Published January 17, 2006
Volume 14, Number 1

A Talent for Making Events Special is Brad Kinney's Gift

By Jay Hipps

If there’s one lesson that can be taken from Brad Kinney’s career, it’s this: You never know what’s going to happen when you answer the phone. Many of the key turning points of his career came that way and now, whether it’s a wedding or a corporate event, it’s to him that people come to make it memorable.

A Pleasanton native, Kinney started his career when he was still a college student, although he didn’t know it had happened at the time. “It’s hard to explain my whole career—I never planned it, I never wanted it, I never even thought about the fact that I would do this,” he explains.

A mass communication major, he signed up one semester for a class called “History of Radio,” thinking he would be studying past events in that medium. He showed up for the first day of class and discovered that he had signed up for a regular, on-air shift as a DJ at the college radio station. “The idea of talking to thousands of people made me really nervous and I actually tried get out of the class.”

He adapted quickly, though, and the first fateful phone call of his career came soon after, an inquiry to see if the station could provide music for a party. “I’m one of those guys who says ‘yes’ to everything and then just figure out how to do it, so I said, ‘Sure.’ And they said they would actually pay me to do this, and I thought, ‘You’re going to pay me to be at a college sorority party? That’s a good gig!’ So I borrowed some gear from the station and taped all this music and did this one party.”

One thing led to another and soon he was in demand as a DJ. “I thought it was a great way to get myself through college until I got a real job.” His first job out of college, though, was in Arizona—training DJs for the Bobby McGee’s chain of clubs and restaurants. Training DJs during the week and returning to the Bay Area on weekends to do weddings took its toll, however, and he decided to return to Pleasanton.

Not long after, another one of those fateful phone calls happened. “Somebody out of the blue called me and said, ‘Hey, one of the division presidents of American Building Maintenance—which is one of the largest building maintenance companies in the world—needs a slide projector for a presentation.’ There were ten division presidents speaking but I was only there for this one guy. Everyone else got up and did their thing and then when it was my guy’s turn to get up, I played some grand entrance music as he got up, I controlled the lights, and he looked fantastic. So the day after the event, this woman calls and says, ‘You have to be there at our next event! Our president has to have you there!’ It turned out all the division presidents wanted me to do their stuff.”

He continued building a client base through both weddings and corporate events for and was hired in 1993 to do the San Francisco Christmas party for the Men’s Wearhouse, an event which would host 1,200 guests. Two weeks before the event, it was time for another fateful phone call, this time asking him if he could also do an event for the company the night before—in San Diego.

“I said, ‘Sure, I can do that,’ and I got off the phone thinking, ‘How am I going to get from San Diego to San Francisco overnight and have this work out logistically?’ I had flight cases made for all my equipment and flew down and did the party in San Diego, flew back and did the party in San Francisco. I got a phone call the following year and they told me that George Zimmer, the president of the company, wanted me to do all the events around the country.”

His connection with the Men’s Wearhouse and Zimmer has been one of the most important of his career. The company tried to hire Kinney full-time after a couple of years working together but Kinney resisted, preferring the independence that came with his own company. Eventually, Zimmer made an offer that piqued Kinney’s interest: the company wanted to do in-house video production and they wanted Kinney to head up the effort. “I had never picked up a camera before in my life, not even a hand-held. And I thought, ‘Well, it can’t be too hard—I can figure it out.’”

True to form, he did figure it out, despite having only a 40-minute lesson with a camera before doing his first shoot with Zimmer, a noted perfectionist. “I kind of faked my way through it and then developed over time, learning the trade over five years full time with the Men’s Wearhouse.”

He continued Brad Kinney Productions during that time, just as he continues working with the Men’s Wearhouse now. His most recent role with Men’s Wearhouse was in exploring the bridal business through a store, BKP Bridal (BKP stands for Brad Kinney Productions), which he started as a sort of test case for Zimmer’s company. That, too, was a success. “I developed the idea and they’re taking the concept a step further, now. They’ve opened up two Bay Area stores under the name ‘Bride & Joy’ and the concept will be to have a bridal salon next to a Men’s Wearhouse.”

His main focus now is on producing corporate events, which he says is a “direction that I really truly love.” He finds that by bringing higher production values to corporate events—things like professional audio, lighting, and video presentations—he can make the events more memorable, whether they are large meetings, holiday parties, or awards ceremonies.

“We were working with the director of marketing for a company and he had a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation, long enough to put almost anyone to sleep,” he says. “What we did was we came up with a concept where after every five slides, we would ask questions pertaining to what he talked about, in a fun, game show way. The client loved it because his people would have a great time, but more importantly they were retaining the information that he was talking about.”
Kinney has also produced what he calls ‘grand entrance’ videos, modeled after the openings to the Academy Awards ceremonies where footage of Billy Crystal would be cut into clips of nominated films before his appearance on stage.

“There’s this two-minute adventure on video and then the company’s president comes running in and people just go crazy. It’s taking that element of fun and making the president look really down to earth and approachable.”

He has found that his experience with weddings has provided the perfect background for corporate events. “What I’ve learned in weddings is how to serve whole-heartedly and really go over and beyond the call of duty, because that’s what everybody expects. I’m taking that same commitment and bringing it to the corporate side and that’s been great for us. They’re not used to that kind of service, so once we get a client we always have them.”

To hear Brad Kinney tell the story of his career, it sounds a lot like a series of happy accidents. He would receive a phone call with a business offer, always say “yes,” and success would unfold. The deeper story, though, is that people who care about the service they provide and put the needs of the customer first will always find a willing market.


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