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: Stephanie Deo
Company Name: FourKites
Job Title: Senior Event Manager
Years of Experience: 6
How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
As I found my way into different marketing roles, I always gravitated towards helping the events team with different tasks, until it completely took up 100% of my time. The event world not only completely fulfills my right-brained need for creativity, but it hones my type-a obsessive organizational skills that this job requires to be successful.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
Despite having only one "official role," any event planner can attest that we end up playing so many different roles throughout an event's lifecycle. This can range from promotion and registration flows, securing the perfect event space and hotel block, working internally with finance, legal, and senior leadership to align on event goals and budgets, to thinking about catering, entertainment, speakers, agenda, seating charts, AV….the list truly never ends. My role is to make sure every attendee has a great experience from the moment they hear about the event and hit that ‘register’ button, through receiving that ‘thank you for attending email,’ and everything in between.
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?
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?
One thing is for sure, I definitely did NOT pay as much attention to the force majure clause as I do now. But in all seriousness, I think our level of transparency in our planning process has increased. We do our best to let people know exactly what to expect, as far in advance as possible. We will let them know approximately how many people will be in attendance and any precautions we are taking for that event that may impact their travel/attendance.
During Covid, we had to cancel quite a few of our standing contracts with hotels, and we are finally getting back into the full swing of our major annual in-person events. But with that, we are hopping into a very compressed market for a large attendee base. We have had to send out more RFPs and be more flexible with our dates than we ever have before. I’ve definitely learned that you might have to give a little and be creative with your layout and/or agenda to make a space work in a way you may not have thought possible before.
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 am a big proponent of getting multiple bids for almost everything I source. The events world is a competitive marketplace, and taking the time to send out RFPs, meet with each potential vendor to learn about their offerings, and do a competitive analysis is always beneficial to your bottom line and can ultimately elevate your program with enough due diligence.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
I think my best piece of advice would be to roll with whatever is thrown at you and make it work. There is always some type of solution to every problem, no matter what it is. You have to be able to keep a smile on your face and work through what options b, c, d, and e are…and if you’re lucky, you’ve already had a few of them locked down in your contingency planning. But going into an event knowing something with inevitably go wrong is half the battle and will ultimately set you up for success.
Be specific. Give them as much detail about your program upfront as possible. This will allow the hotel to see your vision and accommodate as many requests as possible. This is much harder to do later on in the process.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
We are more aware of cancellation terms in our agreements, and we look for more flexibility in negotiating our room blocks and attrition since we are still in a bit of an unstable marketplace.
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?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 prefer to work with hotels that keep a constant and clear line of communication open during the RFP and contracting process. At my company, a contract has to go through multiple departments, all requiring different things from every hotel, and it is essential that communication lines are open & responsive so that the process doesn’t take months on end.
As far as education goes, there are so many resources out there to help planners learn and grow in their careers. I am currently studying for my CMP, and have leveraged online study groups to help grow my knowledge and skills from other planners who also want to grow in their careers. I also recently joined PCMA and hope to get more connected to their local chapter soon! And lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t also give LinkedIn a shoutout. I will shamelessly follow event professionals that I admire, and I consistently cheer them on from the sidelines while soaking in tidbits of information from their posts. Don’t be afraid to make those connections and follow those business influencers.