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2012 December 17

Party Pro Maneesh Goyal: The Best Bashes, Savvy Branding Moves, and Diddy's Inflatables Infatuation

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Maneesh Goyal Maneesh Goyal
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(NEW YORK) Prepare to be impressed: Maneesh Goyal is the branding, marketing, and soiree-scheming whiz behind the ten-year-old company bearing his initials, MKG—an endeavor born out of some soul searching, following a master’s from Yale, and one which counted Sean Combs (aka Diddy) as one of his very first clients. Not too shabby! Since then, MKG’s gone bicoastal, and Goyal now counts the likes of J.Crew, Google, Maybelline, Levi’s, Jaguar, and Puma as clients. Read on for the full lowdown on spectacular shindigs and the branding prowess behind ‘em. Also of note: all the goss on Goyal’s storied pre-Turkey Day bash for his pals that you’ll be vying hard to nab an invite to next year. Just trust. BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV

How did you get into the biz?

This started entirely out of personal interest: I moved to New York with a newly-minted masters in public health from Yale; I thought I’d have a long career in public health. In 2001, fueled by 9/11 and the introspection that happened after that. I realized I wanted to have more of a lifestyle and less of a job, so I did some soul-searching. Even though the event industry was very slow at that time, I started really small, picking up gigs here and there. In 2002, I unofficially started a business. In February 2003, I decided to put my stake in the ground, and I started MKG. In 10 or so years, we’ve grown to around 50 people—and two years ago, we opened an L.A. office as well. Since then it’s been an ongoing, always-interesting journey! I wouldn’t want it any other way.

So, it’s safe to assume you had awesome birthday parties as a kid?
It was less that it was something around me, and more of something in me. I remember having an end-of-summer, senior year party with custom invitations. It was a little much for Plano, Texas—people were like, ‘what the hell is this invitation?!’ At the party we were, of course, like 'Oh my God, we’re going to stay in touch forever!' And we didn’t.

How did you school yourself in event management?
I’m a lover of evolution, so I was focused on how to react to clients’ needs; that’s why we’ve changed, evolved, and expanded as much as we have. I didn’t have any actual, tangible mentors. In December 2001 I did Sean (Diddy) Combs’ New Year’s Eve party. I started the year working at a foundation, and I ended it throwing one of the most highly visible events of the year.

How did you snag Sean’s big blowout as a project?
It was a lot of me pounding the pavement; and, I was working with a client that did Sean’s VMA party. That’s how I got to know some of his people, but I was very low on the totem pole. I was just one of his ‘people.’ I ended up working with him on a number of projects, including film projects and his Sean John line. That helped me launch MKG.

What’s something we may not know about Diddy?
He loves balloons! He loves having them everywhere. At least, he did in the early 2000s—I remember putting balloons everywhere at his events!

Who else have you worked with over the years?  
Fashion companies we’ve worked with range from Ralph Lauren to J.Crew, Warby Parker, the GQ-Nordstrom popup in November 2012, the launch of Mary Kate & Ashley’s line Olsenboye for JC Penney, and we’ve done a number of projects for Target. We just signed Levi’s as a client, and we’ll be working with them in a long term relationship in 2013. We’re also working with Puma on a very cool launch next year. We work with Google, and they did a great event with The Hollywood Reporter at the White House Correspondent’s dinner—then we worked with them the first time they decided to have a presence at the democratic convention. It was a pretty transformative and incredible experience Google provided for celebrities, delegates, people at the conventions.
Wow! Sounds awesome—any other big events as of late?
This summer we did a Jaguar launch for their new All Wheel Drive; we wanted to showcase that aspect of the vehicle, so we created a snow globe, on ice, in the middle of the Meatpacking District, in the middle of August—the car came out on ice to show its maneuverability. Then we ended up keeping the snow globe open for the public to go ice skating the following weekend.

Are your bashes mostly bicoastal?
We have a pretty wide footprint all over the country, actually. The majority do end up being in New York and L.A., because that’s where most marketing efforts are focused; it’s where the influencer communities are. But we’ve done events in Phoenix, Chicago, Miami…and then we opened a Ralph Lauren flagship in Seoul, South Korea. English really isn’t commonly spoken there; you can’t necessarily get by with English in South Korea, which you can’t really do in Dubai, where we also worked on a Ralph Lauren store, or, say, India. Using translators was a unique experience…

Do any particular cities prove trickiest to plan events in?
Yeah, I’d say that we’re not running to go back to Tampa anytime soon, after working on an event during the Republican National Convention there. Some of the resources were not up to par with what we’re used to.

Are there any types of events or projects that you won’t do?
We don’t do weddings or Bar Mitzvahs. People do ask us from time to time, but we really don’t do social events. Last time we did one, we were hired by Russell Simmons to throw a huge, over-the-top, surprise 30th birthday party for Kimora Lee. You can tell how well that worked out for them…so we’ve sort of taken ourselves out of the game since then. If there isn’t a true branding or marketing goal to it, the project isn’t right for us. 

Too bad, I would’ve wanted you to plan my Bat Mitzvah, Maneesh!
I know; it would’ve been amazing, not gonna lie…

What kind of events or branding coups need a major reboot?
It’s not necessarily that it’s stale, but there’s such an opportunity for refresh: sponsorship activation at events, such as New York Fashion Week’s sponsorships, for example. It’s about how to engage guests and clients in an authentic way. The right brand partnerships are critical! During Fashion Week, we work with Maybelline on a number of their events.

OK, moving from the profesh to the personal: do you host shindigs when you’re off the clock?

We love to have dinner parties; we’re lucky enough to have space to entertain! Last summer my partner, Andrew, and I threw a “Mom Mash-Up Party” over the summer—my mom made Indian food and we drank sweet tea, because Andrew is from the south.

Word on the street is that you have this salad-themed party…
Ha! I call it “Salad Sunday,” and it’s my favorite day of the year. I came up with this concept six years ago. I was having a party at my loft, and I didn’t put a lot of effort into it, but I love to entertain. I was born and raised in Texas—and the way to do that there is to have a chili cook-off, where everyone makes chili, there’s a fun competition, and you simply have to serve beer. That’s how I came up with the idea of a salad toss-off! It’s always the Sunday before Thanksgiving, it’s an afternoon party, and all I have to do is serve Bloody Marys and mimosas, and people bring salads.

How much green are we talking about?
We usually have around 50 salads! There’s intense competition: we have a long-term relationship with Delta, so the grand prize for the best salad is a set of two business-class tickets to anywhere in the world. 

What kinds of tossed action do people whip up?
There are conceptual salads, current events salads; people use the term ‘salad’ loosely. I don’t announce the salad categories before the party, so every salad is basically eligible for every category. 

What kind of categories?
“The Paul Ryan” went to the salad that looks good but tastes like shit; the “Dr. Joe Biden” was for the healthiest salad, “The Inaugural Ball” for the salad that was the biggest production, and the “FEMA Salad” for the salad that was the biggest catastrophe. We wrapped it up with the “Four More Years,” which was the biggest win. 

So what won the “Four More Years” accolade?
It was called “The Munchie Salad,” based on the fact that pot had just been legalized in California. It was a savory salad, and there were, for some reason, shots of Guinness involved. The party had a political theme to it this year, for obvious reasons; I’m very involved with the Obama campaign.

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