Every January, my department kicks off the year with the infamous “Annual Marketing Meeting,” commonly referred to as “Annual.” We celebrate our accomplishments from the previous year and hear from our leaders (including our CEO) on what they expect from the new year regarding goals and strategies. This year’s destination was St. Louis, Missouri. In January. In the snow. To say the least, it was cold.
St. Louis, aka “The Gateway to the West”, is rich in aviation history. Charles Lindbergh and The Spirit of St. Louis, TWA, McDonnell Douglas, etc, put this industrial city on the map as an aviation maverick. (My airline-geek friends could expound on this better than me!) My employer has had a strong presence in the area since 1985 and St. Louis continues to move its way up the charts as one of our focus markets.
We stayed downtown at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront. I could see one side of the famous arch outside planted outside my window. Rooms were clean and spacious and the staff was very accommodating. (The concierge even arranged for a cab to take my roommate and I to White Castle for a late-late-night snack our last evening there.) I’m not a fan of big box hotels in general, but I enjoy Hyatt’s consistent product (although it’s second to Westin in my book).
Annual’s reputation precedes itself around my company, but it’s more than just cocktail parties and late-night karaoke. When we visit a city for Annual, we get involved with the community, whether it’s a grassroots marketing campaign, media announcement, or community service project. This year we volunteered at St. Cecelia’s Parish and School to help them clean the church and school gym, which doubled as their cafeteria. Visiting St. C’s tugged at my heart strings, as I was raised in a Catholic parish that’s gone through similar changes. St. C’s is an old parish (nearly a century) and have seen a huge demographic shift in the neighborhood. It’s mainly Hispanic immigrants (respectively), and unfortunately the quality of the neighborhood has deteriorated due to suburban sprawl and the neglected, dilapidated buildings in the surrounding area.
In 2004, a company called NativityMiguel got involved with St. C’s academy. Their mission is to provide high quality education to families in impoverished areas. NativityMiguel implemented an intense nearly year-round curriculum, with school days lasting about nine hours. The program has been a success and most students feed into prestigious charter high schools upon graduation. Nearly all of St. C’s alums attend college, which is a very high rate for the demographic. As we passed by classrooms in the school, it was touching to see the kids so engaged in their classes. I’m very impressed with the impact NativityMiguel has made on this urban community and hope to see them expand their network into more inner-city areas throughout the country.
After a long afternoon of manual labor, we got to have some fun. Most of our events at Annual take place in our hotel, but on our second night we loaded up in buses for a brewery tour and dinner at the Anheuser Busch facility. Before dinner, we had a tour of the grounds and learned about the history of the company, which is a St. Louis anchor. It was interesting to learn that the company was started by two German immigrant families in the 1850s (the Anheusers and the Buschs), who became related through marriage (Adolphus Busch married Eberhard Anheuser’s daughter). We started the tour in the stable (my favorite part) where the gigantic Clydesdale horses live, as well as the famous Dalmatians. Our next stop was the brew house. We had a mini “class” on the brewing process and quality control, and then we got to see where the magic happens. Walking in, the room smelled like a frat house the morning after a wild party. Strangely, found myself craving a cold beer.
Luckily, the end of the tour brought us back to the dining area, which was fully stocked with an array of Anheuser Busch products. I enjoyed a glass of Stella with dinner- pasta boiled in beer. It tasted… hoppy? It’s probably the closest I’ll get to actually “eating” beer (not counting the fried beer at the Texas state fair as I don’t classify those mysterious blobs as food). I won’t hold it against AB, as they are experts at their craft which is beer, not Italian cuisine. After few more rounds we were back at the hotel having a dance party in the adjacent bar. The night ended with the regretted trip to White Castle. The following day I was ready to get back home and begin resting ( detoxing), which took the better part of last weekend.
As much as I love it, I’m glad Annual only happens once a year. In eleven months, I’ll be ready to do it again, and hopefully in a warmer locale! Last, I have to give kudos to the meeting’s planning committee- getting people excited to go to St. Louis in the middle of winter is no small feat! I’d love to visit the city again in about… seven months.