Event Producer

Matthew David Hopkins

Saul Taylor / June 4, 2019

Matthew David Hopkins likes a challenge. Dropping everything and heading to New York from Maryland set Hopkins in good stead for the whirlwind of success he has achieved with 360 Design, the events firm that global brands count on when they want to make a splash.

What are the purpose of events?

Personally, I am interested in people and what makes them tick — what are their stories, what moves them, what do they care about? Even from the very beginning, I considered what guests will learn about you once they leave. Because the truth is, the event is going to come and go and what are we left with? We get this amazing moment where we have people’s attention for a period of time and we get to do whatever we want. We work on all different kinds of parties and experiences, regardless of whether a company is trying to build their brand or it’s a couple getting married, or you’re trying to raise money. The biggest question is how do we draw these people closer to you? That’s what I think this is all about. Building a relationship between the host and the guest.

Where did you develop your people skills?

I have a degree in architecture and I was doing retail and interior design in Northern Virginia when I thought there had to be more to life. I dropped everything and moved to New York and tried to find a design job but didn’t have much luck. I became a waiter and started doing floral decoration for restaurants. Within the first year I had quit my job to do design and decor for parties. Within another year, people loved the way that I worked so much that they asked me to start planning their events. It took a couple of years to begin with, but it was a natural progression for me.

How do you view event production?

I sometimes look at it as couture clothing. We’re building something for you to wear — you’re the host of the event and we want you to be excited and comfortable. It has to go smoothly and the host must be able to attend and not worry about anything because we’ve done our job well. We have developed a number of documents, renderings and samples where we collect elements of the event to coach the client and the vendors about what we’re building together. We usually have a very short period of time to make it happen. We have a production schedule that we go through minute by minute and department by department so everybody knows what their role is. It is very detail-oriented and choreographed and designed to feel like it naturally evolves in front of the guests; but there’s a lot of things that have to happen in the background. Just rolling that dessert cart out takes a lot of people to make sure the timing was right and that everything happens in the right way.

What have been your most challenging events?

I have produced a fashion show on the roof of the Good Morning America studios in Times Square where we had to fit everything through a single office window including staging, camera crews and models crawling through. I’ve designed and co-produced two of Mayor Bloomberg’s inaugurations. I’ve even created parties for Madonna, Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy. But it all comes back to people. And I don’t know that I have a favourite location or venue, they all have their own challenges.

How do you keep up the momentum from event to event?

The key is by allowing diversity to thrive. I’ve seen the industry mature over many years and have been coached by people who specialise in one thing. I keep my focus on what matters to me, which is people and relationship building. I started in this industry in 1996 and I’m still excited every day to meet incredible people and see what they’re doing and what makes them tick.

How have things changed since 1996?

It’s fascinating, because when I started it was the beginning of email. The way technology has changed is the most obvious thing. It has taken the interaction outside of the four walls of the event — it can now be shared with anybody around the world. In doing so, it has also driven the importance of having physical human beings in a room. People can tweet about it, post about it and livestream it, but it’s different when you’re there.

What makes a great event?

Every once in a while everything lines up. I’ve had moments in my career where it has happened and everyone just feels the ‘it’ factor — something you can’t explain but you know when it happens. We work so hard to make something very special and usually we get 90 per cent there and it’s truly great. But every now and again something just blows up with a special energy that every single person is charged by. People look at each other with happiness in their face. It depends what kind of event it is, but we’ve had standing ovations to something that has happened on stage or they’ve walked out with a glow.

We’ve all been to events where cocktails are held in one room, then you move to another room for dinner and then into another for dessert. But for me, the very best events right now are when the room evolves around the guest. In our industry there’s a term — surprise and delight — when there are these great surprise and delight moments that just keep happening and you don’t have to break the energy to move the guests from one room to another. You can keep them in the same room and drop a curtain and reveal something or move a wall to reveal something else or roll something into the room. I think it feels much more current and happening when the guests don’t have to do the work and things happen in front of them.