The state of the event planning industry is bright thanks in part to Illinois Meetings + Events 2012 Hall of Fame class, a group of planners, meeting professionals and suppliers who clearly love their jobs. We recently sat down with each inductee to discover the story behind the title and get the lowdown on their most memorable on-the-job moments.
Regional Event Consultant at Classic Party Rentals
The fear of the unknown is a constant in the event planning industry, so as the storm clouds began to form over Lollapalooza last year, Valerie Braun wasn’t completely surprised. "You can have as many timelines and projections and goals for any event, but everything becomes real once you are on-site," says Braun, Classic Party Rentals’ regional event consultant. "It’s inevitable that you are going to run into things you didn’t necessarily plan."
On that stormy summer day in Chicago, thousands of attendees were evacuated successfully, and Braun added yet another unpredictable moment to her nearly 35 years of event planning experience, which wasn’t always intuitive for her. "My mom wanted me to be a beautician," laughs Braun. "It’s amazing to see the progression of the event planning industry, but when I started, it wasn’t quite a clear career path."
Since then, Braun has gone from being a convention manager with the Professional Photographers of America to owning Braun Enterprises with her husband, Gary. Their namesake company merged with Chicago Party Rental and then was sold to Classic Party Rentals, the nation’s largest full-service event rental company with more than 25 locations. "I can’t imagine doing a job where you don’t see the final outcome of what you are working on," she concludes. "I love every aspect of the process, but when the last piece of equipment is loaded and the last truck pulls away, I know I can take a deep breath and appreciate a job well done."
BEST MEETING PROFESSIONAL
CEO/MANAGING PARTNER AT WPI EVENT PARTNERS
It’s 4:30 a.m., and WPI Event Partners CEO/Managing Partner Marcy Manley is on the phone with an important overseas client. And that’s fine with her since she admits she was never interested in a 9-to-5 job. "Yes, there are many 80-hour weeks," chuckles Manley, who left her position as president of experiential agency XA in 2007 to branch out on her own. "When I founded [WPI Event Partners], there were plenty of nights when I wondered if I could do it and if my clients would continue to have faith in my ability."
And despite an often shaky economy, Manley’s firm has experienced unsurpassed growth. "No matter the economic climate, our clients always believed that they still needed to communicate," says Manley, who plans to hire even more staff in 2013. "Despite the technology-filled world we live in, I feel like people are missing the one-on-one contact with other people. The importance of the human touch in this day and age cannot go understated."
BEST UP-AND-COMING MEETING PROFESSIONAL
PROGRAM MANAGER, GLOBAL MEETING SERVICES AT M&I, A MEETING, INCENTIVE AND ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT COMPANY
At her virtual office in Chicago, M&I Program Manager of Global Meeting Services Katie Teyro keeps three things on her desk to remind her why she decided to get involved in the event planning industry. One is a framed letter from a client, which praises her work. Another is a collection of kudos from her co-workers. And then, there is something a bit more unusual.
"I keep all of my name badges from all of the events I have ever worked on," explains Teyro, a 2007 graduate of the University of Iowa. "I can look through those badges and remember exactly where I have been-and where I still want to go."
Indeed, the self-proclaimed "organizer," who likes to do Pilates in her free time, has accomplished much in her relatively short career span. "Every day I am faced with a new and different task to tackle." she says. "I love s eeing my clients happy, and I love seeing what the attendees are getting out of the meeting; it’s an addicting industry."
BEST SPECIAL EVENT PLANNER
SALES DIRECTOR AT BLUE PLATE
Heidi Brock sleeps with a pad of paper by her side and acronyms floating constantly in her head. "My mind is always racing, trying to come up with ways to remember everything," she laughs. "I have calendars everywhere to help me keep everything straight."
As a wife, mother of two and Blue Plate executive, Brock indeed has a lot on her mind. Yet, as far as she is concerned, she can’t remember it being any other way. "I remember as a kid organizing our very own Olympics in our neighborhood every summer," she recalls. "I was one of the youngest kids on the block, but I was always the one who would take control of putting all of the pieces together."
A graduate of the University of Kansas, Brock will celebrate 13 years at Blue Plate in 2013. "There is nothing better than being on-site and seeing everything come together like a well-oiled machine," she says. "Every single department has a hand in a successful event. We are all there to make each other better."
BEST UP-AND-COMING SPECIAL EVENT PLANNER
PROGRAM MANAGER AT TOTAL EVENT RESOURCES
Somewhere out there is a cruise director who does not have a clue she played a role in changing the life of Lauren Bettcher, Total Event Resources program manager. "Our family went on a cruise together many years ago, and while spending every waking moment determining what activities we were going to participate in, I started to idolize the cruise director," says Bettcher, a graduate of Grand Valley State University."It was my grandma who said to me, ‘you know Lauren…you could do this.’And in that exact moment, I knew I’d be involved in the hospitality industry and working on events in some way."
The ambitious 26-year-old says one of her favorite parts of her job is the time she spends with her growing list of clients. "If we can grab lunch, talk about the event, tie in some personal stories, laugh a bit and end with some action items," she says, "I’ll walk away feeling absolutely comfortable in our mutually beneficial professional relationship."
CUSTOMER SERVICE SUPERVISOR AT HALL’S RENTAL SERVICE, INC.
Her brother is a detective. Her sister is an emergency room nurse. Her other brother is a stockbroker. So what is Nancy Brockway-Bartz, a customer service supervisor, known as in her family?
"I’m known as the ‘party girl,’" she says, laughing. Brockway-Bartz has worked at Hall’s Rental Service, Inc. since 1982 and has enjoyed every minute of it. "I love what I do here. A number of my customers have become friends of mine throughout the years. I truly care about them and feel so lucky to do this for a living."
Looking back, Brockway-Bartz considers Hall’s Rentals Service, Inc.’s work during the inaugurals of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Mayor Richard M. Daley as career highlights. "I find it so exciting to deal with the many different aspects of an event," she says. "I seem to thrive on stress, and while I’ve been known to complain sometimes, I can’t imagine being anywhere else."
BEST UP-AND-COMING SUPPLIER
PRESIDENT/ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCER AT CARMEL MUSIC + ENTERTAINMENT
There is something about a man that can play the banjo. And for Carmel Music + Entertainment President/Entertainment Producer Tuey Connell, it was this instrument that first caught the attention of the firm more than 25 years ago. "I was sending my cassette tape to anyone who would listen," recalls Connell. "Playing at these corporate events really opened my eyes to what was ultimately out there for me."
Indeed, the Carmel of then is far different from the Carmel of today. What was once purely an entertainment company has evolved into an event design, production, entertainment and management company serving the corporate event industry through strategy, communication and event architecture-with Connell now at the helm.
"It’s an exciting time to be in Chicago and offer our clients a full custom-designed entertainment package," explains Connell, whose work has most recently been showcased during the CEC Momentum Awards Dinner 2012 and the Big Shoulders Fund Benefit. "I love the adrenaline rush-and the first cocktail after an event is complete!"
(Photos by Lisa Predko)