Paula has a much better memory than I. I remembered that we met through ASAE, the American Society of Association Executives. Paula said it was at the 1998 ASAE Annual Meeting in Nashville. Over the years, our involvement in ASAE and Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and, later, through social media, allowed us to stay in touch. I’ve always learned so much from Paula--about meetings, associations and life.

And though I’ve never met Kaitlin, I’ve “known” her through photos and stories her mom shared. We are grateful to MPI for allowing us to use the photo they first published of Kaitlyn helping Paula at a meeting (see article image).

Paula Stratman Rigling, President of Meeting Planning Professionals

I am an independent meeting planner specializing in association meetings. My undergraduate degree, from Southwest Texas State University, is in Public Relations and my master’s is in Organizational Communications, with a specialty in Training. I started my career in hotel sales, catering and convention services, where I worked for six years before joining the Texas Medical Association (TMA) as a specialty society manager. After six years as a manager of multiple physician societies with duties that included conference planning, I became the Director of Meetings at TMA. In that capacity my team produced 200 seminars a year, two 1,000-person conferences and a 5,000-person conference. I moved to an event technology firm before opening my business in 2002. Contact Information: email: pjrig@aol.com; voice: (512) 791-2701

Kaitlyn Rigling, Group Sales Manager, Omni Austin Downtown Hotel

I specialize in Texas state association and corporate markets. I graduated in 2015 from Texas Tech with a degree in Hospitality Management. Contact Information: email: Kaitlyn.rigling@omnihotels.com; voice: (512) 397-4835

Photo of Paula and Kaitlyn

Paula and Kaitlyn Rigling

Joan: Paula--you first: What was your trajectory into the world of associations and meetings? Did you plan to do this? Was there something in your background--someone in the family in service position?--that influenced you?

Paula: While I was an undergraduate I was appointed to be one of the student members of the University President’s Inauguration Task Force and had an internship in the Institutional Advancement department where my duties included helping to plan the event. The university president had been LBJ’s [President Lyndon Baines Johnson] speechwriter in the White House and Lady Bird Johnson was the keynote speaker. This was my first taste of event planning, and I was hooked!

In college, I planned to one day own my own event business but decided I needed to learn the industry from the hotel side; so after grad school I joined a small hotel chain in their sales and marketing department as an office manager. I moved into a sales position with the hotel and then became a catering manager and helped open their new hotel in Austin. After five years I moved to a hotel in San Antonio where I worked as a hotel catering and convention manager prior to joining TMA.

Joan: Kaitlyn, your mom posted a photo of you helping at one of her meetings. Tell us about your first experiences helping your mom and how that influenced you in your career choice.

Kaitlyn: I was nine the first time I went on-site with my mom to help her with a meeting; however, I had been traveling to a few meetings with my dad and brother since I was a toddler, as they were family-friendly meetings. The first time I worked a meeting was for a 1,000-person conference in Phoenix and my job was to place signs and run materials to meeting rooms. As a teenager I would deliver and set up AV equipment for mom’s Austin-area meetings. I spent many hours producing name badges and assembling registration packets for my mom’s meetings.

My high school offered a course in events management in the hospitality department and that exposed me to more of the industry and piqued my interest. My first job was in Austin at a special event venue as a member of the waitstaff.

I decided to major in Restaurant Hospitality Management in college and toured the three schools in Texas that offered the major. After visiting Texas Tech in Lubbock, I knew that I had found my home there. In college I worked at a hotel and did an internship with a company that specialized in social events; so, I got exposure to both sides of the industry.

When I graduated I applied to the Omni Hotel’s Leader in Development (LID) program and was assigned to the Omni Austin Downtown Hotel in the sales department. I spent six months as a LID and then moved into an express sales position at the hotel. I have since become a group sales manager specializing in Texas meetings, many of which are state association meetings. Having grown up in the association industry, it gives me a unique insight. Many of my clients are friends of my mother’s and remember me from when I was younger and attended events with her.

Joan: Paula: If you ever tried to persuade Kaitlyn--or had thoughts of doing so but restrained yourself!--to go into a different field, what was your thinking?

Paula: I could tell from an early age that Kaitlyn had a heart for hospitality and that she would be a natural for the industry, so I never attempted to dissuade her from following me into the industry. In fact, I believe that one day she would be ideally positioned to take over from me when I am ready to step back from the physical demands of managing events.

Joan: Kaitlyn, when did you know this was what you wanted and why? And then…you chose to go to what we call the supplier side…and recently from CSM to sales. What was your thinking in doing this v. being a meeting planner?

Kaitlyn: During my college internship, I really found a passion for this work and knew that I could make a career out of this. I chose the supplier side as I knew it would offer me better work-life balance, as I would have a set schedule and could spend my weekends and evenings doing the activities I enjoy.

Joan: To each and both of you, two more questions:

  1. In what ways do you act as sounding boards for each other and how can others with family in the same industry do so for their family members?

Paula: It has been so helpful having Kaitlyn to help me understand the inner workings of hotel sales and contracting currently, as so much has changed since I was on that side. When I was in hotels, we didn’t have revenue management teams who drove the decisions on whether we could book a piece of business, so hearing her talk about the constraints she faces has helped me better understand my hotel partners’ needs when negotiating.

Kaitlyn: Mom asks me questions all the time about contracting issues she is having and asks me how my hotel would handle certain issues. Since mom has a strong background in the Texas state association market she was helpful to me when I transitioned from the corporate to association market. She made introductions for me in person and on social media and helped me understand the association decision making process and how it differs in relation to how corporations book events.

  1. Your best advice to others who have family or close friends who want to join us in hospitality and how to do so and why.

Paula: One of the cool things I have experienced is getting to see my daughter come into her own as a professional and watch her interact at industry events with my peers. When your child is in the same industry you get an insight into their professional world that you wouldn’t normally have. Hearing friends in the industry share their feedback on Kaitlyn has been special and has made me very proud to be her mom!

Kaitlyn: I’ve already recruited my brother’s girlfriend to join us; she now works with me in the sales department at the Omni. If they have the drive and determination to work hard and enjoy building relationships, I would say that this would be a great industry for friends and family to join. It’s one that I have enjoyed growing up in and making it my own.

Related Reading From the September 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

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