With a single client, Renee Black and Lesley Brandt launched the meeting and event planning company now known as planit inc. on November 3, 1998. A quarter-century later, it’s a multi-million-dollar, international company with an all-woman team managing the production of complex events, conventions, conferences and meetings for clients of all sizes.
“One of the things that Lesley and I are most proud of is that when we started this 25 years ago, our identity and who we are and what we wanted to do has not changed; we’ve not wavered in that we have always wanted to be in that meeting and event and conference space,” said Renee Black, principal & senior event producer. “Now, what has changed is our venues and growth … our skill set became stronger.”
Technology enhances events more than ever, and the company has incorporated digital expertise into the team.
In the early years, the events were usually local, with larger gatherings at the Civic Auditorium downtown or the Holiday Inn Convention Center, Black said. Both venues are now gone, but they served as an effective training ground.
“From there, when we started gaining a book of business, we started planning events all over the country,” Black said. “We were doing things in Orlando and Chicago and Los Angeles and bringing that to our backyard to be able to execute those kinds of events at the now-CHI Health Center.”
From the very beginning, cultivating positive relationships with clients has been a top objective, Brandt said. “Nobody loves on our clients like us.”
Black reiterated that the company knows its purpose.
“It’s great to put your team in front,” she said. “But if you don’t have the clients, and you don’t have the infrastructure in place, you don’t have anything …We are a client-centric firm.”
That client-first mentality paid off as the company grew its capacity and services, which required changes in pricing.
“We’ve had clients that have gone another direction because of cost and have come back to us,” Black said.
Pricing remains competitive and that helps planit inc. stand out even in new markets, she said.
“I think we have a Midwest pricing model that has helped us,” she said. “If you put us up against a firm in New York City or LA, I’m guessing our Midwestern hard work and pricing model is still going to rise to the top; you know that we’ve got a fair pricing model.”
With so many moving parts, no event can be predictable down to the last detail. The planit inc. team is unfazed by the unexpected and is skilled at in-the-moment problem-solving, Black said. The company has also successfully met multiple challenges on a larger scale such as hits to the events sector including 9/11, the economic downturn of 2001-2008 and, most recently, the social distancing measures and travel restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some innovations borne of necessity, like hybrid virtual/in-person events in 2020 and 2021, have actually been incorporated into planit inc.’s repertoire.
“Our book of business is very diverse; we’ve got so many different kinds of business that it’s just crazy to think about,” Black said. “It’s definitely not a one-shot, one-size-fits-all, yet our processes fit everyone. And that’s pretty cool, right? No matter what’s brought to us, we have an answer to it.”
Planning events is not an easy business, Black said, and requires a dedicated team for the late nights, early mornings, and meticulous level of detail it demands.
“There are people who do not want to travel, do not want to work outside of an 8-to-5 or a 9-to-5 type of environment,” she said. “For whatever reason, we’re having a hard time finding people that want to truly be immersed in the event-professional life. I think it will change. I think as the job market tightens … as we have COVID in our rearview mirrors, I think that will change for the better. But right now, finding qualified talent is a challenge.”
It’s a challenge that the team is already overcoming.
“We just have to find the different ways to search for people who want to be an event professional,” Black said.
The women of planit inc. can attest to the numerous rewards of the work; they learn to be versatile and resourceful whether they’re determining space allocation, booking entertainment, creating a marketing plan, coordinating transportation, or smoothly finding a great solution to a last-minute snag. The company has women on staff who have been with planit inc. for years, but it also provides incredible opportunities for rising young professionals to learn valuable skills such as time management, working with budgets and developing contingency plans. Being the first on-site and the last to leave is satisfying as much as it is exacting.
“We’re women-owned, we’re women-led, we’re women-run. That is what we wanted to be 25 years ago; it’s what we are today. We’re very, very proud of empowering, and teaching women to lead and make a change in our communities,” Black said. “I think the women who have worked for us, whether they’re still with us or moved on to other career options, know that we were very dedicated to them and dedicated to their growth.”
Plus, she added, gatherings are enjoyable by nature.
“We love to have fun,” she said. “I think that people assume that the owners are not immersed into the business, or that the owners aren’t fun, that they must be very serious because they’re running a business. Lesley and I are immersed or have a hand in every client that planit does business with … we like to celebrate, we love to laugh, we love to celebrate our successes.”
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