Corporate Event Expert Profile: Nicole Chow, Meeting Manager II, Maritz Travel – A Maritz Global Events Company
At Corporate Event News, our objective is to showcase the diverse people, programs, challenges and rewards of corporate events. Our ongoing Event Expert Profile series shines a spotlight on some of the many talented corporate event professionals who make this industry thrive.
While we usually focus on planners who are employed directly by a corporation, this month I chose a different tactic. There are a large number of companies that choose to outsource some or all of their meetings and events programs, and some great independent planners and meeting management organizations whose staff act as an extension of the corporation’s marketing and events departments.
Nicole Chow works at Maritz Travel managing events for an automotive company client. Chow has strong hospitality skills and takes pride in going above and beyond to deliver exceptional event experiences.
Danalynne Wheeler Menegus: Let's start at the beginning: how long have you been in the events industry and what got you into corporate planning?
Nicole Chow: I've been in the industry for about four years now. I had a couple of different jobs prior to the industry, including promotional marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals and a Client Coordinating role at an elite training facility. Steve Maritz was a client, but I didn’t know anything about who he was or his company. One day he asked me if I liked working behind a desk or would I rather be traveling the world? It took a few months, but I ended up interviewing for the Travel Director position and got it! I would travel from destination to destination about 280 days of the year. My job was to manage program operations, which could include executive hospitality, transportation, meetings, etc. and make sure that the program was executed properly. So, I was the person doing the front-facing client work.
DWM: Did you have a mentor when you first started?
NC: Maritz hires Travel Directors as a class. When I was hired, I went through a two-week training to perfect the role. You learn a new realm of a program every day. After that, you go out on the road and are assigned a mentor. I got to work with someone who had been on the road for a couple of years, which was very helpful.
DWM: I wish more organizations did that – what a great way to learn! You mentioned that you started as a travel director. Now that you’re an expert at that, are you doing some different things now?
NC: Now my title is Meeting Event Manager II. I’m aligned with an automotive company, which means that they are my client and I am dedicated to their account and responsible for their events. Currently, my two biggest projects are dealer meetings. They have two automotive lines, a standard and a luxury line. I manage the executive program for their main line and am their overall meeting event manager for their luxury line. My biggest project is overseeing an event for 2,000 attendees, which includes five hotels, three breakout events and a headquarters tour.
DWM: Do you have a busy season, or is the work spread out all year round?
NC: Because I have multiple projects, there is always something to be working on. There are site inspections, the CEO has smaller programs that I get involved with, and we are planning for future programs as well.
DWM: Do you have a favorite type of program?
NC: I like the big dealer meeting – corporate cornerstones have so many moving parts in terms of managing the team, the program and the expectations. I enjoy the incentive program because I’m creative and I like thinking outside the box, where you can really be inventive and come up with crazy ideas. And I like the executive portion of the program because of the VIP hospitality aspect, with spot challenges like figuring out how to get a suit tailored within two hours. I guess I like challenges and working on multiple things!
DWM: How closely do you work with the automotive company’s marketing team? Are you in essence an extension of that team?
NC: We work with portions of the marketing team, but we also work with their incentive team and executive team, as we handle all parts of the events. Regardless of what department we’re working with, we are always there to accommodate.
DWM: It sounds like hospitality is one of the key parts of your role. Balancing logistics and service can be difficult for many planners – how do you handle that challenge?
NC: When I was a travel director, I was frequently assigned to executive operations. I think I have the mentality of seeing tasks as challenges, where it is a test for me to accomplish them. I like being given a certain direction instead of having to guess, that way I can focus on delivering the best customer service possible. Whenever there are opportunities to surprise and delight our clients and their customers, it’s really nice. I like being able to wow them and show them other things we are capable of doing. I like making people feel special and valued, that’s definitely rewarding.
DWM: Is there anything you’ve learned along the way that has made your job easier now?
NC: Being a travel director and learning from the operational side has helped me better understand the planning side. Anytime I’m organizing a program or starting a program, I think “what were the things that I wish I had when I was a travel director,” so I can make sure those are covered.
DWM: What is the biggest challenge that you see event professionals facing today?
NC: The biggest challenge for me is to unplug. A lot of event professionals are Type A: we all have that “get-it-done” mentality. We want everything to be perfect and go exactly as planned, which of course never happens. How you can act on your feet and solve problems onsite to recover when things don’t go as planned really shows the passion for your job: you don’t need to be on all the time. The hardest part is having a good work-life balance. One big takeaway from our annual meeting was about integrating. Work for a few hours, then take a break and go walk your dog. Take a real vacation. Yes, it takes time to brief someone to cover for you when you’re out – but it’s worth it!
DWM: Is your team all in the same place? Do you work in an office, or remotely?
NC: It’s really a mix. We have multiple offices, but staff everywhere: people in Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, California...Here in St. Louis, depending on your account you get to work from home two days a week. If you're on a dedicated team then you schedule it, so there's always someone in the office in case something is needed there. I like having the options, it’s a nice balance.
DWM: Is there any place in the industry you see disruption happening – or any area you think needs to be disrupted?
NC: Doing away with printed materials. You’re starting to see it more, but it depends on the client. I feel like we’re still doing a lot of printing and reprinting when we have the technology capabilities to not deal with so much paper. When I was a travel director, we’d be printing off thousands of sheets of agendas and dropping them off in case people weren’t checking the mobile app.
DWM: When you aren’t working, what do you like to do to relax?
NC: When I was in college, I started an online cupcakery: Chow Time Cupcakes. I don’t do it often now, but on occasion someone will message me for a special order, and if I have time, I’ll do that. I love projects. I bought a house about eight months ago, so there’s always something for me to work on. And I adopted a puppy five months ago so he definitely keeps me busy. If time allows, the St. Louis Cardinals will let me come back for a game here and there. I’m always the first one to volunteer for anything that comes up!
DWM: Is there any single piece of advice you would give to other event professionals?
NC: I think really just learning to disconnect. I recently joined another committee, trying to promote thinking outside the box and being a design ambassador. In one exercise, we went around the room and the facilitator asked everyone who they were. Everyone answered in a standard way, “Hi, I’m Nicole, I’m a meeting event manager and I have an automotive company as my client.” But we all did it wrong – she asked us WHO we were, not what our jobs were. Instead of identifying yourself as an event professional, you should identify yourself with cupcakes or whatever your hobby may be: your profession isn’t the same thing as your life.
I love learning how people got into the events world. During the course of our conversation, Chow mentioned that she had double-majored in human development with child life as her emphasis, and also communications. While neither of these are directly event-related, both of them use skills that can certainly be applied and help with understanding the science of hospitality and how to communicate effectively.
Photo credit: Carmen Lam
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