In an exclusive roundtable conversation, five veteran corporate planners compare notes on the evolution of event marketing, the growing importance of strategic meetings management, and the endless appeal of a job where ‘there is never a boring day.’
Kelley Butler, Director of Meetings and Events, McDonald’s Corporation
Susan Katz, Director of Corporate Events and Travel, True Value Company
Carolyn Pund, CMP, CMM, Senior Manager of Global Meetings and Events, Cisco Systems
Kati Quigley, CMP, Director of Event Marketing, Microsoft Corporation
Lisa Schelle, CMM, Director of Global Meetings and Events, Nike Inc.
How did you end up in your current position?
I actually came on staff here at McDonald’s eight years ago. I was a consultant for them at the time. So I came in specifically for the purpose of bringing my event and entertainment background in, which was a discipline they did not have here. Carolyn Pund
My past roles have spanned meeting functions in finance, procurement, travel, corporate meetings, and event marketing. Prior to joining Cisco in ’08, I spent 11 years in event marketing at another high-tech company. I joined Cisco in the travel/meeting organization, and through conversations to build operational efficiencies between complementary job functions, the SMM [strategic meetings management] team joined event marketing and continues to support enterprise-wide meetings and events. Kati Quigley
I have been at Microsoft for almost 10 years now, but I just switched jobs within Microsoft. So for the first nine-and-a-half years I was director of event marketing in the central marketing group, [which] went across all events in the company. I just switched to the worldwide partner group. And so I own and manage the community of partners as it relates to events. Lisa Schelle
I was working in our event marketing/meeting management department, which reported up to global brands, and our department supported the entire company plus our affiliates. They did a realignment, because we did support the whole company rather than just global brands. So I changed my role and took the majority of the department under corporate services, which reports up to finance. And then global brands kept a couple of dedicated planners for their group. I am currently the director of global meetings and events, so I went from a department manager under that group and moved the rest of the team over. Susan Katz
It was a recommendation by somebody who I worked with who suggested that I take a look into the opportunity. It was intriguing to me, because I report in through the VP of marketing. And I thought that that was an interesting opportunity to really grow and learn about marketing, and I truly thought it was the appropriate place for what we were doing, because what we were doing is face-to-face marketing.
Have you worked in another sector of meeting planning - association or government, for example? LS
Early in my meeting career I worked for a not-for-profit organization in New York City. It was very different on many fronts, but probably the most different was that it was all at a venue. So the meetings were pretty turnkey. They were [a] foreign-policy [organization], so the role was primarily around getting the right speakers for the membership base and then bringing in the press if the press was involved. Here our role is really to manage the entire meeting, from the content, to the strategic alignment of the meeting, to all the logistics. There are about 280 meetings a year for my team, so rather than it being turnkey, each meeting is unique and customized for that group.
My background is a little bit different. I had never actually worked in meeting planning prior to coming here into the McDonald’s meeting and events department. I always was a third-party company in the strategic-business communications arena, producing major marketing events and entertainment. And prior to that I worked for Hyatt Hotels. But throughout my entire career, McDonald’s has always been my customer. So I have grown up with them for 27 years, but just in different facets.
I think the biggest thing that I learned coming into the corporation was how to maneuver and get things done. That was the biggest challenge - the layers you had to get through to get at the table in order to be part of the decision-making process early. I think much more so now from where we have come in the industry, we are at the table and part of that process, but it was a good few years trying to figure out how to maneuver and move things quicker.
In my early event days, I spent seven years in nonprofit, and have been in corporate-planning/ management roles in Silicon Valley networking companies since that time. You use different management skills for mobilizing volunteers - you have a budget, usually small, and figure out how to make it happen. There’s a different sense of purpose.
Before [joining Microsoft], I was on the association side of the business and worked in Washington, D.C., for 11 years. I think the biggest difference for me is just the pace at which decisions are made and the agility that you have to show, because on the association side it would take several cycles and long, drawn-out decision-making time to move forward, whereas here it could change on a dime. You think that something is all set, and the next day your whole world is different.
The majority of my career was spent in the not-for-profit [sector]. The way we look at our events and how they fit corporate goals is [with] a much more strategic view [at True Value]. The whole retail side of it is totally different than what I was doing on an association or not-for-profit side. We make money on our show, do not get me wrong, but really the money we make on our show is not the way we make money as a corporation. In the past, the show was make-it-or-break-it for the budget of the organization.
And the other big aha for me is how rapidly decisions are made. People changing minds, people deciding they need different things is standard within the industry, but really at a corporate level, we can find out a week before a meeting that they need to gather a sales force in this city at this time. We are really responding to very last minute requests.
What department or function do you report to within your company? And why does it make sense for you to be located there? KQ
I just switched to the worldwide partner group, but I am still in the marketing team of the worldwide partner group. That makes sense, because how Microsoft looks at events is as a vehicle for marketing and for us to be able to reach our customers, our partners, [and] accelerate the sales cycle. We have strong partners in procurement and finance, but we are separated and have different goals.
I’m in the global meetings and events department, and as I said, we report into corporate services and directly up to global finance. That was a realignment made about five years ago. And I suppose there could be a case made for the benefits of reporting up to finance and also up to event marketing, which is where we were before under the global brand. From a strategic meeting management standpoint, it does make sense to report into finance. However, we are managing meetings and events for internal clients who are the business units, and so from that standpoint sometimes there is not always an alignment of goals from the corporate side to the individual business units.
We report into system communications, which is part of corporate relations. A majority of the things that our department is responsible for behind