WOMEN IN EVENTS

Meet 10 Event Marketers Navigating the Ups and Downs of a Pandemic... Like a Boss

Among the many qualities women bring to their roles in experiential is the power to multitask. 

Over the last 11 months, women in events have unwound a year’s worth of work, guided pivot strategies and ramped up compelling virtual experiences. They’ve juggled health, remote school, social distancing and the needs of family members. And harnessing a new creative energy, they have led their teams through the ups and downs of marketing and engagement during a pandemic. 

The balancing act is real.

Our annual Women in Events program is designed to acknowledge the unique contributions and progress made by women in the experiential marketing industry. Over the course of a decade, we have featured more than 100 women in the magazine and have flown across the country to talk to women to find out what it’s like being on the front lines of this business. And in true 2020 fashion, our Women in Events program came to life in new ways. We packed all the magic of our nationwide live events into the virtual, third-annual Women in Events Week, Dec. 7-10, which included live panel discussions with this year’s honorees.

Among the highlights: Morning yoga and meditation, daily podcasts with leading execs, peer-to-peer networking sessions, live discussions on the state of the industry and on career, diversity, salary, leadership and more; mentor meetings, and entertainment. If you couldn’t join us then, all the action is on-demand now. Visit womenineventsweek.com where you can also learn about our year-round community and its benefits.

The 10 women selected for this year’s showcase come from a variety of industries and backgrounds. And what struck us about our conversations with them were the many statements of “I’m stronger than I ever thought I was,” and how open they all have become to new ways of engaging their audiences and working. 

Indeed, adaptability, the strength to lead through a crisis and the instinct to nurture are just a few of the superpowers held by women in events. Let’s meet the honorees.

–Rachel Boucher 

Co-produced with:

JENN ARTURA

Senior Director-Global Events, Incentives & Executive Programs, Worldwide Field Operations
Veritas Technologies

One thing female event marketers should never do.

Be in constant competition with other women. When you see a woman who has done something that you admire, let her know. When we support another woman, we’re ultimately helping us all. And also—don’t be hidden. Make your accomplishments known.

Favorite motto or motivational quote.

I was watching the Oprah Winfrey Network, and she was interviewing Arianna Huffington, who brought up this quote from the poet Rumi, “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” I’ve been practicing this and saying it to myself—that the universe has my back.

Best career advice, given or received.

Surround yourself with people who tell you the truth, whether it’s people in your life, a colleague, family, friends. It changes everything, and it’s like having your own personal board of directors who you know have your best interests at heart. I’ve been following this piece of advice for years.

What’s the most important skill an event marketer should have today?

Now, more than ever, we have to challenge ourselves creatively, and we also have to bring everybody else along with us and work together to figure out how to do what we do best in this new world.

A discovery you’ve made about yourself during the pandemic.

That I was exhausted pre-pandemic. I never slowed down, because in this world we travel a lot and we go from one event to the next. There are so many great things about this business—the adrenaline, experiencing new cultures, new people, all these reasons that we do it—but I feel like I hadn’t been home in 12 years, so this year was kind of a reckoning moment where all of the sudden I had to slow down.

Have a home office hack to share?

I get up an hour before anyone else, sit outside, write in my journal, pick three things I want to accomplish that day, have my coffee. Give yourself that one hour a day before your brain gets yanked in a million different directions.

Jenn Artura

Jenn Artura

LYNDI BELL

Experiential Marketing Manager
Chaco

Lyndi Bell

Lyndi Bell

One thing female event marketers should never do.

Believe that something can’t be done. Some of the best ideas come out of pressure and challenging situations. 

Best career advice, given or received.

Never say to no to an opportunity to learn something new.

Best way to boost confidence before a meeting or event.

Never underestimate the power of red lipstick. Usually before events I don’t have a lot of time to put myself together, but I pop on a red lip and it makes me feel good. And coffee. I run on caffeine during events.

The book, podcast or TED Talk that’s made the most impact on your professional life.

The podcast “How I Built This.” The episode that made me fall in love with the podcast featured Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx. It was a good reminder that sometimes being an “expert” doesn’t give you an advantage at all. It can limit your perspective on what’s possible. It’s about viewing what you don’t know as a secret power and running at new challenges.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Diversity and inclusion is something that needs to be addressed within the industry—for women stepping into leadership positions and representation of people of color at the top.

Something you’d tell your younger self if you could go back to when you started your career.

Don’t worry about where you are compared to where you want to go. I’ve had this diverse background. I studied political science and pre-law. My career has had zigs and zags. Now I’m where I want to be and I see how all of those experiences along the way have made me who I am.

A discovery you’ve made about yourself during the pandemic.

That I’m a highly extroverted person, and that I need my people. You can get very burned out in this industry and forget where that passion comes from. I feel like I have a renewed energy.

KEITHA BLACKBURN

Manager-Experiential Marketing
Porsche Cars North America

One thing female event marketers should never do.

Ignore her instinct. It’s a gift that women have; therefore, using it in business is just as valuable.

Best career advice, given or received.

From Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, former president of Spelman College, my alma mater: When you make a mistake, there are only three things that you can do: own it, deal with it, and keep it moving. 

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be.

Academia needs to hone in on event marketing being a well-defined discipline. There are unique skills required that most entry level marketers acquire as on-the-job training. However, young talent could be much more prepared if there was formal education.

Something you’d tell your younger self if you could go back to when you started your career.

It would be to seek out more male mentors… believe or not. Most of my mentors are or were accomplished business women, but I think young women do not feel as comfortable having those types of business relationships with men. A better-rounded sphere of mentors could also foster better-rounded career opportunities.

Favorite female role model and why.

My mother because she was the original teacher of resourcefulness. I still cannot figure out how she did so much with so little.

Pets, plants or kids—and your hack for managing one of three?

I have two handsome toy poodles, Apollo and Zeus. I play smooth jazz or classical piano music to keep them mellow when I have to focus while working from home daily during the pandemic. I must admit that it does not work 100 percent of the time, but it works well enough to be a good solution.

A discovery you’ve made about yourself during the pandemic.

I have discovered how the bustle of professional life gets in the way of personal connections that I once cherished. I have had conversations with people that I have not spoken to in years.

Keitha Blackburn

Keitha Blackburn

ANNA DONALDSON

Director-Sports Marketing and Strategic Partnerships
AdventHealth

Anna Donaldson

Anna Donaldson

One thing female event marketers should never do.

Take credit for what others have done and allow others to take credit for the work you’ve done. A good leader is able to strike a balance between the two, recognizing others while not downplaying their own role.

Favorite motto or motivational quote.

As a former collegiate athlete, I constantly preach to myself to let go of the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can. When you make the deliberate effort to not dwell on the variables and lean into your own ability to affect change, it’s amazing the amount of unnecessary stress that’s avoided and how things tend to work out for the good.

Best way to boost confidence before a meeting or event.

Knowing your material, anticipating questions or scenarios, and doing a practice run. And then self-talk: Building your own self up through positive affirmations and pep talks can have an impact on the way you carry yourself and your overall self-confidence.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be.

Having started out my career as a 21-year-old in the motor sports industry that is predominantly male, I’d say having more women mentors.

Favorite female role model and why.

It would definitely be my mom. After 39 years at the Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida, my mom will soon retire as the regional director. I’m so proud of all that she’s accomplished, including earning her MBA while working full-time and raising two kids.

Pets, plants or kids—and your hack for managing one of three?

I am one of those people that thought getting a puppy during a pandemic was a great idea, and she has brought so much joy in my life. While it might feel weird to be on a conference call while taking the dog for a walk, we’re all redefining what the new normal looks like. And it looks a little bit different for everyone.

RACHEL ESPERSEN

Lifestyle Marketing, Engagement and Partnerships
Lexus

One thing female event marketers should never do.

Honestly, I don’t think gender should define what we do or what we don’t do. I don’t think there’s anything I should never do that’s different from anyone else in the industry.

Favorite motto or motivational quote.

I’m sort of the antithesis of work hard, play hard. I think that we should work smart and live well.

Best career advice, given or received.

Be kind to everyone, your relationships are everything. From personal experience, you never know when your intern could become the decision-making client in the future. Everyone started somewhere.

The book, podcast or TED Talk that’s made the most impact on your professional life.

“Setting the Table,” by Danny Meyer. At its heart, Intersect by Lexus is about omotenashi, which is the Japanese philosophy of hospitality, and I’m fortunate to be working for Lexus which is a company that strives to treat every customer as we would a guest in our own home. 

Best way to boost confidence before a meeting or event.

I think every person in event marketing knows this, but be prepared, and know what you want to achieve at the end. And then, have a great team with you and be ready to deal with any contingencies and stay calm in the moment— 2020 has shown that a lot.

Have a home office hack to share?

My neck and shoulders will tell you get a proper monitor instead of hovering over a laptop, but if possible, try to create a separate workspace so that you’re creating not just physical space but the mental space between work life and personal life. 

A discovery you’ve made about yourself during the pandemic.

That I’m comfortable running a business makeup free and in yoga pants. Of course, I still love getting dressed, but I think we’ve all changed our uniforms for daily life.

Rachel Espersen

Rachel Espersen

DIOR GEORGE

US Marketing Supervisor—Multicultural Engagements
McDonald's

Dior George

Dior George

Best career advice, given or received.

To follow my passion and not the title. I truly love what I do, and I love it because I’m making a difference.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be.

The ability to be there and not be there. A year ago, I don’t think I could have ever planned an event or produced the amount of engagements that I’ve had this year if I wasn’t in-person. I have traveled more around the U.S. in the last 3-5 years than I think I ever have, and while I appreciate every experience I’ve had, this year has taught me that there are definitely some ways I could have balanced my work/life and had the ability to be home while still producing great engagements.

Favorite female role model and why.

I have three. Beyoncé, because she has, in the most purest form, honored her passion. Oprah Winfrey, because there’s so much she’s endured and it takes such a strong woman to know when it’s time to walk away, even when it’s good. And my mom, because she’s always been an example of resilience, with the career she chose in the NYPD being a sergeant, a mother and a community leader.

Best way to boost confidence before a meeting or event.

Play a Beyoncé song. Any one. And then, I think of women who have defied obstacles that have come before them, Michelle Obama, Oprah. I think about how if they did it, I can do it.

Have a home office hack to share?

I pack my lunch every day, and I have scheduled 15 minutes in the middle of the day for me to take a breather and check in with my daughter who is doing e-learning.

Pets, plants or kids—and your hack for managing one of three?

I have two of the three, a pet and two kids. And my hack for managing them is I actually have thrown out the plan, and I have determined to do what’s best for us in that moment.

A discovery you’ve made about yourself during the pandemic.

That I am stronger than I thought.

ANNA KAREFA-JOHNSON

Director of Events and Experiential Marketing
Overtime

One thing female event marketers should never do.

Sell yourself short. Know who you are, know what skills you bring to the table, and be fully comfortable articulating those even when not called upon. 

The book, podcast or TED Talk that’s made the most impact on your professional life.

“Dare to Lead,” by Brené Brown. Having a commitment to authenticity, to bringing your full self to work every day is something I find empowering, inspiring, and frees me up because I’m not bogged down with the should haves and the could haves.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be.

I would get rid of the word exclusive. I do not feel like the word exclusive equates premium. I think that it’s in direct contradiction to everything that any brand should ever stand for. For me, certainly, and for our team, and the projects we work on, we approach everything from an inclusive lens.

Something you’d tell your younger self if you could go back to when you started your career.

Be you 100%, all of the time, and if opportunities don’t come your way and you show up as your true self, then they weren’t meant for you. It’s going to be alright. You’re fine.

Favorite female role model and why.

My grandmother was the first black graduate from Harvard Divinity School in the 1940s and she taught me what humility means and what unapologetic intellect is. She was brilliant and never apologized for it, she stood up to things I can’t even imagine and she was successful because she knew who she was and knew what she brought to the table.

A discovery you’ve made about yourself during the pandemic.

That I don’t have to be constantly moving in order to be productive. Kinetic energy is something I’ve always connected to productivity, and I’ve had to reframe that. There are secrets in the stillness. And had it not been for the pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have embraced that.

SOM PUANGLADDA

VP-Global Marketing
GumGum

Som Puangladda

Som Puangladda

One thing female event marketers should never do.

Not have a backup plan. I’ve been doing events for close to 15 years now. One of the things I refer to is always have a manual way of doing things that don’t rely on technology. In our event brief, there’s always one section on what are the backups to the backups.

Best career advice, given or received.

I think I learned this the hard way, and I say this a lot to my team of marketers: Trust your gut. A lot of times, conservative marketers are more comfortable in considering what other companies are doing that’s successful and not giving themselves the chance create something new in the event world.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be.

Diversity on the stage. I find myself being the only woman on panels. We need different perspectives, especially at bigger conferences where we can hold a lot of weight when it comes to the content and messaging and how we spearhead the conversation.

The book, podcast or TED Talk that’s made the most impact on your professional life.

“Manifest Now,” by Idil Ahmed. It’s about letting go and learning to manifest whatever it is you want, whether it’s a project or your career or personal life or health. 

What’s the most important skill an event marketer should have today?

The ability to switch between IRL and URL. And in the wake of the pandemic, knowing that we don’t have the abundance of budget and resources we used to, it’s learning how to do more with less.

Favorite female role model and why.

Michelle Obama. I look up to her not because of the big opportunity that was put in front of her, but because she has so much passion and confidence, and she wants to inspire people, and that’s what I want to do. I created the Women of GumGum platform, and networking groups for women in our VC network. It’s a great support system to lean on during these times.

KIRSTIE RIVARD

Head of Experiential Marketing
Visible

Favorite motto or motivational quote.  

The journey to achieve the end result is as important as the result itself. What this means to me, is ways of working really matter. Things such as working with integrity, efficiently, or collaboratively to realize the best results possible are a must for me and make the great results achieved that much more special.

The book, podcast or TED Talk that’s made the most impact on your professional life.

“Into the Magic Shop” by Jim Doty is a book that taught me how to be mindful, how to be present which is hard to do in a distracting world, and how to connect. I think all of these traits help make the work I do special, unique and enjoyable. 

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Am I allowed to say lousy food? It’s what first comes to mind. I think I’d change, or at least challenge, the status quo in terms of how an event is set up. I’m speaking more to traditional events such as hotel conferences and events. I don’t think you have to fill the hotel ballroom with row after row of dirty-seated chairs or big round tables where only four out of the ten people have a good view. There are other ways to bring innovation and excitement to an event. 

What’s the most important skill an event marketer should have today?

Hands down—creativity. I have been allowed to be wildly creative with the Visible brand in how we execute events and position our experiences to consumers. It’s been refreshing and invigorating to have a company be supportive in this perspective, because it’s so very important to be creative and stand out.

Have a home office hack to share? 

My small hack, if it can be called that, is I put a sticky note on the outside of my office/bedroom door that says, “DO NOT ENTER OR NO CANDY OR IPAD FOR A WEEK,” when I have a very important call or meeting. It’s been highly effective for not only keeping my kids from interrupting, but my sweet-toothed husband as well. This hack is used sparingly, because if I’m honest with myself, I love the interruptions. 

Kirstie Rivard

Kirstie Rivard

SUMMER SHAFFER

Global Strategic Partnerships-Experiential Marketing
Dell Technologies

One thing female event marketers should never do.

Lose what makes you unique as a female event marketer. As marketers, we tend to think about the message we want to get out. Female event marketers can often be more in tune with what people are wanting to hear.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be.

More openness to the sharing of ideas. Sometimes we think that if we talk to any other marketer about our idea, they’ll take it and run. Collaboration makes ideas better.

Pets, plants or kids—and your hack for managing one of three?

I have two small children and advice that I was given years ago by a boss was that as an event marker, try whenever you can to incorporate the kids. I’ve been lucky enough to do that in some of my events and programs where they’ve been able to see them and experience them. And so when I say, “I need a minute to make a call,” they get it because they’ve seen the outcome, they’ve seen the end result, they’ve gone to an event and understand it.

Something you’d tell your younger self if you could go back to when you started your career.

Speak up to advance your career. Advocating for what you’re worth does not mean you’re expressing displeasure in your job—it just means you believe in yourself.

A discovery you’ve made about yourself during the pandemic.

I have learned to ask for help more. I’ve been bad at it for years. I’ll take on the world if I have to. During this year in moments when I literally couldn’t do it all—taking care of kids, trying to work, trying to undo events and trying to figure out new events—it was a forcing function to teach me to ask for it.

Favorite motto or motivational quote.

Dr. Brenè Brown said, “There’s no innovation or creativity without failure.” We have to take a chance in order to discover something great.

Summer Shaffer

Summer Shaffer