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: Emily Kennedy
Company Name: American Association of School Personnel Administrators
Job Title: Meetings Coordinator
Years of Experience: 7 Months
How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I started my career with AASPA (American Association of School Personnel Administrators) in the summer of 2022. I was originally drawn to AASPA because of the amazing work they do providing professional development opportunities and offering support to individuals working in education. Having worked in public education for 6 years, I was looking for an opportunity where I could give back to school personnel and administrators in a different capacity, and AASPA provides the perfect place to do just that.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
As the Meetings Coordinator, my main responsibilities include developing schedules for professional development opportunities, contacting and scheduling presenters for various events throughout the year, creating the registration process for all events and webinars, and assisting our members in registering for those events. In my role, I also support our Director of Meetings & Events with hotel contracts, menu planning, and the finer details needed to help our events run smoothly.
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?
Following the pandemic, many of our attendees were skeptical, on edge, and leery of attending in-person events. Therefore, our attendance took a hit. To help our attendees feel more at ease, we began offering hybrid events. Unfortunately, due to cost and lack of interest, we have not continued this accommodation. In planning for events after COVID, both hotels and planners have to be more flexible and patient, as hotel staffing was and has been substantially lower.
The biggest challenge the staff at AASPA faces when working with supplies and venues is availability and cost. Covid forced many planners to push their 2020 venues to later dates, which has limited our choices when searching for venues now. In addition, obtaining giveaways, or tchotchkes as my Director of Meetings & Events likes to say, has become extremely difficult with a shortage of supplies and delayed shipping times.
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 searching for vendors that meet the needs of our events, it is important that they be flexible, work with us as a partner, and are cost-effective. When looking for these vendors, I rely heavily on positive relationships with vendors that AASPA has had in the past as well as contacts I have made through our local PCMA chapter (Professional Convention Management Association)
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
The biggest lesson I have learned from my mentor at AASPA, is to build and foster positive relationships with your vendors and venues. Those relationships will come back and help you time and time again while also saving your association some money.
My advice to other planners would be to give the hotel/venue as much detail as possible. In addition, be sure to set your expectations from the beginning. Inform your hotel/venue when you would like to hear back from them in regard to your RFP.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Since COVID, the staff at AASPA has had to move faster and be more flexible with our dates, patterns, and cities when contracting with a hotel. After all, we are in a seller's market right now, and hotels have the upper hand.
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?
The biggest area of improvement for hotels is communication. Oftentimes it can be weeks between emails.
While our members love and are hungry for in-person professional development opportunities, many have become accustomed to hopping on a Zoom call and attending these types of events virtually. Since the pandemic, we have had to shift and begin catering to our members who prefer virtual events. In addition, attendees of these virtual events have access to all session recordings to view at their leisure. AASPA is proud to host 3 virtual events as well as 6 in-person events. We also offer 3-4 webinars per month at no cost to our members. Another technology that AASPA has embraced in the last year is Gather Voices. Gather Voices provides AASPA with a platform to collect, manage, and share short videos of our members for marketing purposes.
My biggest piece of advice would be to get involved in different organizations in your area and attend professional development opportunities for event planners. As someone new to this industry, I have leaned heavily on my mentor within AASPA but also colleagues I have met through my local PCMA chapter. (Professional Convention Management Association)