Experience Creators You Should Know - Anna Katsafouros, Weizmann Canada

Anna Katsafouros, of Weizmann Canada, 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: Anna Katsafouros

Company Name: Weizmann Canada

Job Title: Associate Director, Events & Experiences (Canada & Overseas)

Years of Experience: 25+

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
It was completely by accident! My first "real" job was working in a pharmaceutical company in Inside Sales. I was asked by leadership to help plan the company holiday party. The rest is, as they say...history. I pursued event planning and landed the role of Continuing Medical Education Coordinator at the same company. I studied during that time to receive my APMR accreditation (Accreditation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Representatives of Canada) with subsequent Continuing Medical Education Accreditation (CME). That role expanded to all events, including CME, corporate, internal, etc., and I went from "Pharma Rep" to Event Planner.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
My role is to ensure that all aspects of every event (from conception to execution) are managed to meet and exceed our goals - while ensuring all participants leave with a positive experience!
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?
The first event post-Covid was definitely a challenge. The "easy" part was ensuring all the safety protocols were in place (hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, thermometers, Covid tests, etc.). The part that was harder to navigate was ensuring all suppliers were following protocols. Typically, when a supplier comes on-site, you check in with them and let them do their thing. There were guests who were very much aware of their surroundings and the "six-foot" rule, while others were not as conscious. There was almost an awkwardness about it as people were still trying to navigate their own comfort level as well as those around them. What was the same? The fact that people still love to get together in person.
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 response times from suppliers post-Covid have been brutal. Fortunately, I have great relationships with my suppliers, but when venturing to a new supplier, it is sometimes days before a request is even acknowledged, especially in the hotel/venue industry. There really isn't a way to overcome other than being persistent with your follow-ups. Of course, there is always the option to bring your business elsewhere, but these staff shortages are everywhere.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
Each event is different. I have different suppliers depending on the scope and goal. Is it a gala? I have a great AV and Catering supplier for that! Is it a simple meeting that requires basic AV and lunch? I have a different supplier for that. I have cultivated an amazing list of partner suppliers that I count on. Affordable? That word doesn't seem to exist anymore. I remember the first budget I put together post-COVID. When I started making calls to secure, for example, decor, I was flabbergasted at the increase in prices and the delivery costs. Decor and F&B seem to have tripled in price!
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
SUSTAINABILITY! I have made a concerted effort to ensure all our events are sustainable. No plastic water bottles, no disposables during cocktail hour, no more giveaways (they need to be meaningful and with a purpose). For example, we no longer bring boxes of printed materials to an event. We create QR codes on flower paper. Once the QR code is scanned, the paper can be planted, and wildflowers will grow. If that isn't something that interests the person, the card is fully recyclable and biodegradable. Another example is ensuring you have a plan for leftover food. So much goes to waste that others can benefit from! You have to inquire with your suppliers what measures they are taking to support sustainability, especially with your venues. It is a partnership between everyone.
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?
Provide as much information as possible during your initial request. It sometimes takes days to even get an acknowledgment of the request, and if things are vague, that just prolongs the process. Don't be shy to follow up. Be empathetic, especially if they are short-staffed, but be firm.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Not really. I do try to do things even earlier than I normally would just because response time is so slow.
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?
Acknowledge the request. Especially when you are dealing with a hotel/venue that you have not dealt with before. Requesting information and getting zero response for days is simply not acceptable. Even an automated response would be better with a timeframe of when you can expect to hear back - at the bare minimum!
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?
We have gone back to 100% in-person events.
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?
Join a professional organization, be active on Linked In, attend webinars, and contribute to online communities of Event Planners. You get the best tidbits of information and "hacks" when speaking with your peers. Share your struggles AND your successes!
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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