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Smart Midwest Event Planners

Elizabeth with the JW Marriott

At the Indianapolis J.W. Marriott, hiring is done off a “virtual bench”, Elizabeth Nelson, the Indy J.W.’s dynamic Director of Catering Sales confides. That Boy Scout-like “Be Prepared” approach, Nelson explains, means candidates are interviewed for positions that don’t yet exist; no staff member can advance until a replacement has been hired. This ensures that the JW never misses a step in the turnover process with clients and vendors.

Our Corporate Events team interviewed Nelson, learning about her many years as a catering and events professional in New Orleans, Chicago, and Atlanta.  Nominated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts as the #1 catering sales manager in North America, Nelson came to the attention two years ago of White Lodging Corporation, who recruited her to head the J.W. Marriott team here in Indianapolis.

Extremely generous with her time, Nelson spent almost two hours regaling corporate entertainers Christian and Katalina and me with tales of the myriad galas, banquets, trade shows and conventions she’d helped plan, and with stories of unique challenges her team routinely faces.

Nelson had so much wisdom to share with our Midwest meeting planner blog readers. (Over the next couple of posts, we’ll be sharing a number of those oh-so-valuable pieces of advice.)

Timing is everything when planning a Midwest corporate event. Among the many tips Nelson offers planners are four that are specifically timing-related:

  • You need to know “need dates”. Generally, January through March there is weak event facility demand; that means better pricing for your client.  Be flexible. Offering a range of dates will typically result in lower costs.
  • For most companies, their budgeting process takes place once a year. Be alert for that timing as you help clients allocate funds for future events.
  • When working with a facility, respect set-up and tear-down schedules. Consider using the facility’s in-house AV and production staff.
  • Schedule – and respect – loading dock times.

The “Virtual bench” is a very good metaphor for the kind of contingency planning that spells success for professional meeting planners. Lined up on the “bench” are facility contacts, vendors, resources, and schedules. Should some aspect of an event plan fall through, you have a “replacement” ready to go.  Of course, as Elizabeth Nelson points out, “Good meeting planners are ready to roll up their sleeves…”

Last year the J.W. Marriott was nominated for Hotel of the Year; we of the Mind Tripping team are sure Elizabeth Nelson had a lot to do with the Indy J.W.’s success!

Take a tip, midwest event planners – look to your virtual bench!  

– by Rebecca of the Corporate Events blog team

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