The holidays are upon us. This month’s planner profile introduces us to Erica Prewett, a true superwoman of planning social events, as well as a person who keeps the spirit of “giving back” in her heart and mind throughout the year.
Erica Prewett, owner of A Big To Do Event, has been in the business of creating memories through events since 1999. Organizations such as IBM, AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, United Way of Mississippi, as well as individual families, have experienced stress-free social and corporate events because of this “Checklist Queen.”
Erica, thank you for your time today. How did you get started in the meeting planning industry?
After graduating from high school in 1999, I attended a junior college in Mississippi. While I was there, I got involved in the AmeriCorps program, which provided local charity services in Jackson, Miss. My job was to organize events for the community college. In two years, I planned over 100 non-profit events, including the volunteer appreciation events. Not only did I love planning for non-profit organizations, but working with such a great group of volunteers was fantastic. I really loved planning the volunteer appreciation events and giving back to the people who dedicated so much of their time to such worthy causes. I also planned an “alternative spring break” event. I convinced 16 fellow students from rural Mississippi to forego their standard party-time spring break, and spend it with me in New Orleans to do community service for homebound AIDS patients. These students not only gave up their free time and normal spring break activities, they agreed to go on a chaperoned trip, with strict rules of no drinking, etc., and even were required to hold fundraisers to raise money to go, and work in peoples’ homes. We cleaned, worked in their gardens, painted and did light repairs, and also delivered food. As part of my planning, I was able to leverage free hotel rooms, meals and even a charter bus for transportation. It was a very rewarding experience. To this day, I still receive letters from the people who were on that trip. They tell me that it changed their lives.
After community college, I went on to Mississippi State. While there, I worked with a catering company and was in charge of the college president’s suite for all of the sports functions. I coordinated his suite for game day, including the décor, food, VIP passes, etc. After graduating, all I could think was, “Get me to a city!” So, I moved to Atlanta on May 8, 2004, which was, in fact, graduation day. I immediately got a job in sales. I was working almost 70 hours per week, and although I could see the profit margin, I had no personal time. My then-boyfriend/now-husband’s mother was about to turn 60. I took charge, and planned her party — which people still talk about to this day. It was so successful that I put in my resignation a week later and committed full time to the career that I love — planning. I started A Big To Do Event in 2005.
Tell us more about A Big To Do Event?
We work with many people, but our target clients are influential and entrepreneurial individuals who are highly involved in their community and growing their business. They understand the importance of celebrating success. These are usually people who choose not to plan an event themselves, such as CEOs who have to be in the gym at 5 a.m. and with their families by 6 p.m. We focus on planning the social side of corporate events — such as a VIP party after a meeting. I work with many meeting planners, and help them with their general session; but I plan the fun stuff.
How do you find your clients?
Through word-of-mouth, mainly. I do a little advertising. I’m also a member of
PowerCore. The sole purpose of this organization is for the members to network with people who are seeking new business affiliates.
What is your favorite thing (or things) about being a meeting planner?
There are two concepts that I focus on and am passionate about. The first is thinking about the planning process being like building a ship. You build all of the parts, and on event day, set it to sail. If we do a good job, it doesn’t sink. But, always be prepared to “plug the holes” in the event that something does go wrong. Preparing for all possible scenarios is key. The second is creating our company’s culture to rest on these key words: Be. Community. Changers. “Be” stands for: be there and be what the client needs us to be. “Community” is because we have the understanding that it’s not about A Big To Do Event, it’s all about the client. We are strong on cooperation and collaborative, and happy to work with clients with that mindset, and make them shine. “Changers” is key because we are always looking for better, more efficient and smarter ways to make events that move and change people.
How has using Twitter helped grow your business?
When I first started social networking, I started @ChecklistQueen because I read somewhere that people do business with people, not companies. I wanted people to follow me and know me as a person; and then discover that, by the way, I do good business too. Twitter has been very influential in helping me develop connections. I have had requests for introductions based on people reading my tweets. In fact, I am now working with a client on a big proposal just because he saw me on Twitter. Also, when I first started on Twitter, there was another wedding planner who followed me; and she happened to be too busy to handle a proposal. So, she sent me the lead based on my wedding-related tweets she reads on Twitter. I don’t know that I can say that about Facebook.
In which volunteer organizations are you involved, and why?
I am really active with Junior League of Atlanta because I support their efforts to make women and children feel empowered. It partners with other non-profits organizations; it’s like a volunteer database. Every member is required to volunteer to at least 50 hours per year of community service. Some of the Junior League’s accomplishments include the formation of the Atlanta Speech School, and it also is responsible for beginning the hot lunch program in Atlanta’s inner-city schools. I also serve on the board of directors for the Wedding Alliance of North Georgia, am the coach of three different PowerCore teams and am the secretary of Oakbridge Triathlon Team.
You recently taught a seminar: ‘How to Entertain Like Emily Post in a Donald Trump World.’ Tell us more about that.
Well, I just started speaking and educating this year. I have been teaching these workshop seminars monthly and average about 20 attendees at each one. I partner with florists, caterers, home décor shops and other affiliates. I provide instruction on how to design your buffet, why the art of the invitation is important, balancing the guest list, where you should strategically place your beverage bar, the art of the introduction, rules of etiquette, and more. The décor shops that partner with me have the opportunity to showcase their items, and increase their sales. One storeowner sold over $800 of merchandise in two hours. Because of the opportunity, the stores have been really instrumental in promoting the workshops for me through mailings, e-blasts, in-store announcements, etc. Right now, the workshops are free; but I hope to grow them and include an admission fee for which all proceeds will be donated entirely to a non-profit organization charity.
Wow! That sounds like a program that can be beneficial for many planners, too. How can people contact you for your upcoming schedule?
Thank you Erica. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that you’re also a part of the educational panel at the upcoming PYM LIVE Atlanta Event on January 7, 2010.
Lisa Kraus is the Director of Marketing & Audience Development and a contributing writer for Plan Your Meetings. She enjoys traveling, music, reading, and is an avid cat lover. She is currently working on writing her first book, a business guide for customer service and employee management.