Program Manager-Meetings and Conventions
What are the job elements you focus on the most (your primary responsibilities)?
I do logistics for some APTA conferences; I take care of registration, both in advance and on-site; and I’m in charge of all sponsorships at APTA meetings. A very small group of companies currently takes advantage of the sponsorship program, but other people have expressed interest as well and we’re looking for wider participation.
APTA also is expanding the scope of its sponsorship efforts.
Regarding the smaller APTA workshops, we begin our efforts in getting hotel contracts about a year in advance. On the other hand, because EXPO is such a major undertaking, we have to work about six years in advance. The regular major meetings—Legislative Conference, Bus & Paratransit Conference, Rail Conference, and Annual Meeting—we try to work three to four years in advance. When we meet in small or mid-size cities—most often for the Bus & Paratransit Conference—the hotels may not have the meeting capacity we need, so we also work with convention centers. The APTA Meetings Department also works with the convention and visitors’ bureaus in the cities we consider.
One of the advantages of working in the Meetings Department is the ability to work not only with members from all the different APTA membership categories, but also from representatives of all the different departments within the association—from marketing to conference programs, ever-changing technology, and of course accounting.
Do you have direct contact with APTA members? If so, please talk about recent times you’ve helped out a member.
I recently took a call from an APTA member who was having trouble doing an online meeting registration for the organization’s chief counsel. We discovered that the person had a corrupt record that had to be fixed before we could proceed with processing the registration.
People call the Meetings Department with questions about the meeting program, the hotel—sometimes about the registration fees.
I enjoy helping APTA members plan activities in conjunction with our conferences, such as finding space where they can hold customer appreciation events.
What initiatives, projects, or programs have you worked on at APTA that you have taken particular pride in completing?
The Meetings Department is an interesting place to work because we think of each APTA meeting a project with a definite completion date; in contrast, other departments may have open-ended projects. It’s always satisfying to wrap up a meeting.
The meeting planning process begins with the release of a Request for Proposals listing the basics of what we need from a venue. We then engage in some negotiations.
The Products & Services Showcases at major APTA meetings are far less intensive than the EXPO as far as preparation and registration. The showcases are open for just one day, unlike the three-day EXPO, and exhibitors don’t have to construct massive exhibits or import railcars.
How did you “land” at APTA? How long have you worked here?
I was working for another association that decided to cut one third of their employees. But I found APTA a good fit: I’ve worked here 26 years.
When I started, APTA held about five conferences a year. Now we do about two dozen conferences and workshops. As time passed, we saw an increased demand for educational sessions. That’s when we started doing exhibits: the members wanted more exposure to technology, so we decided to include educational exhibits in the conference schedule.
Have you held other jobs in the public transportation industry (besides working at APTA)?
No. I was an Army brat and my father was in the USA Transportation Corps—does that count?
Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?
I enjoy reading published diaries and letter collections—I consider myself a “paper voyeur.” We’re a dying breed, as e-mail and texting are wiping out the art of letter writing.
I also like going to the theater, cooking, and am a Janeite—a devotee of Jane Austen. I have a whole bookcase that is nothing but sequels, prequels, and alternate versions of Pride and Prejudice.
Make sure you see Heather Rachels' video, now that you've read this!