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: BJ Mazmanian
Company Name: Bluewater Technology
Job Title: Sr. Director of Client Services
Years of Experience: 16
How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
For me, getting into the events industry started as a cool opportunity to work with and learn from my older sister. Out of college, I worked on her team (her being a couple of levels above me), getting to travel around the country and learning about the trials and tribulations of event planning. It wasn’t until I was able to plan and execute the events myself, I was hooked. As an athlete, I enjoyed practice, but that competitive juice kicked in a little more when you played the game, and that’s how I saw every event. What has kept me involved, is my passion for teaching. Helping problem solve, working with a team, and passing that knowledge onto someone else is what has kept me.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
At Bluewater, our mission is to make people smile – and that can be done at many different levels and in many different instances in the event planning journey. We are an excellent execution partner, we can be a creative support agency, or we can help understand problems and ideate solutions to create a full end-to-end solution. My job specifically is to get the right people in the room to help support our clients and make sure we deliver on that vision.
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?
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?
As we jumped back into the post-pandemic world, the one thing that our team really focused on was thinking outside of the box. Guests are all going to come with their own expectations of the event, and one of the things we looked at was how we can create a positive impact over as many of these expectations as possible. Some people wanted in-person meetings in small groups that were very intimate, and some people wanted to go but were nervous and didn’t want to be in a confined space. Some wanted to be included and involved but were still hesitant to be there at all. Knowing that we built a virtual event platform called Parallel that allowed us to serve as many of these guests as possible with a similar event experience. A challenge we faced, like much of the industry, is labor shortages & rising costs. When budgets are established and used from a prior year, but costs have gone up, it's not always an easy conversation. What we have learned, is it is one that we have to have to execute a good event. Something that has stayed consistent, and I think it’s a testament to Bluewater’s culture, is to be upfront with costs and provide the best show we can. We all know every event is different, so if we can hold true to our core values and communicate both positive and challenging events through the process, we are controlling everything we can.
One challenge we face in sourcing any type of event is putting the dollars in the event where they will make the largest impact on attendees. That means being as smart as we can with trucking equipment & onsite set ups. One of the solutions we have implemented is to create intelligent floor plans that don't require massive amounts of rigging. When we are engaged early enough in the process, we are able to help reduce some of the “fees” onsite and put those dollars into the end-user experience.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
When evaluating what vendors and partners are best suited for our stakeholders, we are looking at a couple of different factors. Obviously, the easy one is price, but that isn’t always the driving force. When we are bringing in partners to help with execution, we are looking for the same standards that we expect of ourselves. We expect our partners to add value in every area possible for the end user, have clear and honest communication (even when it is hard), and be solution-oriented to get the job done.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
One key filter that we always try to implement is what is the best experience for the guest that fits the goals. Taking a step back and really walking through the entire experience as an attendee gives you perspective on little things that you may take for granted because you are so invested and so close to the project. Having trusted partners to be that sounding board and challenge you is a positive thing – and making a working team environment for that to happen in the planning stage is huge.
What I am about to say feels counterintuitive to many, and it's hard sometimes as a partner when your client tells you this next thing, but I feel like it helps so much in the long run. If you have an idea of what you want, and how you want it – GREAT. But… if there is something you aren’t sure of – or you need help in deciding because each venue or property is different, ask for help or a recommendation. If you outline your goals, but say I’m not sure how to do this, it will eliminate the back and forth and allow you to be more collaborative and expedite the process as much as possible.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
One thing that we are really working on doing with hotels as we move through this contracting process is to provide them with as much time as we can. Knowing that their staffing is down, our goal is still to get the right partner with the least amount of surprises- and that takes time. Managing the timeline, deliverables, and dates is something that is in our control, so maximizing that as much as possible is key.
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?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?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 think the hardest part of an RFP process is making sure that you can get the information that you need to make your decisions as efficiently as possible. The additional information that is included in responses sometimes is “nice to have” but not relevant and can really slow down the process of reviewing on our end.
The new technology for us is different for every client, but it holds one common theme. Collaboration. Having a tool that a client & partners can use to help keep the share of information happening at a high level has been key to success for us because of reduced staff in many areas.
Being able to go out and experience events is always going to be a great way to network, but one goal I have set for myself is to find a couple of people to reach out to – and just talk. Set up a monthly, bi-monthly conversation that has nothing to do with sales, or pushing products or services, and it's truly just talking about the industry. Most of my relationships have started on LinkedIn – and some have grown to in-person meetings where we meet up at an event we are at. The hardest part is that initial reaching out feeling, it's nerve-racking. On the flip side, it's also on us as an event planning network. If someone reaches out for help, or to have that conversation – make time. It’s so hard initially to get comfortable asking for help or reaching out. If someone does that, see that, recognize it for that, and make time to talk.