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: Valerie Rivir
Company Name: SolarWinds
Job Title: Sr. Manager, Events
Years of Experience: 20+
How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I was asked by Executive Leadership at a previous company (several decades ago) to lead the Sales Kick Off due to my project management skills, my creative ability to elevate events and my well received cross functional team building skills.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
Extensive project & budget management, risk mitigation, ROI deliver...Expected to be all knowing, all wise and authority on all subjects while delivering flawless execution, no matter what time or day of week!
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?
Pre Covid, there were so many options and not a lot of obstacles with staffing, venue availability, all costs associated with events, etc. Post Covid there was trepidation with potential attendees to travel, unique health, safety and testing requirements for attendees/staff, which all varied by city and state. Rising costs precipitated by shipping, storage, and staffing shortages quickly escalated. The similarity between the two was the basic human need for in person interactions. The level of engagement with in person events surpasses virtual events. Period.
Availability and costs. A creative approach to leveraging internal offices vs. venues was utilized as well as craftier negotiations with hoteliers.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
A lot of the determination originates from the budget we own and the specifications from stakeholders. Vendor reltionships are key....great vendors are able to suggest alternatives and options as well as work within your budget.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
For the last 10 years, EVERY year, the role of Event Manager has been ranked in top 10 (and sometimes top five) as most stressful, high pressure job. Why? Last minute changes, exhausting hours, negotiations all add into the mix. Best advice I received? When facing overwhelming odds, my late father would say, "Valerie, in five years you'll look back on this, and it just will be a bump in the road." Never lose your passion for this industry, friends, never.
Back up plan, back up plan, back up plan. If hotel A doesn't work out, have plan B, C and D ready. Also, kindness and empathy during negotiations goes a long way. We all want it to work out--sometimes the journey is not linear and zigs then zags.
Attrition is still a tough nut to crack post pandemic with waves of Covid variants raising travel concerns and impacting registrations. Often, negotiations will surround removing attrition charges, where possible, prior to signing contract.
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?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?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?
Offering options to enhance the event--often times hotels offer the appropriate ballroom or meeting room...I always appreciate it when hotelier suggests alternative locations on their property which have been successful, unique locations for other clients. I always seek to deliver memorable events and appreciate the partnership.
NO MORE PAPER handouts! We use a web platform to store all of our handouts, white papers, videos for the event and have a custom QR code for attendees to scan and "learn more." This ensures all assets are 100% updated and the cost savings to print and/or ship is amazing.
I'm a big fan of LinkedIn networks such as BizBash and others out there. Follow or connect with a planner whose work you admire for inspiration and education. Of course, if your schedule permits, going to event planning conferences is so very helpful to network and to see new activation ideas in person.