Experience Creators You Should Know - Nicole Stephens, The Weather Company, an IBM Business

Nicole Stephens, of The Weather Company, an IBM Business, 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: Nicole Stephens

Company Name: The Weather Company, an IBM Business

Job Title: Events Manager

Years of Experience: 10

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
After college, I struggled trying to find a Public Relations job, and therefore I dove head first into internships, hoping it would lead me to the perfect job. I landed an internship at Carol's Daughter as a marketing intern. While there, they had a huge event where they launched their store in Harlem. While working on that event I fell in love with event planning. Going through all the steps to make sure every detail is planned right and seeing the final product unfold. I also got to meet Lebron James and Rihanna at that event, which made my day!
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
My role as an event planner is to be a trusted advisor to my clients. I'm here to take all of the stress away when it comes to event details. Provide unique and fun options to turn their events into experiences their clients will never forget.
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?
My first in-person event after COVID was a whole new ball game. From making sure we had masks and hand sanitizer on site, to doing COVID tests on site for those who did not submit their results. There were different layers we had to account for post-pandemic. However, there was a clear need and want for in-person events. Making connections in person is something that clients were longing to do again, and it really showed in post-pandemic event numbers. The goal was to host events as safely as possible.
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?

As an event planner, sometimes you encounter difficulties with suppliers and venue sourcing. I have learned that building a roster of trusted suppliers and venues is the best thing. Building a relationship with trusted partners limits stressful situations and allows for better partnerships in the future.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
First I start with my roaster of vendors, and from there, I see which vendor would best fit into my stakeholder's budget. I also try to identify which vendor has done a similar service for me in the past. This way the ask is not as much as a lift for that vendor. This might allow my stakeholders to get the service at a better price. If possible, I also request samples from vendors to ensure we receive exactly what the stakeholder is expecting.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
One of the things I have learned in event planning is that there is never too much follow-up or communication. Reach out to your clients with a quick check-in and next steps, they will appreciate it.
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?
My advice is to reach out to that hotel as soon as possible. Try to outline the events you have lined up for Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4. Where are those events located? Did you have a room block at a location that received great feedback from your clients? If so, once the event is over, reach out immediately and try to place a hold for next year's event. They might not be able to, but they can make a note which goes a long way.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
No, the same approach as before try to get that request in as soon as possible.
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 most prominent improvement hotels can make during the contract process is ensuring that any cut-off dates or due dates are not around holidays. If they are, then hopefully, they can be flexible if there are last-minute needs. If we book a room block, we want to ensure our clients can get in and it's convenient for them.
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?
After the pandemic, streamlining became even more important for events as there were additional steps to account for. Some of the tools I used to help with event planning include Splash That and Rainfocus.
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?
For me, keeping in touch with my previous co-workers, who have now turned into friends, has been vital in my networking. Meeting up and talking about what we are working on now, or what things we have learned has been great. It has helped to share ideas as well as learn about new places.
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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