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Q & A

Citigroup's Jennifer Savica

October 30, 2002, 12:00 AM EST

Title: VP, Worldwide Events, Citigroup Private Bank
What She Plans: Approximately 200 events a year, from a small in-office seminar on new products to a private Yo-Yo Ma concert at Carnegie Hall for 150 clients. Events run the gamut from social to product-related to educational.
Staff: Six
How Long She's Been at Citigroup: She joined the Private Bank division, which manages wealth for high net worth clients, almost two years ago, after a five-year stint in special events at Snapple.
Age: “You can't put my age in there! I'm in my 30s.”
Favorite Magazines: Vanity Fair, New York
Favorite Drink to Have at an Event: “I never drink at an event when I'm working, but champagne at others.”
College Major: Marketing
Where She Lives: “A block from the Citigroup building [in Midtown].”

What is the biggest challenge facing the special events industry?

Being creative with less money and topping what you?re doing and exceeding benchmarks—having to meet attendee expectations with less money.

Do you think it's harder now to justify spending money on events?

Oh sure. More eyes are on us. Typically event departments—unless you are a fund-raising or conferencing business—don't make money for a company, or at least not in ways you can quantify.

How would you say your job is changing?

I don't know if it is changing. People still look for efficiency to add
value and come up with great ideas.

How do you measure a successful event?

The best way for me to measure is talking with our private banker team [aka sales force]. I ask, “What did your client say, what was the feedback, how did you feel about an event?” I know if an event's a success after talking to three or four people. They don't hold back—I get feedback if I want it or not.

What do you think your guests are expecting?

I think it's different for every event. On the logistics side, they want something well-run, something seamless, something they don't notice that there are operations behind the event. They want good content because they're taking time out of their busy day. They don't want a waste of their time. And I think that's true for any event.

What's your biggest challenge right now?

I think having a well-oiled machine. That's what we try to do and it's hard to do when you're juggling 200 events and you're juggling [a staff of] six people and six different personalities. It challenges me every day.

How do you see events changing in the industry?

I think the industry is being more cautious. People are definitely doing more research before they plan their events in light of September 11. I know that we look into security a lot more than we were.

Do you think event style is being held back as well?

I think it's going to change eventually, but I think people are paying more attention and you're making your dollar go a lot further. You're negotiating harder. People are more willing to negotiate because the industry's hurting.

Do you have preferred vendors who you use?

We have some vendors who are good at delivering premiums, or great at doing signs, but not good at doing other things. I have vendors I've used forever who I love. They're friends of mine who are great, but the rest of the staff has their own as well, so we do a lot of sharing.

What qualities stand out in a good vendor?

Someone who knows how an event planner works and understands that we don't always know exactly what we want.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Everywhere. My whole team makes fun of me because I have little pictures and clipped out pieces of magazines all over the place. I've always kept an idea file that I keep in my drawer, so when I come across stuff, I clip it out and keep it. If I'm having a slow day, I'll go to the gift building, walk around and talk to people. I subscribe to so many industry magazines—BiZBash being one of them—and I look through them.

Just walking around New York, I get inspiration. I see what other people do—I love to go to other people's events. In Style magazine now has Colin Cowie, and they have a whole section on something like Toni Braxton's wedding.

Who do you look up to in the event industry?

The planners who 20 and 30 years ago—when this wasn't even an industry, and there was no such thing as an event planner title—who were administrative people who had to do this in addition to a regular job. I find that amazing, because this is a life job. I'm always thinking about ways to improve our events. It consumes me.

What do you wish you knew when you started?

Everything! I had good taste and that was about it. This whole career is on-the-job training, and I learn things every day. All planners learn from doing and that's the best experience you can have.

What is the best piece of advice anyone has given you?
Listen. I think it's very easy in this industry to become a prima donna, and I think you have to understand that it's not about what you want. You are servicing a client and it's your role to impart your experience to them and say, “You know what, I really like your idea, but in my experience that doesn't work.” At the end of the day if the client wants something, it's the client's event. After giving my wisdom, experience and feedback, if that's what he still wants to do, the challenge is making that come off perfectly.

Posted 10.30.02

Photograph by Anna Persson for BiZBash

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