Monica Compton, CMP, has been a strategic meeting planner and an event marketing consultant for over 18 years. In addition to owning her own successful, full-service event planning agency, Pinnacle Productions Inc., she is an accomplished journalist for the events industry, and even a contributing writer for Plan Your Meetings. Her extensive travels take her around the globe; so I was privileged to catch her in between her fast-paced – and thrilling – schedule.
Monica, you lead such an exciting life. I am living vicariously through you. Tell us how you got started.
When I entered college, I was majoring in English and ballet. My goal was to become both a writer and a dancer, but an injury prevented me from moving forward with my dance career. I decided if I could no longer perform, I would find a position promoting other entertainers. In the early 1990s, I took an internship working for a concert promotion company in Pittsburgh. I coordinated large-scale themed events and concerts, which included the management of outdoor venues, ticketed events, box office operations, and even some not-so-pleasant tasks like making sure the restroom trailers were cleaned. I also coordinated publicity efforts for these events, writing press releases and scheduling radio and television interviews with the performers. Even though this started as a journalism internship, I was hired full-time. Thus, my events career began. I realize now that I learned our industry from the grounds of an outdoor amphitheater — a grass roots beginning.
My second job was with a motorsports marketing firm. This company was a global corporation, and the position afforded me the opportunity to travel internationally. My primary job was to organize events around Formula One races. In this position, my biggest achievement was an event in 1999 that spanned three countries: a meeting in Nice, France; a dinner in San Remo, Italy; and lunch in Monaco, with a viewing of the Grand Prix. It was pretty amazing to have that experience.
That is amazing! It must have been a lot to organize.
Yes, but it is how I developed my international expertise, so that is my niche now. I am very fortunate to have worked on so many outbound events. I’ve planned in Mexico, Australia, Brazil and Japan. [I’m] formally fluent in German. I’ve also studied French and have a goal to be fluent in Spanish. Having a knowledge of other languages has helped me when planning internationally. I also see international travel picking up, and I am excited about this resurgence.
You reported on the 2009 IMEX Event in Frankfurt, on assignment with Plan Your Meetings.
That’s right. Although I’ve been to Munich, it was my first time traveling to Frankfurt. I learned a lot about the state of the international meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry. This is the basis for my belief that our industry will recover from current economic challenges. It was also nice to be there as a PYM reporter.
What do you like most about your job?
Definitely the travel. Traveling is in my blood. I think it started when I flew for the first time at age 12. I’ve had the bug ever since. I don’t think I would have seen all that I have seen without the experiences as a meeting planner. Plus, this career has kept me very aware of world events. When you’re a meeting planner, you have to be knowledgeable about your clients’ business and current events that might affect their industry. You have to know what’s going on at the destination your group is traveling to, the weather, security regulations, safety and liability, visa and passport requirements, and economic issues. You have to be so educated in so many things. You can’t live in a box; you have to be very aware. That makes you more hirable. I believe there is a demand for meeting planners to have a much more extensive knowledge than just how to plan a coffee break menu.
In addition to serving on the Plan Your Meetings advisory board and being an editorial contributor, are you involved in other industry organizations?
Yes, I am a member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). I like their global quality. They are also a leader in reporting industry trends. I am also a member of the Professional Women’s Information Network (ProWIN), here in Atlanta. It is an organization for women business owners that provides support and marketing ideas. . I recently joined the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ). I received great training at their recent conference in Las Vegas. I think a key factor in making a planner hirable is education. I cannot stress this enough. And when you join an organization of any kind, it should be to increase your education. Whatever you are professionally, you can always learn more. It is so important to keep apprised of your industry’s ethics, guidelines, et cetera.
So many planners tell me they are already too busy to take on more. How do you keep up with everything? What advice can you share with our readers?
Stay on top of the curve. I’m not just referring to just meeting planning, but current events, too. You may be trained to plan meetings, but you have to look past that to the goals and objectives and be a visionary. I recommend that you remain educated in all industries. Learn all of the elements about the business for which you’re planning. For instance, learning computer lingo helped keep me on the cutting edge of technology. I wanted to learn on my own and demonstrate I understood the client’s business. I didn’t want to ask for the client’s help. I believe that learning the “industry speak” applies for any client you work for. This is also really important in medical meetings, for which there are so many regulations. If you’re planning a medical meeting, you have to be really well-versed and have an understanding of the terminology. If you’re an independent, it is really important to educate yourself on that.
I have been in the planning industry for going on 19 years, and I still learn something new with each meeting or event I plan. Also, I believe that we shouldn’t always rely on others to motivate us. You have to have your own internal motivation factor, otherwise it is very easy to get burned out. Especially when times are tough. My advice is to choose an internal motivation factor that has nothing to do with meeting planning. Ask yourself “what motivates me to keep going?” Keeping your education strong will help you develop a “plan B,” or another source of income, in the event that you need it.
You are a trained writer and an accomplished journalist. How does that correlate to planning?
To me, writing is my “plan B.” [Although], I believe that writing is very important to meeting planning. Your client may ask you to write copy about the event. You might have to write an e-mail blast, and provide detailed post-event reporting. You’re always doing some form of writing. My reporting experience, especially when I was writing for a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania, helped me understand how to meet deadlines, as well as keep timelines, and stay very organized. It’s the same with meeting planning. You have to be quick on your feet. You have to ask the right questions, which is exactly how it is with writing and interviewing. I have always seen the tie between the two professions. I think one necessitates the other. It was so natural that I started writing for our industry. I write a lot of articles and blogs. A top goal is to have my fiction novel published. I studied Pulitzer Prize-winning novels in college, so my goal is to have my book in that category. I’d love to see it studied in a school setting, where the students are required to figure out the underlying themes.. I can’t reveal them all, but I can tell you that one theme has a multicultural angle, as the book spans three countries. I am also writing a travel how-to book entitled The Perfect Pack: How to Pack for Business and Leisure Travel. It is a reference on how to pack and prepare for travel in this ever-changing world of airline restrictions and travel safety guidelines..It will be a compact guide, easily fitting into your suitcase. When you travel a lot, especially for business, sometimes packing can be confusing, so I hope this guide will help simplify the process. Writing is inspirational to me and it brings me peace.
Tell us about Pinnacle Productions Inc.
I started the company eight years ago. I had reached a peak with the company I was working for and wanted to branch out on my own. I have a lot of experience with event production, so it was the next step. My experience enables me to get a lot of referrals and new business. Because my clients are usually fast-paced, they look for that additional experience in their respective industries, like automotive or computer companies. My experience assures them I can keep up with their pace. I’ve worked with several Fortune 500 companies, such as Ford Motor Company, IBM and Compaq/Hewlett-Packard.
Monica Compton, CMP, can be contacted at email@example.com.