Experience Creators You Should Know - Angela Casey, Included Health

Angela Casey, of Included Health, discusses how she honed her skills over the pandemic to now be in position to overcome the challenges that the new meetings/events landscape brings.



This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 


Name: Angela Casey

Company Name: Included Health

Job Title: Sr. Events Manager

Years of Experience: 20

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I got my start in the events industry directly following college. At the time, a family member of mine was an account director at a boutique experiential marketing agency in St. Louis. Through her mentorship, my interest was piqued by events. I landed a field brand ambassador position at the agency, and shortly after that, I was working and traveling full-time with three colleagues. After a few years of learning and growing in the role, I was promoted to an account executive position. I was responsible for planning tours and had a team of field brand ambassadors reporting to me. I pursued the role I have now because I was excited about the opportunity to work in healthcare. I come from a family of medical professionals and have always been naturally drawn to the industry. I also come from a family that has a history of life-threatening illnesses, and I really want to help people get the care and resources they need. So this role gives me the opportunity to do that while still being a part of the events industry.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
As a professional event planner, I am responsible for owning the end-to-end event concept through execution. Regarding the day-to-day, the real nuts and bolts of the role is relationship management. I collaborate with cross-functional teams, keeping all key stakeholders informed throughout the project. I’m also responsible for managing project deadlines, vendors, and logistics. The intent and goal of my role is to create new sales opportunities, build brand awareness and delight our key audiences in memorable ways.
How do you compare planning your first in-person event post-pandemic, to planning meetings/events pre- Covid? What was different and unique? What was similar?
As you can imagine, planning my first in-person event post-pandemic, I faced a whole new set of challenges. This included extra advanced planning and new logistical considerations to ensure the safety of all attendees. To head off supply chain issues, I ordered event materials well in advance of standard lead times. My team worked hard to ensure a Covid-safe event by putting several protocols in place, including confirming the vaccination status of attendees, providing testing options in advance and onsite, providing masks to attendees, hosting meals, breaks, and any other activities outside, leaving windows and doors open to ensure a constant flow of fresh air, making hand sanitizer available everywhere and wiping down commonly used surfaces as much as possible. There were a few attendees who canceled at the last minute due to testing positive for Covid and a few others who didn’t feel comfortable traveling. In the end, the event was well received, and as most event planners know, the attendees had no idea of all the additional behind-the-scenes planning that went into making the event a success overall. We did not get any reports of a Covid positive case following the event, so I’d say that’s a noteworthy win!
What challenges have you faced in your work as a meeting and event planner, when working with suppliers or sourcing a venue and how did you overcome them?

The industry is always growing and changing. Since the pandemic, many people are now booking hotels months, if not years, ahead of their event date. Finding a hotel that can support our program for the dates, location, and price that we need can prove to be quite challenging. Casting a wide net and using eRFP management systems to search and rule out locations is helpful in narrowing down the search and navigating this new playing field overall.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
In my 20 years as an event planner, I have built many strong relationships along the way. Even when I switch roles, I have several vendors I tend to continue working with who I know are reliable. If I am looking for a new vendor, I seek out vendors who are local, sustainable, and credible. In some cases, depending on stakeholders’ needs, I turn to my knowledgeable network of planners to help me find exactly what I am looking for at the right rate.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
First and foremost, make sure you know who the key stakeholders and decision-makers are. There will likely be other people involved in the planning process who have opinions but are not the decision-makers. Make them feel heard and consider their suggestions but make sure the event sponsor is informed of decisions and the rationale behind them. Always be sure to have clarity on the overall budget and plan for a contingency. Events never go 100% as planned, so you need to be ready with a backup plan and a backup to the backup plan. Problem-solving is key, and you need to be able to think on your feet. Lastly, there can be a lot of stress and emotion surrounding an event and you need to make sure to take care of yourself so you can think clearly. If you need to step away from the event for a moment just to breathe or get some fresh air, just do it. It will help you to continue to do your best.
With hotels short-staffed, and RFP lead time shortening, what is your advice to other planners to overcome these obstacles when requesting hotels for proposals?
An eRFP management system can effectively search several venues quickly. You simply enter all of your program details once, and it produces a number of results that help you narrow down your search. You can also ask your network to put you in touch with the global business development manager of a national or global hotel chain that can provide you with a selection of properties quickly as well. Lastly, if you are planning an annual event, use the information you or your predecessor collected about locations that would have worked, but the timing or budget didn’t work at the time. Sometimes you already have the information, and you just need to go back and revisit your notes from the previous year and build from there.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
In some ways, yes. Since the pandemic, we now request that the hotels we work with build a COVID clause into the contract. This allows for added flexibility in the event there is a surge in cases around the time of our event or if another unknown pandemic arises. Therefore, if, for some reason, we need to reschedule our event, we do not lose out on the full cost of the event.
What is the biggest area of improvement that you think hotels can make when either responding to your RFPs or during the contract phase of your event?
Hotels need better, updated photos of all their spaces and to highlight the features of the spaces in more effective ways. Newly renovated areas, windows in all of the meeting spaces, and an outdoor terrace connecting to the meeting room for meals and receptions - these are the things we want to see in our planning. Since the pandemic, I am finding that it’s more important than ever to offer the opportunity for attendees to get fresh air and sunshine during day-long meetings
Due to the pandemic, our events community had to evolve, adapt, and grow. Many planners started to embrace new technologies as a result of the pandemic. What new tech are you using today in your planning process as a result?
In my role, I use a number of communication platforms such as Slack, Asana, and Jira that help me connect with other stakeholders. I also use any free resources that are available. I crowdsource my planning network for ideas and suggestions for activities, and places to stay and eat. I also use eRFP management systems to help with initial venue searches.
Since education and relationships are two major pillars in the meetings and events industry, any suggestions on how other planners can learn and network with their peers across the industry?
I really like this question. In 2020, I took the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam and became PMP certified. I highly recommend this test to any event professional because it will give you the fundamentals for planning an event. Passing the test empowers you in many ways. It validates that you are skilled in leading and motivating a team, helps you determine ways to approach planning for an event, and highlights the impact the project has on the organizational goals. Regarding networking with other industry experts, there are groups on social media like LinkedIn and even Reddit where you can connect with peers. There are other organizations where you can connect live with event professionals, like The Beyond Collection. Additionally, anytime I attend a tradeshow or event, I look into who is planning the event and talk to some of the staff to find out things like who is catering the food or which vendor provided the flowers to gather additional insights along the way.
This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic w,orld. 

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