Planners You Should Know - Chase Brunson, Affinipay

Chase Brunson, of Affinipay, discusses how he honed his 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: Chase Brunson, CMP

Company Name: Affinipay

Job Title: Internal Events Manager

Years of Experience: 8

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I started in transportation events while attending Texas A&M University. I was hooked from my first event, but didn't want to stay in transportation so my first job after graduation was with a CPA society. Since then, I've been a nonprofit association event manager for most of my career but now find myself in a corporate role. Event management was not a career I had considered or really even knew existed until I accidentally fell into the industry and now I can't imagine doing anything else.
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 found planning my first in-person event post-pandemic to be an exciting new challenge. The pandemic added a whole new layer to risk management that most of us probably never expected to deal with in our lifetimes. Suddenly attendees cared how close they would be sitting to others, plated meals became the preference over buffets, and attendees expected a virtual option. Although some of those fears and questions are no longer thought much about, I think COVID showed our industry that we should have been paying closer attention to health risks at our meetings all this time as not just COVID can spread when we meet close together. Now, I keep hand sanitizing stations at several places during an event such as the registration desk and at all F&B stations and tables when feasible. Adding a virtual component to all events is now a necessary feature I believe and makes our events extremely accessible to many attendees that we weren't accommodating even pre-pandemic.
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?

Convincing attendees to come back to networking in-person has by-far been my biggest challenge that I still encounter almost daily. I think we're all walking a fine line between making an accessible and safe event for those that want to attend in person but also creating a great online experience for those that aren't able or don't want to risk mingling in public still. To mitigate this issue, I send out all available information so that attendees can make their own personal choice on whether attendance is right for them - information on vaccination requirements, masking, sanitizing and cleaning standards, schedule (i.e. are they sitting in a lecture vs. heavy mingling) and estimated attendance vs venue capacity are all important factors for those debating attending an event still.
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?)
I think that all events and meetings should have a virtual component. It bolsters attendance because those that want to come in person are still going to come because they value that experience and face to face learning and networking. But there are others that will never attend in person for a number of reasons so when we miss that virtual component, we're missing an entire market segment.
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?
It might seem annoying to us but I can't stress enough how important following up with a hotel that you haven't heard from in about 72 hours from a first reach is. Not only are hotels and event jobs in general still short staffed but we're also in a place of heavy job reshuffling so the sales manager that received your RFP on Monday might find a new job by Wednesday. Hotels want your business so there are very few reasons they don't get back to you. Even if they don't have the space or meet your needs they should still follow up as they hope to grab you for a future event so if you're getting crickets, continue following up. Sometimes it's much easier just to call and ask to speak with the sales/events departments so that you know your emails aren't getting lost.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
As we begin 2023 my RFPs aren't much different than they were pre-March 2020. However, for the last 3 years my RFPs were sent requesting much more space than an event would usually call for. I believe the biggest difference for me as we enter 2023 is that I no longer let RFPs sit for more than about 72 hours. I used to allow additional time for RFP responses but there's still so much competition for sought after venues and dates from 3 years of cancellations and reschedules that I know if I want a particular date pattern I need to snag it as soon as possible. I still find that hotels contact me first after an RFP most of the time, but I have had to nudge a few here and there.
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?
I was a convention services manager for a hotel as COVID started so I can look at this from the inside. I think the biggest thing that hotels can do for planners is to stop over-selling the capacity of their space - it was very frustrating telling planners as the CSM that I couldn't fit the number of people in our space the sales manager promised would work. And I've dealt with that on the planning side as well. Stopping this practice is so important as we enter this time where everyone is a little more risk adverse to being close to each other in crowded places. When looking at capacity numbers from a hotel fact sheet, I typically remove 10-20% off their numbers to be safe and if I'm really unsure I will ask for room dimensions and use a room diagraming program.
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?
I have really enjoyed researching and learning more about digital production during this time. I'm now able to set up self contained streaming set-ups on budgets ranging from under $500 to over $10k. This has rounded me out as an event manager because I'm able to trouble shoot many AV problems on my own now. I've also learned so many tips and tricks to engaging virtual participants in a live event that pre-pandemic would usually feel like they were missing out. I highly recommend one of our own's book, Engaging Virtual Meetings by John Chen for those that are wanting to get a leg up in the virtual world.
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?
Please, please, PLEASE join an industry association and actually get involved with it - don't just use it as a mark on your resume. I assure you a membership in one of these organizations will be one of the best tools you can have as you progress through your career. Most offer continuing education credits, networking, industry specific job boards, and leadership opportunities. I have learned just as much, maybe more, from my time as a board member for MPI and LGBT MPA (I'm also a member of PCMA) as I have in my 9-5. There's also many certifications, certificates, and classes that can help you further your career offered or supplemented by these organizations - including financial aid like scholarships.

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. 

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