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16 | Eleni Thomas, KPMG: Mitigating Risk and Dirty Glassware

  • September 25, 2019
  • 40:30

Eleni Thomas (Director of Events and Meetings, KPMG) discusses the kind of processes needed for managing 2,500 events a year, the value of networking with other event planners, what it means to be a service-oriented events department, mitigating risk in a compliance-heavy industry, and owning mistakes.

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Top Takeaways

1

BUILDING SCALABLE EVENT PROCESSES: Eleni has a seasoned career in the legal and professional services fields. Building scalable and risk-compliant event process requires levels of transparency in the planning process. For Eleni's team, this means lots of checks and balances in order to mitigate risks to the firm. “We really have a community that respects the fact that there are...process obligations that are required for us to do our jobs. And I think process is good.”

2

STRIVING FOR A SERVICE-ORIENTED EVENTS CULTURE: KPMG is 30,000 employees strong in the US and hosts 2,500 events per year. It can be a difficult ecosystem to navigate, but Eleni has a simple piece of advice. “I think you have to be service-oriented and you have to remember that when you're collaborating with these groups...maybe it's communications, maybe it's marketing, maybe it's creative that we're all on the same team and we're all trying to meet the same objectives and to support the same things.” Companies are never too big or too small to focus on healthy collaboration.

3

OWNING YOUR MISTAKES: As Eleni looks back on her career, the one piece of advice she would give is to maintain personal and professional integrity. This means owning mistakes, learning from them, and leveraging that insight as part of long term career growth. Eleni strives, “to look at those experiences to help guide me as I'm trying to figure out new places and new things.”

ABOUT Eleni Thomas

As the Director of Events and Meetings, Eleni's role assists in overseeing over 2,500 events across North America. Prior to working at KPMG Eleni spent over 13 years leading the events team at another multinational professional services firm—Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

Episode Transcript

BRANDON:

Howdy. In preparation for our discussion that will touch on the intersection of events and compliance, I'd love to start off with a very important question. Law & Order, CSI, NCIS, or ER?

ELENI:

I was very excited when I saw this as our intro question. Because my husband and I have just completed the 16th season of NCIS in preparation for it to start.

BRANDON:

Wow.

ELENI:

We don't have many common TV shows together and so have watched the entire series on Netflix. And this was the outstanding one for us to complete before season 17 starts.

BRANDON:

Wow. And would you mind sharing what the duration was? Over what course of time it took you to get through all 16 seasons?

ELENI:

I think it was two years. We're going to be married two years in October.

BRANDON:

That's amazing.

ELENI:

And that was sort of our, we moved into our house, got married, and this is what we were going to do. So, yeah.

BRANDON:

That's impressive. I've still been working on Breaking Bad with my fiancee for the past two years. And we're only on season two, episode two. So, this gives me hope.

ELENI:

Yes, it's possible. It's possible.

BRANDON:

Amazing. Okay. So you are the director of events and meetings at KPMG, which is a multinational professional services network and one of the big four accounting organizations along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers. To set the stage for our conversation, could you tell us a little bit about your role at KPMG? I understand that it's not necessarily managing events but managing the team that's managing events.

ELENI:

That's right. Yes, as you said, KPMG is one of the big four and we do have three lines of service. We provide audit, tax, and advisory service as a professional services firm. And surprisingly enough for something that is not so, I guess, sexy, we do about 2,500 events a year. So, we support the firm in both external and internal initiatives and have a team of 120 to help execute those events across the U.S. And so, I co-lead with five other directors under the leadership of our executive director to manage that team. So, it's really a huge undertaking and it's very exciting though, the fact that the firm respects and appreciates the value that we bring to the table in order to help them with their initiatives in the manner of doing events.

BRANDON:

I think that's just so interesting how you're sharing that responsibility with, you said, five other co-leaders and also just the sheer volume of events as well. We're going to dive into this a little bit more and talk about some of the internally-facing and externally-facing events. But I'd love to learn just a little bit more about how you ended up at KPMG. I know that this space is not completely unfamiliar to you.

ELENI:

Sure. So, I actually knew in college that I wanted to do events, which I feel like was very unusual at the time. People go into college thinking they're going to do one thing and end up doing something completely different. At the time, there weren't as many programs to major in hospitality that there are nowadays. So, I was a communications major with a history minor. When I moved back home from Washington, D.C. I was able to work for a for-profit company that did nonprofit fundraisers. And that really gave me some really great exposure to what it's like working with boards, how to support nonprofits, doing these big fundraising galas, auctions, things of that nature, sort of soliciting, being an extension of the development departments in these non-profits. But it really allowed me to see into some of these corporations and other professional services firms that supported these non-profits.

So I had the opportunity while doing a fundraiser for the FDNY Fund and was introduced to a company called Weil, Gotshal & Manges, which is an international law firm. And because the former chairman was being honored, my almost-boss had been working with me to make sure that I was performing in the Weil way to support this event and was apparently impressed by me and approached me afterwards and said, "I'd really love you to come work with me." I had never any idea that there would be such a thing as events at a law firm. Certainly, my next step I was anticipating perhaps going into say a Coca-Cola or a Tiffany's or something retail that feels like there's PR-related events. And so I was intrigued by the opportunity and I took it and was there for 13 years. So, it was quite a long journey.

But Weil really respected events. We were able to gain their trust and so they trusted us to help them with their initiatives in meeting their business needs, both internally and externally, similarly to KPMG. Which is why when the opportunity crossed my desk about this director role at KPMG, I felt that it was making the transition to a like-minded place where I could continue to grow my career. And believe it or not, there are plenty of professionals that do events in the legal field. As such, we have an informal, what we call the Legal Event Planners Group, LEPG. It's still going. It's an industry group, which is an opportunity for us to get together because law firms are not like standard corporations, they're partnerships. So some of the challenges we deal with, other professionals in our industry can't entirely understand.

And it was also a way for vendors to reach out to us to sort of kill two birds with one stone. We have very specific business needs and certain reasons. So we'd be hosted monthly perhaps by different companies or restaurants or hotels who wanted to be able to reach out to us and let us know about their services or their products. And through that, met my current boss. So I've known her for many years so reached out to her when I had seen this opportunity was available at KPMG and was able to then interview and make the switch.

BRANDON:

There's so many cool things there. For starters, the fact that you knew that you wanted to go into events way back when you went into college. I think that's not something that everybody knows. Having spoken to some other guests, other folks in the industry, sometimes I hear, "Well, I just kind of ended up in events. I did this and this and that, and then I realized that this is what I wanted to do." But I think that also speaks to another thing which is the gap of education around events and programs and colleges, universities for this expertise.

ELENI:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think certainly over the years it's changed. I think you will find, even within the past 15 years, you certainly see more universities focusing on this as a specific career path. Whereas in the past, you might find administrative professionals or marketing professionals within their group who had concentrations who are essentially event planners but went by another name. And while I do think there's value in those programs, I appreciate the diversity of my education and my experience to be able to allow me to move up this path. Because I think sometimes there's something to be said for getting different sorts of training and education that's related but that can help support the ultimate path you want to move towards.

BRANDON:

Definitely. So another thing that stood out to me from that was the networking component, the community-building within your niche in events and finding that community and really investing in it. Was that organization well established when you came into events or was it something that you were involved with sort of growing yourself?

ELENI:

I think that it started quite at the beginning of my career. Perhaps it had been around a little bit and then it certainly grew. I tried to assist where I could. There's one person who's definitely taken the reigns who is still managing events over at Davis Polk and she's done an amazing job. And we had a few opportunities to even have overnight retreats. I did participate on a few committees and things of that nature. I was very lucky because Weil headquartered in New York, so we had a big operation, five people supporting the events. There were many other law firms where they might've been a satellite office or didn't have the same level of support or teammates. So it was really great for them to have these resources where they could sort of do pulse checks and see how things are and just talking about general challenges being in a partnership situation. It was a great opportunity and again, it's still going strong. I think it's grown quite a bit over the past 15 years.

BRANDON:

It was through a network like this that you eventually ended up at KPMG.

ELENI:

That's right.

BRANDON:

Could you tell me a little bit more about what it's like to be managing the team that's managing events versus being on that team that's managing events?

ELENI:

Definitely. It has been an adjustment for me, certainly. I do feel like one of the values that I brought to the table at Weil was that because I was doing events and because I was there for so long and able to establish those relationships, I was really able to understand what their business objectives were. I was familiar with the clients. I was familiar with the names and the companies and hand in hand with business development to understand who our objectives were and things of that nature. So I felt like I was able to cultivate those events to be able to support whatever their needs were.

So, moving over to KPMG, I am managing the people who are managing those sorts of relationships. For me, it's only been eight months in and it is quite a large company, so I still have so much learning just about the firm itself and those same sorts of objectives. It's been a balancing act of trying to figure out how to support the needs of the planners who are providing these level of services while also becoming familiar. So that I can eventually be able to bring back and be that influencer and perhaps not to those internal stakeholders but to educate my planners. And to be able to have those sorts of conversations to say, "Have you considered this? What are they trying to do? How can we help them?"

BRANDON:

When we talk about an organization like KPMG, what sort of events are you running? You mentioned, again, there are these internal-facing ones and these externally-acing ones as well.

ELENI:

They are all over the map. As I mentioned, we support different lines of service, so we have tax, audit, and advisory. So there are certainly events that are related to those functions and support those functions. We have inclusion and diversity events. We have events that are specific to industries, artificial intelligence types of industries, auto industry, as well as management and leadership support. We have our own internal, what we call KBS, which is like KPMG's business school. And we support them in being able to supply the training for most of our professionals. So, those events are more internally focused. But certainly, there's always interaction with all sorts of folks. Because we do also have our internal partners and associates provide industry expertise to potential clients and existing clients so that they can know that we're the people to go to for those services. So it really runs the gamut. It could be short series, a cocktail party, or hundreds or thousands of people, quite honestly, multi-day trainings. So, all over the map.

BRANDON:

All over the map.

ELENI:

Yep.

BRANDON:

Okay. So when you're looking at all these different types of events from these cocktail events to these thousands of people gathering for a multi-day training, how do you as the person who's managing the team evaluate the success of these events, and determine whether or not they met the objectives they set out to?

ELENI:

That's a really good question. I think one of the big question marks within the event industry is how do you rate ROI on events? And that it's very challenging to do. So I think for every space, it's going to be a little bit different. Certainly, for some of the smaller, more local events that are supporting the client needs in the market, I feel like you can measure success in both how much went right and as well as how you dealt with what went wrong. That's for more on the events side. But then from the stakeholder side, it's also were they able to meet the people that they wanted to meet? Were they able to have those conversations? Were they able to create a memorable experience that people are going to remember?

And if they get multiple invitations, they're going to choose to come to ours because it was a great time the last time that they were there. So I think that that actually can be used for both the smaller and the larger scale events, like memorable experiences, making those contacts. And certainly, it wouldn't hurt if an event was so great that we were able to identify that we generated a piece of business out of it.

BRANDON:

Do you find yourself, at least at the moment, leaning more on qualitative quantitative data?

ELENI:

I feel like it just is very fluid. I think that it's just very fluid and you have to really understand what the objectives were to support it for those different events. And then understand then what the goals are as far as measuring success. So, I will say you do talk about quantitative data. One of the interesting things about KPMG is that we have data to support how much we do, which I think is very different than maybe a lot of other firms. I certainly know that with Weil, record-keeping was an Excel spreadsheet and didn't get too down into the weeds. But at KPMG, we can tell you how much we spend, how many events per sector, different business groups, where they're happening. You ask for some sort of reporting and we can make it happen. We do have a really great way of being able to show support in quantitative ways.

BRANDON:

Is that a process that was in place before you joined or something that-

ELENI:

It was. It was, and it speaks a little bit to compliance, which I know are some of your other questions. But yeah, it really is a way when you have a company that's as large as we are, 30,000 people for the U.S. I think it's 30,000. I hope nobody's listening and says it's a different number. But 30,000 people, certainly with 2,500 events, we do have to be able to track that in some way or another for compliance or not compliance just for our own organization to make sure we know what's going on. So, it certainly, I think, has evolved prior to my arrival there. But it is something we're constantly looking at to evolve to make sure that we can capture data. Because if somebody's saying, "I have too many events on my plate", then we need to be able to say, "Okay, we need to get you more support." And then we have hard, fast numbers to be able to provide that information instead of sort of, they said they need some more support, they're busy.

BRANDON:

I mean, so we're kind of discussing it right now but this whole entire topic around compliance. I think it introduces some challenges that somebody in another industry might not necessarily face or at least not to the same scale. So, what are some more of these unique challenges that on a day-to-day basis your team is facing?

ELENI:

Certainly, we want to make sure that we're doing everything to protect the firm from risk. And make sure that we are following the compliance rules that the firm would like us to look out for. So, what that means is that we have a level of transparency in our planning process. Just to give a little bit more background as far as our planning process, in order to do an event, a stakeholder and internal client will have to fill out a meeting request form. And so that comes through us and we get that. We see which business group it sort of belongs in because as a group of 2500 events, you have to be able to filter them into certain ways. So, then they get assigned to that group. Then we start our process once the planners aligned with a discovery call. And so through that, the planners have to talk to the partner about, "Okay, here's the venue you want. I want you to know that these are the terms and conditions of this contract. Be aware that this is your cancellation policy or this is what's going on."

So it's making sure to inform them along the way so that they understand what the risks are to the firm so that we can stay compliant. Making sure that we get our budgets approved before any contracts get signed, and if there are changes in the budget for whatever reason, as we're proceeding forward to getting re-approval for them if we need it. So I think from a planning perspective because for every contract to be signed, we do have to sort of get that sign-off about terms and conditions. And making sure that those terms are communicated to the internal stakeholders. It does add a little bit of time and then there are other things that we have that we have to double-check.

Do we want a guest speaker to come? Well, we have to put that through our internal systems to make sure there's no conflicts of interest. That doesn't necessarily happen as quickly as one would hope that it would. Because when you think about, again, all of the conflict checks that are happening, it takes time. Contract review. We do have our own internal sourcing and contracting department, which is fantastic. And they have parameters for when we engage them to review contracts and to be able to give us guidance. But there's certain levels where procurement has to get involved. and so, you need to make sure that you're doing checks and balances with procurement. But when you think about the specificity of what events handles and you send that to a procurement department that might be a little bit more fluent in supplier contracts or things of that nature, there's going to be sort of an onboarding that has to happen. So that certainly presents its own challenges. It's just making sure that you dot those I's and cross those T's along the way.

BRANDON:

I think hearing you speak about this, I think some event organization or just some organizations in general could benefit from having these sorts of processes in place. Admittedly, they're adding time, which is probably why they get thrown out the window. Because it's kind of hard to reconcile that unless you absolutely have to. Things from the event request form. I think that's a really basic process that I think is fascinating and makes a lot of sense.

ELENI:

And I think a lot of those types of processes are culturally based. At Weil, it was smaller. That didn't mean that we weren't doing a lot more events or excuse me, a lot of events. But I don't know that culturally that meeting request forum would have really gotten off the bat. Here, it's just sort of part of the culture, so it's easier to enact that. And sure, there's other people's like, "Oh, I did an event with you last week, can you just do this for me?" and things of that nature.

But we really have a community that respects the fact that there are these sort of process obligations that are required for us to do our jobs. And I think process is good. I think that we're always looking for opportunities to streamline. We're always looking for ways to make it easier on our planners just due to the volume that they have to handle and they want to be planning. So, it is a challenge sometimes to reinforce the fact that these are still important components and part of the job here at KPMG. And there's a lot of value in it. So I think from a management perspective, that's been an onboarding learning experience for me. And part of my job is to help reinforce and make the planners, who really are on board with it, but just reinforce that this is an important part of the process.

BRANDON:

What have you found to be successful in navigating such a large system like this and coordinating with so many internal stakeholders?

ELENI:

I am still learning and still navigating at KPMG but I can certainly speak to just even my own experiences up until this point. I think you have to be service-oriented and you have to remember that when you're collaborating with these groups, it depends on where... I mean, maybe it's communications, maybe it's marketing, maybe it's creative that we're all on the same team and we're all trying to meet the same objectives and to support the same things. So I think coming from a place of collaboration definitely helps navigate a little bit. And you can figure out how to make sure that you're all complementing each other in the support that you're providing to the groups. So, coming from a place of yes, I also think, not only for those groups that you're collaborating with but also the internal client or stakeholder that you're working with or for in that case.

BRANDON:

I think a big part of how you approach events is what you said about being an influencer, not the subject matter experts.

ELENI:

Sure.

BRANDON:

Could you tell us a little bit more about what that means?

ELENI:

Sure. I don't profess to be an expert in audit tax or advisory services but I think that I'm not just a logistics or a party planner. And I think that that's been my perspective in how I've grown my career. Again, just to sort of reemphasize things touched on before, I'm planning an event for you. Well, why do you want to do the event? What are you trying to achieve with it? And being able to have become an expert in the execution in order to then apply that for different purposes. I think that it really does require refining those skills, which again are more logistical-based and things of that nature. But seeing it beyond just a line item on a paper or a food order on a BEO is really just an overall understanding how each one of those steps can impact an event and help somebody make this experience that they want to have.

BRANDON:

I understand that a big focus for you right now is leading the transformation of events at KPMG. Could you tell us a little bit more about the impetus for this transformation and the desired outcome?

ELENI:

Prior to my joining KPMG, the events and meetings department did embark on a transformation, which was really an opportunity to take a look at the firms business and make sure that we were staying, our model was relevant to supporting the needs of the business. And I think with any service company that you're doing, and I know that our tax audit and advisory groups are doing this as well. Are they servicing the needs of their clients and are they shifting with the times as things are shifting? So it was really a way for us to look at how we were providing events and how there are ways to enhance and improve that.

Previous to my joining, we sort of were divided into two specific, I guess, I don't know, specialties or markets. One of those was being more field-based where we have planners who are sitting in the markets in these offices supporting those types of events, both client-facing and as well as internally-facing for the people of those clients, as well as what we referred to as the national team, which are people who are really supporting those huge multi-day events where you might bring in people from multiple offices. So it wasn't based locally in one place. And those could also be national intern training, some of our KBS programs, but also some externally facing client programs where maybe the tax group is bringing together clients. So everybody's coming together and hosting a three-day meeting or something of that nature. And so what we wanted to do was really tap into the subject matter expertise that our planners have and provide a better level of service nationally in that, again, we've always been a high-performing hardworking team but really to allow opportunity for folks.

We are now sort of a total national model where planners have been aligned to business groups. So, they're going to be, you'll have one planner who's supporting all tax initiatives. They could be sitting in Raleigh and they could be supporting tax events that are happening in LA. So, it also really allowed for these planners to get exposure beyond their local markets and support that. We did split up into eight business alignments. And we've organized the group in that way. We're really hoping to give planners more opportunity to provide a more consistent level of service for the internal stakeholders and just continue to evolve as the business evolves to help them meet their needs.

BRANDON:

When it comes to working with the other co-leaders, the five other coordinators here, how do you divvy up the responsibilities?

ELENI:

Events and meetings at KPMG is sort of split into two. We have our delivery side, which is the on-the-ground planners. And we have our shared services side and those are people that are offering us the backend support that, I mean, and really, it is front and center, not necessarily backend support, but they assist us with app builds, websites, registrations. Like I mentioned, we have our own sourcing and contracting team. We have an innovation group looking for automations and ways to help us improve our own internal processes. The client experience. So, we are divided. We've got three directors on the shared services side. Then we have right now directors on the delivery side and we're hiring a third one to come join us. And we each have specific business alignments that roll up into our responsibility. So, we certainly have a number of group calls.

We have our associate directors of all of the business groups. They have a call every two weeks and we have entirety. It's really just communication, making sure we have those touchpoints amongst the different groups, both within our own teams and then collectively. And then as the directors, we do get together once a month, but we're in constant communication. There's nothing that we can do without making sure that we have the ear of the other person. And really, it's such a great collaborative group to be working with. The support has been amazing. It's been fun for me to come into a team of such great people to work alongside of.

BRANDON:

Okay. And on your individual team, you have around 26?

ELENI:

I have 26 people and the teams that roll up into me. So we have inclusion and diversity, alliances that focus on a lot of trade shows, management, leadership. And then also, I have the meeting planning team, which is a group of planners that are a little bit more junior and they actually support all of the business alignments. So that's a group of about 10 to 12 planners. And they get their assignments based on parameters surrounding size and scope and things of that nature. So that's been really fun for me. That's a new initiative as part of this transformation is to be able to work with folks who are only a few years into their career and help them really perfect their craft. And I think I enjoy that quite a bit.

BRANDON:

If you look at yourself earlier in your career, what's one piece of advice you would give yourself?

ELENI:

I was thinking about that question and I was speaking to my husband about it. And it's a little bit hard for me to come up with that piece of advice necessarily. I hope that... I think about the advice I want to give to the planners on my team at any level based on the lessons that I've learned. And it's certainly always being true to yourself, making sure that you come from a place of both personal and professional integrity in everything that you do. I think transparency is part of success in communication, no matter what it is, if you screw up. I can look back and appreciate that there are times when something went wrong or I screwed up on something and I owned it.

And I think that if I had to look back on my former self, it's reminding myself to make sure to do that moving forward, that we're all human. I think you have to come from a place of mistakes happen but how do you learn from them? So, hopefully it's just reinforcing those lessons that have happened and reminding myself of that as I grow in my career as well. Right? And trying to look at some of those experiences to help guide me as I'm trying to figure out new places and new things.

BRANDON:

Especially the owning the mistakes part.

ELENI:

Totally. I mean, it's funny because as part of interviews, a question that I feel like is so common in the events world to ask is tell me about something that went wrong and how you fixed it. There's been a few people who say like, "Oh, nothing ever goes wrong." And I sort of roll my eyes because it's not true. But I do remember being asked myself where I have said, I have to be honest with you, certain things do blur together because you don't have time to focus on some of the mistakes. You have to focus on fixing them. So there are certainly are a couple of big, big doozies that have happened where I can very specifically talk about some of those instances. But other times where it just is second nature and it's just part of the job. So it just becomes... They don't look like mistakes because they just feel like they're natural parts of, oh, somebody, we didn't have name tags for that person. Well, we just figured it out. Or we had plan B or they didn't show, they weren't on the list. You just figure it out.

BRANDON:

Speakers unable to make it because their flight got canceled. Okay.

ELENI:

Right, right. And I think it gets easy to sort of be comfortable, right? No matter what you're doing, any industry, any place, and trying to remind yourself just to keep it exciting for you and just to make sure that you're staying relevant to move out of a place of comfort.

BRANDON:

Why events?

ELENI:

Why events?

BRANDON:

Yeah, why events?

ELENI:

That's a very good question. I am Greek-American and I feel like it's sort of does stem back from that. And on my mom's side of the family, she came from a restaurant family. My grandmother was the one who had restaurants and always entertained. She was one of five kids who they each had five kids. And my mom grew up in L.A. I just remember seeing all these pictures of my grandmother's house with like 40 and 50 and 80 people and dinners. And my grandmother was 80 years old and still entertaining and cooking for people. So it felt like it was a little bit in my blood, not just from the restaurant perspective, but from the hospitality perspective. My aunts and my uncles, they all cook and it's been something that's just... Those sorts of events speak to me, in a way, talk about memorable experiences. I think that I didn't necessarily realize that I wanted to be able to help create memorable experiences for others, not just for my family. Because I did find so much value and joy in that growing up.

So I knew that I wanted to be in hospitality. Even within events, there are so many different directions you can go in. You can work on the hotel side, you can work on the restaurant side, you can be a personal or event planner with weddings and bar mitzvahs and all sorts of other things. Or you can be in-house. And I kind of had the opportunity to know that I wasn't interested in pursuing those different areas. When I was in college, I was able to work for a Greek-American association that was based in D.C. and had the opportunity to help them put on their national conventions and things like that. So it just sort of fed it and it was a gut feeling.

BRANDON:

Yeah, yeah.

ELENI:

So.

BRANDON:

No, I think that's amazing. I mean, that sense of history, just growing up with it a lot. And it's very cool that even back in college when there wasn't necessarily a program, you were able to find ways to sort of exercise that skill. Do you think there are more events today than there were in the past? Or do you think there's a renewed interest in it?

ELENI:

It's probably a little bit of both. I can speak to, and I believe it's probably applicable, let's say like at KPMG and at Weill, certainly post-recession, there's more competition, right? So, there's fewer companies in certain industries and fewer law firms and there's more competition. People are trying to figure out, "How can I make you look to me?" So, you can do that by events. You can do that by, like I said, making these memorable experiences for folks. And when I say memorable experiences and sometimes that's really just a seminar with giving really applicable industry information that you want to know.

I think that there were probably always people doing events but it wasn't a niche. It was sort of, it existed. But I don't think it existed the way it does now because it's become so popular. And certainly, social media makes everything way more accessible, right? So, you go to events, you can post it on Instagram. Although not everybody's using Facebook except for some of us but you can post it on all of these different facets in order to do it. I mean, think about the Food Network and you know how that's blown up. And everybody's into restaurants and eating and foodies and just experiences. So I think that it's both renewed interest and maybe just more exposure.

BRANDON:

Sure, sure. More exposure and this renewed interest not only from businesses but also from their target audiences.

ELENI:

Absolutely. I guess one thing that maybe we can touch on, I feel like the word value gets thrown around a lot. What is the value of events and where do we add value? And I think that just like in dating and meeting friends, value means something different for everybody. I think that that value has to be somewhat fluid when you're planning events. Because there are some instances and some programs with complexities or layers where it's very obvious the value that we bring to the table. And then when you're feeling saturated with loads that come on, you're looking at other events where you feel like, "Well, I don't bring any value to that." Well perhaps because it's more simplistic tasks that can be done by anybody else.

But I always challenge the team to say, "Are you bringing no value to that or is it because of the value that you're providing other places that you actually can be impactful in here even if it's more simplistic sorts of tasks that are required of you?" And I think that you have to look at, particularly in specific to KPMG, you have to look at things holistically. You can't always piece and compartmentalize. But again, I just sort of challenge the events industry as a whole to really consider what that means for value, what value means to you, and to be thoughtful about how it might have to be fluid depending on the events that you're supporting.

BRANDON:

Are there any specific instances that you think get overlooked?

ELENI:

In?

BRANDON:

In terms of, well, this contribution, this type of event, I don't feel it's as valuable.

ELENI:

I do think that sometimes if you feel like perhaps you're doing something internally in a home office and catering is provided and you really just need to check people in. Can I also say, well, when you prioritize, what else is on your plate? Does that seem as important? But there is value if you can say, "Oh, Mr. Smith, so nice to see you. John Bob partner's inside and he'd love to speak with you." I think even those natural things where you can make those connections, you do end up increasing the value of a simple check-in and registration process. Or being able to alert, say to X partner or X stakeholder like, "Oh, so and so arrived." By understanding is there anybody that you want to know who's coming at what point. So, I can make you aware of that. I think sometimes that gets overlooked.

BRANDON:

So it's all these different touchpoints across the event?

ELENI:

Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that that's the other, that is the value of events, no matter where they are. It is the touchpoints.

BRANDON:

Who do you think is another executive in events or perhaps another organization that is really doing well and delivering great experiences?

ELENI:

There is a company called HB Hospitality and that was founded by a woman who had been on the hotel side. And she realized that particularly for hotels that were luxury boutique hotels, that it was harder for them to meet clients and when they didn't have the same support of some of the bigger-named brands. And so, she really started and has created this kind of empire as a forum for event professionals, both for site selection, both for just opportunities to meet. I had the pleasure of being able to attend quite a number of women's summits. They were very personal. They were very curated as far as the experience you'd have. You'd have the opportunity to meet multiple vendors, multiple planners in the industry, at various places. And I think that there are so many things that that company is really doing as far as trying to elevate the service, as far as trying to expose what events is doing and what the industry looks like.

There's so many more summits specifically to different... Pharmaceutical, I couldn't even tell you anything about pharmaceutical events and financial summits and other touchpoints. So I think that I've seen some really remarkable stuff and had some really great experiences that I have been able to bring back and apply into my own events. And so I always feel like that's awesome. It's sort of intellectual information sharing and everybody has to put their own spin on it. But it's been a great forum for creativity and inspiration. So yeah, I mean, I think those types of outlets are really important.

BRANDON:

Especially when you're bringing people together at events and exchanging all those insights.

ELENI:

And I think that that's something that I've experienced as well as it sometimes, you attend events for events professionals and they're not always as thoughtful as they should be for what we do for a living. It's so hard. I mean, I would hope other people could relate to this. When you're going to events and it's just easy to be critical, right? Because my objectives have always been, "How do I make this the best event it can be?" So, my husband is at a wedding, it's not always great. It's like maybe I should go in the kitchen and talk to them, talk to the kitchen. I think things are a little bit slow or I'll talk to a random person every once in a while to say, "You don't know who I am but may I make a suggestion?" So, I mean, I don't do it all the time. But once in a blue moon, you definitely have to. Actually, in fact, at a friend's wedding, things were going so horribly wrong that he asked me, he was like, "Can you please go and be the events person?"

BRANDON:

Oh, wow. It was a situation of, is there an event organizer in the house?

ELENI:

Yes, it was a situation of an event organizer in the house. And people will be horrified to know that they were reusing dirty glasses for the bar. So that's just an example of how bad it was. But they were not happy with my interference and somebody stole my credit card at the end of the night. So, they got their revenge on me for trying to help execute a good event. But yeah, so it's-

BRANDON:

But did people drink from cleaner glasses after you brought it up?

ELENI:

I think the lady had turned around and said, "It's okay, the alcohol kills all the germs." And so, it was a really fascinating experience. While it was not as part of my profession, it certainly also gave me a lot of lessons to move forward with.

BRANDON:

So, if we were to go to an event put on by KPMG, is the glassware going to be clean?

ELENI:

The glassware is absolutely going to be clean because that's a risk. We can't worry about, we've got to make sure we're risk-averse. We don't want to pass along any germs and ew.

BRANDON:

Okay. I thought so. I just-

ELENI:

Yeah, just wanted to double-check?

BRANDON:

Just wanted to double-check.

ELENI:

Yeah.

BRANDON:

Eleni, thank you so much for being on the show today.

ELENI:

Thank you. It's exciting. I hope that people are finding it interesting and that there's value in hearing other people's stories.