The meetings and events industry is known to be trendsetters. That is one of Corey Briscoe's favorite things about choosing this career path. But it can also make it one of the hardest professions to break into and stick around long term.
As a managing partner and chief operating officer of ABCD & Company Briscoe knows to the average person, planning an event seems simple. However, anyone who has ever been behind the scenes knows it's never an easy feat coordinating a flawless event. Starting out, Briscoe said ABCD felt overwhelmed when planning its first events.
"I don't think people understand the depth to the event industry," he said. "The marketing, the procurement, the hotel piece of it, the CEOs. To try to understand what it takes people years to do, it's very overwhelming."
But after a few years and gaining multiple clients, Briscoe is a pro and understands the events industry has brought experiential offerings, knowledge and technology to the forefront and continues to push the bar, he said.
Being trendsetters, ABCD kept the momentum alive when COVID-19 closed down the industry. It worked with award-winning journalist Roland Martin to push its business to a different audience. ABCD formed a digital partnership with Martin and his company, Nu Vision Media, to broadcast specialized virtual events. ABCD wanted to give the audience engagement once again.
"We were able to pivot and take a hit," he said. "We've taken a hit with in-person conferences and now we're creating virtual conferences. Not looking at a Zoom event, but having 3D animations."
Before ABCD grew to the caliber it is now, it received many of its clients through organic marketing. Good work spreads fast in the industry and ABCD became known as the go-to team when a client needed someone on the ground. It was the calling card that allowed the company to grow strong and go to the next level, he said.
ABCD & Company Forms
ABCD & Company began its roots when four college friends, Amber Dozier, Brittanye Calhoun, Corey Briscoe and Durecia Moorer, realized they were great at planning experiences and events while undergraduate students at Howard University. Aside from majoring in, and later receiving a double degree in English and political science from Howard, Briscoe was on the leadership board at the college.
He volunteered at many of the college events and with the Congressional Black Caucus. One of the big events he helped plan was the school's famous homecoming, which is a several hundred thousand-person event and also student-led.
"We handled everything from the logistics to the artists to vendor relations," he said. "I did feel like we got an unconventional opportunity to gain some expertise while at Howard. I guess I didn't realize it then, but the core of our company for event management really came from a lot of the activities that Howard afforded us."
Though Dozier, Calhoun and Moorer, were pre-med, they also helped planned events at the school and eventually found their way to events as well after college. Briscoe said they're all like-minded people and have similar values and decided to create a firm together.
ABCD & Company formed in 2014 in Rockville, Maryland, as a consulting and brand development company but later transitioned to a full-service marketing and events firm specializing in stakeholder engagement and multicultural communications. I
The road wasn't smooth though for the company to gain its robust list of clientele. Through grit, determination and help from mentors, ABCD eventually became a recognized events company. It now has a national reach with clients in 19 states and 26 cities.
Like many event companies starting out, getting funding wasn't easy. But ABCD faced a challenge many minority businesses know too well: no capital.
"You don't have the same resources to start a firm," he said. "You don't have friends and family [with money] and investors. So, we self-funded. Our first loan and first ability to get any capital was year three or four. And even that was small."
"We had mentors who would say things to people such as ‘'hey, try this baby firm and give them an opportunity,'" Briscoe recalled.
As the saying goes, "it's not always what you know, it's who you know." And Briscoe's mentor Dr. Jackie Martin brought the team to Texas one year and that's how they received their first client.
While the industry works on becoming more diverse, Briscoe believes "there's some evolution to being more inclusive and I don't think it was intentional," he said. The industry had to diversify because buzzwords like “diversity” and “multicultural” became a real thing.
Yes, minority planners are needed, but not for the essence and Black enterprise, he said. They are needed because this movement is all about diversity and that's what Briscoe thinks changed the industry. "The industry was forced to level up," he continued.
Looking to the future, he is concerned about the timing as America wrestles with its racism. He knows some companies are being political with it. They are hiring planners of color, but he's worried about what will happen once the movement fades. He makes it clear that Black planners don't want a handout, but recognition and consideration that is long overdue and the same chance of business and prosperity for all.
"My hope is that it's not only a moment, but a transformational movement that changes how businesses engage and corporations engage founders of color.
The ABCD Way
Being in the DMV area, ABCD is one of many marketing and events companies competing for clients. But what’s in ABCD magical sauce is its national network of suppliers. Having a national team allows the company to move efficiently with their clients' needs. They have clients who have events in Oakland, Calif.; all over Florida; and Chicago, and the company sources local entrepreneurs and talent for each event.
COVID-19 changed every event professionals’ plans, including ABCD who lost big businesses and big conferences. However, Briscoe's team didn't shy away from the challenge of pivoting. It embraced moving to virtual events, and Briscoe said the company is in the best position it's been in looking toward the new year when it turns seven.
While this year has had devastating lows for the event industry, he is humbled to be acknowledged for his work with receiving a Connect Association 40 U 40 award. He sees it as an honor and validates the work of Black founders and entrepreneurs who have put in the time and produced.
"The award allows others who want to come into the industry that they will be acknowledged and rewarded for their hard work," he said. "I'm grateful because I know the next generation will receive opportunities.