For Kate Driscoll, 29, finding her passion came both naturally and quickly. Ever since her junior year in college while heading up parties for her sorority, Kate knew that she was destined for a career in event planning. Although she ultimately graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor’s in Nutritional Sciences, Kate went on to conquer the event planning market, her found passion eventually leading to her (now) position as Director of Events at BuzzFeed.
Overseeing events for BuzzFeed, one of the hottest social news and entertainment sites on the web, is not your typical 9 to 5. “Work hard, play hard” is one of Kate’s mottos when it comes to her busy career. A lot goes into event planning and Kate makes sure that every detail is executed to perfection. Working for a rapidly growing company like BuzzFeed definitely keeps her on her toes, but she couldn’t be happier. For Kate, it’s all about a solid team and a constant flow of creative ideas.
We often find that the things we are drawn to, big or small, are lined with our natural inclinations and talents. Kate’s story reveals how that enthusiasm and excitement is a precursor to the path we are meant to take in life and in our careers. Read the full story below
copy: Molly Taylor
photos: Lauren Kallen
EDITOR’S NOTE: For an hour-by-hour snapshot of Kate’s work day, check out our bonus content on Refinery29!
Her Starting Point
Many people find the transition between college and “real life” a bit daunting. Can you tell us about your journey between the two? What was your first job post-college?
After stints as a blueberry raker, dance teacher, waitress, YMCA lifeguard, swim instructor, waterfront director and canoe director, I made it out of college, moved across the country and landed my first “real job.” I was the Customer Service Director and Assistant Buyer at Cashco Distributors in Portland, OR. They supply trial and travel size products, as well as professional and ethnic hair care to grocery and drug stores around the US. I learned patience and organization, but knew customer service was not for me.
Then I moved to NYC in 2009 and started as a Sales Coordinator at IGN Entertainment (for anyone who is a gamer, you know what this is, otherwise you’ll think it’s ING), where I had a crash course in online advertising and media as a whole. I quickly learned how to work on tight deadlines with meticulous attention to detail.
About a year and a half in, I got an opportunity for a trial position as the Promotion and Events Manager to build offline events for a big telecom client who wanted to grow their presence in the gaming world. IGN took a chance on me. I thankfully did well and it became a permanent position and the career path I knew I wanted to pursue.
How did you come to work at BuzzFeed? What do you love most about the company and what’s the office culture like?
I had been at IGN for about four years when they were sold, dissolving my position in the process. Obviously it was scary not having something lined up, but in hindsight, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I landed at BuzzFeed in April of 2013 and immediately knew it was a perfect fit. I work with insanely smart, talented and hard-working people that I consider not only coworkers, but friends outside the office. BuzzFeed fosters a creative, forward-thinking atmosphere. No matter where you are in the company, you’re always encouraged to share ideas and take risks. It sounds simple, but it’s not something you find in most offices.
Your career has progressed from sales pitches to pitching and managing events. When did you get interested in corporate event planning and why?
I was in a sorority in college (go Kappa!) where every year I looked forward to participating in Homecoming and Greek Week. My junior year, I held the position that was in charge of planning both, which was when I realized planning events was something I liked doing and had a knack for.
At that point, I was studying for a BS in Nutritional Sciences, which for me is a joke because I can’t live without nacho cheese Doritos. People often say your degree doesn’t always dictate your career path, and that was especially true for me. I never thought about event planning until the opportunity arose at IGN. The role found me and I feel very lucky to be someone who can say that they truly love what they do.
Her Big Break
Tell us about your daily tasks and responsibilities as Director of Events. Does your job allow for good work/life balance? How much travel is involved in your job?
My day-to-day roles change constantly. Some days I spend a lot of time creating collateral for our sales team to take to market for sponsored event opportunities. Other days I’m cold calling vendors to get quotes for events in various cities.
My work/life balance is pretty good but sometimes it takes a conscious effort to shut my brain off at the end of the day. I work hard and play hard, but know that my job isn’t a typical 9 to 5. I eat/breathe/sleep an event in the 48-hour window leading up to it, so I would say that’s when I don’t have a social life, but that’s just how I function best.
My travel schedule is kind of all over the place, too. There are some months I’ll be gone for over a week, and others where I only go out of town for a night, so it totally depends. Basically, being flexible is key! It also keeps me on my toes.
Many people would be shocked by all of the pre-planning that goes into even the smallest of events. Once you have an idea for an event, what happens next?
For us, it’s a two-tiered approach. Phase one is when an idea is thrown out there. We have a brainstorm meeting, research venues/vendors, costs and then build collateral with top line ideas to pitch clients. Phase two starts the moment a client signs on as a sponsor. From there I bring the appropriate internal teams on board (PR, creative, design, etc.) to build in custom ideas that relate back specifically to the client. And then the fun begins! Everything from creating the invite, curating the list, having the design team create custom signage, ordering swag, bringing in cool interactive aspects (shout out to our favorite gif booth, The Bosco), finalizing catering and all of the other endless details that people who aren’t in this field don’t think about, come together to create an amazing event.
BuzzFeed is positioning itself as a go-to news resource. How do the goals of the company affect your job?
BuzzFeed provides the most shareable breaking news, original reporting, entertainment and video across the social web to its global audience of 100M. We see events as an extension of our brand, and as that evolves, the opportunities will grow more and more. Part of being the new kid on the block is that we have the chance to showcase our voice in new and exciting ways. From our growing Entertainment and Video teams in our LA office, to our 150-person newsroom in NY, we constantly have great content that can translate into offline events.
Remaining fresh and innovative in the events world can be hard. How do you stay creative and where do you look for inspiration?
I’m always looking for the next best thing and I try to attend as many events as I can to keep fresh eyes. To my fellow event planners out there, I can immediately recognize great work! I am the first to notice a great stage backdrop and lighting at a concert. I love when I see a great party layout with attentive staff.
As for when I’m in a creative rut, I look to my BuzzFeed coworkers from all different departments for inspiration. Everyone is so creative here that all it takes is one person to come up with an awesome idea that we can piggyback off of until it’s something tangible. I also constantly take meetings with vendors and production agencies to see what might be out there that I've never seen or heard of before. I was once told you should always take meetings even if they seem like a waste of time. You never know what you might get out of them. So far I've found that to be true.
There are many different avenues for event-related careers. How does corporate event planning differ from agency event planning? Do you think it’s helpful to have experience with both?
I think one of the great things about corporate event planning is that you are the planner for one brand, so you know the voice, vision and objectives of the company. I've never worked at an agency, but I would imagine dealing with multiple clients might make it harder to have that kind of insight. On the flip side, it helps you flex different creative muscles at all times!
How much of your role involves working closely with cross-functional teams like designers, producers, etc.? How much of your role includes creative skills, and how much includes business skills (ie. budget, managerial, analytical)?
Oh my god, I wouldn't be able to survive without working closely with multiple departments! BuzzFeed has a ‘church and state’ separation between business and editorial, but my role is one of the few that crosses over to both. Events are under the marketing umbrella, but I constantly work with the pre- and post-sales teams; PR, editorial, creative, design, video, finance—you name it. It’s always a group effort.
Many companies are starting to hire full-time event teams. How do events affect the BuzzFeed brand? What are the benefits of having an in-house event team for companies?
I think the benefit of having an in-house event team is that they have complete insight on company objectives. In my case, my focus is on what works for BuzzFeed. Having that knowledge allows me to seamlessly incorporate sponsorship elements. BuzzFeed events amplify brand awareness, and are a great way to create an interactive experience with our brand.
Many people go into event-related careers only to feel burnt out a few years later. What is the most challenging part of your job and how do you keep yourself from burning out?
I do think the most challenging thing is not burning out. It’s important to keep a healthy work/life balance, surround yourself with good people and learn to leave work at work when you can. More importantly, you have to be excited about the company you’re working for, which I have thankfully found. BuzzFeed is growing so rapidly that it’s keeping me on my toes—that is exciting!
If we had the chance to peek at your schedule, what would an average day look like?
After my struggle with the snooze button, the day is filled with meetings, calls, brainstorms and tons of emails. Some days there are site visits/walkthroughs, working on RFPs and building decks for sales. On a good day, I get out around 6:30 and usually go back to Brooklyn to unwind. Writing this makes me feel like I’m boring…maybe this year I’ll be cooler.
What advice would you give to people looking to pursue a career in corporate event planning? What skills are essential and do you think having an industry niche is an advantage?
Be prepared to get your hands dirty. No job is too small, and sometimes you’re a glorified event runner. Relax, let go of the things you can’t control and know that on an event day something will go wrong, without fail, even if you’re more prepared than you’ve ever been. Be able to think fast and always be solution-oriented. Sometimes your job is to make miracles happen, so do your best to work magic. And lastly, keep lists! I’d be lost without lists.