• Meet Teresa Cox, CMP
• Saving an event fail
• Making an “experience” for her attendees
Teresa Cox, CMP is the Events and Administrative Supervisor at DuPont Pioneer. Her role and responsibilities in the meetings and events industry have grown significantly from when she first became a dishwasher at a local restaurant and started her path to meeting planning. Teresa is a strong supporter of the meeting/events industry, volunteering for MPI (Meeting Planners International) Heartland chapter and currently taking on the role of their Vice President of Communications.
Midwest Meetings: What was your first experience with the meetings/events industry?
Teresa Cox: I have a lot of different experiences throughout life that have led me down this path (helping mom plan and execute
family wedding/baby showers, restaurant experience throughout high school and college), but I would have to say my fi rst true experience in the meetings/events industry was in the banquets/ catering department at the Des Moines Marriott in 2002. I learned so much from my Marriott mentors about event design, room setup, square footage needs, AV set-up, setting up buffets, food and beverage pairings, managing a team, and many, many more skills… that when I started to study for my CMP, I could relate back many times to events from my Marriott days.
MM: Tell us about your job(s).
TC: Pioneer. This department helps support the outside field sales teams and sales reps in the state of Iowa, as well as our PROaccess affiliate companies throughout the US. I have multiple hats that I wear in this role. On the administrative side, I manage a team of four administrative specialists/assistants, assisting and guiding them on their roles and events, as well as supporting our business director and human resources functions. I assist in all onboarding and separations of employees for our department, also helping with interns and our fleet vehicles. I am the “go to” (or mother hen) of the business unit. On the planner side, I plan the large grower/customer meetings, sales rep meetings and employee meetings for the business unit, and periodically a smaller scale incentive trip with our marketing team. Each year is different, but I average between 10-15 large events a year. On the books so far for 2016 are three meetings around 100 attendees, eight meetings with around 300 attendees, and one meeting with around 600 attendees.
MM: What is your favorite part of your job?
TC: Planning the larger meetings and working with a great team. I am through and through a meeting planner, it is always going to be a part of my life and my work. I also have a great team of administrative assistants that I help lead at Pioneer. Though their titles don’t reflect it, they are all meeting planners as well. I love helping them grow in their positions and teaching tricks of thetrade that I have learned along the way in my career for them to use when they are planning their own meetings.
MM: Tell us about your role with Heartland MPI and how you came to be in that role.
TC: MPI Heartland Chapter consists of planners and suppliers from Iowa and Nebraska. I am a member of the board with the title of VP of Communications. This encompasses attending meetings, socials, board meetings, and other events on the board’s behalf. In my role, I put together the bi-monthly newsletter, post to our social media sites, and I’m currently working to update the look and functionality of the chapter’s website. I helped back-fill the position when a past member took on a new position outside of the meetings industry. At the time, I had been volunteering to help plan some of the chapter’s social events.
TC: Being awarded the Hitch Pin award in 2012 at Pioneer’s Central Business Unit Business Conference. I was shocked by the management and sales teams recognizing me and choosing me for this prestigious award. The Hitch Pin is an award given to an individual or team who assisted the Business Unit in creating a stronger customer connection for the sales season and is awarded to someone in a support function rather than sales function. If you are not familiar with farming or hauling equipment, a hitch pin is the metal pin that holds the equipment/trailer to the truck/tractor.
MM: Any interesting challenges you’ve faced and overcome over the years?
TC: During a Pioneer event in 2012 for 150 people, the facility that we rented for a dinner guaranteed the menu we chose was plenty of food. We set-up the dinner in food stations rather than a plated dinner or buffet dinner. I inquired multiple times to make sure that was, in fact, enough food, always with a guarantee that it was more than enough food. We ran out of both food and beverages that evening. Being as proactive as possible, I ordered 20 large pizzas to be delivered to the hotel, called the hotel to prep hot boxes for the arrival of the pizzas, left before the charter buses to beat them back to the hotel, prepped the lobby bar with trays of beers open and ready to serve, and greeted all of my fellow employees/management/event attendees at the doors with hot pizza and beers! They were very happy to see us greeting them… all being very understanding of the facility’s shortfalls, and delighted that we came up with a solution that was perfect for that moment. It was a “fail” in my head and my heart, but a “win” in their eyes. Always try to look at the bright side of a situation, try to make the best of it, learn from it for future events… and if you wear a smile on your face during all of it, things will work out, and people will notice that you kept your calm during a stressful situation.
MM: What do you like most about this industry?
TC: Making an “experience” for my attendees. We get to be creative with our positions and try to make an event memorable for the attendees. This is also one of those things I wish I could do more often and have more training/experience in. I want my attendees to be walking away, talking about how cool the event was and even bringing it back up two or three years later.
MM: Describe your all-time favorite catering menu for an event.
TC: I love the interactive station dinners… where you get to interact with the chefs, watch the bartender make your drink - chilling it down a luge ice sculpture and you get to catch the drink in the glass on the other end… and the attendees and co-workers get to kick back, relax, and enjoy their successes for the year.
TC: My opportunities! I have been lucky in my career path and given opportunities to work with and at great companies. I started in the hospitality industry at Knotty Pine Family Steakhouse in Creston at the age of 14 as a dishwasher. I was shy to say the least. Practically growing up with the owner’s encouragement and guidance, this position gave me the confidence I needed to start standing out. When I was a freshman in college, they entrusted their restaurant to me to run for a month while they were on vacation. It was an eye opener… and changed my career path from Art to majoring in Hotel & Restaurant Management when I transferred to Iowa State University. Then directly out of college, I was able to land a position in the Banquets and Catering department, later promoted to the Event Management position at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown where I gained even more experience in the events industry. A few years later, I had a friend refer me to a position with Conference Event Management, where I learned another side of the industry, being a 3rd party Meeting Planner. I gained additional knowledge and experience with events, incentive travel, working with different vendors and DMC’s in that role which help sculpt me even more. And finally, I was again lucky to have been sought out by DuPont Pioneer for my current position, where they were specifically looking for someone with meeting planning experience, and here I have been able to learn the corporate planning side of the industry.
MM: Best advice you’ve ever received/given?
TC: Don’t let your attendees see when you are in stress mode… For them, you want the event to feel and look seamless. Our jobs are to be proactive and try to think of all the details for events in advance, and if something pops up unexpected during an event, we need to keep a smile on our face and take care of the situation in the background, so the attendee doesn’t see or feel that there was ever an issue.
MM: What challenges do you feel meeting and event planners face today and what is your approach to those challenges?
TC: Corporate budget cuts, coupled with rising hotel, food, and beverage prices. There needs to be accountability for the money that is spent in any industry and showing the ROI for an event is always a tricky process. I like to budget out all details of an event before I plan it, doing everything I can to negotiate the best prices in advance, and spend reasonable when planning the event. There are always alternate options that can be made when budgets are lower that will still give the attendees a great event. It’s about getting creative, and working with your vendors to meet that budget. I am a fan of open communication with my vendors. It has only shown me time and time again that we can be fl exible with each other when unexpected changes occur. I have developed many wonderful relationships in this industry both through working with the venues and vendors as well as meeting new contacts through my membership with MPI.
People who know me would be surprised to learn... I love Karaoke!
If I could plan any event, it would be... An incentive trip to Italy
If I could call in sick for the day, I would... Experience the first snowfall with the doggies...they love the snow, and to see them chase these snowflakes and play around int he piles of snow makes a gal want to call in sick for the day and play with them in the snow!
My favorite time of year/season: Fall
My favorite dessert: It's a tie. My cupcakes with buttercream frosting and grandma Jimmerson's Famous Cutout Sugar Cookies with a few tweaks of my own to the icing.
My favorite TV Show: Another tie. 2 Broke Girls and Fixer Upper
My favorite App: Pintrest
My favorite drink: Venti Skinny Caramel Macchiato for the mornings, moscato wine for evenings
Last book I read: The Da Vinci Code
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