Budget

Episode 15: How to Succeed as a Corporate Events Planner

Kelsey from Lynn David Events joins us to talk about her experience in corporate events. She shares her story getting her to the point of starting her own corporate event company.

 

 

Tell us about you.

 

I have been a corporate event planner for 13 years. I absolutely love it. I love partnering with organizations to bring their dream to reality.  I spent the last 8 years working for an amazing company, John Wiley and Sons publishing company. Its 215 years old. Thomas Jefferson was president when they opened their doors. I was able to manage 150 events a year, just me with them. I got a really well rounded education and experience. Everything from a 700 person conference all the way down to an 8 person board meeting. Runs the gamut of everything. I’ve taken what I learned from them and struck out on my own this year, and started my own event planning company (Lynn David Events). I named it after my children, Neva Lynn and Brooks David, my 3rd baby.

 

How do you become successful in corporate meetings?

 

I think what separates a novice event planner to one that will go the distance and succeed is understanding that as an event planner you have a responsibility to understand the corporate goals and objectives and how the events support those goals. Ways that you need to do that is really be apart of the leadership discussions don’t be shy to ask to sit in on meetings, the non confidential ones of course, ask questions. So many corporations hold the same conference every year or convention just because that’s what we do, that’s how we do it. But why? What are you trying to achieve? What is the overall corporate goal or objective that this one event is trying to satisfy? How can you change this event to make it better and better? What are you trying to get the attendees to walk away with?

 

How do you set yourself apart and how do you add value?

 

Once you can understand what the goals are and why you are holding these events, the executives will look at you in a different light. You’re not just executing on this event every year, you’re playing into their goals and objectives and they’ll see you as more of a team player for the company. Then you are able to have those strategic conversations and look as more of a strategist in the company. What’s the goal of the event and you can better allocate your budget to achieve that goal instead of googling it and saying “30% of your budget should be spent on food and beverage”. What’s the goal? Are you trying to elevate the event to be looked at as educational experience, playing in that realm, then you will want to spend more money on a quality keynote speaker that people will recognize. What if you are trying to launch a new product or elevate a new brand? Then you will want to spend more money on A/V and production to really make that that product or that brand come to life, really play up the colors of this brand. But you also need to know your audience right? So if your audience is a bunch of foodies you’re going to want to still maintain a very healthy budget for the food and beverage while you’re trying to elevate your brand. Or take brand elements and put it into the food and beverage, like putting the new logo kind of showcased on top of the cheesecake would be adorable like ways to achieve your objectives but also strategically spend money to do so.

 

I feel like I almost can remember, to like the day, the turning point in my career when I was stopped being looked at like a party planner “oh she’s an event manager, she’s strategic”.

 

How do you sell a keynote to your organization?

 

Bring it back to the overall goals and objectives. You gotta think the executives your leadership team they’re getting pressure from higher ups from the CEO from maybe a board to achieve these goals and objectives and if one of them is to really become a player in education space or to build attendance and the attendees really value content and education it is a drop in the bucket $100,000 for a keynote speaker that’s going to maximize attendance and really put yourself, the company,and the event as a major player in education or content that’s a drop in the bucket.

 

What else do you have?

 

I think one of the biggest tips I can give anybody starting off in the corporate event space is you really need to create mutually beneficial partnerships with suppliers and vendors, and I want to repeat mutually beneficial.  Because I feel like early on in your event planning career, you think the way you succeed is you negotiate the cost down as far as possible right? And you need to understand you want your partners to make money you want them to look at you like a partnership where they are really caring about the project and also making a profit on it so they’ll  want to work with you again. Having a partner is a one off you’re creating that long term relationship that this is what you do. You should interview suppliers whether A/V or production or what have you, that share the values that your organization does and somebody you want to be in the trenches with. Tell me one event planner that has been at it, at an event that didn’t have something go wrong, and the reason why they’re always  fine in the end, it’s because of your partnership. We’re in this together and we are succeeding together. You want to have someone you click with that’s going to also look at you like “I’m your partner and I’m excited about this event excited about the next hundred events we partner on”.

 

For new planners in the corporate realm, it’s a very  controversial topic among event planners but I believe you should be transparent about your budget to your partners. So many people think “but that’s my power. How can I negotiate, how can I get the price down, how can I get more for less?” You can’t have a good partnership unless you’re transparent, open, and honest about the budget and  the scope of the event. If you do that right away you’re already going to be in a better spot when the event actually happens because you’re going to get the quality you’re going to get the equipment that you need and you’re going to be within budget because the partner that you decided to work with at the beginning they signed up to be that budget.

 

What else do you have?

 

What I didn’t understand early on in my career which I would love just to make sure that all your listeners do, is not every corporate event  planner has a very clear career path outline for them by their organization. I mean maybe you’re blessed to be working in an advanced division for a company where there’s  40 other event planners and maybe it’s a little bit more clear where you can go in the next 5-10 years, but I didn’t have that. I was really the only one corporate event planner. My advice is you need to know that you can look outside the organization for professional development, opportunities, education for networking and you’re not on an island.  You’re able to turn to organizations like MPI or ILEA or what have you, to seek out professional development to network with your peers. It’s an incredibly giving industry like you’re saying with you know somebody that might be a competitor as an independent planner I have been amazed by how all the other independent planners in the Twin Cities are so willing to help.

 

I think breaking out of the walls of your office exposes you to so many things in the industry because you know if you’re doing the same 5-10 events every year and you really are kind of craving new ideas, you’re craving like new technology going to industry events going to these annual association meetings and talking to other planners about what they’re doing, it sparks so many great ideas and not only introduces you to new people like new suppliers it can maybe bring in technology for you. You can also talk to people openly. I encourage people to not get stuck in the walls of their cubicle. The industry is very giving and you can seek elsewhere for networking and education.

 

What else have you got?

 

Also breaking away from your office, getting out of your typical 9-to-5. What’s incredibly important and if you’re a planner you understand that there’s events always held by different venues our national sales manager, Hilton, Loews, Omni, Independence they all hold events and invite planners to them over the course of the year and I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities because the whether again you’re you are in a division of 40 event planners, or you are a team of one what’s incredibly important is to stay up to speed on the other different venue options out there and hotels are changing every day.  They’re changing flags, they’re renovating, there’s new hotel popping up, there’s new venue a special event spaces in every market. So many times I’ve had someone from the corporate leadership team come to me and is like “we wanna hold an event in three months, we wanna wanna have it in Nashville”. You don’t always have time to hop on a plane is scheduled to be great no I got a handful of properties that I have on the phone with them.

 

Large corporations often have event teams and planners inside, how often are those people also contracting external planners to plan things?

 

It’s actually becoming more and more common.  So as you know event plans for a year or budgets they ebb and flow from year to year based on the plans and those goals and objectives for the corporate organization so you don’t always want to hire another head to be a full-time employee.  We don’t know if we’re going to need that additional person the next year, so a lot of times they’ll save one or two head counts on their team to contract out other planners like myself and other amazing ones in the Twin Cities. But what’s great, is good quality independent planners, can be an extension of your team in any capacity if you need that ,if you need them to understand the product the clients the attendees whatever so they can actually interact with your guest they can do that, if you need them just behind the scenes doing the grunt-work that frees up others on the team they can do that, there are resources out there.

 

How do you choose the right independant planner?

 

I think really going out and being a part of these associations and networking like we  discussed before. I think that’s incredibly important because you get to know who is in your industry and as we were talking about everyone has their niche, right, like what they’re really good at, what they focus on, what they really excel at, what they bring to the table. You can get to know someone and see if you have a need and you have someone as a resource who would fit what you’re looking for.  

 

As you gain experience in this industry, you can’t do it all, and you don’t want to do it all. As you get more experience you become more self aware and figure out what your passion is and what drives you, you’re able to focus on that one area that you can bring purpose to.

 

What other tips do you have for being great and succeeding as a corporate events planner.

 

As corporate you have to think every company has a brand identity and that needs to be brought to life and consistent through the events. If you went to a target event and it didn’t have red you’d be like who is this?  Everyone has a brand a core identity, brand personality, but also quality and consistency needs to be in events.

 

 

You can contact Kelsey at kelsey@lynndavidevents.com

 

Meeting Minds by EideCom

Episode 4: Mind Blowing Event Design

In our fourth episode, we meet with Becky Harris & Lauren Segelbaum of Event Lab. Since 1994, Event Lab has been your one-stop-shop for everything event decor, event planning, and event management. Whether hosting a small social event, planning a wedding, or getting ready for the biggest corporate meeting of your life, they will make your event unforgettable! Becky, the Founder/Owner, & Lauren, their Senior Event Specialist, share where to get the biggest impact for your budget (hint: it’s not silk flowers!), and other tips/tricks for giving your attendees a memorable experience!

Contact: BHarris@eventlab.net, LSegelbaum@eventlab.net, or for more information go to www.eventlab.net

HOW DID YOU START THE BUSINESS?

Pretty much by accident at home. I was doing a lot of volunteer events and meeting people in the industry. Pretty soon I turned it into an opportunity to make money. I was doing everything, but owned nothing. Pretty soon I had 50 glass vases in my garage and then props, big and small. So I had to get a warehouse space and some people!

WHERE ARE YOU AT TODAY?

BECKY: Today, we are one of the largest event companies in Minnesota. We have probably 18-20 full time staff members, lots of part time staff, and our event staff that are all independent contractors. And today I am part owner. I sold part of the business, because I didn’t want to stay up at 3 am worrying about everything.

LAUREN: I’ve been there for almost 12 years and have been in the business for almost 22 years. I was burnt out in my old career and decided to become an event planner. I have worked for non-profits, another agency, and then I started at EventLab part time and now 12 years later I am the full time Senior Event Specialist! We bring all the pieces together for the host to make the event as seamless as possible, so they can be a guest and be thankful at the end of the night that they were able to enjoy their event.

HOW DO YOU GET THE CLIENT’S VISION AND TURN IT INTO REALITY?

Every one of our Events Specialist is creative. When we interview for new event staff, you have to have a really strong right and left brain. Be creative and logistically capable to do the job with excellence.

HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THE VISION?

A lot of the time they have some idea, whether it’s a theme or something like that, and then we ask the questions. Like, what has worked and what hasn’t? What’s your goal? What’s the profile of your attendees? Often when we get a theme, it can be subjective. So we have to ask the question, “What does this mean to you?” So we help them find their vision and then we transform a room based off that vision. If budget is an issue, then we ask, “Where do you want to have your ‘wows’?” At EventLab we all have our skill set. Some of us work better with big spaces or tabletops, but we aren’t just a design and decor company. We do a lot of off-property interactive experiences. People do not want to just sit anymore. Every dinner has to have an interactive piece, like auctions or wine-pulls, mystery boxes, etc. Entertainment is key. Not just a band on the stage but conversation entertainment, roaming entertainment, outside or in the pre-function entertainment.

SO HOW DO YOU HELP CLIENTS WHO DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT?

We send renderings all the time! People are way more visual these days. So instead of sending lengthy proposals, we are using mood-boards using Photoshop. Like we do custom bars, but everyone wants to see what that would look like with their logo and branding, so we send that over to the Photoshop team, then to the client, then back to the Photoshop team to edit it.

IF SOMEONE CAME TO YOU SAYING, “I HAVE A LIMITED BUDGET. WHERE SHOULD I PUT MY MONEY FOR THE BIGGEST ‘WOW’?” WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

That is an excellent question. It depends on what their goal is for the event. It could be the entrance or the stage. If they’re going to be watching a show or be in a theatre style setting, it would have to be on the stage.

WHAT ARE SOMETHINGS PEOPLE CAN DO TO GET THE BEST BANG FOR THEIR BUCK?

I think that is where you guys come in (EideCom). Lighting has taken on a whole new trend. Lighting elements and all you can do with it is amazing. The one thing I always notice at an event is how great (or bad) the lighting is. Whether it is patterns moving on the wall or it is stagnant. That is probably going to be the best bang for your buck.

CHARLES’ TIP: When we are doing an auction, we make the room super dark while the auctioneer is talking, so it requires the attention to go right to the stage, but when it is time to start the bidding the room lights up and it gets people excited. We create lighting cues.

WHAT ABOUT FLORAL? PEOPLE EITHER SEE IT AS A NECESSITY OR THE LEAST IMPORTANT THING ON THE LIST.

It depends on the demographic of the group and who is spearheading the event. There are some planners that love floral and we love planners that love floral. Floral has changed. I think people are wanting more natural elements, like just picked or garden-style flowers. MYTH: You are not saving money by purchasing silk flowers. We use silks when things are high, like if it is from the ceiling or up on a column, because you get a bigger bang and you don’t have to worry about wilting or drooping. An event should satisfy all of your senses. One client of mine wants a wellness room, a place for her attendees to relax. So we are bringing in massage therapists, we have massage chairs in our inventory, and lots of eucalyptus. Very spa like. We are a jack of all trades. We do hospitality suites, transportation, and so much more.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO KEEP AND WHAT TO THROW AWAY AFTER AN EVENT?

We reuse everything! Say you wanted a carnival themed party, we already have the tents, the custom toppers, etc. We make sure everything looks like we just bought it. We have a lot of furniture, that is a trend that is not going away. People now what creative alternative seating. We are constantly getting new stuff, and having to remove stuff. Our warehouse is a revolving door. Sometimes we try to see if another company wants it, sometimes it goes Craigslist, sometimes people just take it home! We’ve noticed new trends in furniture, where it is no longer soft, white, lounge pieces, but Mid-Century Modern styled. We have to constantly be turning over our inventory at our warehouse in Eden Prairie.

WHEN IT COMES TO BUYING NEW STUFF, DO YOU BUY FOR A SPECIFIC OCCASION OR WHEN YOU SEE SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NEED IN THE FUTURE?

Usually for a specific reason, but lately we’ve been buying in bulk if it is something we notice we are using over and over again. The warehouse is only so big so we have to be mindful of that always.

WHEN IT COMES TO DECOR, WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THE BEST BANG FOR YOUR MONEY?

Since we inventory so many linens, it is easy to do that. But it really depends on your budget and what you think is important. Some people are fine with hotel linens and others want that to be the statement piece. I think color really makes an impact, whether that is in your linens or chair covers or whatever.

COULD YOU GUESS HOW MANY LINENS YOU HAVE?

Thousands. Every color of the rainbow and in several different sizes. If we don’t have the color or shade you are looking for, we will find it.

HOW ARE YOU BALANCING BUDGETS?

Everyone has a budget. So we try to figure out their range. We don’t come in and say here is the fee for us to produce your event. We bring in a mood board and share the price. Then they can say, “oh I don’t want chair covers” or “I like this but can we do it for less?” And that is hard. Sasha Souza says, “It’s not my responsibility to pay for your event,” and that is very true. We are in an industry that brings a bit of a sticker shock for people who haven’t done this before, like weddings, but most corporate clients have a pretty good understanding of costs. The best thing about working with an event professional is that the client might have a vision but we can work through all the logistics. You need to work with professionals that know how to bring in the right elements and still achieve the vision you have.

DO YOU FEEL LIKE IF A CLIENT COMES TO YOU WITH A BUDGET, YOU CAN BETTER HELP THEM MAKE THE MOST OF IT?

Definitely. Since we have so much in our inventory and we have a great selection of big and small props, we are able to adjust, improvise, and even throw a few things in here and there to make the event better than they expected.

HOW DO YOU HAVE THAT CONVERSATION WITH A CLIENT THAT DOESN’T UNDERSTAND BUDGET OR COSTS?

It goes back to, “Where do you want to create your ‘wow’?” We could do a great stage design or entrance and use the hotel linens or whatever. But we have to be honest and tell them we can’t do it all with that budget, so find out what’s important to you. We try to educate in the most polite way possible, but sometimes we do have to be blunt.

DO YOU EVER HAVE CLIENTS YOU THOUGHT HAD A GRAND BUDGET AND THEN COME TO FIND OUT THEY DON’T?

Oh yeah. Especially with the big conventions that come to town. They used to have great budgets, but now they are cutting back a lot. I’m surprised by how little the big Fortune 500 companies here in Minneapolis will spend locally.

HAVE YOU EVER HAD SOMEONE COME TO YOU SAYING, “I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH IT COSTS, MAKE IT AWESOME”?

Yes! It was at the International Market Square building for an audiologist conference and the more I’d suggest, the more they loved it! They wanted every room to be decorated and tons of entertainment. Two different bands, a lady swinging from the ceiling, a gospel choir, and more!

WHEN IT COMES TO THE FUTURE OF EVENTLAB, WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?

That’s a good question. We have goals of growing, but we aren’t aggressive about it. We are looking to do quality, fabulous events for each company. Each client gets an individual design team working with them. So we want slow growth with quality. We have a team we are really proud of, from the delivery staff to our President of the company. We are very invested in our clients and we care about who is entering into our client’s business. Whether we are entering Aria or the Hilton hotel, that is someone’s home and we want to be respectful if it.

FINALLY, WHERE CAN PEOPLE FIND YOU?

Our website is www.eventlab.net and we are on Instagram, @eventlabweddings and @eventlabmn. We are @eventlabmn on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, but we do work all over the United States.

 

Meeting Minds by EideCom