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: Gerilynn Marburger
Company Name: Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Job Title: Director, Global Events
Years of Experience: 25
How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I graduated with a degree in Marketing and Communications, so I knew I wanted to enter into some form of Marketing. I never realized how many facets of Marketing there were at the time. With my first couple of roles, I began to hone in on the areas I most enjoyed and those that aligned best with my unique skill set.
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 was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?
I will be honest - there was a lot of trepidation and hesitancy. So many uncertain variables - were you putting your customers and employees at risk, would people even attend, what kind of precautions and protocols would need to be implemented to ensure that attendees felt safe, what action should be taken if someone tests positive, do you install sanitization stations, provide masks, etc.? So many, many things went into planning and preparation - things in my wildest dreams I never imagined I would need to consider. Once the decision was made, it was business as usual with an event checklist - executing the usual tasks + planning for a hybrid version. I would honestly say that the first event back was probably 3x as much work as previous events because there were so many more variables to consider.
Everyone wanted to stay longer at hosted social events!!! It had been so long since they had connected with colleagues, they were not ready to leave after a two hour reception. We overcame it by serving food and beverage until everyone got their fill. Personally, it was a very welcome problem to have.
What is the top learning that you uncovered from the last two years that you’re implementing in your planning process today? (any other tips or tricks you want to share?)
Event planners always know, just having a Plan B is not sufficient. I have continuously operated with a Plan A-H. Since Covid, that has now become a Plan A-M! Another learning for me - as much as social platforms have kept us connected, educated, and engaged over the past couple of years, there is no substitute for human interaction. It is part of our physical and sociological makeup, and that isn't ever going to change.
Be patient. Put yourself in their shoes but also make clear to hotel staff that "you also have a job to do," and people rely on you to respond promptly. Work together, collaborate, and make sure you stay in constant communication. Out of sight, out of mind. Without regular check-ins, the hotel will quickly move on to the next group.
I have definitely increased regular communication. Before, you could always count on hotels to follow up with you (as the customer). Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Now, if you want to get your desired space, you need to keep following up.
I have always had fairly good luck with hotels. I try and use a reputable chain, whenever possible. I think hotels could accelerate their hiring process, with the goal of reaching pre-Covid levels of service.
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?
From 2020 through mid-2021, we embraced several new platforms - Teams, Zoom, Go to Webcast, On24, to name a few. All of these have solid offerings.
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?
Be curious, read a lot, and don't be afraid to go down a Google, LinkedIn, or TikTok rabbit hole. You will be amazed at what you find and the ideas it can spur. Be a mentor and resource to those entering the field. You can learn a lot from each. Accept random vendor appointment requests - you never know when you will uncover a jewel. Just be open to ideas and experiences.