If Claudette Bouton wrote a roundup of her career, it would include everything from a car saleswoman to a “gas rodeo” organizer. These days, the corporate event planner for Atlanta-based AGL Resources, a natural gas distributor, hosts events for her company wherever it does business. In 2007 alone, she produced 120 events for a company that employs 2,400 and serves 2.2 million customers. “That includes everything from a small meeting with a very small file folder to a complicated event with a 3-inch, three-ring binder,” Bouton notes. Here, she shares her secrets to being the one-and-only in-house event planner.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: Describe your department.
CLAUDETTE BOUTON: As a department of one, I handle everything for an event based on my client's needs, including site selection, budget management, contract negotiation, vendor management, attendee oversight — right on through to being on-site and then wrapping it all up. The only area I typically stay away from is anything that is content-driven for the program; that the clients handle.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What's your typical day?
BOUTON: I don't know that there's a typical day. I handle everything from internal and external meetings with and without food and beverage to multi-day conferences for employees as well as clients and various luncheons, evening events, etc.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What is a usual guest count for AGL events?
BOUTON: That varies as well, but typically the smallest is about 20 attendees — anything smaller than that is usually handled by the client's administrative assistant. The largest single event runs upwards of about 500 in attendance. I am currently in the process of wrapping up a 17-event program for all of our southern operations service centers, and when all is said and done, we will have touched about 1,800 employees and their guests.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Were there any surprising differences regarding your work now as an in-house planner versus the work you've done in the past as a staff member for an off-premise catering company?
BOUTON: It's really not as different as you would think. The bottom line at the end of the day is you still have a client — albeit, internal — that you have to make happy and meet their expectations, all within a specified budget.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Has the recent downswing in the economy affected your events?
BOUTON: As with most corporations, we are taking a very close look at the events we do to make sure the ROI is really there — we are watching the bottom line much more closely. Transparency in charging fees from vendors to clients — such as myself — is a must. I certainly understand when a vendor handles an additional service on my behalf that they will either mark up the service or charge a separate fee. But I really have to watch when and where that happens and in how many cases. I may just have to do it myself to save the extra cost.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What career did you aspire to when you were a kid?
BOUTON: My family owned a leather goods store, so I always joke that I grew up behind the retail counter. I suppose I saw myself going into retail management and pursued my business degree in marketing because at the time, there weren't any retail programs around. Once I got out of school, I followed that path until I realized I hated it. I used the marketing degree and held various sales-based jobs — I even sold cars!
SPECIAL EVENTS: How did you get into the event business?
BOUTON: In the late '80s/early '90s, I was working as a recruiter for a job-placement company, and my boss asked me to get involved with the local chamber of commerce. When given the list of committees I could join, the one that jumped out at me was the special event committee, where I volunteered to chair the largest member event of the year. The event was a huge success, and a few of the other members from the chamber mentioned that I should consider a career in planning events. And from there, as they say, the rest is history!
Contact Claudette Bouton at 404/584-3080 or [email protected].