Meetings & Conventions
woman taking photo with photobooth
Alaska Photobooth Company
Party Pros
Vendors that make events special
By Amy Newman

hether organizing a multi-day conference, an in-house training or team building activity, or even the annual holiday party, the choice of vendors can mean the difference between a lackluster event attendees can’t wait to leave and one that will have them gushing on social media—and saving the date for next year.

“It’s all about engagement,” says Coral Howe, owner of the Alaska Photobooth Company. “How can I get these people engaged?”

The “how” partly depends on the type of event. A company picnic or an evening reception that caps off a day-long training have more leeway to inject fun and levity compared to a conference or training that has a timed agenda and certain topics it must address. An inflatable bungee run will work for the picnic on the Delaney Park Strip, but not so much at a two-day safety training.

That doesn’t mean only the after-hours events get all the fun. Hiring trainers who can lighten the lesson up with comedy, set up a selfie station in a corner of the conference room, or bring some out-of-the-box treats can make any event something attendees are eager to be part of.

“People want to be attended to. They want to be heard,” says Todd Rice, owner of THEY Improv, which uses improvisational comedy as a vehicle for team-building activities and training workshops. “They don’t want to feel like [the event] was something the boss wanted them to do. They want to feel like, ‘The boss wants to do it for me.’”

Alaska Photobooth Company
Fizz Buzz
A memorable event starts with creating an experience, and that means vendors that will get people excited. The Alaskan Soda Jerk checks that box on several levels.

At any outdoor fair or festival in Alaska, the Alaskan Soda Jerk booth is hard to miss: beneath a large, open-air tent, soda jerks shout orders as they mix, pour, and blend drinks, all while ‘50s rock and doo-wop blares from the speakers. The staff bring that same energy and pizzazz to private events, though on a slightly smaller scale. Owner Kelsey Ingram, a former bartender who opened Alaskan Soda Jerk in 2012, admits that a loud, old-fashioned soda counter is unusual at a corporate event. But if the goal is to get people excited, it works.

“We’re loud, which is counterintuitive to some events, but there’s only a handful of ways that you can create a buzz,” he says. “If there’s a lot of action and things happening, and there’s something to watch, all of that creates an energy that’s contagious. And people really enjoy it, even if it’s only for maybe five minutes while they’re waiting for their drinks.”

Typical attire for the soda jerks is poodle skirts for the females and paper hats and bow ties for the males, but Ingram says they can change things up to match the event’s theme.

“If it’s an ‘80s theme or a Renaissance theme, we’ll get costumes for our jerks and dress up our bar and switch up our menu,” he says. “We’ll even change the name of the drinks. It’s all to create a buzz and an energy so people come to our booth and catch it.”

“If there’s a lot of action and things happening, and there’s something to watch, all of that creates an energy that’s contagious. And people really enjoy it, even if it’s only for maybe five minutes while they’re waiting for their drinks.”
Kelsey Ingram
Alaskan Soda Jerk
Capture an Experience
Catching that energy more permanently is the job of Alaska Photobooth Company, which has offices in Fairbanks and Anchorage. The typical corporate photo—speakers on stage, attendees mingling at the after-hours reception, or posed group shots around banquet tables—generate little buzz on social media. But toss in a few feather boas, flashy backdrops, and a rotating platform, and suddenly people will stop scrolling to deal with a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out).

“What we bring is actually an experience,” says Howe, who opened Alaska Photobooth Company in 2008 and estimates that 70 percent of its business comes from corporate clients. “We don’t necessarily take pictures—we capture an experience. What we are doing is we’re taking those moments and grabbing them and putting them in time.”

Alaska Photobooth Company grabs those moments with still photos or boomerang videos (short loops) using open or enclosed photo booths. Open booths have backdrops and allow as many people as possible to squeeze into the shot. Closed booths, many of them made by Alaskan artisans, are the old-fashioned ones seen at malls and arcades—slide in, pull a curtain, and get a strip of photos. One of Alaska Photobooth Company’s newest additions is the Arctic Circle 360, where the camera circles an open platform to create a video.

“There are all these different things that you can do, and the whole thing is about engaging and helping people connect,” Howe explains. “That’s basically what we are bringing to the table now. We’re giving people an opportunity at their events—whether it’s training, conferences, or parties—to help people connect and be close to each other.”

Howe says her Fairbanks and Anchorage studios have rooms full of props and backdrops that can be shipped across Alaska, and if a prop isn’t in stock, additional items can be ordered to fit any event. But she says the standard feather boa and tiara are usually enough to encourage people to start having a good time.

“Not everybody dances, not everybody drinks,” she says. “But everybody usually will come in and take a picture. And that’s what we’re there for, to help everyone in the room connect and have a good time.”

2 women smiling looking at their selfie
Heather Reams is president and Liz Daniels is senior communications director of CRES Forum, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that was a contributing sponsor of Arctic Encounter in March. One of its tasks was to hire the photo booth vendor to encourage attendee engagement.

Alaska Photobooth Company

2 women preparing to take a selfie with photobooth
Attendees keep pictures from an event for years, so the frames are perfect places to add branding for a long-lasting impression.

Alaska Photobooth Company

“For team building, [companies] like obstacle courses because they can race, or they’ll work together as a team to see who can get the best time… If they want to have fun and laugh, they want to hire us.”
Mary Cullinane
Owner/President, Tons of Fun Entertainment
Connecting Through Food
Throw a party at home, and food and drinks take center stage. Corporate events are no different. But there are only so many over-sized muffins or uninspired box lunches a person can handle.

An ice cream bar and some good old-fashioned soda fountain drinks can kick it up a notch and bring a smile to people’s faces.

“Who doesn’t love ice cream?” says Elissa Brown, owner of Wild Scoops, a micro-creamery that offers its small-batch, handcrafted ice cream to companies for pop-up ice cream socials. Companies can choose the grab-and-go option—with pre-packed, individual servings and an assortment of toppings—or a sundae bar, where Wild Scoops staff hand scoop the sweet treats.

“We offer a fun selection of flavors and toppings,” Brown says. “Everyone loves ice cream, and everybody bonds over food, so that kind of ice cream tasting is a fun way to add food and pep up the company events. It sort of just infuses a touch of joy and delight to end off a business meeting or event.”

Ice cream can even serve as the centerpiece for team-building events. Brown says that Wild Scoops recently expanded the production space at its midtown Anchorage shop, and she hopes to begin offering ice cream workshops to companies looking for new ways to help staff connect outside the office.

“It’s a fun, hands-on experience, and people always really want hands-on things,” she says. “It’s a good way to bond with people when you’re making something together. It’s not competitive.”

The Alaskan Soda Jerk’s fun-filled energy may be what initially draws people in, but it’s the flavored sodas, lemonades, and floats that keep them coming back while also providing a fun alternative to the standard beverage options at company events.

“The drinks that we offer, a lot of times people have tried a Shirley Temple,” Ingram says. “But not a lot of people have tried pineapple juice, vanilla, and Dr Pepper.”

Ingram says most events feature an open soda bar and the six flavored sodas that started the business, including Glacier Water—a mix of coconut, cherry, lime, and Sprite—or the Wrangell Roy—which mixes cherry, vanilla, and Coca-Cola—but the full menu is available upon request. For those wanting to add ice cream, Ingram says soda jerks typically serve orange or root beer floats, which are quieter and faster to prepare than milkshakes.

Because Ingram has a TAP (Training for Alcohol Professionals) certification, the Alaskan Soda Jerk can make any of its drinks boozy, provided event organizers purchase the alcohol.

“We offer our drinks spiked with alcohol,” he says. “Most of the recipes for the drinks came from my time bartending, and most of the flavor combinations are flavors that work in cocktails that already exist.”

2 women preparing photobooth
Alaska Photobooth Company’s event lead, Marian Josefsen, captured the fun with an attendee at Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s 50th Anniversary Meeting and Celebration in Utqiaġvik last August.

Alaska Photobooth Company

4 women taking a photo
Dressed up for a special occasion, employees of Doyon, Limited use an open photo booth to crystallize a memory after two years of not being able to gather.

Alaska Photobooth Company

“Doing a full-on murder mystery or doing a game show, really what you’re doing is getting people to collaborate and work together to try and come up with whatever idea they’re trying to come up with.”
Todd Rice
THEY Improv
Get People Laughing
Even a training full of relevant information and new ideas can get tedious. That’s why Rice started THEY Improv. Combining his corporate background and his love of improvisational comedy—he trained at Chicago’s famed The Second City—Rice incorporates improv in workplace trainings, workshops, and team-building activities to build connections and keep attendees engaged.

“Studies do prove that when people are enjoying themselves, they’re more likely to actually retain the information that they’re being taught,” he says. “If you make it fun, you make it engaging, they’re much more liable to learn.”

Rice’s trainings and workshops are designed to help businesses’ creativity, hone presentation and customer skills, and teach employees how to be assertive—the latter of which can have real safety implications.

“If you’re in the oil and gas industry and there’s a safety issue, you have to be able to say, ‘Shut it down now!’ and have people listen,” Ingram says. “That’s a skill a lot of people just don’t have within themselves to do, not naturally.”

Ingram also utilizes improv and interactive games, like murder mysteries, game shows, or improv scavenger hunts, for team-building and bonding activities. The goal is to get employees to work together, whether it’s to find creative solutions to a particular problem faced in the workplace or to figure out that the murderer was Bob from accounting in the copy room with a stapler. Though the method may be non-traditional, the underlying lesson is the same.

“The technique that we use doesn’t really matter all that much, other than that it keeps the audience interested,” he says. “So doing a full-on murder mystery or doing a game show, really what you’re doing is getting people to collaborate and work together to try and come up with whatever idea they’re trying to come up with.”

The activities also help everybody gain a better understanding of their co-workers’ strengths, which improves trust and can make future projects run more smoothly.

“They’re all talking and laughing and joking with one another but also building relationships within the team,” Ingram says. “Finding out who can step up, who can be a leader for the future, that kind of thing. All of these things are valuable to the company and the people who are there.”

A Wild Scoops ice cream social includes a choice of hand-crafted ice cream and toppings, for a fun alternative to the standard dessert offerings.

Wild Scoops

Packaged ice creams
3 people serving ice creams
Food is not uncommon at any social event, but the experience of scooping ice cream and choosing toppings helps attendees form positive attachments.

Wild Scoops

Fun for Rent
Comedy isn’t the only way to infuse a company event with laughter. Sometimes the simple absurdity of rolling around in an inflatable sumo wrestler suit or dunking a co-worker—or maybe a boss—is all that’s needed to help people loosen up and have a good time.

Tons of Fun Entertainment, Alaska’s largest mobile entertainment company, has been providing those opportunities for fun since 2006. Owner Mary Cullinane says the company rents a variety of equipment, including the extreme air jumper, a bucking bull and salmon, a rock-climbing wall, bounce houses, and inflatable obstacle courses, typically for company picnics or as part of team-building activities.

“For team building, [companies] like obstacle courses because they can race, or they’ll work together as a team to see who can get the best time,” she says. “Usually, most people get into it. If they want to have fun and laugh, they want to hire us.”

Cullinane says Tons of Fun Entertainment is even popular with out-of-state organizations hosting events in Alaska.

“When corporations come up, they hire us with the mechanical salmon,” she says. “Where else can you ride a salmon?”