Q&A with Carrie Freeman Parsons About Humanizing the Evolution of Events

Meeting PlanningQ&As

Carrie Freeman Parsons

Name: Carrie Freeman Parsons
Role: Vice Chair, The Freeman Company
Passion: Girls Inc.—and people
No. 1 Core Value: “Honesty, trust, humility and doing the right thing, above all else. It’s first because without it, nothing else matters.”

Carrie Freeman Parsons, granddaughter of Freeman founder Buck Freeman, was recently awarded PCMA Foundation’s lifetime achievement award. Smart Meetings asked her to name the top trends driving event brand experience today.

As the third generation in your family involved in the events industry, what are the biggest changes you have seen?

Technology has literally transformed every aspect of the event—from preplanning to the attendee experience and content delivery. Technology has made events even more impactful than in the past.

Another significant change is the growth of corporate events. Companies have been participating in trade shows for years, but due to the recognition of the power of the live experience, more brands are adding their own corporate events and other face-to-face engagements to their marketing mix. The concern was that it would cannibalize trade shows, but we have not seen that happen.

How do live events need to change to better engage attendees and deliver experiences?

Technology and data enable both marketers and attendees to participate in personalized, relevant experiences. For years, marketers have told event organizers that they don’t want to see everyone: They only want to connect with their relevant audience. Likewise, attendees have complained that they want to find the content and people most relevant to them. The beauty is that technology and data enable this today. However, most organizers, marketers and attendees are not doing the work to take full advantage. It’s a new way of thinking that requires more work on the front end, but when done well, it certainly delivers better results for everyone involved.

When it comes to training and skill sets, what advice do you have for someone entering the field today?

The events industry is a team sport. Good interpersonal and communication skills are a must. A strong inclination for lifelong learning, coupled with curiosity, would be well-served in the business. There are so many opportunities in the field. There is a role for lovers of logistics, for marketing minds, for those who are passionate about creativity, strategy, data, customer service. The list goes on. It is a truly dynamic career opportunity.

How has globalization changed the ability to deliver events across cultures and time zones?

Events have expanded globally because markets have expanded globally. The human dynamic of making connections in person for the purpose of exchanging ideas, networking or commerce is relevant throughout the globe. Virtual events have made it possible for content to be shared across the globe in real time or on demand.

What will the role of technology be in events over the next five years, and what needs to be done to retain the human connection in events?

I commented before that technology can enhance the effectiveness of the engagement of attendees and marketers. That said, technology is only a tool. The impact comes from the human connection. That is where trust is fostered, relationships are built, communities are enhanced and minds are expanded. That is where positive change happens—when people connect face-to-face in meaningful ways.

What is the role of CSR in events and companies?

The role of CSR is expanding. From an environmental perspective, events are in and of themselves not very environmentally friendly. However, a lot of work is being done to significantly reduce waste, recycle and reduce the carbon footprint. Communities are benefitting from the many events that designate nonprofits as the recipients of their recycled or donated materials. That will only grow.