Vanessa Ohayon of Vanessa & Co. Events & Hospitality has had to radically make changes to her way of doing business due to the pandemic. Just like millions of business owners across the globe, adjusting is a paramount priority. One of the most affected industries is hospitality and events, but Vanessa had to look for a viable option rather than resolving to shut down.
Before the pandemic hit, Vanessa worked with high-profile clients in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, France, Spain, Morocco, UK, Germany, and Canada. Since her brand deals with hospitality, bespoke tours, and events, human capital and interaction are gold for her. It’s where the money comes from.
As you’ll read in the interview, you’ll be amazed by how thinking outside the box can save your business even in the most trying times. Read on and be inspired.
Career Fodder: There have been unprecedented changes in how events are planned and conducted due to the pandemic. Having been in the industry for over two decades, how does the future of events look like, in relation to current events?
Vanessa Ohayon: The pandemic forced the entire planet into isolation, and society at large quickly adapted – learning how to exchange ideas, teach, learn, workout, play and even relax on a digital platform. Zoom became a household fixture and our dining room tables became our boardrooms.
As the bulk of the world became comfortable with online gatherings, we inadvertently added another vertical to how we celebrate together. Events are going to come back strong! History shows us that post-war, post-pandemic, post-crisis – people fiercely turn to unite together and celebrate!
Going forward, the future of events will always have a digital element, as there will always be individuals whom we want in attendance that cannot for one reason or another.
The marriage between the physical world and the digital world will find its balance and then continue to evolve, and up its game, as we blaze forward in progress, with the pandemic only present in the rearview mirror.
CF: What are some of the innovative ways you used to keep your business afloat during the pandemic?
VO: Truly, it took me a minute. I didn’t believe that my industry, being the first to go down, and likely the last to re-emerge, had a possibility to stay afloat. I resisted pivoting my business, I didn’t trust that the interaction among attendees could be redesigned in a way to invoke a dynamic exchange on a digital platform.
My magic has always been in the presence and interaction of the quality human capital at the event. However, my clients had a real need that required solving. I had to get centered and move away from the fear and dance towards the music.
Life was continuing and people still needed interaction with one another – I would argue to say, even more now than ever! A dear friend of mine, and now more recently my business partner, and I were on the phone, and within 24 hours @Box.Bash was born. In simple terms, it is a Party in a Box.
We offer customized boxes to your attendees ranging from miniature wedding cakes and bottles of champagne to materials needed to participate in an online basketball tournament. We offer high-quality video storytelling to make the guests dialing-in feel like they are in the room with the individuals being celebrated! Making the experience stand out from just another zoom call, that we often (un-admittedly) have running in the background.
CF: Running a business that depends on human capital and interactions during a restrictive pandemic can be challenging emotionally. How have you managed to stay on track despite the hard times?
VO: It was certainly challenging emotionally! Clients having to cancel something we have spent countless hours and many months with loads of love was completely heartbreaking. It was also devastating to my suppliers who were like me, losing one event after another.
It was crushing from all angles, I started to internalize the weight of everyone’s problems, and that wasn’t an acceptable plan. I had to dig deep and find all the strengths God has gifted me… As the saying goes – “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain!” With that said – it’s literally the act of dance that was my saving grace – I call it “Fierce Grace”.
It is “fierce” because it raises your vibration, by changing your physiology, it also changes your emotional state, and this impactful change can happen in minutes! It is also “grace” because it is during this dance that I am more aligned than ever, that I find prayer easily and more importantly gratitude.
Gratitude is simple and paramount to your emotional health – I say to anyone who will listen – “if you are don’t see your blessings it’s as if they do not exist.” Dance and all forms of body movement unlock blocked channels allowing stuck energy to flow, which ignites creativity and mental clarity.
CF: Some of your clients have included ‘30 under 30’ for Forbes Magazine, Food & Wine Festival and the VMA’s. What’s the most useful tip that you can share with struggling events planners when it comes to winning gigs and deals?
VO: Listen to your client, the message they want to portray, and the energy they exude. Each event has a unique expression. Having experience in various aspects of the event world makes you a better advocate for your client. In my case, I was a Hotel Operator so I know the business side from the venue’s perspective, and I also have a strong F&B background as well.
Beyond that, create and conceptualize your vision. Deliver how you will coordinate it, match them with the right suppliers and execute with confidence. Always trust your intuition and surround yourself with cheerleaders for your growth and
CF: Apart from running a business, you also support various causes, being a board member for organizations supporting children’s education. How important is it to you to have such projects outside your line of work?
VO: I think it is always important to serve something that is bigger than yourself. It is the circle of life. By giving, you automatically receive. You not only feel good for doing good but if coming from the right place, it is humbling.
You learn a little more about the world outside your bubble and if given the opportunity to immerse yourself by being the minority in someone else’s majority you will learn about yourself more profoundly as an individual.
I always thought benevolence should be part of a curriculum – which likely explains why I have always been drawn to causes that help underprivileged children. The secret to living is giving.
CF: Since your brand has an HQ in Tel Aviv, Israel, with offices in the USA, how do you compare the events industries and opportunities in both countries, in terms of unique offerings?
VO: Wow – It’s really tough to compare Israel – a country, just a little larger in size than the state of New Jersey, compared to the entire United States of America.
The opportunities and options in the USA are endless! There is a huge cultural gap between the two countries, which spread across the management of negotiations, how work is executed, and the way magical moments are interpreted. Israel is a land with tremendous spiritual power.
For such a small country, it offers an unquantifiable amount of serene and breath-taking locations across the entire country, not to mention that some hold an incredible religious meaning that are unique in the entire world. In the North, you can celebrate on hilltops and in vineyards.
As you travel to the south you can find yourself in some of the holiest landmarks in the world, as well as modern urban venues too. Then finally as you reach the south with landscapes of the desert and even an oasis – places countrywide that make dreams come true!
CF: You’ve been pursuing the powerMBA program at a time when there is a conversation around the use of such programs post-pandemic. Why do you think this program is unique to your career goals?
VO: I hold true that “the day you think you know everything life becomes boring!” I am a big fan of continued education, self-improvement, and exploring the world. This MBA program is incredible.
It provides access to thought leaders and trailblazers. With real case studies and conversations with individuals who are changing and improving the way we live our daily lives, it keeps your finger on the pulse.
The PowerMBA has sessions led by Executives from companies such as AirBnB, Wholefoods, Waze, and Shazam to name only a few on a long roster of impressive companies and individuals.
CF: Having embraced new ways of doing business, do you see yourself going back to the old ways of event execution once the pandemic has faded?
VO: Absolutely! The magic of events is incredible – but there is also a new future of events which marries the magic of the collection of unique individuals in a room with the fast-paced advance of technology – which invites people from around the world to join in – but now, not just as a spectator, but also in an interactive capacity as well.
The same way we are seeing the evolution of the retail world where a vast majority has turned to online, we will see the next transformation where brick & mortar will meet digitally.
The necessity to touch, smell, taste, and feel will always be prevalent in the experience of life. The integration of the digital world will add a new and exciting vertical to the event world.
CF: Finally, what would you say are the most important skills for anyone to become a successful event planner?
VO: Being able to multi-task is certainly high on this list. You must also have a keen eye for details, this is something innate in you – you just see things that other people would never notice.
Organization is non-negotiable. Period. The ability to NOT lose your north when things don’t go exactly according to plan – but more importantly the ability to problem solve quickly and calmly. Stay on top of new trends and come up with your own spin-off.
Always remember you are only as good as the team you put together, so choose wisely! Finally, you have to LOVE the unconventional. Work-life balance will sometimes mean – 6 months of grinding day after day, late nights AND weekends, and then the rest of the year you can plan from a mountain top or a beach. Love the work you do, and you will never work a day in your life!