Mark Hartnett, Vice President of Corporate Relations & Events for GLAAD, spent 15 years in marketing at Hearst’s and Conde Nast’s top publications. None of his job titles included the words event planning or event planner, yet almost all of his jobs required some level of event expertise.
“For example, being head of promotions at SELF is really an events job, and at Vogue, I came up with the creative ideas that in turn became experiential events,” he says. That experience is coming in handy at GLAAD, an advocacy group which monitors the media to ensure that the LGBTQ community is represented fairly and honestly. The group takes up causes such as transgender rights in the military, standing up for those identifying as LGBTQ who may not have a voice.
We spoke to Hartnett about his work—and when doughnuts may come in handy—as he was leaving for the Concert for Love & Acceptance in Nashville this month, a “rallying of country music stars and celebrities” for GLAAD’s benefit.
How is working for a nonprofit different from your corporate positions?
It’s actually not much of a departure. Besides event planning, a lot of what I did in my previous roles in publishing was connecting brands with people, and here I’m connecting our brand with different corporations. A lot of them want to support both the work we do and the community at large. Our events are related to fundraising, however, as opposed to corporate events. I have a team of 10 and oversee the majority of fundraising for the organization.
Are you the face of GLAAD at events?
No, it varies by event and the program it’s supporting. Sometimes many of us are there. I’m the person behind the scenes and in the pre-planning. I work with sponsors to make sure their brands are properly positioned to our donors at our events. For the Nashville concert, my team sold sponsorships to Ketel One, Southwest Airlines and the CMT (Country Music) television station.\
What advice would you give planners who want a role like yours?
Be flexible in how you approach a fundraising event. We can become siloed in the way we think about these and then it’s just putting together a group of people, making sure that they’re fed well and they’re entertained. But there’s a bigger strategy to it, like making sure you understand what the end goal is beforehand.
What was a particularly challenging event to plan?
In the six months that I’ve been here, I’ve been the executive director of our 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards, and I very proudly spent the first 3 1/2 months planning it. At our Los Angeles award ceremony, we honored Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and in New York, we honored Madonna and Andy Cohen. The challenge was getting up to speed in my current role, while at the same time understanding all the nuances and facets of this huge event that was able to garner 7.5 billion media impressions and raise over $5 million. To me the most important thing about the event’s success was that our team makes everything appear seamless.
Looking back, what would you tell yourself on your first day as a planner?
Don’t focus solely on events, focus on a wider range of marketing skills. By concentrating purely on the former, you’re limiting what your long-term career goals could be.
What lessons have you learned about planning?
You need to be detail oriented. If you’re not, make sure you have a team with people who are. Also, take advice from as many people as you can to help you think out of the box when it comes to creativity.
What’s a mistake you made in planning an event?
I once planned an event across the street from the United Nations on the day it was convening. It was for a launch party for a show home illustrating how a bachelor lives, for a men’s magazine. As it turned out, it was the same week as Rosh Hashanah and a hurricane. My mistake was not checking my calendar or the weather report. I truly was bribing traffic cops with doughnuts to let my trucks go down the street the event was on.
Any words of wisdom for event planners?
If you don’t get an answer after the second email, pick up the phone.
What’s your take on your first six months at GLAAD?
People in corporations think that money flows freely, but you’re still responsible for a tight budget. In nonprofits, the budget is even tighter, so being creative or having negotiation skills is advantageous to your end goal. Working for a nonprofit, the expectations are extremely high. Having the business-savvy that I was trained in is making the job a lot easier for me. I’m also teaching my staff things that they wouldn’t have thought of since they come from a nonprofit background.