Experience Creators You Should Know - Caitlin Carey, Kenvue

Caitlin Carey, of Kenvue, 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: Caitlin Carey

Company Name: Kenvue

Job Title: Manager, Events and Communication

Years of Experience: 10

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I accidentally found myself in the events industry about a decade ago when I was getting out of the military and was unsure what I was qualified to do. I was specifically looking for a project management role, as it aligned with my duties in the Air Force, and ended up landing at an exhibit design house in Cincinnati. I worked with clients on their trade show display designs and services and fell in love with all things event logistics.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
In my role, I lead the behind-the-scenes logistics for Kenvue’s industry trade shows and customer sales meetings. I work closely with our customer development and customer strategy teams to make sure we are showing up in a thoughtful way that best represents our brands. No matter if you are producing an event you have done ten times before, it is never executed in the same way, and that’s what is so exciting about my job.
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?
After many cancellations and false starts, my first in-person post-pandemic event was a trade show in the medical technology field. As you can imagine, the healthcare professionals attending and the society putting on the event were incredibly cautious. As an exhibitor, we really focused on making everyone as comfortable as possible in our environment. Masks were mandatory by the show, but we had extras available, hand sanitizer at every turn, and the awkward wave to a new guest when you weren’t sure if handshakes were fully back just yet. While the circumstances and precautions made the event unique, they also served as an icebreaker for trepidatory visitors and humanized the sales team’s typical pitch, leading to a more authentic and engaged audience.
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 biggest challenges with suppliers and sourcing can be what isn’t disclosed that will impact my attendee’s experience. For example, while technically elevator maintenance isn’t considered construction and therefore not disclosed in the contract – when the VIP suites you have booked all share a wall with that elevator, the grinding of the gears and testing is disruptive. A quick rebooking of rooms ahead of my guests’ arrival solves the problem, but the best events I have had come from the hotel and conference staff putting themselves in the customer’s position and looking at things as if they were attending our event.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
The best thing a vendor can do to earn our business is to surprise and delight! Post-Covid, our stakeholders are eager to be in the same room with each other, collaborating and growing the business. To be able to do this in a new, innovative way with vendor support creates a better experience for everyone. Cost is always a factor when engaging with a new supplier, but the level of service, creativity, and communication are all crucial to a great relationship and can soften a potentially higher rate.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
As a professional event planner, you really have to be a jack of all trades and learn to be as flexible as possible. The best adjustment I’ve made to my process in the last decade is to loosen the reigns. As planners, I think we are almost all inherently very “Type-A,” we like to make a plan and see it executed exactly as we envisioned. The only problem is that this is rarely the case. By taking a step back and understanding that rule number one is “be flexible,” I can take a more consultative approach with my stakeholders. I provide my input and recommendation based on my years of experience, but at the end of the day, it is their event, and I am the person who is there to help bring it to life.
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?
The best rule of thumb is to reach out early and reach out often. This job is not one that can be done waiting on your heels. Make sure you are upfront with your venue or the third-party sourcing agency on your timeline, and make sure you are communicating with your stakeholders on the status. Don’t be left guessing, and don’t be afraid to circle back and get an update on the RFP. Don’t be hesitant to make a call instead of emailing!
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
I am more invested than ever in the contracting process with hotels post-pandemic. From epidemic clauses, force majeure, attrition rates, deposit schedules, and cancellation fees – it all became much more important as events started to pick back up. I’m making sure that I am familiar with the main points of these clauses, but also ensuring my key stakeholder is as well. Anytime there is a period of change or uncertainty, all bets are off when it comes to events. Making sure your stakeholder is aware of the financial impact of a last-minute cancellation or decrease in attendance is absolutely essential.
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?
The biggest area of improvement for hotels in the RFP process comes with the amount of information provided. I would rather know more about your property than have to guess or look it up. I’d like to see more floorplans, capacity charts, and photos of all of the meeting rooms included in a response packet. For me, site visits are the best way to really get an understanding of the property and put myself in my attendee’s shoes.
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?
I will shamefully admit that I used to be a paper planner! My desk was covered in racks of folders that were then moved to a file cabinet after completion. Once offices started to close and remote working kicked into high gear, obviously, this led to a fully digital planning approach. While not necessarily new technology, I’ve really embraced using website registration programs, mobile apps for attendees, e-business cards, and QR codes. I think these integrations have helped event outcomes and learnings carry through with the attendees, even after we’ve wrapped and increased our sustainability effort greatly.
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 can’t speak highly enough of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and Exhibitor Magazine. Getting plugged in with your local MPI chapter is not only a great networking opportunity, but it also opens the door to industry events, training, and education. Additionally, there is almost always a copy of Exhibitor Magazine sitting on my desk. I really find value in seeing what leaders in the events industry are working on, and spending time at ExhibitorLive is a great way to broaden your events knowledge and network while working towards your CMP or CTSM. There have been countless times that I have made a call to someone in my network from these events to help get me plugged in with a new contact or venue.
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 lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 

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