Corporate Event Expert Profile: Stefanie Maragna, VP, Corporate Marketing & Events, Sage Intacct
The Corporate Event News Event Expert Profile series features interviews with some of the many talented corporate event professionals who make this industry thrive.
Stefanie Maragna, or Stef, as she prefers, has been involved in sales, marketing and events for more than 20 years, but has a special place in her heart for the events portion of her roles. Her diverse background has allowed her to better understand the needs and motivations of all the stakeholders who are involved with events, from marketing to sales to partners and executives.
Maragna was recently named as one of SmartMeetings’ “100 Women Who Inspire Us” — and it’s easy to see why.
Danalynne W. Menegus: How long have you been in the events industry, and how did you get into corporate event management?
Stefanie Maragna: My first job in my twenties was in sales, working for Kraft Foods in Brisbane, Australia. I managed a team, and we would pull together local events to coincide with major product launches/promotions. Concurrently, I volunteered on non-profit committees/boards for Starlight Childrens Foundation and Leukemia Foundation and helped run and plan fundraising events.
After almost eight years in sales, I moved to a global communications and marketing role at a mining/ERP software company where I had responsibilities for managing proprietary events such as user conferences, sales events, company kickoff and President’s Club. I also helped support various other field marketing events like trade shows, sales events and customer meetups both nationally and internationally.
I moved to the USA eight years ago and since then have had the opportunity to run corporate, customer and field marketing event programs for some great software companies.
DWM: Did you have a mentor, or someone who influenced you?
SM: There have been a number of people along the way who have inspired and influenced me — and more importantly, put up with me and encouraged me. I have learned a lot from my executive team, managers, vendors, industry associations like PCMA, CEMA and peers.
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work consistently over the years with a CEO and CMO whose passion for events rubbed off on me. But when it comes down to it, events are a team effort. There are so many team members involved in making each event successful.
DWM: What are your responsibilities as VP of Corporate Marketing and Events at Sage Intacct?
SM: I have a number of responsibilities including corporate communications (public relations & analyst relations), customer advocacy, partner marketing, field events and tradeshows, and the company’s incentive program.
DWM: That’s a lot. How involved do you need to get in the day-to-day operations?
SM: I believe in trusting and empowering my team to do their jobs, and being there to support them when they need me. We sit down and come up with a plan each quarter that focuses on goals and achievements, and after that I get as much or as little involved as the team needs. I still will plan an event as simple as an executive breakfast, fly to an event and help support a tradeshow or interview a customer for a case study. It’s important to roll up your sleeves and work alongside your team. My team is a mix of people, some senior, some more junior — it’s good to have the different perspectives.
DWM: Do you work in an office?
SM: I have flexibility in my job, but most days I do opt to go into the office as I like being in the environment with other people face to face . Some of my team are in the office with me, others are remote or come in two or three days a week. It’s not as important to me where you do your job as long as you are doing it.
DWM: Based on that answer I think I can guess the answer, but would you classify yourself as an introvert or an extravert?
SM: Definitely an extravert!
DWM: What have you learned along the way that’s made your job easier?
SM: Find great partners to work and surround yourself with a great team of people. I have been fortunate to work with some great partners in the industry since I moved to America, and I’ve made it a point to continue to work with those partners even when I have changed companies. This consistency and trust has made my job easier – and why wouldn’t you want to work with those you love working with.
DWM: Can you tell me a little more about who your preferred partners are, and what it is that you like about them?
SM: Enterprise Events Group (EEG) is a great event management company. They can research and find you venues, support your event from registration through to completion and provide event staffing as needed. Terry Slingsby, who owns Seamless Show Productions, understands how to run the end-to-end production experience and work with all the key stakeholders in your company when it comes to executing great content and the overall event. Dalton Fine from So Fine Event Design is exceptional in event design and production, particular for your key incentive programs. He puts the W’s in WOW. And I use KK Promotions for swag and special executive gifts.
DWM: Is there any one app, program, or technology that you’ve found the most helpful?
SM: I think the best way to approach it is figuring out the right tool set for the job. There are so many options that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The success of technology and its adoption depends upon how well the objectives of the event align with the technology in deployment and ultimately the attendee experience.
Mobile apps have made a big impact on how we run and execute events and the overall attendee experience. But you have to make sure it meets your event objectives, and that of your participants, otherwise it just detracts from the event experience.
Audience participation through features such as live Q & A and session polling are changing the face of conference audience involvement by turning passive listeners into contributors. I have used this at events and it’s great. I encourage you to do it if you can.
A customer advocacy tool like Influitive allows you to mobilize your customer advocates and have them participate in pre-event, onsite and post-event experiences and drive advocacy activities such as speaker recruitment, social exposure and other event needs through an automated platform. It’s especially useful for customer events and user conferences.
DWM: What is the best event experience you’d had to date?
SM: My wedding! I planned my wedding on our ranch in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. I was able to bring everything that I have learned over the years to the most important, special day of my life. I had support from so many industry friends that I’ve met over the years for that one big day and I, my family and friends had a great time.
[Editor’s note: “Is it ok to say that?” Maragna asked when referencing her wedding, also mentioning some corporate events. I assured her that not only could she, she absolutely should. Having planned my own wedding a few years ago I can completely empathize and understand how nice it is to have absolute control….at least as much control as is ever possible for an event.]
DWM: What are the biggest challenges you see corporate event professionals facing today?
SM: Doing more with less is something I have faced and I think we still face – low budgets with high expectations. To that end, you have to think of creative ways to change things up because you can’t just throw money at it. Corporate social responsibility and sustainability still remain a greater focus area for events and I encourage professionals to do what they can in this area.
DWM: Is there any place in the industry that you see disruption happening or an area that you think needs disruption?
SM: Workforce trends come top of mind. How do we stay current and relevant in this ever-changing environment? How do we groom the next generation of event leaders and what can and do they bring to the table? I think we all have a part to play in their success, and it’s vital that we do so. Every year I provide an internship and make it available for a young person in college to come work with me over their summer to give them the opportunity and exposure to the corporate environment. Maybe, just maybe, I can set another young person on the start to a great career path.
DWM: If you had to pick one - books or movies?
SM: Movies on a rainy day, but I can’t be without a book (I mean a real book with pages you can flip) especially on vacation or the long-haul flights that I am on frequently.
DWM: If you could give a single piece of advice on corporate events, what would it be?
SM: Give back. As event leaders, we have the ability to drive and include corporate social responsibility into our event strategy. Use technology onsite vs. print to help with environment footprint initiatives. Involve a local charity or have a charitable component at your event that gives your team and attendees options to participate: have attendees donate children’s books or stuff food bags for a local charity, or bedtime kits for homeless children. There is a real sense of accomplishment that people get from helping others, and our events are a great opportunity for that.
Another idea is to organize a fun run or some kind of wellness activity that gets your attendees out of the conference rooms and outdoors. It’s a fun, low-cost activity and adds a lot to your event by helping your attendees take care of their health and wellness. You can even opt to have this sponsored, giving a partner an opportunity to participate — which raises overall participation. It’s a win win for all.
[Editor’s Note: Maragna’s biggest challenge is also the top-ranked challenge as reported by Corporate Event News readers during our July reader survey. See the full infographic here.]
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