“One of the largest conferences I assist with is our Spring Sales Rally and Honors & Awards Banquet with over 250 attendees. It’s a day and a half long conference with education sessions, speaker break-outs, and an awards banquet in the evening where we honor our top agents from the previous year. We also have a Financed Agent Rally for around 70 attendees, a Family Fun Getaway for qualifying agents and their families, and I’m also responsible for coordinating the Fall Sales Rally for over 175 attendees. We only do business in Wisconsin; therefore all of our meetings are done in Wisconsin except for the Leaders Conference which takes our top agents (who qualify) and a guest to places like San Francisco, London, Hawaii, Key West, and the like.
“Along with my meeting planning, I’m also the graphic designer behind most of the company’s marketing material and contest/incentive promotional materials.”
Kristen Salewski: It actually just kind of happened… almost like fate. My intentions when I first went to UW-Eau Claire were to become a registered nurse. Both of my parents were EMT/Fire Department Volunteers and I was very interested in the medical field and helping people. As many college students do, I changed my degree path to Business Management and thought I’d be a better Hospital Administrator. But then the first Entrepreneurship program was opening up and I enrolled in that for my senior year of college. Part of the program was to write your own business plan and present it to colleagues and business consultants that the program brought in. The business plan I presented, and dream of maybe one day opening, is a One-Stop-Shop Wedding & Event Consulting Firm. I received Honorable Mention for my business plan. I planned a couple of weddings out of college, worked for a couple ad agencies and then it wasn’t until I started working with RMIC that I really got my feet wet with planning meetings/events.
MM: What do you like most about your job?
KS: I think it’s the freedom that I have to be as creative as I can or our budget allows. I also like how it doesn’t feel like a job. I’ve worked for RMIC for over 13 years now and it’s one big family and yes, there are days that I wish Calgon® could just take me away but, I know the culture, I know what needs to be done, and I know how far the envelope can be pushed. Being in the marketing/advertising department there are many things that we’re working on at a time but I find pleasure in meeting/event planning. I love the encouragement I receive from my peers and the opportunities that RMIC has given me. I think it’s important for a company to have trust and confidence in their employees and allow them the freedom to shine.
MM: What challenges do you feel meeting and event planners face today and what is your approach to those challenges?
KS: The challenges meeting and event planners face today is offering that unique and inspiring event but on that tighter and tighter budget. It’s important, now more than ever, to uncover new ways to do more with less by looking at every aspect of your meeting from the attendee perspective. It’s also important to learn new ways to cut costs on food and beverage, site selection, AV, and most of all to discover negotiating tips to help save costs on any size of meeting.
MM: What’s the best day you’ve had in your career in the meetings industry?
KS: My best day in my event planning career was probably when the Wisconsin Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI-WI) presented the Rising Star award to me at the 2014 Awards Gala. The Rising Star Award is presented to a newer member of MPI-Wisconsin who has become an active part of the organization. This award is designed to recognize an individual whose time and efforts put him/her on a path to being one of our next leaders. It was a great honor to be nominated along with so many other well-deserving individuals.
KS: I wanted to join an organization that would provide not only me but also my company the resources, education, unique events, and networking opportunities that I needed in order to stay ahead of the rapid changes taking place in the meetings and events industry. When I first joined MPI-WI my first goal was to engage myself in as many meetings as I could and to meet as many people and I did just that. I feel that the best way for me to make the most of my membership is to get involved, step out of my comfort zone, and make a difference. I think I have done just that as I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to join the MPI-WI Board of Directors and this fall I will be the VP of Membership. Now it’s my opportunity to make an impact on the leadership and direction of the Chapter while building my own internal value and increasing my leadership development and business networking. I feel MPI-WI is a great organization to belong to as it brings me a wealth of education and networking opportunities.
MM: What prompted you to obtain your CMP designation?
KS: I have to give thanks to my boss, John Quirk, for encouraging me to obtain my CMP designation. It wasn’t an easy task for me by any means either. However, after passing the rigorous application and exam, I have a deep sense of personal triumph at being regarded as a skillful meeting and event professional. It shows my overall dedication to the profession and I feel that I have a competitive marketing advantage by having my CMP designation. By having my CMP, it also allows me access to other programs, resources, and invitations that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
MM: What advice do you have to those looking to get their CMP and/or join an organization?
KS: I would recommend joining your local Meeting Professionals International (MPI) chapter. Being a member of the MPI-WI Chapter myself, it not only has provided me with valuable leading education sessions but I was able to put those education hours towards my CMP application. It has given me the opportunity to build professional as well as personal relationships. There is a lot of information to take in all at once and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The prep course allowed me to narrow down what I needed to focus on. It was nice and very helpful to be able to reach out to those in the prep days and other CMPs within the chapter with any questions I had and get answers quickly.
MM: Describe your all-time favorite catering menu for an event?
KS: Although I have not been able to put this catering menu to action at any of our events I love events that have food and drink stations. I think if done right, food stations creatively showcase dishes in imaginative ways that awe guests. It gives guests plenty of options; it gets them moving and leads to more interaction among the guests. Food stations are also another way to creatively express the design theme of your event.
MM: What trends do you see emerging in the next five years?
KS: One trend I see in meetings and events are the use of non-traditional venues. They can make a tremendous impression and I know the capabilities are there. We have not taken advantage of non-traditional venues… just yet. Some examples around Wisconsin include Miller Park, the Harley Davidson Museum, and Lambeau Field. Or the Overture Center or even the Kohler Design Center. Using a non-traditional location almost guarantees your attendee to not just attend the meeting/event but experience it as well.