On March 8, 2020 the world commemorated International Women’s Day, a movement that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. For us in the event industry, it is a special occasion to celebrate being part of a community that has evolved and embraces the gender equality movement, providing a safer space for talented women to dream and achieve big things.
We sat down with Alissa Hurley from FMAV, Gabriela Palacios, from the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel and Stefani Dunn, from Décor & More, influential “women in events”, to discover the secrets of their success. We covered everything from building their career, overcoming obstacles, boosting their confidence and becoming the amazing leaders they are today. These leaders are champions of change, innovation and the perfect example of work hard play hard.
There are so many empowering stories of powerful women in our industry that we couldn’t pick just one. We hope you enjoy this first part of our “Women in Events” series. Please share to spread a message of support and gratitude for these women who have elevated our industry and the quality of live experiences to unimaginable latitudes.
It’s an exciting time to be a women in our industry!
Alissa Hurley, Vice President, Marketing - FMAV
Q: Technology, is it really a “man’s world”?
From the outside, it may seem that way, but no, technology is for everyone.
Q: How do you think the presence of women in the tech field has evolved in the last few years?
Over the years, I have seen more and more women entering the tech field in various roles. I remember early in my career as a planner, I would often ask my AV partner if they had any female technicians on staff. Today, I would not ask how many are on staff, but how many will be working on my event.
Q: What attracted you to your role as VP of Marketing at FMAV?
I spent most of my career as an event planner for over 20 years and was always passionate about technology and how it could be used to create unique event experiences. I was ultimately attracted to FMAV’s customer-centric vision. When the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to help tell that story to the industry and represent the voice of the customer in the organization.
Q: As a marketer, what are the challenges that you have faced in this highly dominated male world of technology as a women?
I have been extremely fortunate to have faced very few challenges. While I know they can exist, I’m very proud that many organizations I have worked with have championed the role of women in the organization. I’m also lucky to have been exposed to great role models over the years including women founders in the tech industry and gender balanced executive teams.
Q: Advice/message for new generations wanting to follow your footsteps and start a career in event marketing?
Be a sponge! The world of event marketing is constantly evolving so take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow your skills. Seize every chance to work on different types of events in different sectors. I’ve worked in almost every role from registration desk to department leader and can still learn more.
Gabriela Palacios, Director of Event Planning, Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel
Q: How did you get started in your career in the hospitality industry?
Since I was in High School I wanted to study Hotel Management, I love to talk/meet people and travel so when I learned more about hospitality I thought this would be perfect for me. A day after I finished University I started working for Marriott, I’ve experience different Marriott brands and 2 areas, Sales and Events.
Q: What are the sacrifices you have made to get where you are today?
I would say that as a mom, definitely not spending more time with my kids. I had the fortune of having my parents taking care of them when they were little, so this definitely helped but you still miss some activities or different events in their lives.
Q: What do you think it’s the importance of collaboration in events?
Without team work you won’t be able to have a successful event. You need to have a great communication and commitment from different areas/ departments of the venues/hotels in order to have a successful event and a very happy client. Everybody working together with one same goal in mind.
Q: What motivates you and keep you excited about your job?
I think it is that I love my job and the people that I work with (coworkers and clients) and the culture that the company has, taking care of your associates and they will take care of the guests for me is the most important thing we have. This helps to have all the associates working like a family. Also, that each event is different so you are always learning new things.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
When I see that clients are happy, even saying that their event was the best they’ve ever had. Also to get comments from clients saying how amazing a member of my team is, how someone from my team helped them to plan a great event and that they want to come back.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to add that an important part of this job is also to have lots of fun and establish long lasting relations with clients and co-workers.
Stefani Dunn, Chief Creative Officer, Décor & More
Q: As a Chief Creative Officer, how do you define creativity?
Creativity to me, is opportunity. Everyday experiences and human association are infinite. They allow us to challenge existing narratives & curate possibilities. Creativity is defined by the way we use it.
Q: What are the most important qualifications of a creative designer?
I believe, surrounding yourself with people who you can learn from, jumpstarts creative mentorship & leads to us towards elevated collaboration. When a designer realizes that creativity is not a competition, they need for and want to work in tandem with others, in skillful and artistic ways.
The ability to grab and release isn’t easy for any creative. The connectivity between a designer and their vision can remain in constant change, if not managed. Acknowledging you are in a position of alignment, allows you move forward on multiple projects while ensuring designs in development are not jeopardized, if circumstances change. The ability to trust those you work with and accept the fact that the end result may not be what you had initially envisioned.
Q: In recent years, our industry have experienced a change from event planning to experience design. Walk us through your creative process to design wonderful experiences.
It’s funny how word-smithing can quickly define and create a new version of what we have been providing as an industry, for decades. In fact, we are included in this clever movement, as advocates & champions for Live Experiences. Simple words like these, unlock doors & reconfigure our industry parameters to have minimal limitations.
My creative process is individual to each request, but most often I can’t help but start to move forward gathering imagery right away - anything I feel connects to the request and starts a conversation. Once I begin to stylize my images into possible settings or experiences, the story begins to unravel. We then move into the brainstorming phase, looking at alternative ways to develop our initial ideas into a Design Synopsis. We take into consideration the concepts we are suggesting & how to enable them. By way of this statement and the influences of connectivity that surround us, we begin to build out the guest experience from a decor perspective, as a whole.
Q: What is the best advice you could give to future generations that are just starting or hoping to begin a career in event design?
While keeping an open mind, apply the elements of design to your canvas. There are no rules for the artistic, however, by defining (never defending!) your creative parameters, you develop your brand esthetic and individual voice.
Q: What are you go-to resources for inspiration: books, blogs, podcasts, professional development events?
I’m very fortunate in that everything around me sparks thought and artistic translation. I gravitate towards fine art and outsized installations that inspire personal interpretation. I tend to negotiate my way through trends by looking beyond them or backfilling my concepts with personal successes. Upcycling my ideas through networking discussions, with people who influence me and can associate themselves with what I do. I often look at the masters of architecture and how that relates to the spaces I sculpt, and environments we create as an industry.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
The affinity for one idea to the next is a fast train, and requires a commitment. Take time to recognize your best work and reward yourself. Creativity is rarely completed in the standard 9-5 work hours, and this is sometimes misunderstood. Our curious mindset doesn’t allow for regular brain breaks – because we don’t believe in a single set of rules, we forget to rest and recharge. Signing out doesn’t mean signing off – it keeps you relevant and on top of your game.