#HeresWhy Q&A: Kelly Ferrante
In our next installment of our #HeresWhy industry Q&A sessions, we interviewed Kelly Ferrante, Senior Conference and Meetings Manager, National Association for College Admission Counseling and IAEE 20 Under 30 recipient. Kelly shared her thoughts on empowering young professionals and how today’s culture is affecting the industry.
Facebook: Kelly Ferrante
How did you get started in the events and exhibitions industry?
My work with events started while I was in college at The Catholic University of America. One of my best friends suggested I run for an elected office position that was tasked with planning events for my graduating class. I won the election twice and was responsible for managing social, alumni and graduation events. This position allowed me to work with many departments all over campus on a variety of projects, that all had different budgets. Little did I know, this experience would be a sneak peek to a lot of the work that I do today. Oddly enough, I was actually a politics major, so never in a million years did I think I would end up in the events industry, but here I am!
Over the summer after graduation, I worked for the National Young Leaders Conference, where I built program curriculum and managed student participants. Shortly thereafter, I started working for NACAC in the education and training department. My focus in the beginning had largely been on managing pilot programs and developing relationships with outside organizations and speakers, while also serving as the liaison to the conference and meetings team. My progress throughout the last four years has allowed me to take on various roles in the organization, and just recently, I was promoted to Senior Conference and Meetings Manager. While my events experience helps me to be successful in the day to day operations of my job, I minored in education and worked in the admissions office at CUA as a tour guide and student employee, so it helps me to connect with our members at the events and conferences we produce on a closer level.
Why are events and exhibitions important?
There’s something to be said about in-person meetings. The networking opportunities are priceless. You’re able to connect with people both professionally and personally, and these relationships can lead to opportunities when you’re least expecting them. You’re also able to learn so much more about the industry and the people in it. The conference and meetings industry is always evolving, so attending conferences and events, especially ones like Expo! Expo!, are a great way to stay on top of trends.
Is anything missing from the industry?
This is not missing, but I think the Millennial conversation could be tailored. Yes, it’s important to learn about how to manage and work with this age group because they are growing in our attendance and in our offices. The sessions I’ve attended on this topic have been very insightful, but now I think it’s important that we incorporate suggestions or changes that we’re talking about, instead of operating on the idea that, “they’re here, what do we do with them.” A solution to this grey area is giving the young professional a voice at the table. At a NACAC conference last July, someone said, if your voice isn’t at the table, it might be on the table. Getting a pulse on the learning needs of this group, might get rid of the need to try and figure them out. Speaking as a Millennial, I think sometimes there is an assumption that the “millennial-young professional” wants special treatment or experiences, but I always just want to be treated and held accountable like everyone else. While information about job hunting and trajectories is great, I attend conferences to learn about my craft and improve on the skills that I already have. While feeding into stereotypes, yes, I can’t go an hour without using my cell phone, but technology related sessions aren’t always the ones I look to attend at a conference. I’m really just hoping for a little less categorizing and more inclusion regardless of age.
What do you see impacting the industry?
Safety in event planning is receiving a lot of attention and experiencing significant adjustments right now. Every conference I’ve been to lately has referenced safety in some way. I think you have to look at safety in two ways: from a meeting perspective and a personal perspective. From a meeting perspective, you’re considering the physical aspects that can affect the security and safety of attendees. We’ve seen sessions on active shooters and about protecting individual data. Beyond thinking of your attendee, equipping all staff and volunteers about emergency and contingency plans.
From a personal perspective, you have to consider the environment being cultivated for attendees. Meetings are supposed to be safe places where we gather for the same cause. Lately a lot of people have been affected and hurt in different ways by outside factors, especially political and religious beliefs. You can sign on Facebook and watch the feeds explode with name calling and arguments over a difference of opinion. It’s our responsibility to ensure people are coming into a welcoming environment where they can be themselves and contribute without being attacked for the things they believe in. I’m not saying safe spaces should be overwhelming at every conference, but reminding everyone of their commonality and reason for being there is important.
How do events impact the economy?
NACAC has an annual meeting and small meetings all across the country every year, and one thing I really enjoy reading is post-conference economic summaries from the host cities. It’s interesting to see all the different pieces that are positively affected by our meetings and the lasting impact we make.
With that in mind, we do our best to promote the host city and encourage members to get outside of the hotel or convention center to see what makes each location special and unique. Whether it’s a mom and pop pizza shop or a pretzel factory (you now have an idea of what my diet looks like), we want our members to connect with the local community and give back to small businesses that are the essence of the city.
Are you or your company working on any exciting developments?
I just joined the PCMA Capital Chapter Government Relations committee, so I’ll be working on Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID), taking place on April 9 and attending Global Exhibitions Day with IAEE for the first time on June 7. As a longtime Philadelphia sports fan, I can’t believe I’m quoting Tom Brady when I say “Cue the Duck Boats,” NACAC is coming to Boston! All of us at NACAC are currently working on the 73rd NACAC National Conference, which is supposed to be our biggest one yet and landing via Logan Airport in September of 2017. The recent Super Bowl win for the Pats has helped highlight the city and its personality, making it easy for us to incorporate it in our social media plans. This year I’ve been lucky to see the planning process from scratch, so I’m looking forward to see all of the different pieces and local touches come together. I’m regularly practicing my Boston accent. I think people are sick of me saying, “Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd.”
Why would you encourage people to pursue a career in the exhibitions industry?
In the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to speak to high school and college students about their next step in life as I’m still charting my own. I’ve always suggested setting their alarm for 5:30 a.m. every morning for a week and when it goes off, figure out what would get you out of bed and to work every day. While it is super hard to get out of those comfortable hotel beds at 5:30 a.m., the work that I do every day makes me excited to wake up and get the ball rolling. There are very few outlets for creativity that we can get paid for, and the events and exhibitions industry is one of those. Aside from being able to see the progress and development of something from the ground up, the experiences that we can create for our attendees is very rewarding.
On a more personal level, I’ve been lucky enough to see cities that I never thought that I would and interact with some very brilliant and inspirational people. This industry itself has provided me with lifelong friends and relationships that I never would have found working anywhere else. For all of those kids who are often described (and sometimes reprimanded) like I was in school for being curious, antsy, innovative, super social and chatty, but organized – they may just find their home in this crazy industry and not even know it exists just yet.