A TALE OF TWO EVENT PLANNERS AND THEIR SUCCESS STORIES
Planning corporate events can be a challenging job; it requires endless creativity to bring professional events alive and to spice up the experience for your guests. Not to mention, event planners are often faced with time pressure, budget, and uncertainties. So when I heard Helen Yang, Director of Event Management at Shanghai Marriott Hotel Parkview and Emily Yoo, Director of Banquet and Event Management at JW Marriott Hotel Seoul, who have 20 years of combined experience in event planning, talk excitedly about going to work every day, I know that their passion for their work is profound and has stood the test of time. "Coming to work every day excites me!" Emily Yoo told me cheerfully. "My customers are valuable to me, so I'd like to come to work with a smile.”
FROM FRONT DESK TO EVENT DIRECTOR
Emily started her career at the front desk at JW Marriott Hotel Seoul almost 13 years ago. After spending 8 years in the F&B team, she knew she needed some new challenges and new experience and has since been part of the Event Management team. From working at the front desk to becoming the Director of Banquet and Event Management at the same hotel where she started, Emily's ability is beyond any doubt. But it's her genuine care and dedication to her guests that make her stand out. “I start my work every morning at around 7:30 am and go through the events of the day with my team. Then I go to check all the meeting rooms and every single spot that our customers will come into contact on the day,” she said. The clients Emily serves come from a variety of industries, from local B2B companies to global cosmetic and luxury giants, such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The key to planning an outstanding event for her clients, she said, is to really know their tastes and their brands. When asked about her most memorable business event planning experience, Emily told me about the recent Marriott International APAC Operations Meeting she organized, where senior Marriott International leaders flew in from other parts of the world to Seoul. "I had to think about the whole concept and how to make people feel 'wow' and unique. But at the same time, I wanted to give everyone an authentic Korean experience," she said. During the brainstorming session, Emily and her team came up with the idea of creating a local street food market experience at the loading dock. Yes, you heard it right, a street food market at the loading dock for all the senior leaders of the company. A bit unconventional, you'd say. "I wanted to do something different for the afternoon tea session. So we moved everything from the loading dock and set up the food stands with menus like in the local markets. "Because the weather was very cold in January, we also prepared hot pads for all attendees to warm their hands, like how we do in Korea. During the break, they could watch the cars pass by as they were having their coffee break. Just like a normal day in Seoul.” It sounded like an easy task, but the preparation started months ago, with Emily leading her team with ideation, benchmarking in local markets and coordinating with the F&B and operation teams. “It was challenging because many doubted how feasible the idea could be; it would be cold and the food stands would need more preparation than a usual coffee break. "It was difficult to make everyone in the team understand the vision but communication is the key. I am really happy the event was a huge success! I really wanted to give the attendees a memorable experience, and we certainly did!”
EVENT PLANNING IS A LIFELONG LESSON
Similar to Emily, Helen Yang is a delightful event planner with a big heart filled with passion. Talking to Helen Yang about her experience, I could sense a genuine love she has for event planning and the endless curiosity that she brings to her work. Starting as an administrative assistant for the F&B team almost a decade ago, Helen is now the Director of Event Management at Shanghai Marriott Hotel Parkview. She told me stories and lessons that she learns every day from each event she organized and how event planning still fascinates and excites her. "Recently I have helped organize the 4th Driving Vision News workshop at our hotel during the Shanghai Auto Show," she recalled, "I didn't know much about cars at the time and I didn't know that there are specific industries for the production of different individual car parts; there is even an industry for car lighting!" "So it was incredibly interesting for me to bring experts on car lighting from around the world for this event. The main organizer is an 80-year-old Frenchman. He flew from France and despite the time differences and jetlag, he came to the venue right after he landed, prepared and showed us what true professionalism is. I learned so much from him and about the industry.” she said excitedly. But it is not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes, event planning can be messy and client’s requests can be very spontaneous. “I once helped to organize a pharmaceutical event with experts flying to China. The organizers had a spontaneous request for access of the VIP passage at the airport for one of their academic speakers,” Helen remembered. “We only had a few hours to arrange for a VIP passage, so we had to try our best to help our client! Thankfully, through our concierge relationship with the airport, the speaker was granted passage and made his flight!” You may argue that demands like this are beyond the responsibility of a hotel event planner, but not to Helen. She emphasized the importance of truly listening to the needs of your clients and go beyond the conventional. “Besides being an event planning expert, as a responsible event planner, you need to understand your client’s business, the industry trends and the current happenings, to give the best advice. I have helped organize events for different industries, including pharmaceutical, electronics and financial organizations. And each time, I need to tailor my service to their needs.”
BIG CHALLENGE, HUGE REWARD
Part of the charm of event planning is the uncertainty and how it always pushes you out of your comfort zone. It requires a great deal of creativity but the reward is huge. Back in Seoul, Emily told me about another unforgettable experience in her career that paid off. “I remember it was a social gathering event for an Indian association. I have never had a chance to experience Indian culture before so I wasn't sure whether I could make it happen," Emily recalled. What worried Emily was the food offered in the event - she was asked to provide an authentic culinary experience for 300 people. After a few tasting sessions, the organizers were still not very satisfied with the options cooked by local chefs." Luckily, the previous General Manager used to work in India, so I got a lot of advice from him. We created a task force and actually flew in an Indian chef to cater for this one-day event." Emily, of course, did not stop there. "I wanted to give them a special experience, so I talked to them and wanted to see how I can make their event even memorable." "I realized they really like to dance. I thought - I could create a different environment for them to dance, despite being in the same room. So I decided to open the curtains in the grand ballroom after the food was served." "I remember the event was in the fall, so with the big windows, the natural lights and the fallen leaves, it felt like we transported the party outdoors." The feedback Emily got was overwhelmingly positive; the clients applauded for the details and attentiveness. And because of that extra step that Emily took, more and more events from the Indian Association followed and the organizers chose JW Marriott Hotel Seoul as one of their favorite venue partners.
THE FUTURE IS PERSONALIZATION AND SUSTAINABILITY
China has become a very popular destination for global events. What does that mean for the future of event planning in the country and the region?" The scale of events is only going to get bigger in the future, that's why a planner's work is very important because they are the ones with the knowledge in operation and the skills to help their clients," Helen explained. "Personalization will be a big thing in the future, so think about how you can make the experience more unique for your guests, maybe include a tailored welcome message upon arrival!” In Seoul, Emily has seen a rising demand for flexible meeting spaces and sustainability in events. “Sustainability is high on the agenda for event planning; everyone is very eco-conscious. So on top of replacing plastic straws with paper ones in our restaurants, we have also introduced water stations to replace water bottles,” Emily said.“ We have prepared very colorful eco-bottles, to be put in the middle of the tables during events for participants to take with them and refill throughout the event. We also offer to put the event logo on these bottles so our guests can have a souvenir to bring home with them.”
HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL EVENT PLANNER
With 20 years of combined event planning experience and having planned countless events, what do Emily and Helen think are the most important qualities of a successful event planner?" Responsibility, communication skills and balance," Helen said without hesitation. "Balance is very important. You need to learn to balance the expectation of the clients and what the hotel can actually offer. When a client’s request is not feasible, you need to be prepared to offer an alternative solution that can be equally impressive." "I think teamwork is the most important," Emily said. "No one can be a superhero forever and I cannot imagine my work without my team's support." "Then comes flexibility - you need to give your guests options and choices to personalize their experience. Ask questions so you can provide flexible ideas, such as having an all-day meeting outdoor, a dinner in the kitchen and lunch at the poolside. And you need to be curious. Keep questioning your ideas and revisiting the challenges; we can always find at least one thing to make our guests happy."