Cindy Lo, president of Red Velvet Events, says her mission statement is to “out-plan, outplay and out-party!” And with hundreds of events successfully created in just eight years, she’s put her money where her mouth is. PYM was lucky to catch up with the busy entrepreneur between gigs, as she wrapped up the NACE Experience! Conference (July 25-28) and was on her way to Baltimore, Md., for ISES Eventworld (Aug. 5-7, 2010).
Cindy, how did you get your start as a meeting planner?
Well, like so many people you talk to in this industry, I fell into it. My background was in business technology, and the only similarity between the two jobs is how I managed software deployments taught me how to manage delivering on our clients’ needs and wants with respect to their conferences and events. I have been doing it now for eight years, and I absolutely love what I do. I actually got started with the encouragement of my friends. I had been doing project management work, and they all said I would be a natural at meeting and event planning. When I initially started the job search, it was a real eye-opener. It was post-9/11, and no one was hiring within the industry, especially someone like myself coming from Corporate America. And there always seems to be a plethora of newly inexperienced planners that “think” they want to be in the industry – me included at the time. Looking back, I now see why no one took me seriously at that time since this type of job takes a special personality and it is not a good fit for everyone especially if your background is more corporate. What I believe everyone underestimated in me was how much I love helping others, and I was willing to start from ground zero to make it happen. When you truly love your job, you’re able to do it well. So, with zero formal experience, I started my own company, Red Velvet Events. During this transition, I taught myself everything. I read as many case studies as I could find, learned the business jargon (and boy are there a lot of acronyms), and actually tweaked my business plan as I moved along the process. I also got involved with MPI and ISES, and I credit my local chapters for helping me get where I am today.
What associations and organizations are you currently affiliated with, and why are they beneficial to you?
Red Velvet Events is a member of five industry organizations. And, really, it’s more than a membership. When you join these groups, you need to get involved. Otherwise, it’s a waste of money. The payoff, or benefit from joining comes from one’s involvement. So, we are involved with Meeting Professionals International (MPI), which is great for providing all-around networking and connections with like-minded planners and suppliers. We’re also members of International Special Events Society (ISES), which is an organization I highly recommend to any independent planner because there is such a great focus on the production side of events. ISES is truly the epitome of all that is special events. I believe it prepares planners and allows us to broaden our network. And, it is through my involvement with ISES that I was able to partner with the National Association of Catering Executives Austin chapter, which was the destination for their national education conference this year. I really enjoyed being able to showcase the city during this event. Red Velvet Events is an official destination management company for both Austin and San Antonio, so we are also heavily involved with the Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME). We are also a member of American Marketing Association (AMA) as we have found it to be a good organization for independent business owners. Lastly, we are also members of Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI), because it is good for forming alliances with the hotels we partner with.
Tell us about Red Velvet Events.
We are a full service event management firm. Our headquarters is in Austin, and we also have an office in San Antonio. Our specialty is the corporate market, and we also produce high-end social events upon request, which include platinum weddings by referral. Our ideal clients are small to medium-size business that want their events to be on-brand and on-budget.
How has social networking helped you to grow your connections and your business?
Being a small business owner, social networking has helped me reinforce my brand. It has also allowed me to share information I find pertinent, newsworthy and useful to the industry, without spamming my e-mail contacts. In other words, people have the choice to follow me on Twitter and read the information I provide, as opposed to me soliciting them to sign up for my e-mail newsletters and such. And, it’s free. Whenever someone tells me they don’t have time for professional social networking, I always ask how can they possibly ignore an effective marketing tool that is absolutely free! Who doesn’t make the time for that? And, it truly does pay off. In fact, I just received a proposal to manage another company’s social networking. When I say proposal, I mean they’re offering to pay me to do their online marketing for them. How cool is that? I believe that if you sell a targeted service or product, especially one that is geared toward generation Y, you’d be foolish not to have a presence on social media.
What do you like most about your job?
I love working with our clients. I am so fortunate in that I get to touch a variety of clients. I enjoy learning their business objectives, and being able to tie those into their special event. It’s really all about creating a “wow” factor. I like the challenge of figuring out how to make each event different and memorable, and demonstrating that producing events is much more than just a checklist. It’s about creating an unforgettable experience.
What advice can you share with our readers?
If you’re currently working for someone, use this time wisely and take advantage of really getting to know the industry. Attend conferences and networking meetings. You never know when your career or job will change. If you’re a small business owner, always push yourself to learn. The day you stop learning is the day you start to fail. You don’t want to settle for status quo, so push yourself constantly. And, I’d like to preface this last bit of advice by saying that I really do have a lot of fun with my job. I mean, I adore it and love it to death. But, what people sometimes don’t realize is that it’s not all glitz and glamour. No matter who you are in this industry, you still have to do the “grunt work.” You’re never “too good” for any task that needs to be done in order to make the event successful. There will be times when it seems like a very grueling job, physically and mentally. And, there will always be times when you can feel unappreciated. My advice is to remember to always focus on the end product and that the client is happy. Don’t always look for that constant pat on the back because regardless to how it may appear, this industry is not all fun and games.
Well said, Cindy. How can planners get in touch with you?
Note from Lisa: If you’re in the Austin, Texas, area, you can meet Cindy Lo in person at the PYM LIVE Austin Event on Feb. 16, 2011.