Katrina Dunn is the Meetings and Foundation Senior Manager at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN). She has spent her career with them, beginning in September 2008. However, entering the meeting planning side of things is not something she initially sought out. “It was a convergence of being ready as ASN was increasing opportunities.”
Dunn graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics (Nutrition and Food Science). Her background in nutrition and a strong interest in marketing and communication led her to seek non-traditional dietetic career opportunities upon graduation. She interviewed with ASN for one position but was hired for another as a Program Coordinator for a food labeling project. That activity was eventually decommissioned, but during that time Dunn started to work closely with the Board of Directors and ASN leadership. Over time she took on planning committee meetings and more events. After a colleague retired, it made sense for Dunn to take over her role and become manager of all ASN events and meetings. “I enjoyed how my role was shifting. It felt very fortuitous—an opportunity arising as I was growing professionally at ASN.”
Now as a Senior Manager at ASN, Dunn supports the ASN foundation and directs efforts in individual giving, plans and implements all ASN conferences and meetings, and ensures the development of events as marketable and sustainable products.
She works very closely with staff leaders including the VP Advancement and VP Education and Professional Development. “It’s my job to make sure their vision is realized and delivered successfully.” For that to happen and stay within budget, you have to be resourceful. Meeting management is all about problem-solving, thinking quickly on your feet and out of the box!
More importantly though, and what Dunn enjoys the most, is relationship management! As an association meeting planner, you’re often one of the few people within your organization that has contact with a large portion of its members. “You become an ambassador for your organization.” You need to make sure they, potential meeting attendees, vendors, meeting properties, understand your organization, your mission, and most importantly your members—who they are and what they value. All the while, you’re tying everything together and ensuring expectations are delivered on ALL sides ALL of the time.
Meeting management also comes with its challenges, though. “People don’t realize the number of people involved in planning a meeting or how complex it is.” Every location is different and so much can impact the success of a meeting. There are very few constants and no matter how hard you try you can’t always duplicate a previous meeting, there are too many variables. There will always be elements you can’t plan for.
One of the biggest challenges Dunn has faced was when ASN’s 2013 Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting was in Boston directly following the Boston Marathon bombing. Attendance was obviously down and emotions were high.
“We were in constant contact with the hotel, the convention center, and our vendors, keeping an eye on everything and continuously adjusting expectations…everything was done on the fly as we worked quickly to make it go as smoothly as possible. Exclusive admission for any VIP-only events was removed and some events were combined. At this point, we were all in it together.”
It’s situations like these that force you to realize the importance of risk management and emergency preparedness. “You can’t plan for everything, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t prepare for the worst!” We put a lot more language in our contracts after this to help protect us in future similar situations. Luckily, all of our contacts understood, given the circumstances, and were fairly forgiving on expectations.
Dunn was recently announced as one of the 20 in their Twenties that will be inducted into the 2015 class at the PCMA Annual in January. When asked how being involved in PCMA has been, Dunn responded, “Great! You learn that many of your experiences aren’t unique to you, which gives you more confidence because you realize it’s not just you!” The other members help you and provide advice along with best practices. You also learn that there are more paths in our industry then you think and your transferable skills go beyond what you think they are. It’s a great tool to utilize and help you grow.
As we end the interview, Dunn leaves us with a few words of wisdom.
- Get to know your vendors and get comfortable building relationships, even if it means taking that cold call. It’s a small world. Hotels change, but people don’t and it’s those relationships that are going to help you.
- If you’re unsure how to do something, ASK! It doesn’t matter if it’s a vendor or a senior planner. Get comfortable asking for help!
- But don’t get comfortable with your events! Events can change. As planners we’ll let you in on a secret…no one knows what the event is supposed to be like except for YOU! Don’t get caught up in the fact that the color isn’t the exact shade you wanted, just make sure everyone is getting out of it what they came to get out of it.
If you have any questions or comments for Katrina, please leave them below.