MM: How did you prepare for your current job?
KKR: I attended IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis) and graduated from the TCEM (Tourism Conventions Event Management) program. In this urban setting I was able to learn from industry professionals with real life experiences, not just textbooks. I also volunteered for major events and served on meeting planning organization committees. After graduating, I held three separate positions each for a year before joining the Raybourn Group.
KKR: I will have handled 26 location association industry events and five national/international conferences and trade shows and two regional education seminars. I only handle the conferences and seminars until the contract is signed.
MM: Briefly explain the role of your organization in the industry and what you do.
KKR: We are an association management company working with associations so the process is slightly different than that of a captive association or corporation. The processes begin with me as I work to improve relationships with existing vendors like hotel chains and CVBs and also create new relationships. I analyze the location history for five clients and based on that and attendee satisfaction with a brand or location I work to develop a plan for future event host cities or venues. I make recommendations to executives and boards of directors and present a short slate of cities and proceed with the RFP process and evaluation followed by a site visit prior to signing a contract. Then the planning begins. We then market the event, plan the logistics, work with vendors, and manage registration and a host of other event aspects. We also manage all onsite logistics with the client’s team of assigned staff. Finally we wrap up with evaluation of the host city, venue and conference content.
MM: There are obviously many actions in your process. What do you see as the biggest challenge and what solutions have you created?
KKR: Prompt and effective communication with hotel staff is a challenge because in recent years hotel staff sizes have dwindled, putting a lot on their sales and service teams. To resolve or minimize communication issues I try to maximize my effort with sending as many needs and questions in one email communication and send this email on the same day each week.
MM: Anything else?
KKR: Yes. I ask the sales person or customer service manager how they like to communicate and when to agree on method and timing. I also like to address due dates and timelines early on to be proactive in getting them information to save a few emails and phone calls. Finally, I always create a detailed event resume to help the hotel staff understand the group and their needs.
MM: What are the key factors in achieving total customer satisfaction for you?
KKR: There are three. Personalized service including, hand written notes, addressing people by name and helping members achieve professional and personal goals. Genuine service where I learn about those that I serve, even on a personal level so I can connect with them and help them reach their goals, while building loyalty and trust. And, responsive service, where I get back to people promptly and solve their issues or problems effectively.
MM: What added value services or extra things have you done to get groups completely satisfied with your planning?
KKR: My quote to live by is from Thomas Jefferson, “Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” I use this quote by thinking on my feet at all times while remaining calm and providing creative solutions. Doing so has instantly converted customers to fans.
MM: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from your customer group?
KKR: That I should always learn as much as I teach.
MM: How has the industry changed in the past three years?
KKR: I am happy to report that professionals with a degree in meeting planning are being recognized as professionals, which is positive for the industry and those graduating from those programs. And, budgets are tighter. I think that is a good thing because it makes all focus on what the meeting is about rather than how big the ice sculpture is. Anyone can plan a great event with a limitless budget, but a real planner shines when there is little to no budget.
MM: What do you see as the future of meetings and what trends are emerging?
KKR: Most planners I know are positive about the future of meetings. A webinar or social media will never replace the need to be around like-minded individuals. Open source style meetings are very compelling because allowing attendees to drive content, format and flow gives them ownership, which is powerful and keeps them coming back. Our organization is looking at all avenues that provide education, peer-to-peer networking and meaningful relationships.
MM: What advice would you give to those new to the profession?
KKR: I would say work hard. In this industry the planner is never the star. Instead, the planner is the person who gets it done, and the harder one works the more one gets noticed. The best planners are those that remember that the event is never about them. It is always about the guests or attendees. In addition to working hard, negotiation skills are imperative. Every contract is a dance and if you do not know the steps, you will lose. Also, become a professional networker by creating meaningful relationships with industry leaders. Lastly, wear comfortable shoes. That speaks for itself.
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