“Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals”, a weekly interview series with professionals from the MICE industry in New York.
These are uncertain times for our industry – yet we believe that now is the moment to bring our industry closer together by strengthening our ties and relationships on a more human level. It is for this reason that Shackman Associates is undertaking a series of interviews with other New York hospitality professionals to learn how they are managing during this time.
In today’s episode; New York Hospitality Professionals Karen Shackman, President and CEO of Shackman Associates interviews Patti Golden, Director of Sales for Evelyn Hill Inc. at the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island.
Karen: Hello Patti. I am so happy to be chatting to you. We have known each other a long time and have worked together on so many memorable events on both Ellis Island and Liberty Island - certainly two of the most iconic locations in the city. Please tell us a little about yourself and your role with the company.
Patti: Thank you, Karen! My name is Patti Golden. I am the Director of Sales for Evelyn Hill Inc. at the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island. My role is to promote these precious National Monuments for private special events, offering once in a lifetime experiences to all guests in attendance. I have had the honor of working for the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island for the past 20 years.
Karen: And our working relationship actually pre-dates that, which is hard to believe. Many things have changed over the last 20 years and certainly more over the past 20 weeks. What is your current situation? Are you still working remotely? And if so where?
Patti: My current situation is that both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island remain closed to the public due to COVID-19. I am working remotely from my home in New City, NY with my two children, ages 13 and 9. I feel the key to my productivity is making a private space in my home that is for mom's work only. It has definitely been a juggling act but I feel we are mastering it. I promote positive thinking - we are in the final stretch of this as we are hoping the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island will open sometime in July.
Karen: We are all keeping our fingers crossed that the Statue and Ellis, and other iconic locations will reopen in July. Until then, how are you structuring your time?
Patti: I spend my workday dealing with cancellations and "so called" postponements. I put quotes around "so called" as I do not have definitive future dates to reschedule events from any of my clients at this time. I keep hopeful that new dates are on the horizon. I participate in webinars and zoom calls and cocktail hours to stay in touch and keep visible. I check in daily with at least 15 clients to see how they are weathering this storm and preparing for the future.
Karen: What else are you doing to keep connected to the industry?
Patti: Social media has also been a huge focus of mine. I was torn at the beginning of COVID-19 as to what was appropriate to promote. Posting photos of lavish past events and parties just did seem like the right thing to do during this trying time. I felt hope and positivity should be the focus - staying strong and staying home. Instead I used powerful and scenic photos of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island promoting what these Monuments stand for - being hope, dreams and liberty for all.
Karen: Hope, dreams and liberty for all are truly great platforms and especially meaningful right now. Social media is a great way to share so much with friends and colleagues as well as clients. We too have been questioning what is appropriate to post. It is a balancing act and changing day to day. How has your work routine changed?
Patti: My new work routine is definitely different. I miss interacting daily with clients. Our business is based on interacting with others - we need gatherings of large groups for our industry to succeed. Zoom has become my new best friend, but I can't wait for site inspections, networking and special events to happen again. As humans (especially this human) we thrive on human contact and interaction. Celebrations make life worth living!
Karen: You are so right. It seems like yesterday that our team came across to the Statue of Liberty to do a site of the new museum with you and to understand how best to host an event there. One of my all-time favorite team photos is of my team in front of the original crown of the Statue in the museum. Site inspections are such an important component of what we do in the live event arena. How do you keep your momentum going these days?
Patti: I try my best to keep workday hours while working from home. Some days may start later or end later based on the needs of the family but with technology nowadays I find it easier to manage. We are all in this together, dealing with the same obstacles and I find that everyone is more flexible. I am anxious for the days to return when a client needs a proposal within 24 hours.
Karen: I hear you. It seems that many people have changed their work schedules to accommodate our new circumstances. And we too are missing having to pull a proposal together in 24 hours or less. It would be good to be back in that position. How do you connect with your team?
Patti: Well this one is easy for me to answer as I am a team of one. You would have already found me talking to myself prior COVID-19. Joking aside, my vendors are an extension of my team. Ronnie Davis of Great Performances has always been my mentor in our industry. We have spent endless hours talking each other off the ledge, brainstorming ideas for the future events and simply just being there for each other. Your vendors are an extension of your sales team. It is important to check in with them as together we will all build our industry up again. A team whether it be people you work with or people you surround yourself with will make you successful.
Karen: I couldn’t agree more. This is the same for us. Our vendors and partners, like many of the people we have interviewed in this series, are an extension of our team. Strong relationships and a level of trust with partners are essential when planning and executing great events. Are there any other ways that you are connecting and learning from industry colleagues?
Patti: I belong to a Cultural Venue group - no formal name - not an official organization - just other venues like mine. I have found comparing stories with fellow competitors to be very beneficial. You have a group of salespeople, in the same situation as yourself, sharing how they are dealing with their loss of sales which can help you cope. We brainstorm together whether it be ideas for re-opening, how events will change, sharing new safety precautions and future ideas for marketing. Really whatever comes to mind - it is an open forum.
Karen: That is great. Now, more than ever, it is important to communicate – no matter whether with competitor or partner - we all need to work together for a solution and come out of this together, stronger. What are your key “go-tos“ to keep yourself sane while working from home?
Patti: My laptop, my earbuds and K-cups for my Keurig for unlimited coffee.
Karen: Ok, funny! All three are work related. But what are you doing from wellbeing, mental health perspective?
Patti: Something that I do while producing events - Breathe! Taking a moment when I feel overwhelmed to breathe in for 5 seconds and out for 7. The constant cancellations and lack of new leads is depressing but it is important to not give up. I feel it is important to keep in touch with clients, even if they do not have any business at this time. Our business is about relationships and checking in on our clients. They are going through the same thing we are - let them know you care.
Karen: Yes, exactly. Caring for and supporting each other is so important. Although, it is good to “unplug” sometimes and take thoughts away from work-related topics. Is there anything you are reading or watching that provides a bit of an escape?.
Patti: Netflix has been my go- to. I have paid for it for years but only my children were ever watching it. Tiger Kings and Ozark were binged watched in our house. I am also a big Law & Order SVU fan - and they run marathons. Lately my focus has been all work and rebuilding our event business so Netflix is on pause as NYC lifts their pause.
Karen: I know you to be one of the most engaged hospitality professionals in our industry and totally get that. We are all relieved that we are embarking on Phase 2 of reopening now, so hopefully we can focus on rebuilding our industry in a safe and secure manner going forward. Is there somewhere specific you want to go now that things are opening?
Patti: The beach, baby! I actually went to the Jersey Shore this past weekend. It was wonderful to be out again and feel comfortable as everyone was respectfully practicing physical distancing on the beach.
Karen: I am glad to hear about your positive experience at the Jersey Shore. We are lucky to have so many beach options so close to the city. I want to go back to business for a minute though. Are you still dealing with cancelations, rebooking?
Patti: Yes, unfortunately, we are, and we have been very flexible in returning deposits or permitting clients to transfer their deposits to a later date. We felt this was important as the situation we are in was out of our client’s control. We hope our flexibility will promote future business.
Karen: Let’s hope this will cause loyalty in return. Are any of your clients considering virtual or hybrid events?
Patti: Not to date.
Karen: Any thoughts about social vs. corporate events coming back soon?
Patti: To date, social business inquiries are definitely out- weighing corporate inquiries. Weddings for 2021 have taken the lead but I am happy to say that just today I received "a little ray of sunshine" when a financial institution called about a September event. Although it is a smaller event - and I feel we will probably only see small events at first - my fingers are crossed!
Karen: We also received a small request for this fall which we were delighted about. Even though we are not sure what will happen in September, it is gratifying to know that clients are thinking ahead, and it will be up to us to continue to build trust so they are willing to come back. Do you anticipate any change in your pricing model?
Patti: This is still a work in progress as we wait for the CDC guidelines for events. We envision additional staff, spacing between seating which means increased equipment rentals, masks, gloves, sanitizer stations as discussed in the media daily. Our goal is to keep our pricing down as much as possible. We are going to figure out our costs on an event by event basis as every event varies in size and needs.
Karen: How are you positioned for reopening, when the city allows for this. What are the priorities you are focusing on in order to get back to business.?
Patti: Our top priority is to make our staff, daily visitors and event attendees feel safe. A client's fear is going to be the biggest obstacle to overcome when booking future events. We want to provide an environment that promotes comfort. Physical distancing is one of the main focuses. We are planning on using signage, floor decals and additional staff to ensure this happens. Hand sanitizers and all staff wearing masks. We hope to open in July and believe that this will already be the "new norm" for the time being. We need to become creative in our branding - promoting how to keep our guests safe.
Karen: Any parting words or insights you want to share?
Patti: Don't get discouraged. Life is full of big moments that warrant a celebration. We are the people that bring these celebrations to life. We are event planners - which I have always felt should have “problem solver” added to this title. We are used to adapting to whatever is needed to bring the vision to life on a daily basis and we will overcome this COVID-19 crisis too.
Karen: Thank you Patti, you are so right! I appreciate the encouraging words for our industry and really hope to see you soon again - in person on Liberty, Ellis or in the city!