Event Planner Spotlight with Joan Hohs, Event Planner & Concierge at MILA ChicagoApril 16th, 2018 | hereschicago
How did you get into meeting & event planning? What were some of the hurdles you experienced?
I unexpectedly changed careers four years ago when I became a concierge in the hotel industry. I absolutely loved being a hotel concierge, but I missed planning events. Someone in the hospitality industry told me I would be a good fit for this new luxury high rise building which the John Buck Corporation was building, called MILA Chicago. They were looking for an event planner and a concierge all wrapped up in one. I was hired and I have never looked back. I have the best of both worlds and love it.
We are one of the few residential buildings in the Chicago which has scheduled monthly social events for the residents. We want our residents to get to know their neighbors and have a sense of community. One of the biggest hurdles I face is the budget. I have had to become very creative on events and I am very appreciative to the hospitality vendors who have helped us out.
What are the biggest challenges of meeting and event planning today?
When Corporations look to cut costs, Event Budgets are the first to be reduced. It is a challenge to keep the quality of future events the same or better from the previous year’s events with less money. One must work very closely with vendors to obtain discounted items or services. Sometimes, it is a challenge to convince the buildings budget director to appropriate the required funding needed to support an event.
What advice do you have for those seeking to secure a job as a meeting or event planner?
Make sure you are truly passionate about planning events. This job is not a 9 to 5 job. You work during the day to plan and manage the event and then you work at night or on the weekends to supervise the event and go to networking events. It might look like all fun when you get to attend these parties, but you are never at the party as a guest, you are working the event. The event is only as successful as the time, effort and energy you have committed. To be an event planner the following skills are essential, keen organizational skills, orientated to details, time management, creativity, negotiation (people) skills, budget management, networking, outgoing personality, decisive decision maker who works well under pressure. Get experience wherever you can. Do an internship or volunteer at a non for profit organization. With all this being said, it is one of the most rewarding jobs.
What have you learned being on the job as a meeting and event planner?
To always have a contingency plan to address anything which may go wrong so you can quickly adapt to a changing situation. Knowledge is power. Before the event be prepared for any situation which could occur, know the floor plans, exits, back up caterers, technical components such as A/V’s, USB Ports, Wi-Fi passwords, security, maintenance team for the event, etc,
Do you see any new trends in the meeting & event industry?
With corporations looking to cut costs and advances in technology, some corporations are turning to virtual event planners. In the short term, this might save money and time. However, the quality of any long-term program in this industry relies heavily on the quality and quantity of personal service provided to residents, employees or guests.
What type of meetings and events do you plan?
Holiday parties, Residential lobby tastings/pop ups events, Neighbor Nights, Happy Hours and Networking event, Educational Events, Offsite social events, Fundraisers, Golf outings, Themed parties such as; Whiskey and/or wine Nights, Comedy Nights, Trunk Shows, Health & Wellness Events, Spa events, Catered Events for resident rentals including engagement parties, baby showers, etc., Lunch & Learns, Pool Parties, Brew and Views, Sport parties, Creative Artistic events, Luncheons, etc.
What do you love about planning events and meetings in Chicago?
Meeting with hospitality vendors. The hospitality industry is the best. I have never met a more generous group of individuals who are willing to help in any capacity. Their passion about their restaurants and/or businesses is contagious.
What skills do you feel it takes to be a successful meeting and event planner?
Very organized, time management, personal skills and passion for the job
Who has been the biggest influence (professional and/or professional) in your life? First, I am eternally grateful for the powerful influences and support my husband; mother and father have provided to me. Over my many years working, I have had numerous people who have influenced the many jobs I have held. I cannot thank them enough for what I have learned from them. After starting a new career in the hospitality industry, I was fortunate to have so many wonderful individuals in the industry take me under their wing and show me the ropes. I will always be indebted to Paula Fortney (Chef Concierge at Sheraton), Nick Johnson ( Sales Director at Willis Tower), Sheryl Novak (Chef Concierge at Fairmont), Amanda Cooper ( (Senior One Team Ambassador at Deloitte), John Drabik ( Hospitality Business Development) and Sarah Morse ( Membership Relations and Event Manager at the Chicago Loop Alliance). There is not a day which goes go by where I do not think of them and thank them for their generosity in helping me to advance my career. Not enough can be said about the kindness, generosity and time they showed and provided me to learn the business.
What kinds of things really make you laugh?
Who is your best friend?
It is Cliché but, my best friend is my husband. He is my high school sweet heart. We have an unbreakable bond. We have been fortunate to grow up together and stand unified in raising our five children. A true partnership, whose investment of an enormous amount of love, time, effort and energy, provided us with the priceless reward of a close knit family. We thoroughly enjoy spending time with our adult children and our grandchildren.
What is your favorite movie of all time? Why so?
I can truly say I do not have one favorite movie. However, I can’t get enough of comedy movies and I am a sap for Christmas movies. Here are just a few movies I do equally like: Coming to America, Caddy Shack, Tommy Boy, Sandlot, Happy Gillmore, Slapshot. It is a Wonderful Life, Elf, Surviving Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
What’s your biggest goal in life right now?
I hope this doesn’t sound to morbid or sentimental… to live long enough to watch my grand kids grow up and have families of their own.
What is your favorite way to spend a Saturday?
Sleep in just a little, work out, spend time with my husband and take part in some form of entertainment for the night with friends and/or family.
Do you have any pet peeves?
Do not RSVP “yes” to an event if you are not sure you will be going to the event. Yes, means it is a commitment. It doesn’t mean “yes, I will be there unless something better comes along.”
What was your family like growing up?
I was fortunate to grow up in simpler times. At least I thought they were. My mother grew up in a small farm town in South Dakota so my parents would pack up the station wagon and drive the six of us out to visit the grandparents for the summer. There is nothing better than small town living.
What were you like as a kid?
I was pretty quiet and loved to play sports.
What should I know about you that I’d never think to ask about?
I own a small Candy Business. Eck’s English Toffee
Did you—or do you—have a nickname?
What’s the story behind it? I have a few nicknames. One is Eck. It comes from my maiden name Eckhardt.
Have you received any praise or accolades recently?
NCA (National Concierge Association) Certified Concierge
What don’t people know about you?
My sisters and I are the first natural born triplets in the Chicago land area who came into this world at Swedish Covenant Hospital.
What is your favorite restaurant or bar (Personally)?
Hole in the Wall in Northbrook Illinois.
When not working, what do you love to do?
Play golf, racquetball, hang out with family and friends and vacation.
Besides your professional talent, do you have any personal talents?
I have played competitive racquetball for over 30+ years
Have you ever sung karaoke? If so, what song?
Yes. I do not have a go to song.
What is your favorite color?
What are you passionate about?
Sharing Chicago with tourists. Also, family and grandkids, Golfing and Racquetball
What tips can you provide to someone new who wants to be an event planning profession?
Stop working at an event just for a little bit and make sure to take in the event and see how much fun everyone is having.
Do you have any Association affiliations?
National Concierge Association, Mag Mile Association and Chicago Loop Alliance.
Are you a Cubs or Sox fan? Absolutely the Cubs. In fact one of my proudest moments as a mom…I raised all of my kids as die hard Cubs fans and they saw the Cubs win the World Series in their life time.
What’s your go-to meal when you’re home alone?
What’s your favorite thing about your hometown?
We were raised in a town where everyone knew each other and helped one another out. In fact, my father was the Supt. of Schools and my father in-law was the Mayor in the town which we still live in.
What’s on your bucket list?
I know this sounds cliché, but I want to spend as much time as I can with my family, grandkid and friends. Life is too short. Vacation more with my husband and also family vacations to build a book of memories.
What was your First concert?
Elton John, The Eagles, or John Denver. I can’t remember.
If you had to go back to school or learn a new skill, what would you want to learn?
What are your thoughts about Hereschicago.com?
Here’s Chicago makes my job easy. It gives me all the tools and recommendations I need for events. From meeting spaces to meeting venues to restaurant and catering vendors, to event services and planning ideas, it is all there. When I use one of their vendor’s sight unseen, rest assured I will be getting some of the best in the industry.
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