There’s a phrase thrown around in the military: “embrace the suck.”
Its meaning is simple—to accept or maybe even learn to appreciate an unpleasant but unavoidable situation. Rather than complain and ruminate on an unavoidable situation, find a way to relish in it.
If you’re a corporate event planner, that’s a situation you can probably relate to. After all, event planning ranks just behind being in the military for job stress.
Rachel Andrews has taken the phrase to heart. She’s the director of meetings and events at Cvent, a technology company whose software helps companies plan, host, manage and market events, from setting up a website to registering participants using its Flex product.
Andrews manages a team of 30 globally, 11 in the U.S. Her group arranges 1,200 company events annually for Cvent employees and customers, including global product trainings, Lunch and Learns, dinners, receptions, and user and industry conferences.
We spoke to Andrews about her career path and “embracing the suck” when it comes to the chaos of live event production.
How did you get your start in this field?
I was good at managing people, process and logistics. I started in this field as a junior planner at Morgan Stanley and fell in love with it when I attended one of my first events. I thought, “I’m pretty OK with this. I’m going to keep going.” It’s been a great ride.
What was one of your favorite events?
Once I planned a ski conference in Aspen for about 40 people from a financial institution. It was elegant, out of the ordinary, and intimate. I had to consider everything, from ski glove and boot size to people’s favorite drink, and I had to remember everything about everyone, including travel details. However, I like being a service provider. I’m a big skier, and I also got to ski. I had about an hour and a half to myself by the time I got my skis on, and I was able to get one run in.
What was a particularly challenging event to plan?
When I came to Cvent, we didn’t do a lot of customer events. I was talking to our CMO that first year and the lightbulb went off and I thought “Hey, we should be doing customer events.” We started Cvent CONNECT, our annual user and industry conference which is now our biggest event. Participants include customers coming for training on our products, our partners, our supplier hotels and cities, and event professionals from all industries. It’s grown immensely over the eight years I’ve been here, from the budget, to the agenda, to the staff and the hotel room block. It’s challenging because of the scalability, but in a good way.
Looking back, what would you tell yourself on your first day as a planner?
Take it one step and one event at a time. Instead of looking at a list of 20 tasks and freaking out, cross off one thing on the To Do list, then go on to the next. That sounds basic, but a lot of people get overwhelmed when they start working on an event. When I first started, I was always trying to do three things at once.
What lessons have you learned about event planning?
Keep up with technology and don’t get left behind. Also, people tell you to have a plan B, but also have a plan C, D, and E. There are some situations where you have to be able to think on the fly to solve a problem, and having those additional plans as backup is crucial. Even if you don’t have a plan, make the person or people affected think you do and solve it in real time. Planners always have a plan even if they haven’t formulated it.
What was a mistake you made related to an event?
I’ve missed a flight, booked two people into the same room instead of separate rooms, forgotten to order a meal… fortunately nothing earth shattering. You fix the problem and own up to it. You tell the person exactly what happened and do what you can to smooth over the situation, and they usually respect you for that.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten about event planning?
Embrace the suck. It’s a phrase from the military. It’s positive; it means getting through when things get tough and not complaining. Some people take things too seriously. There will be certain parts of the planning job you don’t like, but once you finish them and are at an event, you’ve done it.
Do you have a tip for event planners?
Happiness is a choice. The job can be stressful but you never want to be the stressed-out event planner onsite snapping at people. I make sure I always have a smile on my face. It matters.
Words of wisdom you can pass on?
Know your audience, from who’s coming to who you’re actually talking to. Is it a CEO? Your peer? A customer? You need to talk to each person differently.
What makes an event special to you?
It sounds like a cliché, but it’s seeing everything come together after you’ve been working on it for 18 months or so. When I hold the in-person “pre-con” [pre-conference meeting] with my staff, the hotel staff, and the vendors, I get goosebumps. Many are people I’ve only talked to on the phone, and now we’re all in one room and the event is here. It takes my breath away. Bring it on.