Industry Trailblazers: Head of Global Events Rachel Andrews Previews Cvent CONNECT 2024

June 4, 2024
 
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Ahead of the upcoming Cvent CONNECT, set for June 10-13, Rachel Andrews, the software giant’s head of global events, sat down with us for an exclusive, tell-all interview that makes it clear why she was chosen for our new and ongoing  “Industry Trailblazers” feature. 

Andrews began her 13-year tenure at Cvent when “the meetings and events team wasn’t really a team,” she explained, adding that the team of merely six “was kind of a bunch of disparate people working on tactics that weren't cohesive.”

“We didn't really have a strategy other than we're just going to host a bunch of lunches and talk about our products, but it's evolved significantly since I started,” Andrews added, noting there are now 30 events-specific team members under her purview globally. That team is gearing up to host the Blackstone-owned company’s largest event of the year: Cvent CONNECT that is taking place for the first time in San Antonio, Texas, after a multiyear stint in Las Vegas. 

Andrews said the Virginia-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) firm is expecting upwards of 3,000 attendees to descend on the conference, with thousands more tuning in virtually. There will also be more than 200 sessions structured in a new way for its 2024 iteration. 

Andrews explained: “We have small meetups and verticalized content this year. What I mean by that is we have life sciences and pharma and Finserv (a financial services technology) and third-party industry partners in attendance. We have content specifically dedicated to them, we have meetups dedicated to them and a lot of other niche programming that helps those different types of sectors either meet up or find content that’s relevant to what they do.”

“I like to call these ‘mini-micro communities’ coming together,” Andrews said, adding that this so-called “verticalization” of content where attendees can really tailor their own event experience is being offered this year as a result of survey results from last year’s Cvent CONNECT.

Learn more from Andrews about Cvent CONNECT’s programming, how her “street MBA” is helping her pull it all off and more.

How has Cvent changed during your 13-year tenure?

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Cvent Head of Global Events Rachel Andrews
 

When I started [as a senior meeting and event planner at Cvent in 2011], we didn’t really do customer events, and we realized we were just doing all events for prospective customers. About 10 years ago, we flipped that to be way more customer-centric because we have a lot of customers who want to learn and evolve and come to these events and learn about not only technology and trends but also how to better their events programs. With that, we've had to prioritize the things our customers want — and I think that that's also part of the ROI, too. You want to make sure that you're providing content and an event experience that’s actually worth attending. 

Along the way there, my personal journey has been raising my hand and saying, ‘Hey, why don’t we do this?’ and bringing ideas to the table. The name of the game has always been doing more and more events. The team has evolved from hosting really amazing internal parties to being really strategic [and adding] event innovators, designers, technologists and project managers.

I like to joke that we're the lawyers for the Lawyers Association. We are planning events for other planners. So we have another layer of pressure on top of working for an event tech company.

 

What is a skill that you’ve learned working in events that you believe is pivotal, but can really only be learned through experience?

The budgeting skills and financial knowledge that you need to know as an event professional isn't necessarily taught; it's learned on the way. I call it my ‘street MBA,’ [which taught me] budgeting and financial projections, things like risk analysis and contract reading. 

A lot of event professionals aren’t really put into that line of learning at a school level until they get to their jobs, and then they're like, ‘Oh, I didn't realize how important understanding risk analysis was and understanding financial projections was.’ When you are in it, you're managing a mini business, essentially, with your budgets.

 

How has Cvent been able to scale its event programming in an economy where many other companies are slashing budgets?

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Cvent is expecting upwards of 3,000 attendees to descend on this year's conference.
 

I want to caveat that we have been scaling in the last few years, but we’ve also been doing it in a smart way. Obviously, if you host an event and you get bad feedback or you don't have great attendance, you're less likely to keep that in the budget for the next year. So we do look at what is actually performing. 

We survey people who come to our events [and] we survey our sales team that goes and hosts these events. So ROI and survey data has been really important to us in the past few years. And we’re looking deep into: Was the customer satisfaction there? Was the reaction positive in terms of their experience? In terms of our sales experience? In terms of getting more business or helping our customers scale up their programs?

I'm lucky in a way because I work for an events company, so our company knows the importance of events. I don't feel like I have to prove events’ importance to our owner. I don't take that lightly, and I'm thankful to work for a company that allows us to be creative and innovate and show our customers and attendees what they could do at their events because it does help them.

 

What can you share about Cvent CONNECT’s programming this year?  

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This year's Cvent CONNECT will be held June 10-13 in San Antonio.
 

Some of the fun things coming up are evening events, which are always amazing. One is at Smoke [Skybar, a barbecue joint in downtown San Antonio]. Our theme is ‘neon rodeo,’ so that's going to be a really fun night. The next night is at The Espee, which is an old train station, so that will be fun and country western-themed. 

One other cool aspect: tech tours onsite. I think this is very unique to just us. Obviously at Cvent, our planning team uses all this event technology, right? At CONNECT, we take that technology and we do a tech tour and we literally walk them through every single different programming area, [and] what technology we use. We show them how we're using it — it peels back the curtains. 

Our big keynote is Karamo [the host of Netflix’s ‘Queer Eye’], Jennifer Morgan from Blackstone [which acquired Cvent in a $4.6 billion transaction in March 2023] and obviously our CEO Reggie Aggarwal. 

One more note on our speakers: Somebody said to me they didn’t know if they should go to Cvent CONNECT because they feel like they’d be sitting in sessions and it’d just be all about Cvent. That’s actually not the case. We do a lot of industry training content because we have users there, [but] it's not all just training. We have our user conference and a lot of content dedicated to innovation and technology. But in fact, the majority of our content is best practice-sharing, how people build their teams, how they're staffing, how they're doing their day-to-day event program or total event program, which we call TEC.

 

What can the virtual audience expect from Cvent CONNECT?

There are livestreams happening through the general sessions and what we call our ‘Stream Stage,’ where the most popular breakout sessions are hosted. We know they’re top performing by our registration numbers. We also stream our awards program, the Excellence Awards.

Also, only for the virtual audience is Cvent CONNECT TV, which is a behind-the-scenes peek at what we're doing. The in-person audience doesn't even see it. They can watch on-demand later, but it's really to empower the virtual audience during things like a coffee break, where the virtual audience is just sitting there. 

This content allows the virtual audience to hear from speakers, watch ‘Man on the Street’ interviews and hear from major partners. Erica [Stoldenberg, Cvent’s director of corporate communications] and I are behind the scenes doing some of the videos, just showing the virtual audience [some of the things we're doing onsite] and they can feel like they've seen some part of the event that's not just streamed general session content.


 

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