Renee Radabaugh – Paragon Events

Renee Radabaugh

President & CEO, Paragon Events

Delray Beach, Fla. 

Describe your job.

My job is anything from cleaning the toilets to leading a team of enormously talented people. Our events and clients range from international incentive programs to corporate conferences, grand openings, trade shows, and VIP networking events. I think the deeper, richer part is that we create experiences, and we elevate brands. While that might sound pretty marketing-centric, event planning has evolved so much through the years that it really is about building people’s brands and creating brand awareness in the marketplace through creative events.

I’m a type A personality, so I actually enjoy stress. For the last nine years, this industry has been in the top five most stressful jobs in the country. You have to love a little bit of pressure to succeed in this business. If I were to dig a little bit deeper, my favorite part of my job is a selfless love of watching other people excel at what they do and developing their skills to be really exceptional. I live for seeing my team reach that “aha moment” when they realize a job well done or execute a successful program. I really do love this job as much today as the day I started 35 years ago.

How did you get started, and what got you from there to today?

I was working long hours in the hotel business when my then two-year-old daughter said to me, “Mommy, take off those fancy clothes and stay home with me.” If I could work 85 hours a week, I figured I should try doing it for myself. So, I started this to spend more time with my baby girl. I got to where I am today with a combination of fortitude, confidence, fearlessness, and a desire to be a student every day.

Do you have a favorite type, size, or style of event to plan or do you like variety?

I love the variety of events we plan, especially incentive programs, because they’re about celebrating others’ successes. Incentives allow for greater creativity and innovation, creating exciting and memorable experiences.

What’s your best experience of turning lemons into lemonade?

The most recent experience would be the pandemic and pivoting to virtual as soon as we did. We had a few programs planned in the APAC region, so before people were even really talking about it, we knew something disruptive was about to happen and started researching and preparing.

We vetted over 40 virtual platforms, we were transparent with the staff, and we immediately pivoted to go virtual. I think the lemonade out of that was we didn’t have to lay anybody off or cut any staff pay. We worked really hard to keep all of our team while navigating the uncertain and stressful environment. That time was an emotional roller coaster, but our team came out stronger, well versed in virtual events, and more flexible than ever before.

A funnier story happened in 2004 when we were executing a client event in the mountains of Colorado and had a beautiful five-star dinner planned. The tables were set with nice crystal glassware, and everything was set. All of a sudden, a giant windstorm rolled through and in a matter of seconds, the wind whipped up and yanked every single tablecloth off the table and broke all the glasses. With the client only 10 minutes away, we had to act fast!

We had a food truck onsite for the staff working the event, so we ended up rolling the bars in front of the food truck and using that for cocktail hour while we reset the picnic tables for dinner. We had to use acrylic since all the glass had shattered, but we were resourceful, and the client was thrilled with the evening.

What’s your proudest moment so far in your career?

I’m most proud of where I am today. Paragon Events is celebrating its 32nd year in business, growing from a small flower shop into an international event planning, association management, and marketing company. When I think of how far I’ve come and how far the industry as a whole has come, it’s pretty remarkable.

How has your business adapted to the ongoing uncertainties and challenges of the pandemic?

We’re still overcoming pandemic-related challenges. People are exhausted and have not had a chance to collaborate face-to-face. Everything has been two-dimensional, behind a screen. We’ve tried to create authentic experiences that allow for connection and meaning—not just manufactured experiences. As the uncertainty continues, we’re doing three times as much planning for events, planning for live, virtual, and hybrid. Things can always change at any moment, and we have to be prepared. I believe event professionals are going to be better and more thoughtful planners after this because of having to dig in and find solutions.

How do you keep up with industry trends and cutting-edge developments in the convention and meeting business? What new event industry trends are you excited about?

I consume as many articles and podcasts as possible. Listening to the team around me is another great resource, as they have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on. We follow more “niche trends” so we can dig in and learn it and make sure it’s a right fit. However, the trend I’m most looking forward to is returning to live events.

What are the essential skills that every newcomer into the industry should possess?

Strong technology skills are a must right now. Attitude and outlook are just as important as hard skills. In this industry, you must be tenacious, seek answers, stay hungry, and go after it. Being a panoramic thinker and understanding the bigger picture is also key.

What’s the oddest or funniest thing that ever happened at one of your events?

We were planning a huge program in Hawaii, and two weeks before the start, there was a hurricane approaching Florida, where we are headquartered. We had a choice: Wait around, get stuck in the hurricane and miss the program, or head to Hawaii early. We decided to leave, but all flights were grounded. We rented a van and drove 18 hours to New Orleans, where we could finally get a flight. We got to Hawaii and stayed in an Airbnb for two weeks leading up to the event. It was an insane time, but so memorable and such a great experience.

When you are not creating events for your clients, what do you like to do? 

Family time is the most important thing to me. My son loves to travel so our quality time consists of spontaneous trips whenever possible. My daughter, on the other hand, hates traveling, so we spend quality time together over dinner or hanging out with our pups. Family always comes first.

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