Networking Power of SDSU’s Meeting and Event Planning Program Leads to New Career

Erin Bianchi

Erin Shean Bianchi

After a decade as a paralegal, Erin Shean Bianchi began planning many of the events for her employer — a large law firm — and found she enjoyed event planning more than legal work. This led to a new career as an outside sales consultant for Classic Party Rentals, where she eventually moved into management. When that career ended 16 years later, Bianchi turned to SDSU’s Professional Certificate in Meeting and Event Planning.

“Even with the experience I had in the event rental world, I was still able to learn a few new things and refresh what I already knew,” said Bianchi. “The instructors were top-notch and the classes provided a great overview of different areas of the event world and different job opportunities I was unaware of.”

SDSU’s program is noted for its networking opportunities and, like numerous other students, Bianchi made a connection with an instructor and is now a senior “experience designer” with PRA, a destination management company. Her job title reflects the industry’s evolution toward created memorable experiences versus mere events.

Bianchi answered a few questions about her career and SDSU’s Meeting and Event Planning program.

Please give us an overview of your education.
I have a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Communication Studies and a minor in Legal Studies from University of San Diego. In addition, I have my paralegal certificate from University of San Diego.

What was your objective in taking SDSU’s Meeting and Event Planning program?
I was unemployed at the time and my unemployment benefits were ending. I learned that if I went back to school for a certificate/training, I could continue the benefits while I continued to look for a job. My unemployment counselor let me know about SDSU’s program.

What are some things you learned about the industry that you didn’t know?
I learned about pre-con meetings which I had never experienced in my previous roles. A pre-con meeting is with the planner and the hotel, and occurs a few days before the event. There’s a representative from each of the different departments at the hotel, so the planner has a contact for everything. The hotel’s conference services manager usually runs the meeting, and every element of the program is reviewed at that time. I also learned about different positions in the event world such as travel directors, guide staff, and incentive travel positions.

Did you learn anything that surprised you?
I learned a lot about the event industry from the meeting planner point of view, rather than a supplier. I also learned about the contracting process with a hotel, and about concessions. When a planner is negotiating with a hotel as a possible venue, the hotel will offer concessions to try and get the planner to book it. This could be anything from free rooms for the staff, to a lower food and beverage minimum or waiving room-rental fees for large events.

Erin Bianchi of PRA San Diego

(L to R) Leah Mariscal, Erin Bianchi, and Robyn Efurd of PRA San Diego

Tell us a bit about PRA and your position there.
PRA is a destination management company. We are the local experts that companies can rely on to provide insights to the city, whether it be a venue, transportation, activities or amenities. We are their trusted advisor to help them secure the best rates and provide them guidance while navigating in the destination. We manage everything from transportation, activities, amenities, receptions, restaurants, dinners, and parties.

What does your typical day look like?
There is no typical day, as it’s always changing. I have a to-do list for the day and hopefully I am able to check off a couple of things. I maybe work on preparing a proposal for a client, provide updated pricing, or secure a venue for an off-property (hotel) event. I am also in constant communication with my supplier partners for décor, activities, transportation, etc. I also may be planning a site visit for a client that is coming to visit to see options for their program. I will plan the site and make contact with all of the places we will be stopping at and coordinating everyone’s schedule.

What do you think are the top-five skills a meeting and event planner needs?
Organizational, problem solving, negotiation, patience, and adaptability.

What do you love most about your new career?
I love that I am able to plan things that represent our city and all of the great options we have to offer. From the activities to the unique venues, I am privileged to show attendees why San Diego is America’s Finest City!

Anything you’d like to add?
Great program and great staff. Evon [Yousif, program coordinator] was great to interact with during the program and was very helpful in getting me started.