Shari Pietsch, CMP, went from
hotel event manager to
company meeting planner and back to hotels, now with the Sheraton
Hotel & Towers. “I really value the experience I’ve had,” she
Ever since she took a
job as a “generic front-desk associate” for a Marriott
hotel, Shari Pietsch, now a CMP, was drawn to the concept of “party
planning.” That drive led her to something a bit more intense:
planning product launches and events for a pharmaceutical company.
Several years and many airline miles later, she’s happily returned
to the hotel side as director of convention services for the
Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.
It’s not hard to find similar stories.
Consider Julie Blanton who, after 17 years as a meeting and event
planner for the furniture industry, was laid off in 2002. “I
planned on doing this forever,” she says. “I wasn’t ready to be
done.” Given the dearth of planning jobs in western Michigan, she
worked as a realtor for a few years. Then she heard that a JW
Marriott, to open in fall 2007 in Grand Rapids, was hiring. Being a
convention services manager wasn’t the same thing as being a
meeting planner, but she figured it was close enough. Blanton went
ahead and applied; in March, she was hired as a senior event
manager. “I think I’m uniquely qualified to work on both sides,”
she notes. “I can walk in their shoes. I’ve probably already had
that issue, that problem, that challenge, that special guest, that
Some meeting planners, like Blanton,
end up on the supplier side by chance. Others make the jump --
either from planner to supplier or vice versa -- because they’ve
wondered if the other side might just be a better fit.
“It’s happening probably a little more
frequently as time goes on,” says Deborah Sexton, president and CEO
of the Chicago-based Professional Con-vention Management
Association, who has worked on nearly all sides of the industry,
from hotelier to convention and visitor bureau executive to
association executive. “If you understand the skill sets needed for
both sides, you become, frankly, more qualified.”
M&C asked 10 current and
former meeting planners why and how they made the switch. Here are
their stories, as told in their own words.
In 2005, Jody Brandes, CMP,
switched jobs from events coordinator at the Nob Hill Masonic
Center, an exhibition and event space in San Francisco, to
marketing coordinator/meeting planner at Novartis Vaccines &
Diagnostics in Emeryville, Calif.
I used to say that I wanted to be a
corporate planner because of the stability. When I made the change,
though, it wasn’t a stable time. I was hired by Chiron Corp. when
it was being acquired by Novartis. I didn’t know what the
possibility of staying was, but it was a foot in the door. One
reason I got the job was because someone who was really seasoned
wasn’t going to take the risk.
I moved because I liked the logistics
part of my job better than the sales. On the supplier side it was
80 percent sales and 20 percent logistics. I like the logistics,
all the details, keeping track of everything that’s going on. I
like to travel, and I like knowing the details of hotels and
facilities all over the country. There’s only so much challenge in
knowing one facility.
If you don’t want to travel or you
don’t like logistics, you shouldn’t be a meeting planner. The most
important thing about switching from supplier to planner is being
detail-oriented and loving logistics and changes, because that’s
what you deal with on a daily basis. Everything you just planned
gets changed. If you can roll with it and not get stressed out
about it, you’ll be successful.
My best piece of advice is to get
involved in Meeting Professionals International. The last three
jobs I’ve had I got through networking at MPI. Currently, I’m the
director of special events for the Northern California chapter;
next year, I’ll be the director of education.