From an events perspective, it’s not just about how to integrate social media into your event.
The stress can be overwhelming at times. The expectations for a flawless show is very high. I do not plan parties. I am not a party girl. I do more than serve drinks and order food. I don’t plan events, I create once in a lifetime experiences. There is a very big differences. I focus on brand and experience, so that everything I present during an experience supports the brand and messaging that we’re trying to promote. Everything must be in perfect synergy from signage, seating, to smells to tastes to lighting. At the end of the day it’s very rewarding than giving clients their dream event and my team getting the reconnection for a great experience.~Sarah Storrs
You would think that Event planners spend most of their time at venues but again that is a misconception. Much of their time in is spent in the office. 50 to 70 hours a week are spent on the computer going over budgets, reviewing contracts replying to emails. When not on the computer they are on conference calls with other departments, vendors or clients. Sarah says that production schedules, floor plans and other details of an event must be fine tuned months ahead of time and even then changes happen the day of the event. Sometime moments before it set to start. Event planners don’t work alone they have a staff that help researching event locations, arranging catering, negotiating agreements with suppliers, and creating budgets for her approval. You would be surprised how much some of these events cost to execute.
Sarah said that holding relationship-building meetings with venues is one of favorite things about the event world. Site visits gives her a chance to travel to locations and see the event space in person. Getting together with clients is a major part of an event planner’s life. As a director Sarah wears the hat of event coördinator, event planner and manager. Delegating is not a luxury is a necessity. Someone must be monitoring delivery, the food, setup of lighting, sometimes the booths,transportation for talent and of course helping register attendees to the event.
The event world is not a 9 to 5 gig. You don’t get weekends off. You’re always on call because things are happening in different time zones. Sarah said that during the 3 day BET Experience at LA Live she gets about 3 hours of sleep if she is lucky. hours can run from 5 a.m. to midnight. They also do not get weekends off. If you are looking for regular hours this is not the professional field for you. On the flip side, according to U.S. News & World Report being in event planning is one of the best professions to be in at the moment. Numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that job security of meeting and convention planners set to grow. However there is never a dull moment. The following all happened in one day,
- – told 3 men to stop leering at guests
- – unzipped a stranger’s dress
- – “showered” with a wet wipe
- – gave dap to Secret Service
- – found a “loaner” iPhone for interviewer
- – delivered a magnum of cabernet
- – unstacked chairs
- – passed out tissue to teary-eyed guests
- – hugged an Emmy winner
- – watched an executive twerk to “these hoes ain’t loyal”
- – dug under sofa cushions for drunk guests lost phone
- – reviewed security footage for lost phone (later found in a pocket)
- – discussed strategies and considerations regarding millennial employment
- – crawled under a table looking for a lip gloss
Sarah Storrs: Really, that all happened in just one day.
Saintel Daily: Walk me through the step-by-step process that you went through to get to where you are today. What was the first thing you did?
Hmmm… I can’t say there’s a FIRST THING. For me, my career path was a bit of trial and error in the early years. I went to 3 different schools for my undergraduate degree and chose my major because (A) I love history and (B) by the time credits transferred, I was closest to the history degree. In some ways, the same things that I love about history are what I love about creating events. I anticipated going to grad school, so my first jobs out of college were meant to be more fulfilling than life-changing. My focus was on non-profit jobs – an idealistic college student, I suppose. That led me to a non-profit in the entertainment field where I got to try lots of different things all as administrative support – programming, HR, meetings & events. The meeting & events position led me toward where I am now in so many ways. Not only did it guide me from a career perspective – all subsequent jobs were related – but my boss in that job sought me out years later for an opportunity that brought me to where I am today.
Saintel Daily: Are there trends, directions in which you see Events going?
Technology is changing everything! From an events perspective, it’s not just about how to integrate social media into your event, but how to use technology to create a seamless experience for guests, from invitation, to arrival, to on-site custom-curated experiences and even post-event follow up. As much as corporate culture tries to minimize costs by limiting travel and some of the hospitality which can been seen as extravagant, there is no substitution for live, in-person, human interaction and personal memories. Technology is helping to supplement those engagements and to extend their reach, but it won’t ever replace the live experiences that people carry with them forever. Tweeting it helps to multiply the experience’s impact, but if the person in the room isn’t moved, all the social media in the world won’t help.
Saintel Daily: Tell me about some of the people you’ve met while working. Its ok to name drop.
Wow. I’m exceptionally lucky to have met so many gifted performers and amazing influentials, but, as I tell people, it’s not like Mary J. Blige is calling me to hang out. Meeting Mr. Rogers years ago was definitely remarkable. Suge Knight was remarkable in a completely different way. Who else… David Banner, Prince, President Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Justin Bieber, Doug E. Fresh, Bill Bellamy, Mo’Nique, Hosea Chanchez, Trey Songz, Jamie Foxx, Gabrielle Union, Mara Brock Akil, Queen Latifah, Tracee Ellis Ross. Larry Sanders. Colin Powell. Wyclef Jean. I know just how blessed I’ve been to find myself next to so many outstanding individuals! It’s fun to reflect on the moments that each of those names conjour up.
Saintel Daily: What was it like being one of the few white people at BET?
On a daily basis, it’s not all that notable. I came to BET in 2005, when Viacom assumed oversight of the network. (Viacom bought BET in 2000, but gave Bob Johnson 5 years before they directly managed the organization.) There are a few moments that I can remember when talent (whose name I won’t share) didn’t want “the white girl” at the door for a “Black event”. More often, I recall the moments where I’d show up for a meeting or site visit with my team members (who were all African-American) and the venue/sponsor contact looked perplexed that I was the person in charge. Certainly there have been times when current events (Ferguson, the election of Barack Obama to name a few) made certain workplace topics more sensitive than others. Although that happens in many workplaces – I was just lucky enough to experience it from a side that most white Americans don’t get to feel. While I never felt overt racism from the organization or from colleagues, there are certainly times that I felt like I was on the outside. Race and the definition thereof is so subconsciously engrained in American culture in ways that so many can’t even enunciate. I felt lucky to learn things that I never would have in another setting – from the meaning of “put your elbow in it” to being able to listen in on conversations about Black women’s hair. Whether it was my position, my skin color, or something else, there were certainly times I wondered why I wasn’t invited to Happy Hours or someone’s birthday party. Then again, I can think of many colleagues who were incredibly inclusive too! There was a fabulous 70’s themed 40th birthday party… Watching football with colleagues… Birthday dinners… Overall, I think it was pretty much like any other company – some people you WANT to spend time with and others you’re happy to leave at 5pm or 9pm, whenever the day ends.
Saintel Daily: How do you see your role over the next decade changing?
Let’s come back to this one… First I need to figure out what’s next now that the BET events team is joining the Viacom structure.
Saintel Daily: What is next for you now that you have left the company?
I’m not sure yet. And as scary as that it, it’s also really exciting! BET has given me an amazing portfolio of events, an extensive list of contacts, a wonderful perspective on corporate events, as well as a unique perspective on life. Without sounding too “PollyAnna-ish”, I’m really open to anything that comes next. Entertainment is changing so rapidly. The rise of new content providers (like Netflix and Amazon) combined with the accessibility of online content has forced traditional cable and content providers to challenge their business models. It’s not just the Millennials who are consuming content in other ways. As more and more people seek innovative ways to inspire and to be inspired it’s the support functions (especially marketing and communications teams) who need to create new opportunities to motivate the audience to tune in. EMPIRE is a huge win for Fox, but you can also look at HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER and SCANDAL to see the impact of social media. Netflix has tapped into our desire to be the first to find something new – how many of us binge-watched HOUSE OF CARDS as soon as possible to make sure that we were part of the “in crowd.” I’m grateful to have a moment to step back from the daily Nielsen reports to decide how I see myself in that new marketplace. There are so many parts of the entertainment world that I didn’t have any clue about 5 years ago. That just means I have more opportunities to consider!
Saintel Daily: Last question. If a kid walked up to asking for your advice and you only had a few minutes to give ‘em your best tip, what would it be?
Talk to strangers! Of course, that depends on the age of the kid. Maybe it’s safer to say BE OPEN. As a young person, I thought I had to know exactly what I wanted to do. Go to high school, go to college, major in XXX, get a job doing XXX, and so on. Who knows where I’d be now if I had stuck it out at that first college that I went to. I’m sure my parents would feel otherwise, but in retrospect, I’m glad that I realized that it wasn’t the right place for me. It was scary to take that step – to step out of the line of schooling that all my high school friends fell so easily into. Being open to the opportunities that I found along my career path has given me more than I could have imagined! When I was in college, lamenting the loss of Biggie and Tupac, who could have imagined that I’d have Kanye’s security detail on speed dial? Being open to what life presents has also allowed me the chance to find what inspires me and what my gifts are. My gifts may not be defined in a way that you can read on a resume, but they are mine alone.