As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Park.
Melissa “Mel” Park is an award-winning Global Event Producer who has utilized her engaging personality, unending energy, and attention to logistical and design details to build a business that has her recognized across the United States and Australia. Her client list has grown from one continent to another based on referrals, recognition from attendees onsite and clients who return year after year for her to produce their events.
Always dreaming of making it in the US, she moved to the States in 2014 where she began working internally at Hortonworks in Santa Clara, California. After two years working in-house, she stepped back out on her own specializing in elevating brands, amplifying corporate messages and transforming struggling events into extraordinary must-attend experiences. She has made a name for herself in the technology space for her seamlessly executed large-scale user conferences, strategic sponsorships, and innovative brand activations.
Mel current splits her time between New York and Sydney when she is not traveling to produce her nearly 30 annual events in top U.S. cities including San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Orlando, Dallas, Boston, Minneapolis, and Toronto or internationally in London, Dublin, Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne and Munich.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Absolutely! I began my professional career in Australia working at Reed Exhibitions producing high profile, business and consumer events like The PGA Golf Show and General Practitioners Conference & Exhibition. I then joined Out There Productions, and after producing some of Australia’s largest special events like The World Masters Games Gala Ball and Closing Celebration, I launched my first event management company in 2008 at the age of 26.
I continued working as an event producer for six years delivering events like HSBC Bank’s Chinese New Year Gala Dinner Tour, Asia-Pacific’s Incentives & Meetings Exhibition and more than 20 outdoor festivals before I decided to take a leap and make a splash in the United States in 2014. I have now made a name for myself in the technology space for my seamlessly executed large-scale conferences, strategic sponsorships, and innovative brand activations.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It certainly wasn’t funny at the time but let me tell you about a direct mail piece we printed for all past attendees of The General Practitioners Conference and Exhibition. It was a branded desk calendar that highlighted the event dates in each city. The artwork had been proofed many times over, but we made a few small tweaks to the design just before it went to print.
When the final proof came through incorporating those changes, I looked at them and approved the piece for printing. Then we received our sample with the highlighted event dates and I immediately felt ill. During the final design changes, the designer started from scratch using a sample calendar rather than the one previously approved. Urgent calls were made to the mailhouse to pause envelope stuffing and the entire print job had to be discarded, redesigned and reprinted.
The lesson learned: even if you’ve proofread a piece a dozen times, ALWAYS quadruple check every minute detail one last time before sending something to print. You never know what may have happened since you last saw it.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I love the quote, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” Over the last 20 years, I’ve made it my mission to seek out and surround myself (in person and online) with individuals who are the absolute best in their biz, no matter the field.
I wouldn’t say there has been one particular book or podcast that has really helped my career but rather a culmination of the content I consume in many forms. Creators like Rachel Hollis, Sara Blakely, Gary Vaynerchuck, Lisa Messenger, and many others continue to inspire, motivate and sometimes give me the swift kick in the butt I need to keep going and ensure that I’m working at the top of my game as well.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I’ve been driven to pursue entrepreneurship since I was young and feel like it has always been in the cards that I would make some type of venture my full-time gig. The true turning point came though when I served as the Event, Marketing and New Business Development Manager for African drumming & team-building organization early in my career.
It was a two-woman show, me and the owner, on the management side so I basically ran every aspect of the business when she was on maternity leave. I very quickly came to the conclusion that if I was going to work around the clock for anybody’s business, it needed to be my own. So when I look back, we both had babies: she created a human and I created Melissa Park Events!
Even while I worked to build the event-side of my business, I have always wanted to add a platform that enables me to inspire and arm upcoming events and marketing professionals with tools and tactics they need to fast-track their success. Essentially, I want to be the mentor that I wished I had.
Last year, many of my clients and other event organizers struggled to attract the attendance they wanted for their events. When I jumped in to help, I noticed many of them making the same mistakes over and over again. This added more fuel to the fire I had for developing that secondary platform.
With COVID19 shutting down all in-person events and the entire live event industry in the blink of an eye, I needed to rediscover my purpose for this business all over again. In my quest to provide more value to my clients and be that mentor I want to be, I used this time to develop that secondary platform in the form of my first digital masterclass 7 Steps to Event Success!, a step-by-step online course for producing a highly attended virtual, hybrid or in-person event. It’s specifically designed for those who plan and deliver events (no matter the style, scale or budget) and marketers who are responsible for getting bums on seats or eyes on screens.
Creating my first digital course was such a fun and rewarding experience and I’m so excited and proud of the finished product. I know it’s going to make a difference and cannot wait to watch the impact it has on my customers’ events as they put all of the tactics I teach into play.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
In the early years, I adopted the ‘always say yes’ principle with the thought that you never know what any opportunity will lead to next. While this kept me insanely busy, I didn’t feel like my bank balance reflected the effort, skill or hours I poured into each job. On multiple occasions, this has led to feelings of resentment toward others for decisions I’d made.
A few years ago, I began studying successful entrepreneurs, many of whom are now my mentors even though they don’t know it. It was during this time that my entire perspective shifted to the principle:
“If it’s not a ‘Hell Yes!’ it’s a no”
Now when an opportunity presents itself, rather than saying yes immediately, I take stock of how the potential yes weighs against my goals. If I cannot clearly see how it will enable me to get one step closer to achieving one of my goals, I respectfully decline.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I entered 2020 living the definition of my American Dream. I was renting a gorgeous apartment in Manhattan, had 30 client events confirmed on my calendar, my business and brand were booming, and I was planning to further expand my team. In the blink of an eye, I was living through New York City’s COVID lockdown, all 30 of my events had been canceled and with no end in sight, I made the tough (but financially smartest) decision to pack up the life I’d created in the U.S. and head home to Australia for a while.
Like most, I often describe my entrepreneurial journey as a roller coaster: a slow climb to the top quickly followed by a crazy fast downturn — sometimes flying upside down, going through, loop the loops, and then another slow climb to a peak. If that was the norm before, 2020 takes that metaphor to a Six Flags level.
After taking a moment to digest these major changes, rather than be a victim to the virus, I decided to change my perspective and be appreciative of this new found time to work ON my business when I cannot work IN it.
I’ve been inspired by the quote I heard from Dave Hollis, “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” You see, when all of this is over, I not only want to be in a position to come back with all cylinders firing, but also with the exact business and life I’ve always dreamed of having, which is something I have the time to create right now.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest challenge I faced is the fact that 100% of my revenue was driven from the planning and delivery of live events, which the pandemic took away in an instant. Never wanting to be in this position again, I used the first few weeks of lock down to future-proof my business. With no events to plan, I sat down to reassess every aspect of my business and life, including identifying which of my personal and professional goals still mattered.
Through this exercise, I identified opportunities that would enable me to bring some of those goals, many of which had laid dormant while I had been focussed on my clients’ events to life while simultaneously creating multiple revenue streams for my business — an absolute MUST moving forward.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
When you move your body, you change your mind. I know it sounds cliche BUT it’s true. There is nothing better for the mind, body and soul than a good workout. Whether it’s boxing, yoga, running or a brisk walk in the park, as long as it gets your heart rate up and enables you to switch off from work-mode and be fully present, you’ll feel so much better afterwards.
During lockdown in NYC, I went on hour-long walks in Central Park each day and I swear they are the reason I stayed (somewhat) sane. I’ve continued this since returning to Australia with the five-mile round trip Bondi-to-Bronte beach walk everyday since. This practice significantly reduces my stress and anxiety levels, clears my mind, encourages creativity and problem solving, and ensures I return centered, focused and ready to hit the ground running.
As soon as I’m back at my desk, I clear my inbox and begin making my way through my to-do list. I generally like to work in silence but every time I complete a task, I celebrate by popping on my headphones, blasting ONE song from my latest playlist, and singing and dancing like nobody’s watching. My 3 p.m. pickups are always sponsored by Cadbury and Coke Zero (unbeknownst to them of course) and I use this time to check in on a member of my team, a preferred supplier, family member or friend.
These little routines and bursts of “living in the moment” have certainly helped me so when I see someone struggling, I explain what I’ve been doing and recommend they give it a try to see if it works for them.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
As an event producer, I am planning for all possible outcomes. The return of in-person events, the continuation of hybrid formats, and a 100% virtual future. (The latter is a lot less likely and my least favorite outcome of all, but it must be considered.) To prepare myself I am reading every event safety guideline and planning document I can get my hands on and speaking with many of my contacts to better understand what they’re doing and seeing in their venues.
I have also mentally walked through many of my past events and those I had been planning in 2020 in an attempt to take note of every single element and touchpoint that would have to be modified to be delivered in accordance with COVID safety guidelines. I then took it a step further and created solutions for each and every potential pain point I identified so that when the time comes, the delivery of a COVID-safe and socially distanced event is second nature to me.
And as much as I initially resisted, the next project I’m going to be working on is creating a digital event experience that doesn’t suck. While many planned hybrid events are being converted to fully virtual right now, I believe we’ll see an increase in the hybrid format being delivered as we head back towards the delivery of in-person events — and very likely beyond even then.
I haven’t been overly impressed with any virtual event I’ve attended, nor have my clients, so if it doesn’t exist you create it, right??? I’m in the midst of about a dozen vendor calls and demos as I work to create a digital experience that actually comes close to replicating the magic of an in-person event.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
They say it takes 66 days to form a new habit. I always look for silver linings so I hope this time to reflect, innovate and adapt, and the movement towards a smarter, simpler, more balanced and empathetic way of life will continue. Unfortunately I’m not confident that it will stick for anyone outside of the population who already live their lives with this mentality.
Consider recent movements and losses that catapulted to the forefront of our minds, news broadcasts and social media feeds. One moment, they have the entire world’s undivided attention 24/7 and within a few weeks (or days on some occasions), tragically very few people are giving it a second thought.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Ever since COVID hit, I’ve been conducting a practice I call my annual audit once a month. I usually do this between Christmas and New Years when I’m gearing up for the year ahead. This audit involves assessing every single element of your life vs. your 2020 goals and requires you to ask yourself the hard questions and get really focussed really fast so you can innovate, adapt and implement additional measures as required to influence success.
The questions I ask myself include:
- How am I tracking?
- Are these goals still current and realistic or do I need to pivot?
- What elements of my life are helping me reach my goals, and what elements aren’t?
- What activities have been productive and what have been a waste of time?
- What changes do I need to make right now to become the person I want to be?
And the most important question of all:
- What opportunities has COVID created FOR me? I love the phrase “don’t wait for an opportunity, create it.” I’ve been using this time to get laser focused on that.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
When you are living the best version of yourself, you encourage others to live the best version of themselves. No matter what that looks like from one person to the next, I am here for it.
I will only ever share what’s worked for me so if anyone were to ask for advice, I would encourage them to conduct their own monthly or quarterly “annual” audit as this is an absolute gamechanger. (Yes, I realize at this point I should probably rename it given the new frequency with which I do it.)
And above all, people need to prioritize their health and be mindful of what they consume. Whether it’s food, alcohol or your social media, be incredibly mindful of what you’re bringing into your mind and body. Make the healthiest choices possible as this creates a ripple effect on all facets of your life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two that I’d love to share:
“When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” — Rachel Hollis.
I’ve had a passion project burning inside me for almost a decade. I’ve used the excuse that I’ve always been “too busy” producing events for my clients to do anything about it. While that has been somewhat true, with a little reflection in this downtime, I’ve discovered that the biggest thing holding me back has not been my client workload; it’s been fear.
This Masterclass has the ability to change the entire trajectory of my business and future, which is incredibly exciting, but also scary as hell. So, with this new found perspective, I’m working through that fear by focusing on progress over perfection. I’ll perfect it later.
I’m tackling bite-sized chunks each day, which is reducing the overwhelm. By taking these baby steps, I’ve created and launched the Masterclass, the first step towards that crazy big dream I have of producing my own educational events.
“Be humble. Be hungry. And always be the hardest worker in the room.” — The Rock.
It’s a quote I live by and (I believe) the reason I’ve been able to build a global event business through word-of-mouth referrals, attendee recognition and repeat clientele.
How can our readers further follow your work?
- Website: melissapark.co
- Instagram: _melissapark
- Facebook: @melissaparkevents
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-park-5942a411/