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The Main Event: The Competitive Advantage

By Selena Fragassi


If hosting a multi-day conference for 120 of your closest competitors sounds like a huge risk, you might be right. Yet, when Loyola University Chicago was approached by Unique Venues to be the site for its Annual Marketing Conference last October, Dana Adams and his team jumped at the chance—even with the knowledge that all eyes would be closely on them.

“We always welcome competition and open our doors for other venues to come see what we offer,” explains Adams, ex- ecutive director of conference services for the university. “We even welcome their critiques, which we use to see what we might be doing right or wrong.”

What Adams, in a nutshell, is referring to is a developing business practice for niche markets and an ideology that was touted a number of times over the course of the conference’s different presentations. Called Co-opetition, it’s the idea that there can be “cooperation between com- petitors in business” and furthermore, “it occurs when companies cooperate with each other to reach a higher value creation [when] compared to the value created without interaction.”

In Adams’ mind, and for others start- ing to adopt this way of doing business, the situation is a win-win for everyone. “I think the more information sharing we do with one another and with groups, it certainly helps all of us,” he says. “By doing so, somebody may come across a group heading to Chicago and tell them, ‘I know just the place for you.’ The more people that understand what our spaces look like and how we can accommodate groups, the more referrals we might po- tentially get. In the end, it’s people’s real experiences that sells spaces.”

So when it came time for the university to prepare for this important incoming group, they spared no effort to make a good impression. First, Adams and his team (including Manager of Confer- ence Services Judy Sunvold) decided on the space, ultimately choosing the 10th floor Power Rogers & Smith Ceremonial Courtroom at its downtown Corboy Law Center for daily sessions.

“We thought it would essentially be better to hold everything in one building instead of making people migrate through- out the day,” says Adams, noting that the aesthetic of the space was important, too.  “The courtroom shows off well, it has great windows with impeccable views of downtown. We also just had a video wall recently installed over the summer, which was a nice addition.”

Outside the courtroom, an open lobby space was utilized for session breaks, with dedicated co-opetition-inspired areas to network and pick up marketing materials from various attendees. “We thought adding some extra tables in the pre-function area would encourage people to gather and talk,” says Sunvold who worked with Unique Venues President Chuck Salem to finalize every detail in the last 30 days leading up to the event. That included arranging accommodations for overnight guests in the onsite Baumhart Lodging or securing rooms at the Tremont Chicago Hotel for the overflow.

The final piéce de rsistance was reserving Loyola’s lavish 15th floor Kasbeer Hall for daily lunches, serviced by the university’s food provider, Aramark, who had extra inspiration for making a memorable meal for this particular group. “In our conversations with Aramark, we informed them this would be a golden opportunity to put their best plate forward in front of all these professionals from across the country—some of whom may use Aramark already and some of whom might even be looking for a new catering provider,” says Adams.

When he ran into several of the guests at the Rejuvenate Conference a few weeks later, everyone had nothing but complimentary feedback. For Sunvold, it’s more proof that co-opetition is the best way to move forward for the industry. “It’s always said that imitation is the best form of flattery, so if people end up applauding or even using our practices, it just means we are doing something right.”