S.4 Ep.2: Creating a Unique Event Experience!

On this episode we bring in industry veteran Wendy Porter! She shares with us ways she has created experiences with guests that matter!

Tell us about you. 

So actually I fell into it like a lot of people do, I actually started marketing worked for Fingerhut, for 12 years. Then moved over to a publishing company was working with them, doing some expansion into the UK and some different cool projects with them. Then I got headhunted by United healthcare and they brought me in to do acquisition marketing for them. My first year they handed me this event and they said, your turn, you’re going to do it. It was a trade show, for a partner of United. We were the platinum sponsor of that event. So I just sort of figured that all out. 

I’ve got a gigantic folder from an admin who had done it the prior year, just had to sit down and sort of sift through the paperwork and figure it out. So started putting that all together and you know, looked at the boots and the first time I saw the booth I said, yep, we’re not doing that. So you got a new booth going. So started to develop those relationships with booth people and creative people and vendors that are involved in an event.Our first year, our trade show booth was 1200 square feet, so not super big. I ended up keeping that project. The plan was I was going to have it for two years. I would have an assistant that would be assisting me and then it would roll off over to her. Well that didn’t end up working out. 

When we tried to do the handoff, it didn’t go so well. So they brought it back and created a position for me, created a director of marketing and events position. I had the trade show and then they started adding more. 

So at this point where you like hiring people? 

Yeah, I had a team at the height of four employees and two contractors and then myself. The sponsorship booth I talked about at the beginning, 1200 square feet when we first started, at its height, it was 13,000 square feet, 80 foot semi trailer in it that looked tiny. 130 staff, including 30 executives and I was wrangling for three days of the show and after hours, VIP events and all of that. 

So you’re wrangling creative and vendors, and more… 

It was an eight month planning cycle for that show alone. It was a three day show. Took us three days to build it. Right. And then a day basically to tear it down. 

Did you redesign it every year? 

So we would actually parts of it. Every year there’d be new piece, parts that we would want to include based on the business and what was happening and the new products we were introducing. We would sit down every year with the designers, there were some fundamental pieces that stayed the same from year to year. 

What brought you to here now? 

In October of 2015 United had a downsizing event, so unfortunately our positions were eliminated. ARP got a new CEO and she decided not to prioritize that event anymore. So that disappeared and some other things had changes in the business, so they let the events team go at that point. Very disappointing and difficult, but I knew right away that I was going to start my own company. I knew 

instantly when this happened my next step is to start my own company. My old boss, who was the chief marketing officer of the company had called me that afternoon to check on me, he wanted to help me figure this all out. So I walked in his office and we sat down and he said, what are you thinking? I said, I think I’m starting my own company. And he sat back and he said, all right, I like that. I think you can do this. So it changed his perspective on who he was going to connect me to.He’s been a great supporter all the way through. 

Tell us about what are you doing now? 

I started Wendy Porter events. I got laid off mid October, by November I had Wendy Porter events up and running. Ironically one of my biggest clients was United healthcare. Six months later I was back doing stuff for them, and they continued to be a nice customer. Organically is a lot of leaders that have left United, they know me, they know my work. I’ve been able to support a lot of those leaders that are at other companies now. 

Tell me about this Bold thing. 

Right after I left United I was doing a lot of networking and sat down with somebody who was new to my network, and she happens to be a Minnesota outdoors expert. We started brainstorming. How can we take your expertise and my expertise and marry them given that the Superbowl was coming? This was a little over a year and a half maybe before the Superbowl, when we started brainstorming this. So the idea was, how can we find cool facilities where we can host business meetings and then get outside and experience the great Minnesota outdoors and have team building experiences outside. How can we marry those two things together? 

We started doing research, what were the different facilities in the twin cities that we could host meetings at, the different size ranges that we could host? What would couple with that that we could get outside. Each location had a different outdoor element to it. I put that all together, worked with my graphic designer, created a package, then I started shopping around. I was going out to the different sponsors that were coming to town, so thinking the Nike’s of the world, Gatorades. I had that list and worked my network to help me figure out, okay, who do you know that’s inside? What ultimately ended up happening was the host committee ended up learning about what I was doing and they really liked it. 

I went downtown, met with the host committee they actually pulled it underneath their brand, so they rebranded it bold North. I did use the word bold intentionally, but I defined it as brilliant outdoor learning destination, so it can live beyond Superbowl.They took it underneath their brand. So then it became Bold North Excursions and Meetings by Wendy Porter Events, and they marketed it. They were then marketing it directly to the sponsors, the 32 NFL clubs in town. They were marketing on my behalf. So that was good and bad in that I lost control of that part of it. 

What are your pet peeves? 

I think one of the biggest things is just people not really understanding our value. I think that’s a big challenge. Everything’s just done right, and people don’t take a step back and really look at it and go, okay, when we started, this was a concrete floor. There was nothing here, we had to build the whole thing and the process to do that. I just don’t think there’s a lot of respect or understanding for what goes into creating a really good event. If it’s perfect, then that means someone spent a lot of time working through all the details and making it perfect and that doesn’t just happen.There’s fires all the time and you’re back there dealing with it and figuring it out and nobody’s the wiser that that’s even happened. 

What do you think is the best way for someone to get experience? Where they can go, “I want to humble myself and I want to just learn?”

Apprentice get internships, get in there at that entry level events level if you can and start learning cause you get to learn by doing. Everybody has to be in that gopher role at some point to really learn it. The other thing I tell young folks is, MPI and some of the other associations are really valuable for younger people. 

Advice for newbies. 

I think it gets back to doing apprenticeships and things like that. Getting involved with people, volunteering. 

What kind of mantra do you repeat to yourself over and over again? 

This too shall pass. And I have had plenty of those experiences. I mean I could sit here all day and tell you guys things that have happened over the years and you do have to keep your cool cause stuff happens. It just does. You have to be ready for it. 

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