Name: Jennifer Campbell, CMP, CMM
Present: Director, Meetings and Conference Services, BDO
Expertise: 26 years of providing meeting and event planning services to BDO’s internal clients (have been with BDO for almost 39 years).
Specialty: Great attention to detail; providing the best experience possible on limited budgets.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in England and also lived in Jamaica for five years as a child. We immigrated to Canada in the early 70’s. By the time we immigrated to Canada, I had already completed college – an Administrative Assistant program. I used that as my starting point. When I walked into BDO’s head office back in 1974, (G.H. Ward & Partners at the time), I had a very casual interview with the office manager and I voiced my dismay that I’ll never get the “Canadian experience” employers were asking for unless someone hired me first! She called that afternoon and offered me a clerical position.
Tell us about your work:
As Director of Meeting and Conferences Services, I am responsible for sourcing, recommending locations/venues, co-ordination, execution and delivery of the firm’s conferences, meetings and training programs.
How did you get to where you are today?
I started out as an office clerk in BDO’s head office doing various odd jobs. I then moved into a secretarial role to the CEO/Office Manager, followed by a stint in Human Resources, where my meeting planning experience began. I then moved into information technology services as an IT Co-ordinator, a role in which I learned so much about computers and software available to us at that time and just loved it. Finally, after a major merger of our firm, I was asked to take on the role of Meeting Planner, supporting a partner who handled IT and meetings, conferences and training. After a couple of years, the partner retired and I was left with trying to juggle both roles and decided to hand over all the IT tasks, then made a career out of meeting planning.
Why are you good at what you do?
I am organized, professional and have a calm demeanor even when I’m totally stressed out. I’m committed to making sure my clients and attendees have a good experience wherever they go so they’ll look forward to the next program they attend. I also love what I do and enjoy the people I work with.
What are some of the challenges you face?
One of the challenges I’ve been faced with recently, especially since the recession, is working with limited budgets even though rates and everything else are increasing from year to year. This is where I have to become more creative or have a seat at the table to come up with strategic ways to make the programs happen with limited funding, while at the same time meet our goals and provide the same experiences.
Is there anything you would change in our industry, given the chance?
I would like to see hotels standardize their contracts and banquet event orders. Also, I think that planners should be able to create their own BEOs directly from the venue’s site by pulling up the BEO template, selecting the items required from dropdown list with a section for specific notes and once it’s completed, the CSM would pull it up review it and make any necessary adjustments and the planner can sign off electronically. Not a piece of paper printed! I despise signing BEOs that are over a dozen pages. I now only sign the first and the last page of a lengthy BEO, electronically. When planners arrive onsite we should also be receiving a copy of the BEOs on an iPad along with any other relevant information or documents required. Sign them out/in for the Convener. (One hotel already has their Banquet Managers using them on the floor.) It’s an awesome idea!
Walk us through a typical day at work.
As you will hear from many meeting and event planners, no two days are typical for us. One of my biggest challenges is staying on top of emails. After that, I could be pulling together program details for multiple programs, reviewing BEOs, AV requirements, transfer services, rooming lists, budgets, internal meetings, site visits, FAMs, supplier partnership conferences, local seminars/events/monthly meetings (when I can fit them in). I also spend a lot of time onsite with my groups, ensuring that the program runs smoothly from all aspects. Whew!
What have been some of your biggest achievements?
On the personal side, one of my biggest achievements was obtaining my CMM (Certified Meeting Management) designation in 2007. It was a very challenging process, but it really highlights how to manage your meetings at a more efficient and strategic level.
What do you like best about the meetings industry?
I like the relationships I’ve built over the years with my suppliers and other business contacts, and I strive to maintain these relationships. I enjoy attending industry events and networking with other planners and sharing our best practices. I also like the opportunities we have to learn so much about the industry whether attending half-day seminars or international conferences.
How do you deal with the challenges of work-life balance?
Many years ago, I would put in 10 hours or more a day in the office and up to 16-18 when onsite. One year I started out with 13 weeks of vacation on the books from carrying forward weeks from year to year. This simply meant that I was not taking enough time for myself. Since then, I’ve made sure I take a couple of vacations each year, even if it’s a “staycation.”
Today, I do what I need to get done from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm in the office and rarely have to take work home; my Blackberry goes into my purse as soon as I leave the office and it’s set to shut off by 7:00 pm (30 minutes after I get home) and comes on at 8:00 am. I don’t check it on the weekend unless I have people travelling to a program on a Sunday and it never goes on vacation with me!
A great resource I started using many years ago is a third-party site selection company. Once I discovered the value of using this service I jumped on the wagon. When you connect with the right company who takes the time to learn all they need to know about your business and programs as well as your needs and wants, sourcing becomes a breeze.
What are some of your most memorable events and why?
In 1990, prior to our merger, we held our first AGM outside of Canada, which included families, in Orlando at a property right in Disneyworld. It’s now 2013 and they still talk about it!
My most challenging program was our 2001 AGM which started on the very day of 9/11. The majority of our group arrived the night before and were in sessions that morning. How do you keep your group focused and motivated after such an event? The day after, we had a general session with an amazing speaker, none other than Michael “Pinball” Clemons, who just captured their attention with his warm, inspiring, positive and engaging speech. That’s what saved that meeting.