Q & A

The United Nations' Graciela Hall

January 15, 2003, 12:00 AM EST

Title: Chief of Special Programs Section in the Public Affairs Division of the Department of Public Information.
What She Plans: Events with global impact, like U.N. Day, World AIDS Day and Press Freedom Day, plus ad hoc events like an exhibition soccer match at Giants Stadium raising money for U.N. AIDS.
Staff: “Two professionals and two support staff. It's amazing we do what we do with such a minute staff.”
How Long She's Been With the U.N.: She started in the public information department as a guide in 1969, and she has been in her current position for five years.
Age: “In my 50s.”
Favorite Magazines: “I read news magazines like Newsweek and Time.”
Favorite Drink to Have at an Event: “Champagne at other people's events.”
Nights Out Each Week: “At least twice a week.”
Where She Lives: “I have lived on the North Shore of Long Island since I moved to this country from Buenos Aires, Argentina.”
College Major: Languages

Which of your events do you find the most challenging?

They're all equally challenging. But many of them require partners, such as World AIDS Day. We have partners from within the whole U.N., with Unicef, with outside civil society, the White House...lots of people. That's challenging because you have to come to common accords on everything that's going to be done. Trying to sell an idea to my superiors, for any event, is also challenging. I have to justify what I want to do to and how to develop the event. Probably the most unique thing is we have 190 bosses—190 countries are our bosses—and we have to keep in mind everybody's sensitivities and interests, not just the CEO of a company. In order to work here, you have to be politically sensitive.

Have you ever made any faux pas?

No, never.

How is your budget for events changing?

The budget of my section has not changed much. It definitely hasn't increased. We rely heavily on co-sponsors to carry out our events because we cannot afford the costs, however minimal.

How is your job changing?

My job is not really changing, although we are being asked to do more with less.

Is the definition of a successful event changing?
What is a successful event? Does one measure press coverage, attendance or other factors?

We are presently looking at different factors. At the United Nations, because of security restrictions, we do not have the freedom to open events to the public. Our events are by invitation only and that in itself is very restrictive. If we wish to get the word out to the world, we need others [to help] so we work closely with representatives of civil society, like non-governmental organizations.

Another problem is not having the funds to do proper tracking of our events. We do Internet searches, but that's not enough. In many instances we find an event was shown in another part of the world only because we get an email telling us, “I saw your Press Freedom Day event on a cable channel in my hotel in Sydney.”

What do you think your guests are expecting?

Our audience is a committed audience, people who support a specific issue of U.N. concern and, for that reason, they want to be associated with the U.N. They also want to broaden their scopes. We can provide the international perspective that they cannot get elsewhere.

What's your biggest challenge right now?

Getting additional staffing to be able to run my operation properly. I would love to have time to do proper fund-raising and co-sponsorship seeking.

How do you see events changing now?

Everyone wants to be associated with a cause nowadays, so I am working to seek new partners to work with.

Do you have a preferred list of vendors who you work with, or do you constantly try out new companies?

We don't have the flexibility to choose vendors. We have to present bids, which are reviewed by another department, and a vendor is selected.

What makes a vendor stand out?

Timeliness and ease of delivery.

What's your vendor pet peeve?

The biggest difficulty is to convince a vendor to accept working with us even though we cannot produce a credit card to secure a reservation, request, etc. This is a drawback, which really limits our ability to perform.

What has been your best discovery?

Interns. They bring a fresh outlook to the work and they are free.

How did you start in the event industry?

Many years ago I worked in the Media Liaison Section and organized ad hoc events—we didn't really do events then—and when our department was restructured and this function actually created, I got the job.

What do you wish you had known when you started planning events?

That 99 percent of the people you deal with on a day-to-day basis have very unrealistic ideas and have no clue what it entails to plan an event.

What's the best piece of advice anyone has given you?

If you walk into a situation that shouldn't be, leave it alone and deal with it after the fact.

Posted 01.15.03

Photograph by Anna Persson for BiZBash

This Q&A originally appeared in our newspaper, the BiZBash Event Style Reporter.

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