Planners You Should Know - Tiffany Ellin Kohl, Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD)

Tiffany Ellin Kohl, of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), 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: Tiffany Ellin Kohl

Company Name: Building Industry and Land Development Association

Job Title: Director, Membership & Events

Years of Experience: 15

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
Like many, I fell into it. I wasn't aware that event planning was even a profession! I worked for the association when they needed an event coordinator that would remain long-term. I loved planning and organizing, and it seems a natural fit. The CEO at the time recognized my desire for career growth and took the risk to promote me from within the company. It was a brave move as I had no formal education in event planning.
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'll focus on our first large-scale event. Our first "in-person" was a golf tournament, and the adjustments were minor beyond our food vendors' maintaining Covid safety protocols. The only adjustment was individual lunches and tee times. I want to focus on our first large-scale event, our Awards Gala. Pre-Covid, this was an event for 1300 guests. Our members love to be together; there is a substantial decibel increase that our AV team needs to account for in their audio plan! With any 'Oscar-esque' event, there remained assigned seating, extremely detailed and AV intense run of show, and the juggling of guest food requirements. All this remained the same.
In October 2021, local provincial regulations required we cut our guest attendance in half. Strict check-in and vaccination protocols also had to be followed, and guests had mandatory mask requirements when they were not seated at their tables. Our mission was clear - our members' health and safety came first, which meant more communication about what the evening entailed and their duty to their colleagues' health by following the event's rules. These regulations necessitated hiring an additional event team for the check-in, planning an outdoor reception to permit physical distancing (which we had never executed at this event before), timed photo trophy pick-ups for our 'reception winners', and clear onstage photo protocols.Additional health and safety needs, another onsite event team, and reduced seat sales created extra budgetary pressure.I'm delighted that our BILD team could deliver not just a SAFE event but one that our industry thoroughly enjoyed.
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?

Our number one challenge was our event healthy & safety regulations kept changing. Its solution was simple: communicate, communicate, communicate. Three months before the event date, we discussed as a team what our approach and communication to our members would be and discussed it monthly and then weekly. Our SVP of Communications ensured we had the most up-to-date understanding of provincial and local requirements. The onsite plan didn't change drastically, but we continued to communicate to sponsors, presenters, and attendees what was needed from all to have a successful evening. We had several internal meetings as a team (as well as with our additional onsite event team) to ensure everyone understood the check-in process and what was to be executed onsite.
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?)
Don't be shy about sharing your event plans with others in your organization beyond your immediate team. They often have great ideas you can implement to improve your event. Not that this is top learning from the last two years, but more of a philosophy: the venue staff, AV crew, photographer, anyone and everyone who works your event is your PARTNER, and we all sink or swim. As the convener, your role is to ensure expectations are clearly expressed and understood and keep communication lines open. Especially with a large show, bring vendors on board early in your planning, and gain from their experience to make your event the best it can be. The last lesson is that there is no such thing as overcommunicating.
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?
Form relationships with the key sales managers at each property. Know how best to reach them quickly. If that isn't possible, be as accurate as possible about what you need from your venue upfront.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
I insist on force majeure clauses that include pandemic/epidemic references.
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?
Don't take weeks to respond if you do/don't have the date available. The longer a property takes to respond, the more likely I have already moved on. Be precise about what you can offer.
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?
My team is remote. In addition to zoom, we're implementing online dashboards so we can keep meetings focused on issues rather than 'task updates'.
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 connect and follow many planners/firms on LinkedIn. It would be great to have a forum to 'ask anything'. In the association space, it can be hard to be creative with corporate meetings.

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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