Heather Warthen, Hospitality Professional of the Month (February 2019)February 27th, 2019 | hereschicago
First and foremost, can you tell us your current position, company and describe what you do?
I am Chief Events Officer at 22nd Century Media, a hyperlocal media publishing group based in the North Shore and southwest suburbs of Chicago. I was the first employee of our company 14 years ago and a former award-winning editor and photographer. Today, I produce more than a dozen community expos, events and award ceremonies for 22nd Century Media. I also serve as one member of their four-person management team tasked with running the company’s day-to-day operations.
Where did your hospitality career begin and when was that “aha” moment when you knew you were supposed to be in hospitality as a career? I spent five years as chairwoman of the Orland Park Area Chamber of Commerce’s Fine Art Fair. It was my first time planning an official event and I loved dreaming up ideas and watching them come to life. I knew after we pulled it off the first year that I wanted to find my way into a career doing events. I was fortunate that when I suggested to my current company we should do events as a revenue stream, they were willing to let me build from scratch our events division.
How many years have you been in the hospitality business? Six years.
What would your friends say if they were nominating you for hospitality professional of the month? They would say I have a knack for planning because I do it all the time. I’ve always been the person among my friends who handled the planning. I also think they’d say I’m a good communicator and a logistical expert.
What qualities to you feel a person needs to have to be hospitality professional? I think the best hospitality professionals I know have a “go-getter” mentality and are extremely driven. Hospitality professionals also have to be patient, be extremely organized and have a knack for having a Plan B-D when Plan A fails. They also have solid communication skills and a positive attitude.
What do you love about planning events in Chicago? While weather can be a challenge, I do love the versatility and variety of venues Chicago has to offer.
What do you recommend for others who want to get into the hospitality profession? I definitely didn’t have the traditional path into events that some people did, so I would say if you have an interest, don’t be afraid to test the waters. I had no idea if anything we did in Year 1 would be successful, but I was also extremely determined to make sure that they were. For me, it was a career change and so I would recommend people start at the volunteer level to see if they even like it before committing. Contact local organizations and offer to volunteer at their events or be on a committee.
What are you passionate about? I’m passionate about providing experiences to event goers as well as providing excellent customer service to our event sponsors and vendors. I’m also passionate about learning new skills including leadership development and digital marketing.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life? My parents were extremely hard working people which is where I get my work ethic from. I have been working full-time since I was 19.
What’s your biggest goal in life right now? My biggest goal is to continue to grow in the events industry. I also would love to learn more on the digital marketing side as I handle all of our campaigns for our events.
What is your favorite way to spend a Saturday? On a non-event Saturday I like to spend time with my boyfriend, Chris, and cat, Deuces, catching up on Netflix. We usually go out to dinner or sometimes order crustless pizza from Lou Malnati’s – extra cheese with pepperoni.
Do you have any pet peeves? I don’t have a tolerance for people who are lazy or who lie. I also don’t love having to repeat myself.
What was your family like growing up? I had a pretty small family as I’m an only child. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents which I loved. Some of my first memories of Chicago were taking the train from Joliet with my grandparents at Christmas and visiting Marshall Field’s to see the giant tree. We would eat lunch at The Walnut Room or at The Berghoff.
What type of events you plan? I plan a variety of events including the largest women’s expo in the southwest suburbs called Lady – A Women’s Expo, scheduled for Saturday, April 27, at the Tinley Park Convention Center. That event is in its sixth year and draws more than 1,500 women to a four-hour event packed with more than 100 vendors, two stages and activities for all ages. I also handle planning and executing our business awards – Southwest Choice Awards, North Shore Choice Awards and Malibu Choice Awards – which includes not only counting the ballots and Facebook marketing campaigns to encourage voting but also the awards ceremony for each event in the three geographical areas. We also created the North Shore Women in Business Awards last year and I’m excited to grow that even more this year. Additionally our events lineup also includes a Healthy Living Expo, North Shore Camp Expo and a series of Ladies Night Out events. I also handle any company functions including our company holiday party.
What type of music do you love? I am a huge Dave Matthews Band fan and have been since I was 13. Luckily for me, my boyfriend is just as big of a fan and we travel around for shows in the summer. We actually just did a 29-hour trip to Boston for their winter tour. This summer we will be heading to Indiana, Wisconsin and Washington for shows.
What don’t people know about you? I sometimes photograph concerts for our publications. My dream job in college was to work for Rolling Stone one day. I’ve been lucky enough to photograph several artists and bands through the years including: Buddy Guy, Dave Matthews Band, Fall Out Boy, Florence and the Machine, Gwen Stefani, John Mayer, KISS, O.A.R., Pink, Santana, Train and Zac Brown Band, to name a few.
What is your favorite restaurant or bar (Personally)? I can’t narrow it down to just one, but favorite restaurants include Boka, Duck Duck Goat, Oriole, River Roast, Roister, RPM Steak, Shaw’s, and The Publican.
Have you ever sung karaoke? If so, what song? I have! My go-to song is “I Love Rock ’N Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I sang it as part of live band karaoke at MPI WEC’s Rendezvous event in Las Vegas two years ago.
Future trends in event planning? I’ve always been big on making sure there were memorable experiences tied into our events. I brought in live reindeer to an event a few years ago, knowing it could potentially be the only time a child, or even an adult, may see one up close or be able to snap a photo with it. When they recall that memory or see that photo, they’ll remember our event so creating those types of moments when you’re planning your events are so important. People love instant gratification – they want to have that selfie or immerse themselves in experiences. Social media now plays a huge role in event planning and it requires event planners to go above and beyond to design experiences that are memorable. People love posting on social media and event planners are starting to incorporate how their events will look on social media during the planning process.
Do you have any Association affiliations? I’m a member of Meeting Professionals International – Chicago Area Chapter. I’m a past co-chair for the Golf Classic Committee and current co-chair for Marketing and Communications.
Are you a Cubs or Sox fan? Cubs fan for life, but you can sometimes catch me at an occasional Sox game.
What’s your go-to meal when you’re home alone? I cook a lot, but my go-to meal I make often is ground pork in a lettuce cup with shredded cabbage and spicy mayo. I also like to make spicy crab stuffed avocados.
What’s your favorite thing about your hometown? My hometown is Lockport and I love that while it’s definitely growing it’s still a small town where everybody knows everybody. I also love the history the downtown has and if you’re ever in town, stop by the Gaylord building to check out some great Illinois history.
What’s on your bucket list? I really would love to do more travel overseas including Australia, France, Ireland and Japan.
What was your First concert? My first concert was New Kids On The Block, with Dino and also The Cover Girls opening, at the then Rosemont Horizon. My dad was a saint for taking my friend and I to that concert when I was in third grade.
If you had to go back to school or learn a new skill, what would you want to learn? I’m a foodie and love to cook, so I would definitely go to culinary school.
What are your thoughts about Hereschicago.com? Hereschicago.com is a great website and wonderful resource for all event planners. I sometimes use it for some inspiration with both new and old events. The networking events are also great ways to meet new contacts.