighting the work of emerging national designers, all capped by a performance by Quixotic Fusion, the Kansas Citybased collaborative ensemble of artists that dwells at the intersection of dance, film, aerial arts, music and fashion.

metroMAGAZINE is a co-sponsor of the event and will have its own pop-up, as will our sister publication, Pet & Animal Enthusiast Magazine, making Haute City a pet-friendly romp in the park.

“STEP Group exists to build interactive connections between people and brands,” said Richards, formerly the brand and marketing director for Nomad and co-founder of Omaha Fashion Week. “This isn’t about mere transactions or businesses ‘talking at you.’ It’s about building relationships, the bonds that lead to brand loyalty.”

this isn’t about mere transactions or businesses ‘talking at you.’ it’s about building relationships, the bonds that lead to brand loyalty.”



good first impression

Some of those relationships have already paid off in big ways for STEP Group and their clients.

The company’s first big splash came with last year’s Oprah Finale at AKSARBEN CINEMA, an event that was featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“It’s one thing to completely transform the physical space of the theater the way they did,” explained ANDREA BARSTOW, Aksarben Cinema’s marketing director, “but it’s another to virtually re-invent and re-define the very idea of who we can be … the idea that we can be so much more than movie screens and popcorn.”

Aksarben Cinema seized on its new identity as a multi-use venue and later went on to host the STEP Group-produced the 2011 presentation of THE BIG EVENT, metroMAGAZINE’s annual award gala. Other STEP Group efforts have introduced such businesses as Red Mango, Saigon Surface and Kimball Lofts, among others.

Non-profits have also been fertile ground for STEP Group.

“Non-profits already ‘get it’ and there’s not as much need for education there,” Hinrichs said. “They already understand the value of donor engagement, that creating an experience — not just an event — can pay off in advancing their mission in big ways.”Clark Creative Group also brought in STEP Group on another non-profit project, teaming up to deliver February’s “A Mixer in Mad Style,” Opera Omaha’s homage to all things “Mad Men.”

“Everyone is accustomed to cleverly themed events,” said ROGER WEITZ, Opera Omaha’s general director, “but this was more than that. They found a way to help us captivate the imaginations of a group of young professionals, a group that is really important to our future and the future of any arts organization. It was a great idea executed flawlessly and we absolutely loved it.”

Starting a company like STEP Group in Omaha was not without any number of risks of the locationlocation- location variety.

“It may have been wiser to start this business in a larger metropolitan area,” Hinrichs said, “but we believe in Omaha. The entrepreneurial spirit here is full of creative energy. This is a very progressive city and we are proud to begin our work here.”

One of STEP Group’s biggest fans is MOLLY SKOLD, Midtown Crossing’s marketing director.

“Midtown Crossing understands the importance of experiences,” Skold said, “and we’re so thrilled that they chose Midtown Crossing and Turner Park because we know they were courted by others. Haute City is going to be the type of event that can crystallize the image of Omaha as a city on-thego for young professionals. It’s a premier, unprecedented event at a premier, unprecedented destination.”

“Molly and her team believed in this project right from the start,” Richards added, “and, just like all of our efforts, we are going to over-deliver on Haute City for them, our clients and the community.”

marketing without borders

STEP Group’s inaugural year of operation has not been without the occasional bump in the road. Their business plan, a decidedly malleable affair for any start-up, has already gone through some minor twists and turns.

“We knew we needed to concentrate on Haute City before turning our attention to our regional and national aspirations,” Hinrichs said, “but we’ve already picked up projects in Kansas City and California in the process.”

So what happened to their selfimposed vow to clear the calendar until after Haute City?

“It’s just that we keep bumping into the most fascinating people who share a vision for innovative ideas,” Richards added with a wink. “I guess we’ll just have to catch up on our sleep later.”




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