Tag Archives: Renee Black

Event Planning-Changing Plans for a Changing Landscape

January 22, 2019 by
Photography by contributed

B2B: What does it take to pull off a large-scale event? Are there consistencies, or is each one unique?

Mike Mancuso: Each event is unique. Taste of Omaha is now, 22 years into it, very different than what it started as. You try to make it fresh, to bring in new attractions. We’ve brought the restaurant community into this event, and the restaurant community continues to evolve. That’s the fun part—new restaurants, new cuisine. The other part is entertainment. We’ve tried to use a lot of local talent and sprinkle in regional/national artists so people can hear songs they enjoy while focusing on Omaha.

Mike Mancuso

Vic Gutman: With any event we do, I personally walk the area and try to visualize how to use the site. How to maximize the architecture? What will the event ultimately look like? How do you see this coming together? How do I want people to feel about, and at, the event? How can we make this a great experience? How are artists going to get in and out? Where do we place dumpsters, the port-o-johns? It’s like being the mayor of a city in some ways, you have to take care of all the infrastructure of a city. If you don’t have that, the event’s not going to succeed.

Vic Gutman

Renee Black: I agree with Vic with the mayor analogy. The event planning industry is hectic. There are certain tactics that can be used with each event, but they are each unique. The human factor is so strong in events, and that’s always a challenge. If there’s a plan of the look and feel of the event, then it becomes, how do you make that happen? The foundation has to be strong, and you have to be nimble.

Renee Black

B2B: What is challenging about event planning?

Gutman: There’s a lot of burnout. People who tend to come to our company tend to be control-oriented. You have to be able to roll with it, and not everyone is able to work with you. I find we get a lot of people in their 20s come to the company, and they get so intense.

Black: That burnout is definitely a challenge. I find that with a lot of people, they say this is their dream job, but they get into it, and if they aren’t able to be flexible, they end up frustrated.

Mancuso: What makes us unique is that we are bringing people together. Our brand is about connecting people. As the saying goes in show business, it is true for us also: The show goes on. That means sometimes we have to make changes.

Gutman: There’s also a lot of new twists. I started in 1971 in Ann Arbor. When we hear about shootings in Las Vegas at that country music festival, you hear about trucks barreling into crowds, it’s scary for us. You have to think about security now. The event I started in Ann Arbor has started to work with concrete barriers.

Black: One of our most increased expenses these days is security. When we did the Lead the Change luncheon with Aly Raisman, we had to have security. You wouldn’t think, with a crowd that is 96 percent women, that you would need security, but we did. We have policies in place with regard to Ubering when we are out of town, because we are a company of 16 women.

Mancuso: I know CHI is putting in more security, and we do a lot of events at CHI.

B2B: What major changes have you noticed in your industry?

Black: Omaha is becoming more cosmopolitan. Paying for parking has changed. We have a lot more venues now. When we started in 1998, almost every event was held at the Holiday Inn on 72nd Street because that was the only place that could hold 600 people.

Gutman: In 1975 when I started, the only public event was Santa Lucia Festival in Little Italy. There were no big festivals downtown. Septemberfest came two years later. Then came Shakespeare on the Green. Now, people have to choose what to go to.

Black: Some of the things we do now, people 10 years ago would have thought “Whoa, what is this?” You can think outside the box now, and it’s OK.

Gutman: Look at Maha, which I think they do very well. They are laser-focused. They are after a certain crowd, and they can get it. A lot of these niche events work, they have people that are willing to pay $50 to get into.

Mancuso: When we first started, the family events were the norm, now you have these breakout events. Even our events are not what we thought they might be. When we started Balloon and Wine Festival, we thought it would be a 21-and-older event, a romantic night out. We found out year two that it was a family event, and we had to change our format to make it for families.

Black: When you increase the offerings it’s more OK to do something for 4,000-6,000 people. I think lots of people see Omaha differently, especially in the last five years.

Events are good for brand awareness and marketing. The events are the culmination, not the starting point. We love to be able to talk about our history, we love that consulting role. Some of the clients, we feel bad for, because their plan wasn’t in place, and when that happens, you don’t get that sense of fulfillment.

Mancuso: I think if you keep what you’re doing fresh and current, you’re going to keep going. There is a business side. There’s a lot of risks to doing events. In one particular instance, there was a Taste of Omaha West one year that wasn’t done by us. There were bills left unpaid. You have to be careful, because situations like this give event planners a bad name. We are so fortunate to we have a great relationship with our suppliers, we have a lot of good people behind us.

B2B: What is something people don’t think about with events planning?

Gutman: I think all of us take responsibility for the attendees very seriously. In 2008, we had that storm that came through so quickly at Omaha Summer Arts Festival. The thing I worry about most is, “Is anyone going to get hurt?”

Black: You have to be quick on your feet. We do a lot of B2B events, and there is a lot of alcohol consumed. We took a stand about 15 years ago, and we said “There has to be a certain amount of food served if you are having an open bar.” We found we have to be proactive. Now, anytime there is an open bar, we have to serve dessert bars and coffee at the end of the night. At first, the clients often don’t want to spend the money, they think, “people can go to the coffee shop right down the street.” Once you explain the risks of not having it available, they start to understand.

Mancuso: We provide a lot of economic impact. We have also helped other people create business by the networking they do at our events.

Black: You have to be solutions-based. We have to be able to suggest something. A lot of it goes back to our vendors and suppliers. Now, technology is important. We do a lot of research on event technology, whether it’s RFID so you can tell if someone is in or out of the meeting, especially if someone has to log a meeting for CEUs, or online ticketing so we can get people in the door faster.

B2B: That actually leads to my next question. How has social media impacted events management?

Mancuso: Technology is a way of life. We expect everything now. All these expectations of speed. I remember having a mimeograph machine. The speed at which we now communicate—there’s so many more options. We try to bring the best technology to the people. The better relationship we have with them, the better the event. All these techniques help us tailor each event to the customer.  It’s a task that was not needed previously. We’ve implemented programming. We still are big proponents of traditional media because you have to keep reaching out to customers. New media is enticing simply because it’s free. It’s a strategy you have to keep improving on, because it is constantly changing.

Black: We’ve been committed to traditional media. We had to learn new territory because [social media] was not our forte. We looked into it, and we committed ourselves to three methods: Instagram is for our photos, Twitter is so we can get the news out, and Facebook is because there are so many people on it. It’s a big risk, because it’s immediate, but permanent. Someone is always coming up to us and saying “Hey, can you do this (social media site), too?” But we stick with those three.

Mancuso: People’s time is spent differently. They have 500 channels of TV, they have the internet. You have to really present events in a way that they want to come. Our audience has been steady. That experience is what’s changed. The expectation is to give people a lot more things to do. We take things Omaha wants and make them bigger.

Black: No matter how good your model is, you have to meet their expectations. We are the opposite. We create what a bigger city would do but Omaha-style. We are still a safe, clean city. We travel so much that we see a lot of places that are not nearly as great as Omaha.

B2B: When you are in need of an events manager, what qualities do you look for in an employee?

Black: I want a strong work ethic above all else. I want a flexible person who is a problem-solver. I need someone with positive energy and intelligence. And I want someone who appreciates and cares for other people.

Mancuso: Communication skills, first off. Then, I need someone with good technology skills. They need to be flexible—egos need to be checked at the door. I want someone to be task-oriented, and I want someone who prefers passion over money. We have made a lot of money in this business, but it comes from having a passion to do the job. This job takes long hours.

Gutman: I look for a passionate, organized, detail-oriented person with good verbal and written communication skills. No experience necessary.


This article was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Women Are the Life of the Party

February 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

No name badges. No paint on a door. No hot mics.

Small details like these are “throw-up moments” for some of the employees of Planitomaha. Moments when something bad or out of the ordinary happens that makes the employees want to vomit.

Event planning is not all glamorous parties and confetti. It is a tough, multi-tasking, meticulous business.

Jaycee Stephens started at the company as an intern her sophomore year of college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Now an event producer, Stephens became hooked on the fast-pace rush of a job well done. She recently finished with backstage management of a 1,000 person day conference. Each client request is kept on a “million notepads of lists” which she crosses off when completed.

Each name badge stuffed. Check. Correct light color on the podium. Check. Music for each speaker. Check.

Stephens is motivated when she bites off more than she can chew. The throw-up moments do happen, but she believes it is her “job to find those mistakes and make them seamless.” So when the job is finished to expectations and the client is happy, Stephens falls in love with the business all over again.

And since the company is all-female-employed, the pressure is on. Stephens feels image is important. She dresses professionally, wearing suits and heels even when setting up an event means performing manual labor.

She maintains a professional image in order to be taken seriously, which can sometimes be a struggle.

“People are surprised we are young women in this industry because we meet their needs so exceptionally,” Stephens adds.

From left: Caitlin Gruis, Alycia Zabrocki, and Katie Sullivan

Plantitomaha bloomed in 1998 when Renee Black and Leslie Brandt developed their event services business. Now, 14 women are behind the successful brand. The company is not averse to hiring men, but the industry is female-orientated.

It does makes the work space unique and collaborative in different ways. Hairspray and dry shampoo are staples in the bathrooms. During their “fish tank” brain-storming sessions, the women are not shy about speaking their minds. Some admit that, if a male entered the dynamic, they might choose to stay silent.

“I don’t feel as scared to share my opinion,” six-year veteran Caitlin Gruis says. She adds that some of that may be due more to age rather than gender.

Close personal relationships are developed through a mutual understanding and respect for women’s issues. Whether discussing breast-feeding or a pesky mother-in-law, the office is a bit more relaxed when sharing common ground.

After hours, some of the women recently gathered in a meeting room to share slow-cooker tips at a tasting party. Since their working hours mean nights and weekends, they want something easy for their husbands to cook.

The hard work and flexible shifts have paid off. Stephens says the company, which does 40 percent of their business outside the Midwest, prides itself on being a woman-run business.

Katie Sullivan, who has been with the team for 11 years, believes the founders have empowered women.

“It’s cool to see all these younger girls coming in and training the future of our industry,” she says.

One thing is certain: these driven ladies know how to plan. Whether it is an event for Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, or monthly team outings, each member serves as a cog on a fast-churning wheel. If a speaker or celebrity wants exactly 17 bottles of Mountain Dew, only red Skittles, or only blue M&M’s, the women find a way to be flexible and personalize each client’s needs.

And they are ready to move heavy boxes in heels.

Visit planitomaha.com for more information.

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

Caitlyn Gruis

Lesley Brandt and Renee Black

May 4, 2017 by

This sponsored content appears in the Winter 2017 edition of B2B. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/b2b_0217_125/56

“Whatever it takes” is a personal motto for both Renee Black and Lesley Brandt. As the founders and principal producers of Omaha’s premier event planning agency, planitomaha, this power female duo knows that “having it all” comes from a lot of hustle. No client request is too lofty and no event too grandiose.

“On any given day, our team is coming and going, event supplies are shipping in and out, and face-to-face meetings with clients and vendors are constant,” Brandt says.

Just because these ladies have headquartered their firm in the Midwest doesn’t make their agency small potatoes. For more than 18 years, planitomaha has worked from New York to Los Angeles and everywhere in between to provide their clients with highly specialized and highly strategic corporate meeting and event management services.

“Like most entrepreneurs, we started with a vision, a box of business cards, and the drive to make it succeed,” Black says.

Years before that first box of business cards, the two actually met each other in high school and stayed in touch through college. After both developed careers in nonprofits, marketing, business, and—of course—event planning, they came back together 18 years ago to form planitomaha when they realized their strengths and backgrounds were complementary.

This special combination of skills has led to a legacy of delivering wow moments. Whether they are planning an event for six people or 6,000, planitomaha works as an extension of their clients’ teams to produce work that is on time, on-budget, and on-point.

From Hollywood backlot parties to political national conventions, there’s practically nothing Black and Brandt haven’t touched as they’ve developed their small firm into a multimillion-dollar company.

“We always relate to our clients as people and will always get the job done accurately,” Brandt says. “In a fast-paced and successful company, it’s important for our women-owned business to invest in relationships and empower those around us to do great things.”

True to their word, Black and Brandt have devoted much of their careers to empowering women—especially young women. The entirety of planitomaha’s full-time staff is comprised of women, with the firm’s internship program regularly following suit.

“Our employees fit the brand by being smart, professional, and Type A personalities,” Black says. For interns who fill this niche, many have been hired on full-time.

Beyond the unique makeup of the company, Black and Brandt say their firm’s event technology puts them ahead of competitors. One of the only event agencies in the country that has its own innovative technology program, planitomaha’s AttendeeXP is a custom attendee management system that also provides meeting and event elements in a virtual environment.

It’s this progressive mindset and atmosphere that has led to planitomaha’s success in creating award-winning events on a local and national scale.

“It’s important people remember how smart and efficient we are,” Brandt says. “Our work ethic and problem solving skills are what our clients thrive on while our wide reach and experience keeps them coming back.”

10832 Old Mill Rd., Suite 5
Omaha, NE 68154
402.333.3062
planitomaha.com