Joelle Allen, who completed her Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the University of St. Thomas in May, already knew where she’d be working the day after graduation: At Allen Events and Marketing, the company she started in 2002.
Allen says she always had “a love of getting people together,” which included “huge events at my parents’ house, much to their dismay.” It wasn’t until she took an internship at an ad agency that she learned event planning could be a paying job.
When she moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, she volunteered with the Fort Wayne Bicentennial. “They were opening a park. The lady in charge disappeared two weeks in. I was the only person with event planning experience. They asked, ‘Can you do it?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ Then I worked night and day to make sure we pulled off the grand opening.”
She got jobs doing weddings and corporate events. Then the Fort Wayne News hired her to “bring in nontraditional sources of revenue.” She helped develop the Fort Wayne Women’s Show and a cooking show, and helped Sea World Ohio attract visitors from the Fort Wayne area. “Things just began to roll along,” Allen said.
Allen moved to Virginia, got divorced, and started thinking about making her way back to Minnesota.
“My son was starting 10th grade, and the MBA is a two-year program. We could graduate together. I had been traveling a ton, and I realized, ‘you’ve got limited time left to spend with this kid.’ And there were things I needed to learn to be more salable: More emphasis on strategy, the importance of building infrastructure that can run without you. I think I’m better equipped to do that.”
What do you like best about event planning?
I like the creativity and the logistics. I like to see people having a good time and knowing that I had something to do with that process.
Do you have any disaster stories?
One of my musicians had a heart attack on the way to an event in Raleigh, North Carolina. I don’t live in Raleigh, I don’t know anybody there. I had somebody drive up three and a half hours from Virginia.
Are there really Bridezillas?
I think the shows create some of that behavior. I’ve told brides, “Time out, I may not be your planner. All brides break down, I get it. But you’re not going to yell at me, I’m not going to yell at you.” Once we have that talk, people are fine. I did have a mother call me at three in the morning because her daughter had cut her hair and the veil wasn’t going to fit.
What does it take to be successful as an event planner?
You need to see five or 10 steps into the future. You need to foresee risks and have plans to avert them. If everything goes right, it’s not that tough, but things don’t always go right. You need to know what to do. You also have to work really well under pressure and work really well with people. In high stress situations, not everyone can do that.
What’s the future of event planning?
Companies are finally realizing that they need someone who truly understands event strategy so they can tie events into their overall marketing. We’re seeing social media as part of the event itself. The events don’t end when the lights go on — people take it to social media and continue the conversation. That’s really powerful. □