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From planner to C-Suite: the journey of an association manager

In 2006, if you had asked Paragon Events intern Francesca Radabaugh where she would be in 15 years, the answer probably would have been very different from what it is today.

“My college diploma covers geography, geology, natural hazards and environmental justice. When I graduated, I wanted to get into urban planning and sustainable building practices, ”she says. “But I found out through internships in this area that he didn’t have the kind of pace I was looking for.” It was very deliberative work “but I still love to juggle things and have a new challenge in front of me. So I ended up getting an internship at Paragon Events, and it turned out to be the right choice.

After her internship, Radabaugh took on a full-time position as an event assistant. Since then, “I have taken on roles in just about every department we have. I was an event manager; I did some marketing; I worked in accounting and I did association management. As COO of Paragon’s Association Management division in 2018, Radabaugh blended his university education with his real-world experience to create EcoVents, a division of Paragon dedicated to planning environmentally friendly meetings.

In September, Radabaugh was appointed COO of Paragon and president of the association’s management division. She is the executive director of a client association while overseeing Paragon’s internal operations. “I’ve worn many hats, and this variety of experience has given me the tools I’ll need in this new role,” she says.

MeetingsNet recently asked Radabaugh a few questions about his near-term business priorities, his take on the association meeting landscape, and his advice to planners looking to lead departments, divisions, or entire organizations.

MeetingsNet: What is the first major initiative you are taking in your new role as COO?
Francesca radabaugh: Right now, my focus is on creating a more consistent training process for all staff. We have a very specific approach to our customer interaction and the level of service we provide to our customers. We have very good policies in place on this, but one of the things that we haven’t necessarily been 100% consistent with is training from role to role and job to job. other, so I’m trying to fine-tune that across the business.

MeetingsNet: With the current business environment for associations being so turbulent, it must be difficult not only to keep employees fully trained but to keep them all on the payroll. Did you have to do any layoffs or time off during the pandemic?
Radabaugh: In fact, since the start of the pandemic, we have increased our numbers a little. We were fortunate to have a head start on the fallout from meetings when the pandemic hit, as we had programs that were to be in the Asia-Pacific region by early 2020, so we’re really watching closely even before. that many people do not know about Covid. We had to use our judgment as to whether we should organize these events, and it just didn’t seem like a good idea to take a chance with our clients and their attendees as well as with our staff.

So we started planning for possible alternatives and researching virtual platforms, and I think this has helped our clients make sound decisions and stay as financially healthy as possible in this situation. But it also allowed our staff to master the virtual sooner than many others. So we didn’t stop abruptly; we were able to be really proactive in weathering the storm.

MeetingsNet: Were the employees you added more technologically focused in their capabilities?
Radabaugh: Yes, it was absolutely necessary to see things from a more strategic point of view. While we knew the strengths of our event planning team, we needed to step up the technical side a bit. And in fact, we’ve come a long way on the marketing side as well, because when it comes to going virtual, you really have to put a lot more energy and effort into that.

MeetingsNet: Virtual events certainly help associations, but many organizations cannot go another year without income from in-person events. What do you think of the implementation of the vaccine mandates for association meetings?
Radabaugh: I think it really varies from industry to industry and maybe also region to region. Some industries and regions would not respond well to a mandate. I think you need to take a step back and look at your participants and other constituents. And if you are not clear on the right direction, then go out there and ask their advice directly.

It’s all about the packaging and presentation of things. I think there is a big difference between mandating vaccines and strongly encouraging them, and this is where working with your clients is so essential to understand their comfort level and the threshold they want to use in order to to keep everyone safe, but also to make everyone feel comfortable. Ultimately, each association is its own organization; we approach them that way to understand what their happy medium is, something that works best for their overall situation.

MeetingsNet: In your client list, will the majority be organizing their next in-person events with vaccination mandates?
Radabaugh: The vast majority of people returning to live do not require vaccination. But we collect information, ask people to voluntarily share with us if they are vaccinated, and then act accordingly when planning the event.

MeetingsNet: What advice would you give to organizers of associations who wish to develop in their organization?
Radabaugh: I would say be proactive and have an open and honest dialogue with your leaders about your long term goals and what they need from you. Each organization is set up a little differently and what it needs from its people is a little different. I’m also a big supporter of training, which means taking classes and taking classes to help you develop the skills you need to get to the next job you want. Talk to your leadership team so that they can be part of your planning process and you can be part of their planning process.


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