Edmonton event planner Caitlin McElhone is passionate about events. While studying clothing and textile design at the University of Alberta, she was introduced to the events industry and never looked back.
“I hadn’t even considered event planning as a profession – nor did I understand that it could be a career option, but I was naturally suited for the work and loved the rush of set up and putting on something so special for someone,” says McElhone, who began her career with one of the city’s leading event planning companies after graduation. “I was fortunate enough to work on the most amazing corporate and fundraising events all across the country and have never left the industry.”
She opened CM Events in 2011 and since then has delivered a variety of notable events for local not-for-profits and corporate clients in Edmonton, including: Global TV Woman of Vision Luncheon, Parkland School Division Milestone and Merits.
“I think I can honestly say that I was born to be an event professional and getting to work in an environment that satisfies my need to hyper organize everything and make it pretty at the same time is a dream scenario for my skill set,” says McElhone. “I also love the guest experience of this job. From greeting people at an event to watching them light up when the ballroom doors open, that is one of the best feelings in the world.”
McElhone is also active within the industry. She served on the formation committee that brought the ILEA Chapter to Edmonton more than 10 years ago (and then served on the board for eight years). During the pandemic, she was heavily involved with the Alberta Live Events Coalition (ALEC) to advocate for the industry and to help bring event professionals together as one voice to re-open safely.
“It was a very challenging time and I was so grateful to connect with the Alberta Live Events Coalition where I felt heard and able to put energy into advocating for our industry,” says McElhone.
What are some of your biggest achievements?
I have had the pleasure of working with some really wonderful clients and organizations over the past 16 years, but one event that makes me the most proud is the fundraising gala we produce for CASA Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health. We have been working with CASA for over 6 years on their award-winning gala and each year I think, there is no way we will top this next year…. And then we do. It’s an incredible event that takes over a year to strategize and coordinate that raises over $500,000 for children’s mental health each year and brings together many dozens of suppliers, close to 100 volunteers and 24 hours of pre-event set up before guests arrive to enjoy an incredible themed evening of live music (with a full orchestra!), custom menu and gorgeous lounge spaces.
How has the pandemic affected business?
How has it not! What a wild ride the last two years were and I still feel emotionally drained and exhausted from what our industry was put through. First, my business (which has always been a small home-based business) was completely shut down over night and we lost 80 per cent of our income instantly. Though we did move a few of our events to a virtual platform, they didn’t receive the same outcome as our in-person galas and award ceremonies. We also lost our child care and I not only became unemployed overnight but was now also a full-time parent to two young boys who made it very challenging to work or pivot my company in a different direction.
Recovery is going well (finally) and I am grateful to the clients who maintained their relationships and trust with my company during the pandemic and are now back doing in-person events. Things for our industry are still a mess right now with supply chain issues, staffing shortages and COVID-19 still top of mind for a lot of people. But I am hoping to move forward with more balance and respect for my own personal time.
What types of training/education has been helpful for you?
I can honestly say that my degree in Fashion and Marketing from the UofA has been an incredible asset to me in this industry so far. Having that degree pairing has been so valuable in understanding room design and layout, colour pairings, creating detailed marketing plans for events and having a strong understanding of how to target specific audiences successfully through different promotion styles. I have also put my industry knowledge to the test with the completion of my CMP and CSEP designations which have really help to validate my understanding of how the events industry works and gives me a professional edge. In addition to those, I try to attend industry conferences and local MPI and ILEA Chapter events whenever possible to stay on top of professional development and industry trends.
What advice would you offer others entering the industry?
Welcome! Come! We need you! The events and tourism industries have so many job opportunities available right now (for both new and seasoned event professionals) and we are looking for good people to fill the many roles available. But I would still caution that experience is needed and those that are new to the industry should look at educational programs they can take (like the NAIT Event Management Certificate Program), volunteer at events to gain experience and don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. Anyone that shows promise in the industry will move up the ladder very quickly right now. And to just get involved – join your local MPI or ILEA chapters and make an effort to go to the monthly events and connect with event professionals.