Experience Creators You Should Know - Jessica Betouni, PTTOW!

Jessica Betouni, of PTTOW!, 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: Jessica Betouni

Company Name: PTTOW!

Job Title: Senior Manager, Events + Brand Experience

Years of Experience: 8

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I began my career in events in 2015 on the hotel/venue side with Starwood Hotels in downtown Chicago. I quickly fell in love with the management side of things, working with planners and organizers to bring their visions to life at the venue. It was a fun and exciting venture that led to a deeper curiosity and interest in the planning and production of events. I've always viewed myself as a connector—the bridge that closes the gap and brings together people from worlds apart. I'm a gatherer. I'm an experience creator. I'm an empath at my core, and I believe that events have the power to transform lives. They can bring people together, create memories, and inspire change. I'm passionate about using my skills and experience to create events that make a difference.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
As the Senior Manager of Events + Brand Experience at PTTOW!, I wear many hats. I oversee the end-to-end planning from strategy to execution for our environmental + experiential design, floral design, lodging, F&B, gifting sponsors, vendors, activity programming, experiential brand activations, and onsite layouts for each of our events. I also oversee company culture and member experience engagement on the operations side. In addition to my work at PTTOW!, I have a great Rolodex of clients and brands that I work with on a freelance basis. I have experience in a multitude of areas, including event production, event marketing, sponsorships, brand activations, special events, PR releases, and floral design. I am creative. And I'm passionate about curating bespoke experiences for my clients and attendees. Here are some of my recent projects:- I oversaw the environmental design for PTTOW!'s annual summit, which attracted over 350 influential members from Fortune 200-500 C-suite executives. The design was inspired by the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which celebrates the beauty of broken things. The event featured a variety of interactive elements and speakers who shared their insights on the power of resilience.- I managed the logistics for a celebrity-studded gala. This included securing the venue, coordinating with vendors, and managing the guest list. The event was a huge success, and it received rave reviews from attendees.- I collaborated with Remy Martin at the Latin Grammys to build out a tasting activation for their top-line varietals, while simultaneously conducting interviews with Latin Grammys nominated artists and producers.
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?
Planning my first in-person event post-pandemic was a very different experience than planning meetings and events pre-Covid. There were a number of new factors to consider:- Health and safety: The top priority was to ensure the safety of attendees and staff. This meant implementing a comprehensive health and safety plan, including things like social distancing, mask requirements, and hand sanitizer stations.- Flexibility: I had to be more flexible than usual in my planning. Things like venue availability and vendor availability were more unpredictable, so I had to be prepared to make changes on the fly.- Technology: I had to use more technology to facilitate communication and collaboration. This included things like video conferencing, online event registration, and virtual networking tools. Despite the challenges, there were also some similarities to planning meetings and events pre-Covid. For example, I still had to focus on creating a memorable and engaging experience for attendees. I also had to work with a team of professionals to execute the event flawlessly. Overall, planning my first in-person event post-pandemic was a rewarding experience. It was a challenge, but it was also an opportunity to learn and grow. The skills and experience I gained have helped me plan and produce better than-ever events.
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?

There are a few key items that stand out when reflecting on the challenges that have come up over the years:- Communication: One of the biggest challenges I have faced is communication with suppliers and venues. It is important to be clear about your needs and expectations and to communicate effectively with your partners. I have learned to be very clear in my communication and to document everything in writing. I also make sure to follow up regularly with my partners to ensure that everything is on track.- Budget: Another challenge I have faced is staying within budget. It is important to get quotes from multiple suppliers and venues and to negotiate the best possible prices. I have learned to be very organized and to track my expenses carefully. I also make sure to have a contingency plan in case of unexpected costs.- Vendor availability: Sometimes, it can be difficult to find vendors who are available on the date and time you need them. I have learned to be flexible with my dates and times and to have a backup plan in case my first choice is not available. I also make sure to book vendors early, especially for popular dates and times.- Unforeseen circumstances: There are always unforeseen circumstances that can happen, such as bad weather or unexpected cancellations. I have learned to be prepared for anything and to have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. I also make sure to have good relationships with my partners, so that we can work together to solve any problems that arise.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
I first think about the stakeholders' needs. What are their goals for the event? What kind of experience are they looking for? Once I understand their needs, I can start to identify vendors who can meet those needs. Then I consider the vendors that would work best for the experiences we're creating. What services do they offer? What experience do they have? What kind of reputation do they have? I want to make sure that the vendors I choose have the capabilities to deliver the event that my stakeholders are looking for. Price: Of course, price is also a factor. I want to find vendors who offer competitive rates, but I also don't want to sacrifice quality. I need to find a balance between price and quality that meets the needs of my stakeholders. It's always a good idea to get multiple quotes from different vendors. This will give you a better idea of the range of prices and services that are available.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
Here are a few key lessons I've learned...Communication is key! Communication is essential for any successful event. I have learned that it is important to communicate effectively with all stakeholders, including the client, the venue, the vendors, and the attendees. This includes being clear about expectations, providing updates, and resolving any issues that may arise. Be prepared for anything! Things don't always go according to plan, so it is important to be prepared for anything. I have learned to have a contingency plan in place in case of unexpected events, such as bad weather or technical difficulties. Listen to your gut! Sometimes, the best decisions are made based on intuition. I have learned to trust my gut and to go with my gut feeling when making decisions about an event. Have fun! Producing an event can be stressful, but it is also much fun. I have learned to enjoy the process and indulge in the experiences before load-out!
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?
Start planning early. The earlier you start planning, the more time you will have to find a hotel that is a good fit for your event. This will also give you more time to build relationships with hotel staff and get your event on their radar. (Try to)Be flexible with your dates and times. If you have more flexibility with your dates and times, you will have more options when it comes to finding a hotel or venue. This is especially important during peak travel seasons or when there are major events in town. Consider alternative venues. If you are unable to find a hotel that meets your needs, consider alternative venues, such as conference centers, restaurants, or museums. These venues may be able to offer you the same amenities as a hotel, but with shorter lead times. Be prepared to compromise. In some cases, you may need to compromise on your requirements in order to find a hotel that is available. This could mean choosing a smaller venue, accepting a later date, or paying a higher price. Build relationships with hotel staff. When you are working with a hotel, it is important to build relationships with the staff. This will help you to get your event on their radar and to get the best possible service. Be patient and understanding. The hotel industry is facing a lot of challenges right now, so it is important to be patient and understanding with hotel staff and management.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Yes, most definitely. I've integrated a few new approaches into my strategy as a result of the steps taken during the pandemic. Health and safety is number one. I am looking for hotels that have implemented health and safety measures to protect their guests and staff. Another is the most controversial topic of the pandemic: cancellation policies. I am looking for hotels that have flexible cancellation policies in case of unforeseen circumstances. This will help me to protect my clients and their budgets. The other approach I take differently is the technology that is onsite to support my events. This includes things like Wi-Fi, audio-visual equipment, and streaming capabilities. By considering these factors, I can help to ensure that my events are successful and that my clients are satisfied.
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?
As an event prof, the biggest area of improvement that hotels can make when responding to RFPs or during the contract phase of an event is to be more responsive, transparent, and flexible. Hotels should strive to respond to RFPs as quickly as possible. This shows that they are interested in the event and that they are taking the event planner's time seriously. They should also be transparent about their pricing and policies. At PTTOW! we tend to go over the top and bring experiences and talent to venues that have never been executed before (i.e., One year, we had a human cannonball feature at our luncheon. Another year, we had a helicraft hoverboard demonstration that reached 100 ft into the air.)
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 become all too familiar with Zoom and all its capabilities. At the beginning of the pandemic, we looked to a number of virtual event platforms to help us pivot and still grow our audience. Ultimately, Zoom was the most user-friendly platform that worked well for our virtual forums, summits, and orientations. The newest technology we've incorporated into our day-to-day are Airtable (for planning) and for project management.
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?
Education and relationships are two major pillars in the meetings and events industry. Planners need to be constantly learning and evolving in order to stay ahead of the curve, and they also need to build strong relationships with their peers in order to collaborate effectively and share resources. Some suggestions I can give on networking are:- Attend industry events and conferences. This is a great way to learn about the latest trends and best practices in the industry. You can also network with other planners and learn from their experiences. When attending industry events, be sure to introduce yourself to new people and ask questions. You can also volunteer to help with the event, which is a great way to get involved and meet people. A few major events that I've attended were hosted by BizBash, MPI, Site, and a few vendor showroom events.- Join professional associations. Here are a few I'm involved (or have been involved) with MPI, ILEA, SITE.
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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