Power Lunch: The event planner that embodies the art of hospitality

Rebecca Herbsman, Corporate Event Planner with an International Investment Bank holds true to the mantra that events don’t just happen. 

Rebecca Herbsman

Don’t let Rebecca’s quiet demeanour fool you. I’ve known her since our college days at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) and she is one of the most composed and steadfast people I’ve met. These are top qualities needed in the meetings industry when dealing with tight timelines and demanding clients.  

With eight years in the events industry, she has worked as both supplier and  client. Honing her career at world class international hotel chains such as St Regis and Grand Hyatt, Rebecca is now an in-house meeting planner for an international investment bank. 

Her work schedule involves planning client events and liasing with internal departments to  organise business meetings, ensuring everything is executed to perfection so her attendees can run meetings smoothly and successfully. Rebecca sees that every little detail is met from logistics, venues and catering to the colour schemes for floral arrangements. In her spare time, she enjoys Yoga to keep the balance in her life. 

Rebecca enjoys meeting people and thrives on the dynamism of events. She loves the fact that her career allows her to interact with people from different backgrounds, expertise and cultures. While she is not married to her job, she did meet her husband during her internship at an international hotel chain and they have been happily married ever since. Maybe the saying should be “a couple that works together, stays together”!

In PoshNosh Life’s Power Lunch, we host Rebecca to lunch and find out more about her views on the Events industry in Singapore:

In Corporate Event Planning, what are the key priorities to ensuring a successful event?

At the start, it is always good to establish and ensure alignment with the client. This includes the nature or purpose of the event, agreeing to a timeline, establishing a budget and identifying measurable metrics of success, like attendee population and satisfaction. 

Communication, talking and listening to clients or attendees helps me better understand what they want and expect. This enables me to better manage expectations when things don’t go as planned and gain insights into how to enhance the event and wow the client. Communication also extends to engaging with my event partners to ensure they understand what is expected as well.

What is the most overlooked area or something that people don’t pay enough attention to when planning an event?

Underestimating how long it takes. Often, people do not realise there is a lot of work and planning that takes place behind the scenes to ensure a successful and well executed event.

These tight timelines then turn into a challenge for event planners even though the client may not think so. Furthermore, working with a tight timeline may escalate event costs and affect an already limited budget, especially  when you have to pay for rush rates.

The trend today is all about “experience” and “personalisation”. What does an experience in the context of planning a client event or business dinner mean to you? 

A personalised and curated experience can actually create a unique selling point for an event. Events with a personalised touch and unique experience not only engages the client but also provides a competitive edge. This is also seen in the proliferation of social media being a new marketing and engagement platform as guests post about the events they attend, sharing photos, videos and comments. 

What are your clients looking out for when you plan events for them?

Location, food and value is always on the top of their minds.

It’s an art to manage clients’ expectations like the fine balance between accessibility and exclusivity in choosing the ideal location to host their most important clients. Next, food & beverage options continue to be  paramount at any event. A lot of our clients are very involved in the menu selection process. The right choice of food or experience can tip the event to be a success or disappointment. Lastly, clients are also conscious that they must  be getting value.

How have client expectations evolved? 

Clients are becoming more discerning. 

Corporates are increasingly moving away from traditional event venues like hotels and sourcing for unique locations to host their events. For example, we held a corporate lunch event at a restaurant in a park to give our attendees a respite from the urban jungle.

Clients’ and guests’ palates have also evolved. Not only are they choosing healthier alternatives  but also requesting more sustainable options . Clients are incorporating more greens and less meat into their menu selection. Healthier cooking styles like poached items instead of fried ones are more popular, while fruits are replacing sugary cakes or pastries as dessert options. Food served  from sustainable sources are being prioritised. This can be even down to the choice of serviceware used, with disposable ware being minimised.. 

After the financial crisis, clients are also becoming more cost conscious. This, coupled with the sustainability movement have seen more green initiatives incorporated into the event planning process. For example, omitting or reducing the use of single plastics which also helps to reduce costs. At our bank, a cost saving of almost S$14,000 a year was achieved by switching out plastic bottles of mineral water with glass jugs at our meetings. Hard copies of presentation and event schedules are gradually becoming a thing of the past. Clients prefer digital content which not only reduces cost but is more sustainable. Furthermore, event information and engagement can be achieved more effectively through online platforms or apps.

Events have also downsized due to tighter budgets and clients prefer to host smaller events that have better engagement. Fortunately, technology is here to help. With immersive technologies becoming more prevalent, virtual attendance and discussion during conferences not only lower costs for those who are unable to attend but also has the potential to reach  new attendees and a wider audience. 

How has technology disrupted the event planning industry?

Digital technology has made certain processes more efficient like managing guest list registration and online payments , making it easier for planners to track. This is especially useful for multiple events.

Another disrupter in the events industry is capturing data. Especially with the advent of social media, event planners have to think of how to create opportunities and integrate marketing activities with social and shareable content into their events and capture this data like creating event hashtags.  But no amount of data is useful unless it is effectively mined.  With data analytics, we can then hone in on what content the audience wants, their likes and dislikes, and make improvements for future events. 

However, the challenge is that whilst people can access information in real-time, that also means that any feedback about an event appears in real-time as well. As planners, it is imperative to learn and put in place processes on how to manage such comments, especially on social media and responding quickly is crucial. 

The most challenging aspect of technology to manage is if and when it fails. No amount of planning can mitigate this –  a server breakdown, technical fault or even a power trip (something that happened to me recently during an event!).  Though these situations may not happen often, planners now have an added list of things to consider as part of their planning. 

Lastly, what is the most memorable event you’ve had the opportunity to plan?  

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra Benefit Dinner! It was a logistical nightmare trying to fit an entire symphony orchestra and more than thirty banquet tables into  a 7,500 sq ft ballroom. But with a collaborative team effort, we pulled off a highly successful event and better yet, I had the opportunity to meet star Soprano & UNICEF Ambassador, Hayley Westenra who I’m a big fan of! It was my total fan girl moment!

Author: Greg Yap

Greg is the Managing Editor of PoshNosh Life and Founder of TAB. With over 10 years of experience in Hospitality and F&B, Greg relishes uncovering new dining treasures, enhancing his taste palate and travelling the world indulging in experiences!

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