This is the sixth post in our “Project Your Voice” series. In this Q&A, we sat down with Karen Cuviello, Corporate Vice President of National Accounts right here at Projection. In her 30 years in the events industry, Karen has witnessed a lot of changes, and identified issues that she hopes continue to evolve.
Q: How did you get started in the meetings industry?
A: I knew I wanted to be in the hospitality industry from the start. While I was attending college, I worked in a few restaurants and other hospitality-related jobs and really enjoyed my experience. That guided me to getting my degree from Purdue in Hospitality & Tourism Management.
One of my first jobs out of college was as an assistant general manager for a small Holiday Inn in Milford, Connecticut. Since it was a small property and I was just starting out, I did everything from desk work and finances to cleaning rooms when it was necessary. I really liked the job, but hotels are open 24/7, and working every single weekend was exhausting. Just when I was starting to feel burned out, I found Projection (which was more of a Monday-Friday job) through another hotel management contact in the DC area, and I never looked back.
Q: What attracted you to the job with Projection? It is hospitality-adjacent, but working in sales seems very different from what you were doing before.
A: I have never viewed myself as a salesperson. I am more of an account manager who is well-versed in PR. When I started out, things were less competitive than they are now. Planners did not always bring in outside companies, so my job consisted mainly of visiting hotels and building those relationships so that Projection became the obvious choice to get that business. That aspect was very attractive to me.
Q: Was there a person or mentor who helped give you your start?
A: When I first came to Projection, there were not a lot of women here, or across the industry. Nancy DeBrosse was the only other woman in a role that was similar to mine. She allowed me to grab her coattails for the first couple of years; for example, I would tag along with her to industry events and she would introduce me around. It wasn’t something that came natural to me, but with her coaching and friendship, I eventually forced myself to do it on my own, and became more comfortable with saying hello to people I’d already met and networking with new people.
As my role with the company evolved, I worked more closely with Dave Campbell, our founder. Over the years, he has become the kind of leader that I think everyone wants to work with. Projection has grown and improved so much in the time I have worked here, and I largely credit Dave with that. He has integrity, and supports his people through everything, particularly when things get hard. I believe that when you’re a good person and you work hard, good things will come, and that has been true for Dave. It’s very rare to find a company with the level of loyalty and retention that Projection has.
Q: What do you love about the industry, and what do you find most challenging?
A: It has got to be the people. I don’t think anyone would do what we do in this industry and work so hard if it were not for the really great customers and employees like the ones I have worked with over the years. Being a part of those relationships is enough to keep someone going for 30 years. It’s a great, big industry, and I have met so many wonderful people, and there has been a camaraderie that I have enjoyed.
Of course, those relationships can be challenging, as well. I feel that it is very hard to help customers understand the supplier side. Some customers don’t see us as people; they just see us as a vendor. I wish there could be more of a spirit of partnership in all our interactions. When people get burnt out, I think it’s because working so hard and not always being treated well by others, who maybe don’t understand how hard you’re working, is very difficult.
Q: What is your advice for others who are considering choosing a path in this industry?
A: Choose thoughtfully. This is a hard industry, and it requires a lot of travel and time away from home. As a woman and a mom, I think that is a difficult path to follow. I often look back on my travels when my son was really young, and wonder if I made the right choices. I have learned that sometimes it’s OK to say no. As women we sometimes think we have to do it all. But do you really? The COVID-19 pandemic helped me realize that everybody feels that way.
One of the big things that we’ve been talking about at Projection is trying to move towards a better work-life balance. We are focusing on less travel and fewer accounts managed per person. We’re thinking about how, as an organization, we can tighten the screws and shift things around so that we can provide the same level of service to our clients, but with people traveling less. People respond to that, and I believe we are all willing to work a little harder if our quality of life is better. I look forward to seeing that change.
Q: What is your hope for the future of the events industry?
A: I think that going through COVID-19 made us all stronger, and I hope that, as an industry, we continue to embrace our role in making big things happen. We are accomplishing things as a society in five years that would have taken 50 years to do in the past. That research and innovation does not happen in a vacuum or over video calls. The meetings industry brings people together and allows them to collaborate. I want us as meetings professionals to remember that and continue to work towards big solutions.
I also hope that the industry will continue to value professionals who are reaching the end of their career. At every stage of the game, individuals bring different characteristics and assets to their jobs. Some people have more maturity and experience, some have more energy and new ideas. All of these different traits are needed; it is only through working together that we can design the best possible outcomes.
Q: How do we recruit younger people into the industry?
A: Our industry is so unique, and we have to do a better job at educating young professionals about this career path as an option. Events are incredibly creative endeavors. It isn’t just logistics, or audiovisual services, or software; it is branding and bringing concepts to life. There is always something new to explore.
We may have started out as an audiovisual company, but now we are pushing our clients to try new things, be more engaging, and give their audiences an experience that will stick with them. Years ago, the team I was working with won an award for orchestrating a flash mob in Harvard Square. More recently, we produced a Hamilton skit with a real Broadway actor. If we can find people right out of school and show them these types of interesting projects, it won’t be hard to get them to try something they may not have thought of getting into. It isn’t a boring industry at all; it’s an incredibly exciting thing to be a part of!
If you or anyone from your organization would like to be a contributor to the “Project Your Voice” series, please let us know at email@example.com.
More from “Project Your Voice”
[Part One] Talking About Inclusion, Diversity and Finding Your Niche with Josh Henry, SPIE
[Part Two] Talking About Connection and Responsibility with Cassie Mancera, AAOMS
[Part Three] Talking About Making a Collective Impact with Paula Eichenbrenner, AMCP Foundation
[Part Four] Talking About Growth Through Facing Down Your Fears with Yolanda Simmons Battle, AHIMA
[Part Five] Talking About Putting Mental Health First with Dana Johnston, IDSA