Planners You Should Know - Valerie Bihet, VIBE Agency

Valerie Bihet, of the VIBE Agency, 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: Valerie Bihet

Company Name: VIBE Agency

Job Title: Director

Years of Experience: 27+

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
It all started when someone I knew asked me to be a hostess at their event. I wasn't available but told them I would find someone to come in my place. They increased the payment offer because they really wanted me to be there, but I didn't want to go back on my other commitment, so I focused on finding someone similar who would be friendly and solution-focused. That was the start of my first event business, a staffing agency, at age 21. The client turned out to be really happy with whom I sent over, and so I told them to let me know when they had more work like that so we could work together. That sparked the journey. Through that, I met people at an event who worked for Disney, and they recruited me to do events. That opened the door years later to contacts at Club Med, which led me to move from Paris to Miami. Once again, while I was at an event, someone asked what I would do if I had to design a specific event for their company. I sold them on the idea without intending to, and that became the beginning of what would be VIBE Agency designing and producing events as my own company.
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?
Differences: When we first went back to in-person, safety was the biggest priority. People didn't want to take a risk to have a big event, so we had much smaller attendance goals or even multiple small events rather than just one. Additionally, we had to contend with shorter attention spans for all attendees. So much time on Zoom and virtual had burned people out. Content design and sessions had to be rethought overall to ensure we could actually keep them paying attention. They also became much more excited to be in person. Before COVID, more people had attitudes like, “Oh, this is just another event to go to.” Afterward, they had an excitement to go to events, any events, just to get back to what had been missed for so long. Similarities: People still enjoy meeting and seeing each other face to face. They wanted to network and connect with each other in the same room.
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?

To make sure all the safety protocols had been addressed. The logistics behind the safety protocol is to make sure you know how to handle enforcing the COVID rules in place with testing, distancing, keeping things clean etc. We needed to find new vendors we had never needed to source before, like healthcare workers who were trained in how to do the testing properly and read results, and certified COVID teams to ensure we remained compliant with venue rules and overall safety guidelines.
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?)
For the last two years, I was focused on planning virtual and metaverse, so I had to set up all the processes & my teams. Now we are in full action mode and continuing to offer that as part of our overall services and event formats. It’s no longer just about in-person events like it had been pre-pandemic. Education is ongoing regarding the evolution of technology in the event industry. It’s continuing to improve and get new features, and capabilities added, so staying on top of that is important so we can educate our clients.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Yes, in the negotiations, you have to think about force majeure and where COVID falls in that. If they have to close, what will happen? How will your event be effective? Plus, you have to think about how many people will come to your event. We expect people to travel the same way they used to. So having the right room expectations and capacity is different than it had been. We have to negotiate even more with hotels. Our clients want to go back in person, but accounting for the rate changes and how many can be expected to attend is challenging.
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?
A lot of them have a lack of staff, which I understand, but it makes it harder for us to contract. They are very overwhelmed, and we don't have longer timelines for planning as we did before. So much is last minute request these days, and navigating that with hotels’ staffing shortages has been hard. During the contract phase, it's important to ask for any promotions or discounts you had previously received, or they may not be offered the way they had been pre-pandemic. Planners need to be very clear about what we want from them and what we can spend.
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 dove headfirst into the digital side of events. First, it was figuring out how to do virtual and shifting from event mode into TV producer mode. Then we moved on to hybrid, which some of our clients still want. Getting the right AV setup for recording onsite and being able to broadcast clearly, and with good focus, for the online audience is important. I saw the metaverse on the horizon, so I partnered with someone who had real estate in Decetraland so we could offer it to our clients as yet another way to engage with their audiences. While we have the ability to go back in person, that is no longer the only option. We are keeping hybrid, virtual, and metaverse as portions of our event portfolio too. Why wouldn't we? Instead of one event medium, we now have four. That’s good for everyone. As for specific tools, project management and team software like Asana, Clickup, and Monday are now crucial elements to working with remote teams, which hadn’t been as big of a thing before.
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 think it’s important to prioritize 20% of your time each week to be dedicated to education, whether that is through reading trade publications, attending webinars, or talking with other professionals to see how they are doing things to help each other. Try to push yourself to attend at least one big event annually for networking if your calendar cannot allow you to do more. Ideally, I would say one per quarter, but it gets hard with schedules and so many events being planned on shorter timelines these days.
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 w,orld. 

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