Recognizing outstanding b-to-b event marketers

Eight years ago, we reimagined our long-running Dream Team program to focus on b-to-b event and trade show marketers in spaces that, at the time, we said were “home to a virtual revolution in new formats, fresh thinking and trends.” Fast forward to today, four years out from a global pandemic and digital transformation, amid evolving economic challenges, and with a lot of new faces behind the scenes and in the audience… that viewpoint takes on a whole new meaning.

Fact is, when you create experiences around business, magical things can happen. And yet, these marketers play in practical spaces. Some of our honorees juggle hundreds of events each year. Their roles may crisscross the organization. Costs are up, but budgets are flat. But what they do is their favorite subject, and showcasing their incredible work, ideas and results is our favorite subject.

Our recruitment process began in Q1 with a call for nominations across the event community to submit recommendations of all-star colleagues and clients. The impressive collection of people you’re about to meet were selected from a competitive pool of submissions from all over the country. Each Dream Team profile gives insight into why they were selected and what Dream Team title we would give them if they joined our brand.

This year’s honorees (including a first-ever return honoree who was elevated to a leadership role) join an alumni community of nearly 100 corporate b-to-b marketers we’ve added to our “corporate history.” The conversations were wide-ranging, from virtual skills and hybrid strategies, to budget hacks, to the new formats replacing “brick-and-mortar” shows, to tranquility as an objective… Without further ado, we invite you to meet our 2024 B-to-B Dream Team. 

By Rachel Boucher and Juanita Chavarro Arias


Stemline, A Menarini Group Company


NAME: Laine Mann
CURRENT TITLE: Senior Director, Oncology Medical Affairs Congress Lead, Stemline, A Menarini Group Company
DREAM TEAM TITLE: SVP-Brand Experience
WHY WE WANT HER: For her experiential mindset and ability to create unified brand stories that meet layers of objectives and speak to diverse audiences.

Laine Mann

In the highly regulated world of medical congresses, it takes a brave storyteller to “rewrite the rules of the game,” our editors say. It’s a challenge that has fueled Laine Mann’s passion for creating engaging, informative and measurable booth experiences that cater to health care providers in whatever chapter of their career journeys they’re on.

Mann has been on our radar since her debut on the Dream Team in 2018, then as strategic lead for Pfizer global events. Today, as senior director-medical affairs, congress strategic lead, at oncological biopharmaceutical company Stemline Therapeutics, which was acquired by Menarini Group in 2020, she has tackled fresh challenges amid a product launch, growth and transition with an experiential mindset. “For me, it’s purposeful because cancer touches everybody,” she says.

In her role, Mann heads up 15-20 congress booths per year (the largest being the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which takes place each June) and helps develop a center of excellence so that there is a consistent look and feel for the company. She also leads the association strategy, which involves getting to know member types and how they want to learn—a critical evolution in the “omnichannel” approach trade show managers must take today, Mann says, which includes events, thought leadership, virtual and networking.

“What’s so important to us is really listening and learning and developing those personas for those oncologists and hematologists, and figuring out how can we meet them where they are,” says Mann, who is also president-elect of the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association.

Booths must work hard to drive interest with HCPs who are unique in therapeutic and even geographic areas, and according to Mann, “Nine times out of 10, they’re focused on data and a scientific exchange.” Booths also have to meet specific ethics rules and regulations in pharma, which include no giveaways and a strict separation between unbranded medical areas of exhibits (which focus on clinical trials and what’s in the pipeline) and the commercial area of exhibits (products that have launched).

Enter: the “Art of Care” theme at the American Society of Hematology (ASH), inspired by modern museum architecture and featured live art elements that would reveal works of art when attendees interacted with them, incorporating the bite-sized information busy HCPs are often drawn to while creating a cohesive story that connected the medical side to the commercial side.

“It was meant to intrigue and convert those passersby, but the other reason I thought it was so successful is that having the commercial separate from medical, having these walls and no lines of sight between them, we were able to incorporate the ‘Art of Care’ throughout the entire exhibit and it’s still all a part of that curated journey,” Mann says.

And within “Art of Care,” the team deployed the FastSensor tool, which created a heat map showing where the HCPs were spending most of their time. “A lot of them spent time in the hospitality area, but we did notice that a lot of people who were walking past the exhibit would stop in and actually engage in the content that we had before they even went over for the coffee.”

Those soft metrics, for Mann, can sometimes tell a deeper story than the tangible metrics from lead scanning. “The first thing that I ask is if the booth could talk, what would it say? If it supports the story, then it stays in the design, but if it doesn’t support it, then it’s just noise and needs to be removed.” That sharp, strategic experiential lens is what leads us to name our two-time all-star Mann as the 2024 B-to-B Dream Team captain.



NAME: Erin Oles
CURRENT TITLE: SVP-Strategic Events, Salesforce
DREAM TEAM TITLE: SVP-Strategy and Innovation
WHY WE WANT HER: With a background in start-ups and tech, she isn’t afraid to experiment and launch new initiatives. 

Erin Oles

Erin Oles often jokes that she’s one of the few people in the industry who actually has a degree in events. She graduated from San Diego State University’s Hospitality and Tourism Management program, with a focus on events, which set the foundation for her career. Starting in the Hyatt Corporate Management Training Program, Oles completed a rotation in sales and marketing and took on a sales manager role with Hyatt Hotels.

From there, Oles decided that she wanted to work on the corporate side of events and moved to Salesforce, first in a sales position and then transitioned to Dreamforce, the brand’s flagship event for its community of customers, partners and employees. As a program manager, Oles launched a pilot program implementing the first outbound event calling team to promote Dreamforce to the right attendees, managed interns, produced sales training tools and directed the strategic vision of the team.

Looking to gain more experience with different types of event areas, Oles took a role with a start-up and spent almost nine years at Rodan + Fields building out the events organization, learning through trial and error, getting creative monetizing experiences, and developing virtual events with livestreams and engaging content, back in 2016 before they became standard during the pandemic. With an expanded skill set, she “boomeranged” back to Salesforce in 2022.

“You never know who’s going to revisit you later in your career. I kept every bridge warm, not with the intention of making career moves, but to build out a community of people who can support you as you’re trying new things and innovating. It’s really great to be able to have people you can bounce ideas off of,” Oles says.

Now as svp-strategic events, Oles, along with her team, manages more than 90 events—including Dreamforce, TrailblazerDX, global world tours, trade shows, internal events and third-party events—and works on events enablement, events marketing, demand generation and sponsorship. 

“Events, especially one like Dreamforce, are the ultimate manifestation of our brand, and so we look at how we bring to life our customers’ successes through the lens of an event,” she says. “We double down on how we take an important customer story and make it an interactive customer experience to show how our products are powering it so others can learn from it.”

Attendee demographics are made up of “every title, every industry, every persona, whether it’s marketing, IT or sales,” Oles says. As a result, Salesforce aims to create programming that offers something for everyone and meets them where they are. The team tees up the perfect multiday itineraries to customers so they get the most out of Dreamforce without being overwhelmed. A fun aspect, last year’s event featured performances from Foo Fighters and surprise guest Demi Lovato at its Dreamforce National Park campus in San Francisco.

“We’re in an entirely new forefront with data and AI, and I think a lot of our customers and partners are trying to determine: ‘How does this apply to our business, and how can I implement it?’” Oles says. “What we’re doing right now is providing a lot of hands-on training, learning and quick starts to show people how to make the most of the products we’re selling that allow them to embed trusted AI. And that’s what I’m seeing from a shift right now in how we’re designing for our attendees.”


Porsche Cars North America

NAME: Ayesha Coker
CURRENT TITLE: VP-Marketing, Porsche Cars North America
DREAM TEAM TITLE: SVP-Launch Experiences
WHY WE WANT HER: As she’s climbed the corporate ladder in the automotive space, she has led every step of the development, management and operations around major experiential brand events.

Ayesha Coker

Building a career in the automotive industry wasn’t what Ayesha Coker expected as a fashion merchandising student at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, but “it’s been a beautiful ride.” Following her graduation—having also earned an associate degree in advertising and integrated marketing communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology—Coker was fast-tracked into the industry by taking on the Mercedes-Benz account at New York City-based agency Merkley + Partners. For five years, she handled all traditional advertising for Mercedes-Benz dealers as an associate account executive before switching over to experiential marketing for the brand at GMR.

With nine years on the agency side and a taste of experiential, Coker was equipped with a unique perspective that led her to Porsche Cars North America in 2010. She moved to Atlanta and started her career with the brand as a project manager in the experiential marketing department, working on brand events, such as auto shows, driving events and motorsports events. Since then, Coker has risen through the ranks to now vp-marketing, where she oversees an expanded portfolio of partnerships, sponsorships, marketing communications, Porsche Experience Centers and the Porsche Track Experience.

“Flexibility is important, and understanding that the landscape is changing; you want to be able to evolve as a brand,” Coker says. “We never would have thought maybe five or 10 years ago that we would be in the e-gaming space or racing electric race cars in Formula E. These are all new platforms that we’re embracing while still being authentic to our brand.”

Coker’s marketing department includes a team of 50, and this year, they’re working on about 20 to 25 national events in support of four product launches, as well as dealer marketing that involves local-level activations, totaling more than 100 events across three markets. Add in the almost 400 b-to-b yearly events at the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta and 250 events at the L.A. location, and it’s a pretty full calendar.

“Anytime we launch a new vehicle, it’s a very large activation that goes along with it because we want to make sure that the event is impactful and we get as many impressions and participants as we possibly can with that one event,” Coker says. “The second largest of the year took place at SXSW. At Porsche Full Service, we averaged about a little over 7,000 people through our exhibition over five days, and it garnered a lot of media attention, as well as social media influence.”

Porsche caters each activation to the audience in attendance, tapping into passion points that resonate with enthusiast and customer groups, whether it’s partnering with arts and entertainment organizations, offering driving events at the Porsche Experience Centers or hosting customers at motorsports races. “It all depends on the make and model of the event,” Coker says, adding that Porsche is not just an automotive company, it’s a community—one that some people aspire to be a part of.

“We want people to come in and learn about our brand but also have an interactive experience where it touches all the senses when you’re in the space,” she says. “We want to make sure that you are versed in our product and heritage, so we try to have vehicles on display that you can touch, see, experience and ask questions about… We actually have our employees from all different parts of the company at our events because they are our brand ambassadors, and they know Porsche through and through.”


Amazon Ads

NAME: Joslin Witsil
CURRENT TITLE: Head of Global Branded Events, Amazon Ads
DREAM TEAM TITLE: VP-Global Events Strategy
WHY WE WANT HER: She’s navigated events of all types and sizes to deliver memorable and innovative attendee experiences while driving measurable results.

Joslin Witsil

Name the event, and Joslin Witsil has probably planned it. From product launches to trade shows to conferences to brand events to sales incentives, she has managed events ranging from 20 attendees to 25,000 across f&b, insurance and tech industries.

Witsil’s first foray into events was after college, running the events program at a winery tasting room in her hometown in Washington, where she worked with clients on weddings, concerts, dinners and corporate events. After studying p.r. and sports marketing, Witsil ventured down a different career path that led her to meeting planning, corporate communications and marketing at Premera Blue Cross for five years and then landed in tech, where she’s been for the last 13. Witsil has taken on event marketing roles at Amazon Web Services, Dropbox, Google, Axon and, most recently, Amazon Ads.

“I love being super customer-obsessed, developing unique experiences, delivering results and having the opportunity to innovate,” Witsil says. “That’s one thing that drew me back into the culture at Amazon, and the chance to build something from the ground up.”

In her current role, Witsil manages global b-to-b owned brand events for Amazon Ads. She has direct oversight into the entire strategy and production of all of the brand’s first-party events and oversees the sponsorship program. Witsil leads a team of event marketers, producers, sponsorship managers and event technologists, and they sit within the brand marketing organization, part of the Amazon Ads global marketing organization.

“We focus on those high-touch, high-priority, high-visibility events that are really moving the needle for our clients and our customers,” Witsil says. “I have six owned events that I oversee, including unBoxed, our annual conference for our advertising customers, and the regional series we’ve spun off that, where we’re taking the content and product announcements from that event on the road globally for our customers who may not have been able to join us in person at the flagship conference.”

Different from most tech audiences, Amazon Ads primarily focuses on marketers and advertisers, who “innately know how to tell stories and grow their brands and businesses,” Witsil says. So the events team is tasked with delivering memorable, immersive experiences that capture attendee attention in new ways and facilitate connections while articulating the value propositions of its products and services—“How can we get them to then act on those outcomes of thinking, feeling and doing on-site?”

In terms of b-to-b trends, Witsil notes that highly experiential activations are moving away from traditional brick-and-mortar conferences and trade shows to “experiences that allow them to play and get a little bit more hands-on.” The events team is cognizant of shortening attention spans, so snackable content, like 15-minute TED Talk-inspired sessions, are being incorporated into program lineups. Lastly, Witsil says personalized and inclusive experiences are key, and swag is going away with more of a push toward sustainability. 

“We actually haven’t offered swag for unBoxed since we started,” she says. “It has to be very purposeful, and tied to a specific action someone has to take in order to get it—a contest, a raffle or something where there’s a direct CTA. We’re making those cuts purposefully and figuring out what we can do to better our footprint.” 


SAP Global Marketing

NAME: Melissa Vilders
CURRENT TITLE: Head of Global Events Strategy and Experience, HCM Solutions, SAP Global Marketing
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Head of Attendee Engagement
WHY WE WANT HER: A compassionate leader, she listens to her audience and transforms events into valuable, personalized experiences that foster learning and connectivity.

Melissa Vilders

Melissa Vilders’ pride and joy is SAP’s SuccessConnect. The annual customer event brings together h.r. business leaders, customers and prospects to explore the latest SAP human capital management (HCM) technologies through keynotes, sessions and demos. In her role, Vilders manages the entire event strategy for SuccessConnect and oversees the end-to-end integrated attendee journey for in-person and digital events. In addition, for SAP’s flagship event Sapphire, she project-manages the HCM event elements.

“The h.r. community is truly remarkable, with a strong desire for building connections and engaging deeply with fellow professionals in the field,” Vilders says. “They have an appetite for innovative and immersive experiences during events. My focus is on crafting an atmosphere that enhances their learning and networking opportunities. Regardless of the current stage in their journey with SAP, we offer a variety of experiences tailored to their needs. It’s all about creating a personalized experience that empowers them to excel in their daily roles.”

Prior to SAP, Vilders worked in sales, but early career experiences in events in France, where she’s from, kept calling her back to her first passion. Over almost 10 years at the software company, she has grown her events career from managing operational workstreams in f&b, space management, housing and registration, to leading conference strategy and program management.

Vilders works under SAP’s global marketing organization, and while she doesn’t have direct reports, she leads a team that is assigned to her for the duration of an event’s planning period, usually a couple of months. The last two years, she’s been working with mostly the same team members, which has allowed for trust and consistency in the process.

In October, the hybrid SuccessConnect will take place in Lisbon, Portugal. Vilders aims to capitalize on the momentum from last year’s successes in Las Vegas, which included a first-time partnership with TED for a TED Talk closing keynote, a vibrant Central Park-inspired exhibition space, wellness activities and an exclusive after-party at the Venetian Resort’s TAO Beach that featured a surprise dj set from Diplo.

“We tried something new last year; we had a Tranquility Lounge, which I’m very, very proud of because events can be overwhelming for every attendee, but even more so for people who are neurodivergent,” she says. “We created this quiet space with noise-cancelling headphones, coloring books, dim lighting and comfy bean bags for them to be able to take a break. It was very successful.”

Vilders and her team worked through the COVID-19 pivot to virtual events, and while in-person experiences are back, she is still seeing a high demand for virtual components.

“A lot of attendees cannot travel due to budget cuts, so having a clear understanding of what you can provide them virtually is key. Anyone who is in event management needs to make sure they understand what it takes to put a virtual event together,” she says. “Virtual and hybrid events will continue to gain popularity in the b-to-b space, and that’s great because it’s giving us greater reach and accessibility to a global audience.”

With SuccessConnect headed to Europe this year, the virtual program will be important to engage North American customers who may not be able to travel, Vilders says. In her view, other vital considerations for events include leveraging AI to support planning and the attendee experience, incorporating more personalized and interactive experiences, and designing programs that are mindful of neurodiversity, generational diversity and sustainability.


Dell Technologies

NAME: Jeff Tsai
CURRENT TITLE: Senior Director-Field Experiential & Executive Briefing Program, Dell Technologies
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Senior Director-Executive Experiences and Business Transformation
WHY WE WANT HIM: With consulting experience across a variety of industries, he can step back and analyze the effectiveness of strategies and results through each stage of the marketing funnel.

“I ’m not a lifelong events guy,” says Jeff Tsai. A trumpet player, he diverged from his music business background when he ventured into executive education and communications, consulting, tech and, finally, events. Over the course of his career, Tsai has zeroed in on roles that build on his three strengths: “solving tough problems, leading people and creating executive-level experiences.”

“Every three to five years, I’ve found myself pursuing new ways to grow in those three areas, even if it means looking to entirely different parts of the business world,” he says. “I have been a symphony orchestra manager and done corporate fundraising and strategic planning… but I’ve always been interested in industry transformation and disruption.”

After his time with orchestras, Tsai went to Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned his MBA and ran executive leadership courses. Then, he spent eight years at Deloitte as a strategy and operations management consultant for clients in retail, insurance and health care industries.

Now at Dell in Austin, TX, Tsai splits his time working on events in North America with serving as the global lead for the Executive Briefing Program, which helps customers define a path for their company’s digital transformation and includes 10 Executive Briefing Centers around the world. His team is made up of about 75 employees across 11 different countries, with about 17 of those staffers dedicated to events that range from 20 to a few thousand qualified-buyer attendees.

“Where we do our best work in an executive briefing is that it is Dell and a single customer, so that’s one-to-one,” Tsai says. “The way that I think about it is that the events world is a natural extension of that… In all cases, how many customers and attendees are you engaging with at a time? One.”

Last year, Tsai’s team hosted a Dell Technologies Forum at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. An open expo environment with stages, seating, networking areas, booths, demos and photo ops was set up right on the football field. The forum was designed as a scaled-down version of the Dell Technologies World conference held annually in Las Vegas. Among IoT, cloud computing and cybersecurity, AI was a hot topic at the event, and Tsai predicts its application to only continue growing.

“The world and everything that we do is going to look completely different five years from now, all thanks to artificial intelligence,” he says. “I, for one, welcome our robot overlords. The more you can embrace it, the more you can be part of this transformation and not under the transformation.”

While Tsai calls the Executive Briefing Program his baby, having worked on it over his five years at Dell, he’s very proud of his family and home life, celebrating 18 years with his wife this year and their five kids. Plus, his oldest is a freshman in high school, playing, you guessed it, trumpet. 



NAME: Shanon Stanberry
CURRENT TITLE: Senior Manager-Exhibits & Trade Shows, Boeing
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Senior Director-Trade Show Experiences
WHY WE WANT HER: She can strategize for a space that’s 100 square feet or 20,000 square feet, and understands the nuances to integrating units across a business.

Shanon Stanberry

You might say Shanon Stanberry’s career in events was the product of a smooth takeoff. She launched her career in a junior role at a venue hosting trade shows for large tech and telecom companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She would eventually be recruited by one, managing programs like corporate sponsorships, customer events, executive briefing centers and trade shows for AT&T, and later, Sprint and Netgear. But Stanberry ultimately traded one fast lane for another when she landed at Boeing, where she has traveled the world managing exhibits and trade shows under the brand’s Global Services umbrella, which ladders up to the cmo.

“The telecom-tech space and the way that events are used in those spaces are very different than the way they’re used in aviation—they’re about generating leads and building pipeline. But in the aviation space, it’s about building relationships,” Stanberry says. “This was a very interesting new spin for me when I came to work at Boeing.”

Throughout the year, her team of four based in cities across the country and the world manage nearly 100 trade show programs, ranging from 10-by-10 spaces up to 20,000 square feet and beyond. In July, her team will head to the annual six-day Air Venture Show in Oshkosh, WI, by the Experimental Aircraft association (EAA) where multiple business units will together host an exhibit and chalet within a 20,000-square-foot space housing the entire Boeing company.

The magnitude of the business and these footprints create challenges for her team in connecting the dots between an exhibit experience and true ROI (although, many deals are signed on-site at shows). Any new lead-gen systems or devices like sensors can be difficult to get cleared due to global privacy restrictions. In this way, foot traffic and on-site sales are key metrics for the team. 

At Oshkosh, which attracts 600,000 attendees, Boeing’s “monster” booth sells and promotes all Boeing services, from software to digital aviation solutions to parts and distribution to training. There’s also a Boeing pop-up store featuring exclusive Boeing merchandise. 

Of course, relationship-building doesn’t only mean engaging potential customers. The brand invests in the next generation of pilots and engineers at Oshkosh through a partnership with EAA, offering free admittance for anyone under the age of 18. In the booth, the brand offers STEM-focused activities, from real flight simulators to robotics. And of course, there’s always a wow moment—last year, the brand promoted the Starliner program and also had a Dreamlifter. Connections are key, across the board.

“A lot of my peers think it’s interesting that I have my team working the reception desks at shows versus hiring brand ambassadors and that my people aren’t just behind the scenes,” Stanberry says. “I want my team front and center, I want them to own the brand. I want them to feel like they’re are a part of something bigger.”



NAME: Trevor Drewry
CURRENT TITLE: Head of Event Marketing, Webflow
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Global Head of Event Marketing and Demand Generation
WHY WE WANT HIM: He comes at events from a metrics-driven standpoint, connecting the dots between event programs and how they’re hitting customer needs and business targets to generate leads and drive sales.

Trevor Drewry

If you’re looking for an expert in event measurement, Trevor Drewry is your person. After more than 20 years in marketing, he’s defined the best metrics and KPIs that show an event’s value to the business and sales pipeline successes.

“For me, the two attendee metrics are net promoter score and intent to return,” he says. “From net promoter score, you’re going to get word-of-mouth and organic promotion, and then intent to return is the ultimate measure. Was it worth their investment of time, money, time away from their families? If it is ‘yes,’ then you’ve done a good job of making sure that the attendee experience is valuable.”

Early on, Drewry realized that trade shows and expos were not the side of events that he enjoyed. Instead, planning user conferences was where he thrived, getting his first go at software company Relativity in Chicago, where he launched Relativity Fest and grew attendance from 150 the first year to thousands over five years. In 2016, Drewry joined San Francisco-based AppDirect to run events, field marketing and demand generation. There, he built its user conference and navigated the pandemic’s switch to fully virtual events.

At the remote-first Webflow since 2022 in his role as head of event marketing, Drewry leads a team of three in-house event marketers and works with several contractors, agencies and event professionals to bring the software company’s events to life. Webflow’s event portfolio stands at about 100 per year, and it is leaning into more brand activations and trying new formats, “focusing on value over volume,” Drewry says. His main event is the multiday Webflow Conf user conference, geared toward customers, web designers, creatives and “people who want more out of their website.”

“The planning cycle for Webflow Conf is like 12 to 18 months, where I’m never not thinking about this year and the next, always trying to one-up, innovate and do things better than the last,” Drewry says. “That is our biggest marketing moment as well, so I make sure we align with what is coming in the product and major company announcements.”

Webflow Conf was typically held in October in San Francisco, but last year, Drewry wanted to take the event on the road for a series that hit its top four cities of existing and prospective customers: San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and London.

“I wanted to drive up the return on investment for Webflow Conf and wanted the numbers to continue to grow, while lowering the barrier to entry—four user conferences in four cities in three weeks last October,” he says. “The results from that delivered three times as much pipeline from the year before and drove up the attendee net promoter score. The intent to return is 97 percent. It definitely paid off; super proud.”

Not to mention, it also involved the launch of Webflow’s rebrand at the first event’s opening keynote and completely flipping the venue’s branding, colors and logos, in addition to the web and digital. 

“We had new logo pins, stickers and takeaways,” Drewry says. “We have such a phenomenal and passionate customer base that people actually have our Webflow logo tattooed on them. So I had a temporary tattoo station with our new logo and let them know, ‘This is until you can get to the tattoo shop and get the real thing done.’” That’s what we call true dedication.



NAME: Rebecca Weiss
CURRENT TITLE: Director-B2B & Growth Marketing, Walgreens
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Director of Portfolio Planning
WHY WE WANT HER: She brings a person-first approach to events and brand marketing that has accelerated growth across health care, pharmacy and clinical trials businesses.

Rebecca Weiss

Rebecca Weiss describes herself as “a career b-to-b marketer.” After graduating from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School with a degree in p.r., she quickly discovered the power of corporate events through a two-year Communications Leadership Development Program at GE Capital. Weiss then transitioned to the agency side with a short stint at VaynerMedia before returning to GE, thanks to a call from a mentor, to work on GE Digital’s global events team, where she really built a passion for events, seeing firsthand how the brand showed up at industry trade shows and put on its own internal and external events.

Using learnings and experience gathered at GE, Weiss moved over to Amazon Web Services, still in b-to-b, but focusing more on industry, product and account-based marketing. And now, Weiss has been at Walgreens for more than two years, serving as director-B2B and growth marketing.

“There’s so much power in the human experience, and I love how events are one of the only times you actually get to touch a brand,” she says. “The average person can’t touch a jet engine, cloud computing or value-based care, but at an event, you are able to really showcase your messaging through experience, and it’s like that personification of your brand come to life.”

Working closely with Walgreens’ commercial sales and growth team, Weiss’ b-to-b marketing team works in the brand’s health care division and reports to its chief growth officer, supporting initiatives across pharmacy, health care and clinical trials. Their campaigns, messaging and events are focused on getting Walgreens’ health care services in front of insurance companies, health systems and pharmaceutical manufacturers to make sure they understand how Walgreens can partner beyond pharmacy.

“Basically, I lead the team that reaches the customers behind the customer you see walk through the door, whether it be a patient’s provider, health plan or the drug manufacturer,” Weiss says. “We market to the industry to help them see how partnering with Walgreens can bring better care to the people in our communities.”

Weiss and her team track all of the health care b-to-b events where Walgreens is showing up, from attending to speaking to sponsoring. Annually, they’re managing a portfolio of hundreds of events. Key events include HLTH, a 10,000-plus-attended conference and trade show centered on health care innovation, and a closed-door, annual customer event for about 100 health plans and health systems to nurture and build relationships and talk about the future of health care.

“For HLTH last year, we reinvested in a new b-to-b experiential booth structure—something flexible and adaptable that we could break down and make different size footprints depending on the show that we were at,” Weiss says. “At that show, there are thousands of people coming in, and we showcased our new creative platform and b-to-b brand for the first time by using elements that are familiar to a patient or a customer of Walgreens, utilizing some of the same materials that are appearing in our new store formats and showcasing the power of our national footprint through an interactive demo.”

But a pilot program that particularly paid off at HLTH was offering flu and COVID-19 vaccines right in the booth. Administered by local pharmacists, the vaccines served as alternatives to giveaways and demonstrated Walgreens’ services IRL. Worried that conferencegoers might not feel comfortable rolling up their sleeves, Weiss says they were very receptive, and the event organizers loved the initiative. “Take home new business, not the latest strain” was a winner.



NAME: Jennifer Q. Hughes
CURRENT TITLE: Director-Communications, Community Relations & Events, AutoZone
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Director of Brand Storytelling
WHY WE WANT HER: An expert storyteller and communicator with a background in p.r., she knows how to reach audiences, build relationships, align with internal teams and draw executive buy-in.

Jennifer Q. Hughes

Organization is key for Jennifer Q. Hughes in balancing her role as director-communications, community relations and events at AutoZone.

“For events, you can never start early enough,” she says. “I like to be prepared. I don’t like to be stressed about these things because I can’t; I have two other large responsibilities outside of my events role, so I must be buttoned up and on top of things.”

Hughes got her first taste of events in mall marketing at The Galleria in Houston, working on galas and seasonal experiences. Over 11 years at Hilton Worldwide, Hughes delved into larger events and honed her p.r. and communications skills, particularly around the launch of the Home2 Suites by Hilton brand. Next, she had a brief stint in communications at AutoZone before moving to American Residential Services, but she was recruited back to the automotive parts retailer in 2022. (Plus, Hughes’ husband is also a fellow AutoZoner, having worked at the company for 26 years.)

Out of AutoZone’s headquarters in Memphis, TN, Hughes leads a team of six: two in brand communications, three in store communications supporting more than 7,000 locations, and one meeting planner. On the events side, Hughes works with her team, agency partners and “core teams” made up of AutoZoners who volunteer to help outside of their full-time responsibilities to carry out three large annual programs, in addition to smaller events, holiday gatherings and this year’s 45th anniversary celebration.

First is the three-day AutoZone Vendor Summit in June, followed by the National Sales Meeting (NSM), the brand’s biggest event, at Memphis’ Renasant Convention Center in September. More than 3,000 AutoZoners converge for a week of “fun, meetings and events within events” at the NSM. Lastly, AutoZone recognizes its top performers with an incentive trip, the Sales Leadership Council, which is headed to Scottsdale, AZ, for four days.

The 2023 NSM was Hughes’ first, and there were a lot of considerations, from audiences to programming to a ceo transition.

“These are people who have been with AutoZone for a very long time, so they’ve seen many national sales meetings or won multiple awards,” she says. “My challenge is how do we keep it fresh and within budget? When you are held truly to your budget, and then for someone like me who wants to make it even better year after year, it’s quite difficult. But thankfully, we’ve been able to meet and even exceed that challenge, and from what our ceo said, it was one of the best ones that he’d ever seen, so I’ll take that as a win.”

Through surveys, Hughes has found that attendees love a dedicated event app to get their information. While it’s been a part of the NSM, last year was the first time an app was available for AutoZone Vendor Summit, and the feedback was positive. Self-registration and on-demand printing for badges were also recent experiments that paid off: “If you start teaching AutoZoners how to do these things on their own, it’s going to work out, and ultimately that’s where a lot of cost savings has come, too,” she says.

On the future of events, Hughes says she would like to see more micro-events and personalized experiences.

“You could make and build on so many more close relationships if events were smaller, and people can learn more because you’re not in a room with 500 of your closest friends,” she says. “Being in this business for a while, it’ll be great to see whatever comes along in sustainability, AI or even virtual reality.”



NAME: Janelle Edwards
CURRENT TITLE: Global Head of Brand Activations, Square
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Global Head of Trade Show Activations
WHY WE WANT HER: For her test-and-learn philosophy that’s bringing customer and product closer together than ever before.

Janelle Edwards

From the production department at a television network, to earning an MBA, to supporting campaigns for big-box retailers and then global activations for a major airline, Janelle Edwards has always been drawn to growth and innovation in business and her career. That mentality fuels her work at Square, where she leads global brand b-to-b activations, and has advocated for quality over quantity when it comes to the mobile payment platform’s exhibit program.

“We were everywhere,” says Edwards, who leads a team of four and reports to the global head of integrated marketing. “There are a lot of trade shows that don’t require a large sponsorship fee, and, in the past, we’d raise a hand and be there with not even a booth but a small kiosk, just to see what pushed the needle.”

Today, however, the team is more intentional about where it shows up and focuses on marquee trade shows, like the National Restaurant Association Show (NRA), a key customer audience for Square. Edwards and her team have developed a strategy and measurement framework that guides all trade show programming, and leverages cross-functional partners and their resources, as well as a test-and-learn approach to inform plans year-to-year.

“I’m focused on a hybrid approach where we’re not only visiting trade shows, we’re executing activations that target our b-to-b audience, but the experience is so creative and innovative that it’s perceived to be b-to-c programming,” she says.

To that end, a typical Square booth is a cross between an activation and a brand home—crisp and eye-catching, and peppered with imagery of real-life sellers using Square who are brand ambassadors in their own right. The 20-foot by 20-foot booth at last year’s NRA show provided a “rotational content strategy” that started in a quick-service restaurant experience where attendees could “order up” swag using Square’s POS system. Product specialists provided tutorials along the way and addressed seller pain points.

“We want to make sure we’re attracting sellers in the right way by using our foundational insights. They’re so busy as entrepreneurs, so we analyze what is allowing them to take a step out of their busy lives and leave their store behind to come to a trade show,” Edwards says. 

Most b-to-b events are bottom of the funnel, but for Edwards, it’s critical to nurture the mid-funnel customer and devise strategies to bridge that gap. Her team focuses heavily on Return on Experience, measuring scale, impact and value, with KPIs associated with each of those metrics. But the “secret sauce,” the most important measurement tactic the team leans on, is listening.

Amid marquee events throughout the year, the team executes small-scale b-to-b experiences that allow the brand to do just that, on top of testing and learning with customers. Edwards’ team received alignment from key stakeholders on a Square mobile truck tour in the St. Louis market, home of Square’s original headquarters and founder Jack Dorsey, which stopped for specific prospects and at established seller locations. Attendees made appointments to meet one-on-one with product specialists. Edwards says sellers felt “like we were there for them.”

“When it comes to the events, we’re fixated on making sure that we are listening to the sellers and making sure that we are providing them with everything they need to help their business grow,” she says. “That’s the secret sauce. Because when our sellers grow, we grow.”