Rachel Walsh, CMP is a Senior Account Coordinator at Sentergroup, a management consultancy that helps non-profits, associations and foundations prosper by providing administrative, operational, marketing, communications, financial and meeting and events expertise. Rachel’s own skill lies within meetings and events. Every year, she plans and executes dozens of corporate meetings and conferences from start to finish.
I interviewed Rachel as part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. We get very close to our clients and their brands during the brand development process, and when we see them doing great work and achieving great things, it’s very personal to us. They’re rocking their brands in exciting and innovative ways, taking the ideas we developed together and using them to grow their organizations. We find how a brand works out in the “real world” fascinating and hope you will, too.
A big part of Rachel’s job is “branding” meetings, as well as protecting and promoting the brands of the associations she works with. I talked to Rachel about that process, as well as her tips for staying on schedule and the best place to hold a meeting.
1. In the world of associations, many groups cut corners on quality and content when planning for their annual meeting—leaving the marketing pieces lackluster and repetitive. Sentergroup makes sure this never happens for your clients. How do you work with BatesMeron to create a theme, look and messaging that will appeal to the association’s audience in a fresh, new way every year?
At Sentergroup, we have made a creative marketing approach a priority for our clients. In a marketplace that is flooded with competition, the best-looking mail piece will often stick out of the crowd. If having an attractive theme and well-thought-out messaging gets someone to read our mail piece, we are already on the way to converting that touchpoint to a website hit and hopefully a registration!
We are committed to working with BatesMeron to come up with interesting and fresh designs for our annual meeting collateral. Sometimes we are given a lot of direction by the client, and at other times it’s totally free reign for the BatesMeron design crew! Regardless, we rely on the talents at BatesMeron heavily to translate what is going on in our brains into a great-looking theme for the entire meeting.
Cover for the American Prosthodontic Society’s exhibitor prospectus, a project we worked on with Sentergroup.
2. Each meeting or conference requires multiple pieces to promote the event, including a program, advance program, websites, eblast headers and more. How do you coordinate the creation of these pieces and keep the whole project on track? How does the longstanding relationship between BatesMeron and Sentergroup assist with this goal?
Having one main contact at BatesMeron is fantastic, as it makes it easy to know who to ask for what. (Hey, Fred!) At the outset of a project, we go over deliverable dates for content from Sentergroup and then the corresponding delivery dates from BatesMeron. Over the past year, we have begun to utilize the project management program Basecamp in conjunction with BatesMeron to send content, review pieces and generally collaborate with the team regarding our current projects. This is going so well that we have actually adopted Basecamp to manage our meetings in-house.
3. While each year’s meeting has a theme, each of the associations you work with also has a brand. How do you ensure that you’re upholding the brand standards while creating a unique look and feel for the meeting?
Creating a new look but retaining client/meeting identity is one of the biggest challenges we run into each year. Incorporating the client’s logo into all marketing pieces is the easiest way to carry some continuity through year to year. For some groups, we use the destination of the event to drive the theme, which allows the theme to change each year with flexibility.
Cover for the AAED annual meeting final program, a project developed in coordination with Sentergroup.
4. What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome while planning and preparing for a meeting?
It’s no secret that associations have tight budgets. At Sentergroup, we must consistently make choices that do more with less (and less and less). Dealing with budgetary restraints is the most reoccurring challenge, so in actuality, I’ve gotten quite good at it! Whether it means moving a printed piece to a PDF version or customizing a reception menu in order to stay within budget, I’m on it.
5. Your job requires you to think ahead and be hyper-organized. For those of us who aren’t quite as streamlined, what are your tips for staying organized and on schedule?
I don’t like paper.
Maybe I need to clarify; I don’t like unnecessary paper. I rarely print anything and keep almost all my filing in “the cloud.” I am a heavy Dropbox user. My work computer, home computer, iPad and iPhone are all synced to my Dropbox account where I have folders for all clients I am currently working on, personal documents, documents for my volunteer efforts and more. This digital file cabinet means I don’t have to carry around unnecessary paper from place to place. Lighter bag = happier life.
Regarding email, which can be a huge time suck for so many professionals, I take the approach of immediate action (if possible), then FILE or DELETE. I try not to answer emails as they come in, but rather visit my inbox every 30 minutes or so. To assist in this end, I have removed those annoying Outlook notifications that “ding!” throughout the day. For a frame of reference as to how small I keep my actual inbox: If there are over 15 emails, I am getting anxious! Time for some clean up.
6. Part of executing meetings is being at the meetings themselves, which means traveling around the country (and sometimes internationally) to different hotels and convention centers. In your opinion, where is the best location for an association or corporate meeting? (Or, what location was your best experience or did the membership overwhelmingly love?)
There are so many wonderful places for groups to meet. Locations that would be just right for some groups are totally wrong for others. Do they want easy in/out at the airport? Would a secluded location appeal to them? What about the proximity of nearby restaurants and cultural attractions?
I hope this isn’t seen as an easy out for this question, but there is something about our own city, Chicago, that appeals to groups of all sizes, budgets and needs. From small board meetings to larger annual meetings, we’ve done them all here with great success!
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