In festivities, putting his best Feats forward

Events: The founder of P. W. Feats Inc. started throwing parties as a child. Now, his elaborate concoctions -- some international -- are attended by thousands.

October 03, 1999|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Based on legacy alone, Paul C. Wolman ought to be practicing law right now.

After all, barristers go back two generations in his family. Wolman earned the prerequisite law degree all right, but he made a career of an idea that first struck his fancy as a child.

Wolman started throwing parties and magic shows as a youth, and he hasn't stopped -- he's just made the parties more elaborate. His festivities now are attended by thousands and held at posh sites across the country and even internationally.

"He's a combination of Barnum & Bailey and Ed Sullivan all wrapped into one," said Steve Eisner, president and CEO of Eisner Communications Inc., who went into the party business with Wolman when the two were children. "He's got a real love of lighting up a room, and he knows how to do it."

Wolman, 44 is considered a pioneer in the events marketing industry. The company he founded 14 years ago, P. W. Feats Inc., now puts on 250 events a year, typically juggling plans for 40 events at any given time.

From formal galas to civic promotions to company birthday parties, Wolman's staff does it all -- their motto: Feats Speak Louder Than Words. They put on events that range anywhere from $10,000 to more than a $1 million.

"Anybody can plan a party or a meeting," said Wolman, a Baltimore native. "How do you get people to feel it, experience it? It's about making it sizzle."

Wolman is a tall, unassuming man, a dreamer, with what seems like a permanent twinkle in his eye. His colleagues describe him as creative, hands-on and meticulous.

"He looks at events with this child-like quality, and he's a very good businessman," said Joe Goldblatt, founding director of the event management program at George Washington University. "It's very unusual to have both together."

It is Wolman's strong sense of humanity that contributes to his success, said Steven R. Jeweler, co-owner of Jeweler/Webster Creative, a Baltimore-based event design and custom floral company, who has worked with Wolman.

"He understands the client goal and finds the way to fulfill that potential," Jeweler said. "He finds that element within the event that sends that little tingle down your back. If that isn't there, then Paul isn't satisfied."

Wolman and his company faced a challenge when they were commissioned to put on a party for 1,200 international CEOs and VIPs in Boston for L'Oreal. It was Harvard graduation weekend, June 1997, and no famous sites were available. So the event planners had to scramble. They found a sheep farm with no water, no power, no building and no level ground and, with the help of a 500-person crew working around the clock, transformed it into two elegant tent villages for that year's World Food Congress -- all within 4 1/2 days.

Beautiful, multilingual models met each guest at a hotel, all wearing identical clothes in pink, the primary color of that year's L'Oreal signature line. Guests were taken by motorcade to the site and welcomed by models in 17th-century clothes. They then walked down a red carpet, illuminated by candle-lighted lanterns and through an entrance flanked by a fife and drum corps.

In eight themed tents, they sampled a variety of American foods including a raw bar and Mardi Gras fare, with entertainment by Cajun, blues and gospel bands. The china in the dining area changed with each course, some cobalt blue, some Burgundy-rimmed plates edged with gold, all part of a larger red, white and blue motif.

During the meal, the lighting in the tent changed from sunset orange to midnight blue and then into a laser/light show punctuated by an appearance by Liza Minelli.

When the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition needed to create an eye-catching exhibit to showcase the region and enhance its bid for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in October 1998, the group turned to Feats.

The resulting interactive exhibit featured an enormous, circular and walkable floor map, and a video that provided a 3-D, virtual, bird's-eye tour of the region. A 16-foot-high torch topped with red acrylic flames flickered in the center of the exhibit catching light from a rotating color wheel.

Summer Olympic Games

Last month, when local Olympic organizers needed to entertain more than 200 top coaches and other United States Olympic Committee officials and make sure that they walked away convinced that this region would be a good choice to play host to the 2012 Summer Games, they again turned to Feats.

Among the festivities were a black-tie gala, a day of sailing on the bay, a crab feast, and a tour of the Naval Academy.

"I don't think I ever thought that I'd end up doing this," Wolman said. "I never thought you could make a career of it."

But Wolman started training early. By age 9, he and Eisner, who met in nursery school at age 4, were organizing neighborhood fairs complete with food booths and bean-bag toss games and donating proceeds to charity.

They founded Parties Unlimited Inc. when they were about 12.

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