Lauren Smith recently joined Chez as Director of Sales and Marketing. We sat down with Lauren to discuss her passion for the events industry.
Tell us about your career path and how you got your start in the meetings and events industry.
After I graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in marketing and advertising, I joined Catalyst Ranch, a meeting and event space in the West Loop. It quickly became obvious that hospitality was the perfect blend of my natural ability to engage people, my interests in marketing, and my flair for creativity. Figuring out what makes a client tick, how I can better serve his or her needs, what makes them want to work with me and the company I represent ¬– these are challenges that make me jump out of bed each day. It is also very rewarding to see an event come to life under my direction and guidance.
Business development is my newest passion. I enjoy making connections with people and learning more about their companies and how they fit into the marketplace. With an extensive network, I have a huge variety of resources to help my clients create memorable meetings and events.
In the events industry, the possibilities are endless. I can’t count the number of times I have seen a whisper of an idea turn into a successful business or new event series or marketing initiative. An event can always be bigger and better, but it takes a keen attention to a client’s goals to know how to pull back and keep an event under creative control.
What was your most memorable event experience from your career?
here have been so many! I will never forget a June 1, 2011 event called Under A New Moon. This grand celebration of gay marriage rights started as a tiny seedling of an idea. Anita Vaughn, a celebrant and industry friend, wanted to find a way to celebrate the date when civil unions became legal for same-sex couples. As a vocal supporter for the LGBT community, I jumped at the opportunity and, of course, so did Catalyst Ranch. Our little seed grew and grew over the few short weeks of planning Under A New Moon. Over 20 vendors helped sponsor the event and pulled together a mini wedding ceremony and reception for 6 fantastic couples. At the stroke of midnight, literally the first moment these unions became legal, we began the ceremony and ended the evening with a big party. I was overwhelmed by the love and support this event received, especially from the industry vendors that heard about the celebration and asked to participate in the historic occasion. The national news coverage and my appearance on 190 North were amazing added bonuses.
What are your interests outside of work?
I enjoy a unique blend of hobbies and tastes apart from my professional interests and behaviors. Chances are if there is a heavy metal show in town, I will be there. I also have a love of video games and have gotten lost in the world of Destiny, Assassin’s Creed or Fallout for hours at a time. But I have a crafty side too and make big statement jewelry pieces from unusual objects such as computer parts, ornate furniture hardware, pistachio shells or whatever else has an interesting shape that sparks my creativity.
The best part about this industry is the camaraderie and support that so characteristic of the Chicago meetings and events community. I have made lifelong friends over the years and helped create some friendships for others as well. Work and play share a grey area in my life which helps me to love my job.
What are your plans for the future of Chez?
I look forward to bringing corporate meeting business to this beautiful venue. The 17 foot ceilings, glass staircase and white walls are a great canvas for an enormous variety of event themes. Corporate clients and experiential marketing events can easily brand the space with their company identities and logos. It will be a pleasure to introduce my network to this new venue and I am excited to bring creative and unique event experiences to Chez.
Why did Chez choose you to direct its sales and marketing?
Chez was looking for an experienced, networked professional with many years of experience in the events and catering industry. I offer that experience and network, as well as a graphic design background and a particular niche in planning corporate events and bar and bat mitzvahs. I think Chez’s management was also drawn to my organizational skills and obvious passion for the industry.
Bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, weddings, focus groups, conferences, innovation sessions, fundraisers, experiential marketing events – I am experienced working with all of these types of events and understand how to help clients realize their visions. My former clients include national magazines, trade groups, radio stations, non-profit and government entities, and leaders in the pharmaceutical, health insurance, and beverage industries.