Experience Creators You Should Know - LaCriessia Malone, Atkore

LaCriessia Malone, of Atkore, 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: LaCriessia Malone

Company Name: Atkore

Job Title: Communications Specialist

Years of Experience: 6

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
When I was a Project Manager, events became a part of my job description. I have a love for paper planning, so planning events came naturally to me and my attention to detail.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
I feel that my role as a professional event planner is always evolving and changing. My main goal and focus is to bring the vision and experience that my client has to life. Sometimes, that brings challenges or obstacles, but the overall goal is to have a lasting expression on the event and to leave the guests in amazement.
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?
The health and well-being of guests have always been an importance priority in any event, even before Covid, so I added extra cleaning protocols. I made sure we had extra masks and hand sanitizer in place so everyone felt more comfortable to be in a space post-pandemic. I paid extra attention to venue spaces and locations and made sure we had enough parking but also enough space where guests could socially distance from one another. Having the option of virtual or hybrid participation, as some people still wanted to be in attendance but just from the comfort of a safe space. Making sure attendees knew they had options and in-person was not the only option. Budget conversations became even more important as the cost of PPE and other things had to be considered because it was now more costly to host in-person events than before. Despite the differences, most aspects remained the same. Client collaboration and understanding one’s objectives, vision, and presence. The overall event concept, design, and logistical aspects of events remained the same. Post-event evaluations were even more important post-pandemic. Even though post-pandemic events may require additional screenings and safety measures, collaboration, concept, and design remain integral to the process.
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?

I have faced challenges in regard to dietary restrictions and making sure we have enough food to accommodate everyone. Venue space and locations have been an additional challenge. I have done events in public places and where there is a high homeless population. A challenge was making sure attendees felt safe and would still come out despite the location. Venue set-up and break down times don’t always work with the anticipated schedule. Making sure all stakeholders involved can come to an agreement on a set time and schedule. Being collaborative and over-communicating has helped me overcome any problems I have faced in the event industry.
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 believe word of mouth and reviews are very important in the event industry. Having a referral or seeing someone’s work in person really makes a difference. When sourcing vendors, I don’t necessarily name who the client is because some people base prices on the name of the company and not actual experience or quality. I make sure I have a clear understanding of what the stakeholders are looking for. This could be a certain type of balloon arch or even what type of food they would like to have. I make sure I have plenty of options to choose from, all with different price ranges averaging from low to high. I have seen the best results with having more than one vendor to choose from.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
Be your true, authentic self, and be creative. Don’t allow anyone to walk over you. Don’t always depend on digital plans or documents pen and paper also work just as fine and I have found it to be more effective in the original planning process. Know your worth and your clients' worth, and don’t settle just because the price “is right”. Clients and stakeholders pay for quality and make sure you’re providing the best of the best.
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?
Give yourself plenty of time and plan accordingly. Most hotels open dates months in advance, and use that to your advantage. Waiting until the last minute or wanting a date in a busy season can only add additional stress. Try to have flexible dates and locations. Over-communicate with all parties/ stakeholders involved, and make sure to follow up regularly.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
No, not really. I’m just making sure I always have all the details and documentation before choosing a hotel. Also, making sure that myself and the stakeholders understand the penalties and fees if we must change the date or location, but also, in the event of another shutdown, what are our options.
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?
Responding in a timely manner and communicating. Sometimes, it seems as if an event planner has to hunt someone down when trying to secure locations or even have initial conversations. If you know the hotel is going to be under construction or having major renovations around a date, let the person know so they can decide if that will affect the vision or experience of guests. No one wants to be blindsided by something that could have been avoided or talked about in advance.
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?
Using Notion, digital planning, and my iPad Pro has really helped me evolve since the pandemic. With Notion, it helps with productivity and allows me to organize in a way that works best for me. I am able to have everything I need in one place with links, charts, documents, and just about any and everything. Digital planning for when I am on the go and need to see if a date is available helps when I cannot physically take my paper planner with me. My iPad serves as another monitor for my computer but also allows me the flexibility to work anywhere and not have the bulk of my laptop.
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?
Networking is so important not only to get your name out there but also to meet other people who can possibly provide services to you in the future. Join local groups and attend events regularly. If you have a certain niche, attend professional conferences related to it. Go Wild (Wild for Planners) is a planning conference I look forward to attending every year. You never know where your next opportunity can come from stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.
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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