Experience Creators You Should Know - Mariella Irivarren

Mariella Irivarren 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: Mariella Irivarren

Job Title: Corporate Event Planner

Years of Experience: 12

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I was always interested in organizing functions throughout high school. Whether it was plays, games, functions, etc. In university, I volunteered with the events team to put together events for students and loved it. I always had an interest in events, even before it was an official "career" people could pursue, so I knew I wanted to be a part of that industry.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
We work with our internal event hosts to help them plan events from A to Z. From budgeting, timelines, and logistics to event execution and post-event reporting, we work closely with our clients to help create memorable experiences for our employees and clients.
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 biggest change I noticed originally was an increased awareness about health & safety. Masks and hand sanitizers were still very much available; however, the excitement for people to network, reconnect and be face-to-face was even more noticeable. Our drop-off rates were lower - pre-pandemic, you could count on a 20% drop-off rate for client events. Now, we are seeing close to 100% attendance. Everyone just wanted to get out and socialize. The buzz was real, and people were happy to be there!
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?

More recently, our challenges have been response times. After the pandemic, many venues and vendors were short-staffed, people had left the industry, everyone was coming back to in-person, and the industry was just not able to handle the demand. Standards of service is another one we saw. The new, inexperienced staff combined with overall staff shortages meant our service expectations were not always met. This has significantly improved in the past year.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
By getting a good understanding of the clients, the event needs, and the overall objectives, helps us determine which destination or specific venue might be most suitable. Of course, there would be an RFP process involved, but a lower rate is not always the determining factor on why we chose one venue over another. Having the right elements combined is the way to go.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
Being prepared and being prepared to go with the flow. As planners, we hope that all the details of our events are finalized early and everything goes according to plan, but things can change fast. Being able to think on your feet and find solutions quickly is key. Having the ability to let go of the things you cant control is important.
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 as much lead time as possible and be as clear and concise as possible with what you need. Don't bother having hotels give you RFPs with fluff. Get down to basics and what you REALLY need in order to narrow down your search quickly and make a decision.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Leveraging relationships with trusted partners is key. In a seller's market, hotels are no longer holding space like they used to; they are less likely to give as many concessions because of demand, etc. Booking far in advance can help secure better concession and additional space, but really leaning into your partners to work with you for the benefit of both parties has proven to be successful.
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?
Fill out the completed information that will be relevant/valuable for your specific program. I think hotels are better at getting rid of the "fluff" now, but sometimes the RFPs are missing key information that we then need to ask for in order to make an educated decision.
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?
MS Teams for communication and small virtual events are still being used, but leveraging event apps more and more and "digitizing" more elements of an event has grown in acceptance from event attendees.
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?
Join a meeting association, volunteer at events, sign up for a mentor-mentee program, etc. Anything that can get you exposed and connected with like-minded individuals can lead to long-lasting connections.
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. 

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