Planners You Should Know - Lorelei Mitrani, Prevent Cancer Foundation

Lorelei Mitrani, of Prevent Cancer Foundation, 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: Lorelei Mitrani

Company Name: Prevent Cancer Foundation

Job Title: Senior Director, Special Events and Major Gifts

Years of Experience: 9

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I have a background in theatre and the arts and have always been drawn to creative endeavors. In college, I did a bit of everything as part of my theatre major (set design, costume design, acting, directing, and stage management) but ultimately decided to focus most heavily on directing and stage managing, which I think have a lot of translatable skill sets to planning events. My second full-time job out of college was at a for-profit association management and event planning company where I was primarily working on conference planning for non-profit associations. I found this to be a great way to build upon the skills I already had in a way that was both engaging and fulfilling and have continued my pursuit of work in the events industry from that point forward.
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?
Our first in-person event back was the 2021 Prevent Cancer Annual Gala. This is an 800-1000 person event each year. I think the biggest change outside of all of the added safety precautions and updated layout was the need to be more flexible on all of our planning timelines. We ended up shifting the event date from May to September and then to December (2021), and then the 2022 event happened in September, so we had a much longer planning cycle followed by a much shorter planning cycle. In 2021 we also had to be prepared for the possibility that things would need to go virtual again so there were points where we were planning for two vastly different versions of the same event. This need for flexibility was also an impetus in moving our costly printed invitations to be entirely digital which we have kept going this year and intend to continue. One great thing is that our fundraising for the event never had any significant dips, we saw similar fundraising numbers for the virtual event in 2020 to what we had in 2019 and have had record-breaking fundraising numbers in 2021 and 2022. I think part of that success has been through allowing the changes that had to be made to give us permission to rethink what other changes could be made to improve the event experience overall.
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?

Our Dec. 1, 2021 gala was one of the first big indoor fundraising events in DC "post-pandemic" so I think there was a lot of uncertainty and there was also a very strong desire from guests to get back out there and connect. So striking the balance of what we can do to make the event as safe as possible but also as enjoyable as possible was a tricky one. There were some added expenses to making that happen, but they were absolutely worth it when it comes to the successful outcomes of that event.
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?)
People are by far the most important resource in events and having a strong team of staff, volunteers, and vendor partners makes all the difference in the success of an event, especially in the last few years. With all of the changes and uncertainty I can't express enough how vital it was to have vendors who knew the event well and were willing to be flexible with us on the staff side, our team is small but mighty and has been highly adaptable. No matter how good you are at your job as an event planner, nobody can do it all on their own. One other thing I want to make sure I touch on is work-life balance and personal wellness. the last few years have been mentally stressful for most of us and working from home more often has many great advantages but also its own stressors. I think not letting your personal health fall by the wayside in busy and stressful times is incredibly important and helps you to maintain a high-quality level of your work. I am very thankful that the Prevent Cancer Foundation offers a company culture that keeps its employees wellness in mind. Taking control and ownership over our health/wellness allows us to live the mission - Things like getting your yearly screenings and doctor's appointments back on the books (you can see what screenings you might be missing here or take our quick quiz or keeping preventative wellness in mind to keep our bodies and minds healthy (check out our guide to preventing cancer here
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?
In my current role, I don't do a whole lot of work with hotels, but when I did more RFP work, I definitely found having a solid understanding at the beginning of the process of what your need to have specs vs. nice to have specs are for a venue (and where you are willing to compromise) is helpful for being able to cast a wider net while still making sure your needs are taken care of. I also think having some good pre-existing relationships with sales reps at the larger chains who can help you figure out which hotels in that network would be the best fit and get your request seen quickly vs. possibly waiting around and being rejected is super helpful.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
I think the big change for our organization is more along the lines of whether an event needs to be done in-person at all or whether a virtual or hybrid format is better overall for any particular event. That and more intense reviews and revisions of contract clauses related to cancellations, rescheduling, force majeure, etc.
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 think my favorite thing is a relatively simple one, I purchased some mail merge extension software (under $50) that works with word and outlook and allows me to send out large personalized emails directly from my outlook account where I can now add multiple attachments, CC additional recipients, customize subject lines, etc. It has been a big time saver for me.
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?
There are so many free opportunities out there for professional development that there is no reason not to take advantage of them from online webinars and conferences to blogs and articles there is a ton out there if you go looking. There are networking opportunities here too, they might not be quite the same as what you would get in person, but it doesn't make those relationships less valuable.
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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