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33 | Sara Gorlick, Rakuten: ROI and Leading with Resiliency

  • April 1, 2020
  • 38:03

Sara Gorlick (VP of Events at Rakuten) shares how to tie events  to larger business outcomes, how to create a strategy to measure event ROI, and what it takes to lead through adversity.

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Top Takeaways

1

ALIGNING YOUR GO-TO-MARKET TEAMS: Sara and her team have found that the best way to get buy-in from sales and other go-to-market teams is to listen to their needs. “Get on the same page in advance of the event and make sure that your teams feel supported by the event team because the more they feel supported by the event team, the more they're going to want to help you.”

2

CREATING A STRATEGY TO MEASURE EVENT ROI: To help illustrate the event ROI, Sara and her team came up with three specific categories that align with Rakuten’s larger organizational goals : influenced ROI, sourced ROI, and client retention "By being able to show your ROI, you can keep the legacy of your event ongoing for all time and say here were the benefits. That is a way for event planners to be their own advocate and keep the success at an event top of mind for all of their colleagues as well.”

3

LEADING AN EVENTS TEAM THROUGH ADVERSITY: From trying to find the perfect managing overflow from registration lines to navigating COVID-19 Sara has been no stranger to handling and overcoming unexpected event situations. “I think one of the most important qualities of a great event planner is to be able to be a crisis manager. Because no matter how much you plan, inevitably something's going to happen and it's all about knowing, ‘Okay, we can fix this, let's just figure out how to fix it’.”

ABOUT Sara Gorlick

Sara Gorlick is the VP of Events at Rakuten where she leads the Americas event team in planning the company’s flagship event Optimism as well as 30+ other events around the world. Sara has worked in events since 2006. She’s been named Corporate Event Planner of the Year by BizBash and Corporate Planner of the Year by Event Solutions.

Episode Transcript

BRANDON

I know today we're going to be talking about the way that you are working on events at Rakuten and how you're tracing ROI there. But to start off, could you tell us a little bit more about your current responsibilities as the VP events at Rakuten?

SARA:

I've been with Rakuten now for a little over 10 years. I can't believe it's been a decade. My role at the company has evolved over the time that I've been there working in various areas, so not focused on one piece of business. Then going to global events for five years and more recently I'm now focused on the Americas.

SARA:

Rakuten has expanded Americas, we've acquired many different business units and we have a lot of events happening now. I'm head of events for Rakuten Americas. I lead our flagship event Optimism, which is in its third year this year in October. That's our large 3000 person event where we bring all the business units together for really jam-packed day of education and entertainment.

SARA:

Then in addition to that, we plan our conferences for the advertising part of the business, Rakuten advertising. We also manage the sales presence at any industry events. If Rakuten is going to have a large presence at, for example, shop talk is a large industry event for us. We manage the participation there.

SARA:

Then outside of the events, I of course manage working with marketing leaders and sales leaders to make sure that our event strategy is in line with what they want to do every single year and what their goals are because we want to make sure our events are supporting the teams across the business units. Handling contracting and budgeting, facilitation of [inaudible 00:04:22] for Optimism event, and then managing an amazing team of four event planners that help us pull all of us off every year.

BRANDON:

That's so cool. One of the things I really find valuable about your perspective is the fact that you've been with Rakuten, which is this already a huge company and at the time when you joined events, they were doing one thing and that events program has grown pretty significantly over those 10 years that you've been there.

BRANDON:

As you said, you've had a lot of experience doing different things. I love to hear a little bit more about how your role has evolved at Rakuten over those years, but even before then, I mean let's take it back all the way to 2006 and maybe beforehand, maybe a little bit after, I don't know, but I know you've been working in events since then. Could you briefly walk us through the different steps of your career from then to now that have led to where you are today?

SARA:

Yeah, definitely. I have been doing events ever since I graduated from college, which was... Was it 13 years ago now maybe? Maybe even longer. I can't do that math. I don't know if I want to do the math.

BRANDON:

13 ish.

SARA:

Yeah, 13 ish. But when I graduated from college, I honestly didn't know what I wanted to do for a career. I majored in communications because it didn't require a lot of math classes and I was interested in the topic, but I didn't really see a career path coming out of school of what to do. I was applying for jobs all over the place and a company, an organization I should say, called the Institute for healthcare improvement where I had done an internship was hiring an event coordinator.

SARA:

I applied for that job and I got the job and I thought, well, you know what? I'm going to take it. I don't know if I want to do events. I've never really planned events before, but we'll see how it goes and I was really interested in the industry in healthcare. I was really thrown into the fire for my first event, one of the event managers had left. I was hired as an event coordinator.

SARA:

They asked me to take on a really large 1500 person conference with some oversight from a manager, but really just flying by the seat of my pants, didn't know what I was doing and just taking my best guess. It was a hard event to get through, but in the end I really enjoyed it and I decided that this was something that I really wanted to pursue. My boss at the time sat me down after the large event and said, "Hey, this is something you can turn into a career. You can get your CMP. There's a true trajectory here for somebody that wants to make a lifetime career of this." And so I decided to go down that path.

SARA:

After working at the healthcare company, I decided I wanted a change of pace and I found a temporary position in Israel at the David Intercontinental Hotel. I thought this is great. I can get international experience, I can get the hotel side and then ultimately come back to the US. My plan was to settle back in California where I was originally from to be near my family and try and find a job there. When I got back, it was in the middle of the recession.

BRANDON:

Yikes.

SARA:

It was not the best time to find a job. I applied for quite some time, I think it was around four or five months. Considering it was a session, actually that's not that bad. I tried PR, that wasn't for me. I was really lucky because I got the interview at Rakuten and I flew to New York. A couple of months later I ended up getting the job.

SARA:

I moved to New York. Of course, as I said, I thought I was going to end up putting my roots back down in California. But off I went to Manhattan, it was the best decision I made. I think Manhattan's the best city in the world. Then I started my decade at Rakuten. I think a lot of people are used to jumping around at jobs nowadays, every two years, three years. I have people come up to me and say, how have you been there for that long? Don't you get bored? Isn't the event the same thing year after year?

SARA:

That couldn't be farther from the truth. Even if you're doing the same conference every year, it changes because you're always trying to improve upon what you've done the year prior. But the company has been growing so much and we've been adding so many new events to our portfolio. I feel like it is a new job every two years and that's pretty much led me to today, we're focused on the Americas.

BRANDON:

Right. In between when you first joined Rakuten and now there was a lot of international travel managing events and all different parts of the globe. As you mentioned today, your work is more focused on the Americas with some other global events sprinkled in.

SARA:

That's right. We still do global events for deal maker series.

BRANDON:

All right, when we talk about the team that you have at Rakuten right now, what does that team structure look like? You are the VP of events and who else are you working with?

SARA:

On our team we have myself, we have a director of event marketing, an event manager and event coordinator. Then we have an event assistant who is a rotating co-op. I went to Northeastern University and they have a co-op program where students will be full time at one company for six months.

BRANDON:

Awesome.

SARA:

We go through the co-op program at Northeastern to get our interns. We are largely remote. I am based in Las Vegas. Two of our employees are based in New York. Then our rotating co-op is also based in New York, so three actually. Then another is in Boston. But we travel all the time and we mostly communicate via zoom, so video conferencing and through Viber chatting and on our group chat.

SARA:

The team structure has worked for us really well. I think one thing that I'm a big supporter of is having an intern on an event team. I think that there's a lot of administrative tasks that come along with events and they're so important. I mean, running reports, handling name badges, they are vital to the success of an event, but it's a great job for an intern because they get a lot of experience within that world for six months.

SARA:

Then they leave at a time where maybe they might start getting a little bit bored with that type of work and wanting to expand. They go back to school and then we're able to bring in somebody else and then teach them some of the administrative base of what we need for an event. That has worked really well for our team. Also, no matter where you go in your career and event planning, I think whether you're an assistant or a VP, you're always going to have to do some of that type of work no matter what.

SARA:

Like I said, it's so important, but having someone be able to dedicate themselves, that type of work is huge because it's so time-consuming.

BRANDON:

Speaking of some of the more strategic concepts around events, let's talk a little bit about ROI. I know this is something you spent a lot of time thinking about and iterating on. When it comes to proving event ROI. There are two perspectives that you've mentioned in the past that you look at events from. One perspective is looking at events as directly creating ROI and the other is influencing ROI. How does this look in practice for you and Rakuten?

SARA:

About... Maybe it was five or six years ago. I was looking at our events and you were getting a lot of questions, what's the ROI on this event and all the industry events that we go to, and the events that we put on? I had to come up with a way to show here's the benefit of doing this conference. Sometimes, looking at ticket sales and sponsorship revenue is just not enough to show the benefit of an event.

SARA:

The way that we started to look at the outcome of our events and if they were successful is categorizing our touchpoints with attendees. We categorize those attendees into different buckets. There are influenced ROI, which means that we already were in touch with this client or this prospect prior to coming to an event, but the event is just a touchpoint on that relationship timeline.

SARA:

Then there's sourced ROI, which means that this person's hearing about Rakuten for the first time by coming to your event. So you know that this event started the creation of that relationship. Looking at it in those two buckets is really helpful. Of course, source is always lower than influence because at your events you're already inviting people that you have relationships with.

SARA:

But even if you get two or three source relationships out of an event, that's huge and something to be highlighted. Then, the other thing that we look at too is client retention. Who are clients that are already at the event? They have a lot of value also strengthening those relationships. By looking at your attendees in different buckets, you're really able to put together an ROI formula for your individual company.

BRANDON:

It sounds like it'd be difficult to keep track of all of these different touchpoints. How is technology assisting you in doing so?

SARA:

So much of tracking ROI is face to face conversations. A lot of the time technology can't pick up some of those interactions that are taking place. Before getting to the technology, we also want to have a really close relationship with our sales team and our client managers so that we could talk to them and get some anecdotal feedback on people they met with and any feedback from their clients and how the events went. That's really important.

SARA:

But aside from that, looking at technology, we use campaigns in a CRM. We have our sales team and our client managers go in and say, here are the people we're having conversations with so that we can easily pull that data. We also use a program called Pathable. I'm not sure if you've ever heard of that before, but it's a technology that allows attendees to set meetings in advance with one another prior to getting to the event and then they meet onsite.

SARA:

Well, it's really great for us is then on the back end we can see who's meeting with who, how many meetings are taking place. We have some conferences and 4,000 meetings take place at one conference. That's huge for us because we're using that technology to say, hey, our event generated 4,000 meetings between our attendees at minimum. That was just pre-scheduled for people gone on site. That is a really great way to measure ROI.

BRANDON:

There's a mix of keeping track of those more qualitative elements and having different members of the sales team make sure that they're providing that feedback. Maybe taking notes on that feedback in the CRM or elsewhere?

SARA:

Yeah, exactly.

BRANDON:

There's also that element of within this CRM, within a campaign, making sure that the different attendees are tagged. Are you finding that you and your team are manually tagging that yourselves?

SARA:

That is one of the struggles I think that event planners face with ROI is getting the full amount of data that they want from the sales team and not having to go in and do the work themselves. A lot of the time at event planning, we do have to go in and say, hey, can you give us feedback on this, this and this, and then we'll have to go in and tag to save the sales team some time.

SARA:

That is something that we're always trying to decrease the amount of time that we have to go back and input or detail out additional information. I think that when event planners sometimes get frustrated and say, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I have to go in and do this on my own." Just so that every event planner is doing it. It's very common and I think if you start to think of it as well, it's part of the job. It makes it a little bit easier.

BRANDON:

Are there any processes that you've found to be helpful in maintaining this alignment? I think especially with the sales team, I think aligning with the general marketing team is, of course, another conversation, but with the sales team before the event and after the event in terms of making sure the responsibilities are understood.

SARA:

I think the biggest thing is you want to be aligned and you want to know what the sales team's goals are. Does your sales team, do they like to go to the networking receptions? Do they like to work the booth? Do they like to scan badges at a booth or at the event? Or is saying that to them is torture and that's the last thing they want to do. Maybe as a planner you step in and do that.

SARA:

I think one of the biggest thing as an event planner is figuring out how to support your team, how do they work best and then try and put together the infrastructure for them onsite at an event where they can really do their job of selling. You can try and collect the data as easy and simply as possible. I think the way to do that is to get on the same page in advance of the event and make sure that your teams feel supported by the event team because the more they feel supported by the event team, the more they're going to want to help you.

SARA:

The sales reps that we work great with are ones where we're on the same page and they're really looking out for us and we're looking out for them just as much.

BRANDON:

Are there any specific strategies around that in particular, say making sales members feel they are supported, that you found to be helpful?

SARA:

Yeah, I think the biggest thing is asking them what they want out of the event. Who are they looking to meet with? Sending them the attendee list in advance. Saying, hey, here's the attendee list. Is there is anyone that I can try and help you get in contact with prior to the event to set up a meeting? I think planning with them in advance of getting on-site makes a big difference and open communication with them.

SARA:

Making sure that they're prepared. I think that some times there are sales managers going to an event and the event team doesn't properly prepare them and say, here's everything that's going on. Here's where we'd like you to be. Here's the list of attendees that are going to be there. Giving them a lot of information so that way they can succeed. That really goes a long way.

SARA:

The same thing goes along even for our executives. Sending them a briefing book before getting to the event. Here's an outline of everything that's going on at the conference. Our executives are very busy, they don't have time to go to every single thing, but they can get a bird's eye view of the entire agenda. Again, who's going to be there, then that goes a long way. Total transparency has really contributed, I think to the success of our events.

BRANDON:

When we're talking about a huge event like optimism, which you mentioned is going to be going live this year in October. Thousands of attendees coming to it. What are some ways that you're working with, say your marketing or your sales team in order to drive registrations to an event like that?

SARA:

There are so many different ways to drive registrations to a large event and it totally depends on your company too and what you're offering, who your target attendees are. It really varies on the type of conference that you're putting on. Email marketing is big, but of course in order for email marketing to work, you need a large recipient base for that to work because open rates in general are not huge.

SARA:

If you're looking at email strategy is one that you're going to go after, my advice would be we'll make sure that you're sending your emails out to a huge number of people for it to work. A big strategy is one to one communication. If you are a company that has clients, get your account managers on the phone and have them call up clients say, hey, we'd love for you to attend.

SARA:

That one to one makes a really big difference. Social media, LinkedIn, LinkedIn messaging is big. Then once you have an event that people love and it's been around for a while, then you just have repeat attendees so it gets a little bit easier. You make sure that your onsite experience is wonderful for your attendees that are there and then they'll keep coming back year after year.

BRANDON:

If we take a step back to ROI. I know I got us on the promotional side of things for a little bit, but if we are looking at ROI, what are some ways that if you're looking at say the customer's sourced or the customer's influenced or the amount of meetings held, what are some ways that you're looking at that information, that data and using it to improve or modify your event strategy moving forward?

SARA:

That's I think the biggest thing about tracking ROI as an event planner, is the whole point of tracking ROI in some way is to allow you to have more educated decisions in the future of your event calendar for the next year. Yeah, you want to know how successful an event was, but the whole point of that is to say, well what should we do next time? We want to know how it went and then we can decide what our strategy is going to be moving forward.

SARA:

We take that data and then we look at here are the events that worked here are the ones that didn't work as well as we thought. Then that shapes our event calendar for the following year.

BRANDON:

Looking at perhaps how the event strategy has shifted in maybe the past five years or so, are there any sort of key takeaways or key learnings from this analysis that you've found?

SARA:

The biggest advice I would give event planners is to create a categorization strategy. As I talked about the sourced influenced ROI, client retention, every company is different. You really have to think internally about who are your targeted attendees, what do you want out of the event, and then figure out how to categorize the different ways you want to look at ROI to get sponsorship revenue.

SARA:

Types of clients or attendees. So that's the biggest tip I would get because once you have those categories set, everything starts to fall in place much easier.

BRANDON:

When we get to the root of it. What does event ROI mean to you?

SARA:

For me, event planning ROI is an event planner being their own advocate. I think that's really important from showing how events are supporting a business to executives, to sales, as I mentioned, to product managers, to the marketing team. People can go to an event and be on-site and think this is great. Then they go home and they get busy with everything else.

SARA:

The energy of that event fades for everybody else besides an event planner. By being able to show your ROI, you can keep the legacy of your event ongoing for all time and say here were the benefits. That is a way for event planners to be their own advocate and keep the success at an event top of mind for all of their colleagues as well.

BRANDON:

I'd love to pivot a bit and talk a little bit more about you and your experiences through the events landscape. Starting with challenges, specifically we've talked about a lot of the amazing things that are going on at Rakuten and just some of the successes you've had around ROI and otherwise, but what's an example of something that maybe didn't go exactly according to plan at some point in your career?

SARA:

I love talking about event failures. I think that they are so fun to talk about and it's a nice stress relief as well I think for event planners say, can you believe this happened at my event? It creates some humor around what we do because when events aren't going well, it is awful and it's not fun to deal with. But afterwards it always creates a good story at least.

SARA:

For me, so many different things happen at events. Crazy unique stories that I could talk about for hours. One that comes to mind was one of my first events. It was a 2000 person conference and I had a place where registration was. I was still new to events. I didn't really know how to plot out where registration should go that would be open and provide enough leeway for the line to backup if needed.

SARA:

The registration line got really long. People were backed up almost against a balcony and curving all around the place. It was awful. That was just a sight to be seen. Then a few hours later, there were lines to get into some breakout sessions. One of the attendees was talking to a colleague of mine and I saw her start to stomp her feet and she said, this is the worst event I've ever been to.

SARA:

I was new in event planning. I thought, oh my gosh, this is terrible. Looking back, there were reasons why she couldn't get into a breakout session. She should've registered in advance and it was sold out and attendees knew that. You look back and say, well, we sent out these communications hundreds of times and sometimes attendees just don't read them and there's not much you can do about that. But as an event planner, I thought, oh my gosh, this is terrible.

BRANDON:

That's terrible to hear.

SARA:

Terrible to hear but looking back and now 10 years later, 12 years later, after being in events, it's a funny memory. It's the only time it's happened thank goodness. Hearing an attendee say that. But another one is AV. I think AV is a huge area in event planning where things go wrong and you start to put together your checklist of everything you need to check onsite to decrease the chances of a microphone not working, or the video not playing correctly.

SARA:

I think as event planners, those things start to go wrong and that's when you start to build up that checklist. Oh, this has happened. So now I know to check on this. This has happened. 10 12 years into your career, you have a list of 20, 30, 40 things that you're checking. But one time at an event we had a projector blend. It was a large screen, two different projectors and they were supposed to blend together to make one cohesive look.

SARA:

We had a really well-known speaker at the event and the blend didn't work. We came down in the morning and the AV team said, we'll get it fixed, we'll get it fixed and they didn't get it fixed. We had this great speaker on stage and the AV behind the speaker, it looked just... It didn't overlap properly. It's one of those things that attendees didn't really notice that much, but as an event planner, you just staring at it and you just can't believe what your eyes are seeing.

BRANDON:

Sure. For the presenter, they were probably just looking at the audience for most of the time, right?

SARA:

Yeah. The presenter didn't even know what was going on. Yeah.

BRANDON:

But you feel that so hard as the person responsible for making this event amazing.

SARA:

Exactly. Yeah. You feel responsible and then I think also the AV team felt terrible and then I think many people might be similar. Then you're trying to make them feel better, so you're feeling terrible but the AV person looks like they're going to cry and so you're like, no, it's okay, these things happen. You're trying to calm them down and it's just a... It's a circus all around.

BRANDON:

Definitely a difficult situation to be sure. I know that one of the things you mentioned is wow, you experienced these really terrible things but not to overly moralize it, but it sounds more often than not you leave those experiences with an idea of what to do differently in the future. You mentioned having that registration line. I don't know, for 100% but I'm pretty sure since that happened way back then with the session registrations and all that, there hasn't been the same issue.

SARA:

No there hasn't and it's so different now than it was back then because if you have the budget you can do onsite registration where people go into the tablet, type in their name. We use Bizzabo’s product for that, for onsite reg which is great. We used that often as the last year. No long lines.

SARA:

People went up, their badges printed. I'm sure event planners are familiar with this. People will register and the capitalization is incorrect and how they register. As an event planner you have to go behind the scenes and make sure it all looks right and if not, you have to reprint their badge. There's none of doing that onsite at an event now when you have onsite printing. That is the way that technology has solved an event planning problem.

BRANDON:

So learning lessons in some cases technology can help. But then I know there are other things that you've taken on yourself. For instance, with that AV issue, I know we talked about this in the past when we had you on for a webinar, but this idea of the double checklist that you've put together for you and your team to make sure that when you're doing multiple events that everything is taken care of.

SARA:

Yeah. It's about not only making sure that you have checked the box, but your vendors have checked the box as well. Things that you've asked them to look for. Like that projector blend. Making sure that... If the projector blend wasn't working the night before, then making a call that night and saying, okay, let's revise what this stage is going to look like as much as we can for the following morning so we don't have to troubleshoot an hour before the show kicks off.

SARA:

Having that double checklist and making sure your vendors are checking off as well, really decreases the number of event fails as they call them onsite.

BRANDON:

I also want to talk a little bit about this ebook that you are currently in the process of writing about building a career in events. It's filled with a lot of great advice from what I've heard. One of the points that you cover is how to fast track an events career. With that in mind, what have you personally found to be valuable in fast-tracking your own career in events, having started out right after college with a job in events. Then taking some time more in the hospitality side and then eventually making your way back at Rakuten.

SARA:

It's funny that you ask this question because earlier this week I was writing top 10 tips for corporate job for a friend that was venturing into more of a corporate setting than they had been in before. Outside of events. Some of my tips were to, if you're working in an office, arrive early and leave a little bit late every day for the first year because it shows that you're really committed and you're visible. I think that in the long run that gives you a lot of autonomy because people then understand your work ethic.

SARA:

Send weekly updates, so whoever your boss is, whether they ask for it or not, send them a bulleted list every Friday end of day or Sunday night of the things that you accomplished that week. That really goes a long way and I think will fast track anybody's career. Then inside of events, when you first get into events, being able to learn all about the important logistics is key.

SARA:

Name badges, registration, like I said, making sure those lines don't get too long. The overall logistics of how to plan an event are important, but the whole point of learning how to be a master at logistics is to then be able to be a great crisis manager onsite and how to stay calm. Because going back to what we were talking about when things go wrong in events, I think one of the most important qualities of a great event planner is to be able to be a crisis manager. Because no matter how much you plan, inevitably something's going to happen and it's all about knowing, okay, we can fix this, let's just figure out how to fix it.

SARA:

Once you get a really good understanding of the logistics that need to happen and get those in place, then you can be a really effective event planner on-site. That I think goes a long way in fast-tracking your career as well.

BRANDON:

I do want to take a second. We're talking about all these different crises. I know right now the events industry is... We're recording this in the beginning of March and it's really being hit heavily by coronavirus. So many event cancellations, Facebook F8.

SARA:

Mobile World Congress.

BRANDON:

Mobile World Congress over in Barcelona. This is something that's just not seen coming at all and it's really shaking up the events industry. What are some of your biggest takeaways from this moment?

SARA:

You don't want to instill panic in anyone, but I think that being event planners that are looking out for your attendees is really important. Early on we had an event in early February and coronavirus was... It was still coming up and it was in the news. It's not as intense as it was today, but one of the things that we decided to do onsite is offer hand sanitizer at registration as well as emergency packets.

SARA:

Those emergency packets went a long way. They were a delight for our attendees. Now we're going to do them no matter what at an event moving forward. Whether there's coronavirus or not. But I think looking out for your attendees is really important. But being aware of what's happening and weaving those current events into your event and letting your attendees know that they're top of mind and then deciding to cancel an event or reschedule event is a big deal.

SARA:

We put in a lot of time. People plan these events for a year, sometimes two years leading up to the conference and to have to cancel it at the last minute is not an easy decision to make but events are always going to be here. I think that's my biggest thing is I've been reading some emails from different industry publications saying it's stressful and you don't want to see your events get canceled, but events are always going to be here.

SARA:

Whether this event is canceled this year, your attendees are going to come back next year. Putting your attendees first and their health and their peace of mind, to me is the most important thing to keep in mind when something like this is happening. I think that within the event industry, vendors and event planners support one another. If your contract isn't the most forgiving for something like this, I think that many event planners would find that if they called their sales manager at a venue or a vendor and say, can you believe this is happening? People will work together to figure out a way where it can be as much of a win-win solution as possible.

SARA:

Picking up that phone and calling the people that you're working with and troubleshooting, I think that there will be more solutions than challenges when we all work together through something like this.

BRANDON:

Amazing. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your perspectives on it. It's very helpful to hear. I've seen myself a great deal of uncertainty in the industry, but at the same time, people are making it work. They're making it work and whether that's postponing an event, making it digital, pushing it to next year or just later in the current year.

SARA:

I think it goes back to qualities of an event planner is resiliency. That is one.

BRANDON:

Huge.

SARA:

When that many of event planners hold.

BRANDON:

A few more questions for us today. First off, who is someone you look up to in events, marketing or business in general?

SARA:

The person that came to mind for me was Oprah, but I think everybody loves Oprah. SHe's amazing and a huge inspiration. There are certain qualities that really inspire me and that I admire. For me it's when a leader has no ego and fully supports the people that work for them. A leader that's always kind, never condescending. I've seen many people across events that can be condescending, just in all walks of life. People encounter this and that's just the worst thing to see.

SARA:

Someone that's not condescending and instills confidence in another person is someone that I really admire. Then also someone that's really able to clearly cut through problems to the core issue in a way that makes a problem actually seem like no big deal. It's a hard thing to take a complex issue and then distill it down into a very simple thought. When I see someone that can do that, I am always really inspired.

BRANDON:

What's a piece of advice you'd give an earlier version of yourself and why?

SARA:

The hard stuff is going to be what makes you successful in the future. That first event that I talked about where the registration line was wrong and the person saying this is the worst event they've ever been to, that was a hard night for me when I went back to my hotel room. I was 23 years old, 24 years old, definitely tears were shed. I thought, oh my gosh, can I do this? Am I good at this? Am I going to succeed?

SARA:

I would go back and say, this hard stuff is going to give you a way to learn and how to do better in the future and it's not for nothing. There's really a lesson here that you're capable. That's something that I would tell a new event planner as well.

BRANDON:

So useful to hear. Again I know you've had a very fun ride in events and just have a lot of great experiences to draw on. Final question, how can our listeners keep up with Rakuten and all the great work you're doing there?

SARA:

We post about our events on LinkedIn, so if you connect with me on LinkedIn, we'll post as events come up. Optimism, we have up just  the save the date page right now, optimism.rakuten.us. But we'll be launching that event soon. It's a great event for anyone in marketing. I mean even event planners might be interested in attending. Really great content. We also have a fun entertainment act at the end of the event. Last year we had Usher, the year before that we had Shakira.

SARA:

Surprise who our next act is going to be, but definitely stay in touch with us from that website. Then I have an Instagram profile for about planners called Lucky Box Cutter and it's just a community for event planners. I wanted to create something that was a bit self-deprecating and honest about the hardships of events and the humor of the job. That's my goal with Lucky Box Cutter is just to provide some levity to event planners.

BRANDON:

Much needed levity to be sure.

SARA:

Yeah.

BRANDON:

Amazing. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to speak today. I just really appreciate the optimism with which you have embraced your career at every step of the way to now, and that sense of humor as well. It's just very helpful to hear and I'm sure our audience is going to appreciate it as well.

SARA:

Thanks, Brandon. It was so fun to talk to you and I hope whoever's listening we can connect over on Instagram and share some more event stories.