Emerging Leaders: Stefanie Rowe, Director of Venue Marketing, Sodexo Live!
Like many event professionals, Stefanie Rowe did not follow a direct path into the hospitality and events industry. If anything, she imagined opening her own dance studio and performing company. While teaching dance classes post-graduation while serving at a local high-end restaurant inside a hotel, Rowe was recognized by a hospitality leader who noted her natural abilities in sales and negotiation and encouraged her to consider hospitality sales and marketing as a possible career.
“I instantly was drawn to the relationship-building, negotiating contracts, the fine details of a perfectly executed event, including crafting an engaging story with prospective clients,” Rowe recalls. “Now, instead of creating beautiful movement on a stage, I creatively enrich brands, develop visual content and present a product that is attractive and engaging.”
Rowe says that the career switch gave her the instant drive and determination to be successful because she knew she needed to learn essential sales and marketing skills quickly to be competitive and achieve her new goals.
After more than 17 years of gaining extensive experience in hospitality sales and marketing, including 13 years at Marriott International, the former performer is now the director of venue marketing for Sodexo Live!, where she leads its digital marketing strategy, implementation and supports demand generation nationally while serving as the company’s marketing subject matter expert.
“We elevate venue storytelling with insights, creative vision and impactful content generation, with the strategic importance of event sales,” Rowe explains. “My role is unique because I also partner with our onsite venue sales leaders, district and unit management teams and our client’s marketing leaders on developing smart marketing plans, KPI development and execution.”
She adds, “Our industry is constantly changing, which keeps me ‘on my toes’ to be in front of trends, always learning and empowering future leaders.”
TSNN had a chance to catch up with this enthusiastic industry trailblazer to get her thoughts about the power of in-person experiences, why the meetings and events industry is the perfect career choice for dedicated, passionate and forward-thinking next-gen professionals, and where she sees opportunities rather than challenges in the industry’s future.
What are the meeting and event industry’s biggest strengths and why?
The industry, at its core, is driven by human connection, relationship-building and providing one-of-a-kind memorable experiences. Over the last few years of being encouraged to meet virtually, and have hybrid or remote work schedules, the appetite for in-person experiences become stronger than ever. We were reminded that we need that human connection, as it provides a sense of closeness and belonging.
Hospitality and events thrive on the human spirit and we must not forget that this is a huge asset for our industry. Life’s biggest moments are best celebrated together. Additionally, as a generation, we are inclined to invest in experiences rather than tangible items, which continues to drive this industry and its exponential growth. It’s up to us to pave the way toward enriching a community of leaders and providing quality, memorable, unique experiences at venues all around the globe.
What are its biggest weaknesses and why?
The guest journey starts long before entering the doors to a venue. It begins at the first ideation of declaring, “Let’s plan an event” and the online search process begins for the perfect venue. As event planners, sales leaders and marketers need to be better at integrating with digital technologies to better serve clients during the planning process, and the event itself.
Crafting virtual tours prior to viewing a venue, emerging AI to build new marketing content, digitizing service planning or contactless payments, hyper-personalizing interactions through CRM systems and targeted email automation – these tech-focused solutions drive the customized guest experience while enriching our data to tailor offers and promotions to each person’s buying habits.
What are your top concerns when it comes to the future of the events industry and how do you think these issues can be best addressed?
The evolution of the hospitality and events industry can be daunting. Rather than concerns, let’s look at some of the opportunities we have:
An opportunity: many people now work remotely and can work for a company anywhere across North America. This can minimize local meetings, networking events or holiday parties.
A solution: We must get companies and individuals to still believe in celebrating their people and bringing groups of people together. It is important for us to continue to market and share creative messaging to show the value of hosting events and opportunities for celebrations.
An opportunity: Virtual tours or automated marketing technology cannot replace the institutional knowledge of our clients or local entities. We know our industry and venue the best.
A solution: We must lean into our new technologies and consumer data to cull smart, tangible insights that help us better connect with prospective clients.
An opportunity: With inflation soaring and energy prices rising, people are continuously looking for a deal or promotional offer.
A solution: Yes, we all need to be cost conscious but blanketed offers can dilute the value of the brand that venues have been trying to build for years. It is important for us to provide promotions or offers based on interests and customization, so we can drive loyalty, repeat buying and multi-generational referrals.
How can next-gen event industry professionals get involved in ensuring a positive future for the industry?
Don’t be afraid to seek inspiration from outside your company or your industry. Look into other disciplines, and always be digesting media that sheds light on new ideas and new ways of thinking. Get involved with industry associations, trade groups, and even an employee business resource group (EBRG) within your organization.
Where do you envision your career 5-10 years from now and what are your biggest hopes for the industry overall?
In 5-10 years, I plan to continue being a trailblazer within the industry while helping others find success and consulting other industries on proven sales and marketing accomplishments to enrich their business. My hope for the industry is that it continues to evolve and attracts new talent. It is a wonderful industry for passionate people to ‘fall into’ and be extremely successful. I hope that never changes.
Know of an emerging leader in the trade show industry who deserves some time in the spotlight? Reach out to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.