Planner profile: Arlene Schilke, CMP

Arlene SchilkePresent: Timewise Event Management Inc.
Expertise: Meeting and Convention Management
Specialty:  Social Media, Leadership, Trends

Tell us about yourself.

#girlboss, #eventprof, #entrepreneur, #workingmom #snapchatter #foodie — Needless to say, I love social media almost as much as I love face-to-face meetings. I grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba so to live in an era of technology and live streaming where we are able to connect virtually to anyone anywhere, is fascinating to me. After studying English and Film at the University of Manitoba I made my way west where I was fortuitous to find my niche in the events Industry and the love of my life. I’ve been happily married for 16 years and I’m a mom to four active children, ages 8, 10, 12 and 14.  We have an insanely busy life but I wouldn’t trade it!

Tell us about your work.

Our firm plans conferences and events for government, association and corporate clients.  Like any planner, we love working with corporate clients with deep pockets but truth be told, working on shoestring budgets with tight timelines allows us to think creatively and outside the box to find time-sensitive and cost-effective solutions.  Nothing gets us more excited than a client phoning to say: “We have an event in two weeks, can you make it happen?”

How did you get to where you are today?

It has been a long journey and, trust me, I have fallen many times. For me, the real life lessons are the ones I’ve learnt from the mistakes I’ve made. That aside, I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the relationships I have fostered with colleagues, mentors and peers. When I first started my business 18 years ago, I did not realize the importance of having a strong network. I spent those early years working independently in a silo where it’s easy to become isolated and disconnected.  I stumbled across MPI and was shocked to find out that there were other planners like me, who had the same frustrations, challenges – and quirks!  After discovering this community of #eventprofs, it became part of my mandate to reach out to others in the industry and connect them as well. I’ve had some brilliant and supportive mentors over the years. Their impact on my career has in turn inspired me to mentor others.

Why are you good at what you do?

When I was in university I read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People – I would say that was turning point for me.  I’m an extroverted introvert and this book really helped me understand how to leverage relationships, to the point where it’s a “must read’ for my staff and my kids.

Several years ago (and again recently) our team did the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment and it was instrumental in helping each of us understand our own strengths and also each other’s strengths. There were several “A-ha” moments and it gave us the opportunity to not only focus on our assets instead of our weaknesses but also on how we complement each other as a team. For example, one of mine is “Restorative” – which means I’m adept at dealing with problems (figuring out what is wrong and fixing it) — definitely a huge asset in the world of event management. I also have strong organizational skills, flexibility and I like to turn thoughts into action.

But probably my saving grace, is that I have a wicked memory — not photographic but close!

What are some of the challenges you face?

Educating our clients so that they understand our level of expertise and utilize that expertise to their advantage — for example, negotiating and reviewing hotel contracts before they’re signed.

Another challenge is the slippery slope of scope creep; recognizing when it starts to happen and how to handle it so that the client remains happy and we don’t lose money. Although it can be an uncomfortable conversation, we strive to have open and honest (albeit tough) dialogue with our clients.

Is there anything you would change in our industry, given the chance?

I would change the way clients procure the services of an event planner. I cringe every time we are sent an RFP. The RFP document was created to procure a commodity, often for the lowest price. Event management is not a commodity and the goal should be to invest in the best value, not necessarily the lowest price. In most cases, the RFP is not asking the right questions to make a well-informed decision.  We have a great team with some incredible personality traits and I struggle with presenting the human elements of our company in a RFP response.

Walk us through a typical day at work.

Meetings, meetings and more meetings. Seriously. Good thing I’m in the meetings business. We start (almost) each day with a team meeting to review projects and clients. From there, it’s either external client meetings, internal project meetings or teleconferences. I enjoy being able to capture snippets of my meetings and my day through social media such as Twitter – for clients, staff and even my kids who often wonder what I’m doing all day, this provides context. Many #eventprofs can attest to the reality that event planning is very administrative in nature and I’m blessed to have a great team in place that allows me the luxury of less administrative work and more relationship building. In addition to nurturing relationships with suppliers, clients and peers, every week I’m purposeful in scheduling “meet-and-greet” scenarios or calls to connect with someone in the industry that I don’t have a relationship with.

What have been some of your biggest achievements?

In 2010 I became a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and I’m a big advocate of this designation for anyone in the events industry. Over more recent years, I have transitioned more from planner to project manager. In 2015 I was recognized as a nominee for an Achievement Award by the Alberta Women Entrepreneurs. It was an honor to be noted among the elite, business-savvy women in our province. In 2015, I melded my passion for the events industry with my leadership skills and became an active MPI board member, where I am currently serving as President-Elect for Meeting Professionals International, Greater Edmonton Chapter.  I’m driven to work on initiatives that help elevate the events industry, create community and build bridges.

And yes, I do love SnapChat and have been listed as one of the “Top #EventProfs to Follow on SnapChat”.

What do you like best about the meetings industry, particularly in your region or city?

I love the multi-faceted elements and angles of the meetings industry.  It is such a niche, with so many different layers that all seem to connect in one way or another. Everyone from planners, hotels, audio visual, entertainment, florists, décor, and rental — it’s amazing to see how many people are part of the events industry. The Canadian Economic Impact Study 3.0 (2012 data) for Edmonton indicates that there are 18,000 jobs in the events industry in Edmonton alone.  Almost five per cent of Canadian events are hosted here in Edmonton – that’s more than Ottawa!

How do you deal with the challenges of work-life balance?

One of our mottos is “work hard, play hard.” Anyone in the events industry can tell you, this isn’t a Monday to Friday, nine-to-five job.  When we have an event(s) we buckle down and “get ‘er done.” But we balance that with time off, especially in the summer. Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, was instrumental in helping me realize that I wasn’t alone in my struggle to balance life as a successful working woman and as a wife and mom. For many years I tried to keep work separate from family and vice versa but it simply wasn’t realistic for me. I’m an “all-in” kind of person and it’s hard to turn that off.  So if you see me cheering at my 12-year-old’s basketball game, chances are I’ll be talking to a client on my phone while Snapchatting and updating a budget at the same time. That’s just how I roll and I’m okay with that.

What are some of your most memorable events and why?

In 2016 our team produced the inaugural Edmonton Event Awards and this past March we hosted both the Edmonton Event Awards and the Calgary Event Awards. These award programs were created in nonpartisan spirit, to be inclusive of everyone. It was so amazing to see event professionals in our community come together to celebrate their success and honor each other, to see those that are friends and foes, comrades and competitors put aside their issues and differences and just take a night to enjoy who we are and what we do. Never before in our two cities in Alberta has an initiative like this been done – it was long overdue and highly satisfying to be able to unite the industry.

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