Experience Creators You Should Know - Katrina Spadaro, commercetools

Katrina Spadaro, of commercetools, 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: Katrina Spadaro

Company Name: commercetools

Job Title: Director, Event Marketing

Years of Experience: 11+

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I attended the University of Washington and graduated in Business Administration with a focus in Marketing. I had the opportunity to join a SaaS tech company as a Marketing Coordinator early in my career and was very excited to be in a role that aligned with my studies. The position focused heavily on events from global trade shows, and executive roundtables to hosted tech summits. I was under brilliant leaders in that role who helped me build a strong foundation for marketing in the B2B space, all while learning the ins and outs of event marketing. I continued to pursue a career in events because I enjoyed the operations aspect but also loved helping people. I became very passionate about creating live experiences and environments that brought people together to learn and build relationships.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
My role as a professional event marketer can be described as exciting and fast-paced. Very similar to a project manager, you must be organized, timeline driven, and able to manage multiple tasks and teammates at once. Strong communication and interpersonal skills are a must. The role works with multiple stakeholders within a company, from legal, finance, sales, marketing, customer success, product, and more.
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 events post-pandemic versus pre have differed across a few areas. The main one is cost. The event industry has seen significant increases across labor and shipping. Contracts have also become stricter with force majeure clauses. I saw swag vendors continually challenged by the supply chain. Another difference was safety measures. It was crucial to make sure you and your team were educated on travel and onsite protocols. What has been unique is the introduction of virtual events and where they fit into the event strategy. What I have found similar is the need. You can’t replace in-person 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?

A big challenge with event marketing is you are normally planning as you go. You are sourcing a venue while selecting a city, identifying the audience, working on the budget, and building the agenda all at the same time. Working with suppliers is a challenge if you are doing it yourself because each supplier accepts information differently. Going from site to site, you might have to call, email, or submit an RFP online. It makes it difficult to track submissions, answers, and, most important, availability. The main challenge with sourcing a venue post-pandemic is that venues are limited from booking so far in advance. A way to overcome this is to set expectations with your leaders and also partner with vendors or reps whose job is to source and secure venues.
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 look for vendors that feel like an extension of my team. I’m looking for longstanding partnerships to continue throughout my career. When looking for a vendor, it is important to know what you are looking for and set expectations. You can normally tell from the intro call if it will be a match or not. Did they take the time to learn about your company? Did they listen on the call or talk at you? Are they asking the right questions? Also, as an event manager, it is important that you do the work and don't just pick the first vendor you find.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
Make sure to focus on the “why” and the “who” of the event. So many times it can get lost in the brainstorming and execution phases. Always bring it back to what is the goal of the event. What are we trying to achieve?
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?
You need to set expectations with your internal team and go into sourcing knowing what you want. You need to be ready to pivot or open to trying different cities in order to achieve the goals of the program.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
The approach is now knowing the risk you are facing with “unforeseeable events.” Clauses are built into contracts to protect the vendor, and it is important to make sure you, the client, are equally protected. The majority of the focus is on the cancelation policy and payment structure, which was the same pre-pandemic.
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 improvement is responding in a timely fashion with ample information. During the RFP phase, it is crucial to treat every inquiry the same. I’ve seen many vendors provide short-unhelpful answers vs. taking the time to understand the need.
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?
The majority of the tech that evolved was from a virtual standpoint. Vendors were adapting from in-person to virtual. We were all learning and evolving together. We see today new event platforms that emerged from the virtual need.
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've done this by joining virtual roundtables, memberships, or slack channels with other event professionals. I've also utilized LinkedIn to connect with other professionals. One of the best ways I've learned is at a trade show. I’ve found it useful to walk up to a booth and ask who the event person is. Easy to have a conversation with someone regarding vendors, challenges as well as successes when you each experienced the same planning structure.
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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