Experience Creators You Should Know - Raymie Chavez Grimm, Safari Club International

Raymie Chavez Grimm, of Safari Club International, 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: Raymie Chaves Grimm

Company Name: Safari Club International

Job Title: Senior Manager, Convention and Events

Years of Experience: 18

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
My tiptoe into events happened accidentally, I was working as a Studio Tour Guide for Universal Studios Hollywood and had an opportunity to fill in with the special events department. I had no idea that selling and producing events was even a job someone could aspire to. From my very first event experience, which happened to be a movie premier...I was hooked! I am so lucky to have amazing mentors that taught me so much about logistics, catering, sales, and production. It was a fast-paced, sometimes exhausting, but always rewarding experience. Creating moments for guests, either in a corporate or private event setting, is such a gift, I have been able to be a part of so many guests' memories, and I can only hope they look back on those moments in their life with a smile.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
My main goal as an event planner runs like a wheel all stakeholders have to be maintained in order for everyone to move forward. My team is number one, I meet with my direct reports for one-on-one meetings bi-monthly to get a pulse on their pinch points, their wants, and needs. Second is the member/guest, what are they looking for? Ease of access, a certain theme, how to maintain their key expectations and deliver on time, on budget, and WOW them with the details. Lastly is the profit, I maintain all costs and receivables and make sure we are making money to keep everyone employed and the non-profit message at the forefront of our members' and guests' consciousness. If one of these stakeholders becomes heavier than the other, it leads to turnover, unhappy clients, and poor sales. It is my duty to maintain balance....or, as I like to call it, the best game of Whack-A-Mole ever!
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?
I worked at the University of Arizona as the Assistant Director of Event Planning through the pandemic, and when we went back to in-person events, the mood was...tentative. There is no going back to "All in Person" if there is information that needs to be shared, there is now and forevermore the need for digital attendance at events. I became much more tech-savvy, and this is now part of the package and questioning for each new client when gaining an event overview. Digital is always going to be represented to allow for remote viewing. Food service was another major shift, early return to events meant no shared or buffet service, which made dealing with dietary restrictions a little challenging. However, in the past year, I have noticed buffets are on the rise! While it may not make sense for all events, a buffet presentation is always a nice change of pace to try out new flavors. Returning in person is about connection, I think so much is gained when you can enjoy a conversation, break bread and look into someone's eyes and share an experience.
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 now representing the client and not the venue, I think it is vital to know your demographic, who are the people that are coming to this event? Does this space allow for what is needed in terms of access, audio/visual, or even the level of food and beverage service that is EXPECTED from your guests? You have to understand your guest fully in order to represent their needs to the venue or supplier. When in a venue, respect is of the utmost importance, they know the space better than you do...period. Trust them if they tell you what you are asking for might not work, but if you truly love where you are then ask them for their best ideas, what have they seen that worked well in their space? They want your event to succeed just as much as you do. Building solid relationships is key, and suppliers/venues can make or break an experience. Let them know upfront your expectations, your goals and ask them their opinion on how everyone can work together. It is up to them to make the sale, at the end of the day, if you aren't getting what you need, you have to find a compromise or a new supplier/venue.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
Working in the non-profit arena allows for the RFP process to shine, but that does not allow me to shirk my research responsibilities. I research each company I want to see a bid for either on LinkedIn, Facebook or in person. I try and attend as many events as possible to be on the cusp of what is new and innovative, and if I see something I like, I stalk them on ALL social platforms!! Sadly, budget is also key, my champagne taste and beer wallet can get in the way of reality, but I try to bring in high-end elements, when at all possible. Vendors and the relationship you have with them is key, we may not be able to do everything we want for all events, but finding the right personality and the right expertise in each avenue is about research before the decision.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
My biggest insights are twofold: Knowing the goal of an event is key, is it a celebration? Is it information sharing? You have to measure what matters, are you trying to gain sales or marketing value? Understanding this from the top down is really key to how the success of an event is perceived. Second, there is NO substitute for you being at your event, you must be there to see how it flows, what the hiccups are (there are always hiccups), and what the great achievements were experienced. Your team, your vendors, and your guests will look to you for answers, and you must show up for them.
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 must find out who your representative is, make it personal. Ask for their help, make your deadlines their deadlines, and create a connection. You must also come in with what you need quickly and succinctly. Knowing their turnaround is short, you need to have corrections and anything that is missing back to them as soon as possible. Lastly, be ready to course correct and make sure what is on your paperwork is actually what you have, if not, speak up. And have patience, this industry is just bouncing back, kind words go a long way.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Our demands for hotels are very high, we are constantly asking for additional space because our show is so very popular. I specifically look at pricing and try to question the rates for coming years if they seem excessive. There is no better time to ask for concession or add-in than during the contract phase, this is one of your only chances to ask for what you really need. Also, studying your guest's behavior on arrival/departure is key, you don't want to miss the mark on your numbers if you don't understand your guest's behavior.
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 industry, I think the first contact is key. As a client, I understand that hotels are busy, give me an expectation of when I will receive the RFP, and then stick to that. I will try and be as prepared as possible with details, and it is my expectation that what I prepared is reflected in my RFP or contract. It might be generational, but a good phone call can solve a lot of issues asking the right questions via phone can get the answer quicker and more efficiently than 5 emails. But...maybe I'm just old school!
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 digital meeting space, as I mentioned before, is key. The tech that comes with that participation is sometimes a bit costly onsite, but vital to viewing. If you can't interact in person, this is the next best thing.
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?
Go to events!! Venture out and see what is in your own backyard. If you are leading an event, find out your mirror market and go to one of their events. This industry is about building blocks and making the next event better than the one before. I think there is a beautiful pension for the theft of ideas in this industry that is celebrated and honored. Find out who catered and ask them to cater your event, contact the rental company that had the amazing entry set-up, and team up with the AV company that made that band sound amazing. Event planners want their vendors to flourish, and I will always talk shop with any other planner that wants to share ideas. This is a small world and an even smaller industry, make event planners and venue friends on social media like and share their posts. By being a guest, you become a better planner!
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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