The Wilmot Cancer Institute Discovery Ball Case Study

The Event: The Wilmot Cancer Institute Discovery Ball 2019l

The Date: May 4, 2019

The Location: The Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center

The Discovery Ball Challenge:

  • Create a landmark fundraising gala to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Discovery Ball
  • Build upon the momentum of prior successes and elevate this year’s event even higher
  • Communicate the message and importance of Wilmot’s Hallmarks of Cancer Research Program
  • Raise critical funding to underwrite the Hallmarks of Cancer Program’s research initiatives

The Team:

  • Co-Chairs: Lois Taubman and Colleen Wilmot
  • A dedicated Discovery Ball Event Committee
  • Scott Verrenti, Director, URMC Constituent Engagement
  • URMC Constituent Engagement Team
  • Erin O’Donnell, Senior Account Executive, Dixon Schwabl
  • Dixon Schwabl Events Team
  • Chuck Aeckerle, Account Manager, Cheshire AV
  • Cheshire Audio Visual AV Team

The Challenge

The 20th Anniversary of the Wilmot Discovery Ball posed the significant challenge for Scott Verenti, Director, URMC Constituent Engagement, of keeping the annual event fresh, and of making it a “must-attend” gala during the short event window after snowbirds return north and before the summer launches into full swing.

In prior years, the mission of the Discovery Ball was to raise money for seed grants in specific areas of research, such as immunotherapy or control and survivorship. This year’s goal was to underwrite the Hallmarks of Cancer research program that  “brings together investigators from diverse viewpoints who study initiation of disease and cancer cells’ unique ability to reproduce, evade, and recur,”  and to “study the critical, common traits that all cancer cells exhibit.” It was critical to make sure the importance and urgency of this longer-range goal was effectively communicated in the fundraising mission, the branding and the presentation of the event.

“Dixon Schwabl presented us with several concepts that fit the sleek simplicity of the two Co-Chairs. We wanted the event to be very classy and elegant, reflecting their style.”

The Goals

Before they could develop concepts, Dixon Schwabl needed to delve into the goals for the event.

“It was important to understand the funding initiative so that we could develop a concept that would connect back to the overall goal of the event and help bring it to life. ,” shared Erin O’Donnell, Senior Executive at Dixon Schwabl.

“We needed to make sure those attending who are not part of the medical community would understand and engage with the messaging. We also wanted to make sure attendees had an enhanced guest experience for this event,” she noted.

To ensure the message was dynamic and relatable, Dixon Schwabl created a leadership video that also incorporated a retrospective of 20 years in photos and video.

All-encompassing Branding

In discussing the layout of the event, Scott noted, “The Convention Center is basically a blank slate, so how do you make it feel elegant and intimate? In the end, elongated tables and ‘ghost’ chairs filled the room. We sectioned off portions of the Convention Center with drapery and lit in a way to make it feel more intimate.”

Funding priorities were represented in unique, subtle and tasteful ways. For example, a centerpiece of three beautiful potted orchids on each table represented the foundations of science research.

“Although we had over 600 attendees, the event had an intimate dinner party feel, because of the layout. Through lighting, we focused attention on reflective crystals on the table and the metallic elements of the table settings.” Erin explained.

The AV Components

“To section off parts of the room, we used drapery and backdrops with specially-designed lighting,” shared Chuck Aeckerle, Account Manager, Cheshire AV.

“We used the lighting to build texture into the drapery for a layered look, including gobos with uplighting. We flew lighting rigged on 300’ of trusses throughout the room to create an elegant effect. The room had a wide stage, so we pulled the screens away from the walls, to give the stage a 3-dimensional, classy look. The changes we made enhanced the look and really paid off.”

In addition, Cheshire’s LCD/LED monitors and custom light cubes were stationed throughout the reception, reinforcing the success of the past 20 years of fundraising, through digital delivery of images and video. The event logo was prominently displayed on the podium.

Cheshire created renderings in advance to ensure the angles were right to create the layered effect they wanted to achieve on the drapery. Rather than use convention center lighting throughout the event, all lighting was controlled by Cheshire.

“Controlling the lighting in the room made an enormous difference,” explained Erin, in discussing how it added to the ambiance.

She went on to explain how they implemented that same layered effect into the invitation package as well, which represented the Hallmarks of Cancer, and that they wove those same branding concepts throughout the event.

Changes that Enhanced

“We made a lot of changes” Scott confided, “and we weren’t sure how well they’d be received.”

He went on to explain that they cut the reception to 30 minutes, rather than the traditional hour-an- a-half affair, then launched the event, which was hosted by WROC’s Adam Chodak, with the leadership video. “Adam did a phenomenal job managing our program and call to action.  We couldn’t have been as successful as we were without him at the helm.”

“The video looked and sounded great, and it really grabbed attention,” commented Scott

Erin confirmed Scott’s initial concerns about making some of the significant changes that were made. “We wondered how attendees would react. Would they arrive on time, since the reception was only 30 minutes? It all actually happened beautifully!”

The sophistication and physical elements created an intimate dinner party atmosphere that was both celebratory and impactful. It was followed by a memorable after-party featuring the 12-piece band Montreal Rhapsody Orchestra who rocked the room as a result of the VRX sound system provided by Cheshire..

Partnering for Success

The partnership between Wilmot Cancer Institute, Dixon Schwabl and Cheshire Audio Visual is built on trust.

“We really value our partnership with Wilmot and Cheshire Audio Visual,” shared Erin. “We work well collaboratively, we each bring our expertise to the table, and we push boundaries to achieve success.”

Following the event, we did a survey, and a majority of survey respondents who had attended previous Discovery Balls preferred this year’s event over past Balls,” shared Scott Verrenti.

You can’t argue with success as measured by positive survey results and having raised a total of over $818,000 in funding to underwrite cancer research!

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