Paulette Zanotti – Event Director Pittsburgh’s Syria Shriners


Jill Kummer:   Okay. I think what everybody would like to know a little bit about is how you actually got into this business in the first place. So if you could tell me a little bit about where you are now. And how the road went to get there because that’s probably a pretty interesting story.

Paulette Zanotti:   It is an interesting story. And I was thinking a lot about that last evening before our interview today. And back when I started. And probably back when you started, there weren’t courses in colleges for event management and the things of that nature. A lot of that was you fell into it, however that may be. And so I actually traced this back all the way back to my grandmother. I grew up in a very cultural home with an Italian nationality and a Slovak nationality. But I blame my Italian grandmother on this. She grew up in a very small, very tiny, close knit community.

Paulette Zanotti:   And she was the community cook. So any time there was a birth or a baptism or a funeral or whatever, you took food. Food was your way of socialization. Food was your way of gifting back then. So I was always around it. And eventually she became the town caterer, for a lack of better words.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my heavens.

Paulette Zanotti:   Yes, and I was right by her side. And then as time went on, she started doing weddings, local weddings. Everybody wanted her to cater the weddings because she made all of her food from scratch and I got to be the grunt. So I got to do dishes. I got to help prep. I was never allowed outside of the kitchen. But eventually I worked my way to … I was allowed to replenish the buffet and actually service the buffet.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my goodness. How old were you when that was all going on?

Paulette Zanotti:   11, 12.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my, okay.

Paulette Zanotti:   And I thought that was biggest joke because I got to sneak out and see brides and grooms and all of their decorations and I just fell in love with that. Well, eventually what happened is she got older and she got out of it, but other relatives took over and I fell into that. Well, by that point then, I was in high school and I was … It must have been in my blood. I was volunteering for everything and I was always helping to organize or to orchestrate. Or to be there when nobody else would be there.

Paulette Zanotti:   And by the time I reached college, as always being the caretaker, I discovered not only was in a counseling field, I discovered theater.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my, okay.

Paulette Zanotti:   Once I discovered theater and the stage, the rest is history. And I really go into a lot of the production end of things as well as on stage end of things. And after graduation, I worked for a large non profit for 33 years. I started out as a counselor, but then found myself also being the one, again, to volunteer to put things together. To coordinate things. And as time went on, the nonprofit back then, realized they had to start fundraising. In order to get accreditation in order to survive, they needed to start fundraising and so somebody had an idea. Well, they had the idea, but they didn’t have the skill set to carry that idea out. And I’m just sitting in a background waiting and waiting and waiting and saying, “Hello. Hello.”

Paulette Zanotti:   And of course, it was a group of men that decided a golf outing would be the ultimate.

Jill Kummer:   Oh Lord.

Paulette Zanotti:   Well, they knew how to golf. But they didn’t know how to put raffles together. They didn’t know how to put baskets together. And as time went on, and more and more things came up, I was in the community a lot. Developing relationships. Developing professional relationships to bring in money. To bring in donations. And have events. So I became actually their event coordinator and I really did all of their events as well as being their community liaison. Which was the linkage between the community, the nonprofit, and all of the fundraisers that went with it.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my gosh.

Paulette Zanotti:   So I became their coordinator of special events. And I did that until one day they decided to erase my position from the budget. We all have been through that. And so then after that it was, I still doing weddings. And I was still doing events and volunteering, of course. And working these jobs and that jobs. And finally I decided, well I joined ILEA, the International, Live Events Association. Which was great for me because I did a lot of networking and became established. Went to a lot of classes and seminars on fundraising and event planning to build up my skill set. And then started my own, small business.

Paulette Zanotti:   So I’ve done everything from the tiny go to your house dinner parties and baptisms to galas for 1000 people to weddings to fundraisers to you name it? I’ll do it. Because any event is a special event.

Jill Kummer:   That’s true.

Paulette Zanotti:   And my whole … Actually my tagline is my forte is the entire client experience. It’s your event, but it’s my event as well. So that’s how I got into the business and then by word of mouth, the Pittsburgh Shrine Center decided they needed to have somebody to really begin to utilize the beautiful ballroom and pavilion space that they have. And they had nobody to do it. There were a lot of Shriners with good, good intentions, but not a clue as to how to orchestrate a special event. So they hired me on as their event coordinator. So now I’m responsible for the enter event situation here at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center which is a large undertaking. So that’s how I started and I still have my small business and I still have, you name it, and I’ll do the event. I say there’s no event that’s too small.

Jill Kummer:   That’s true.

Paulette Zanotti:   There really isn’t. And yes, you can think of event planners who are nonprofits as huge nonprofits and huge galas that you see in the scene column. But there’s a large group of people that are right in the middle that may not have a $100,000 budget for their wedding. Or may not have a $125,000 budget for their gala. They deserve a memorable event just like everybody else.

Jill Kummer:   That’s true. It’s just as important to them as the other organization’s event is to them.

Paulette Zanotti:   So that’s why I try to fill in the gaps with whatever they have. I try to meet their needs. And so, that’s me. I’m the event coordinator. The wedding coordinator. The planner. The organizer. And for people out there that think it’s a great, glamorous job. There is that glamor side to it, but I also am the one that sweeps the floors and moves the tables and counts the chairs and goes through all of these things that you would never expect somebody to go through.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, actually that’s very true. We used to get that question a lot. And people would say oh you’re out every night. And you’re at parties every night. And that must be so much fun and they think ooh, wow, okay. Because they are, but sometimes it’s like oh geez, not another one. But they’re all really special and all really fun. So what kind of events are you doing now where you’re at the Shriner Center?

Paulette Zanotti:   At the Shrine Center, we do a wide variety of events because our ballroom will hold up to 1000 people.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my gosh.

Paulette Zanotti:   And our pavilion can hold up to 800 people so in our pavilion, we do a lot of musical events. We’re the home for the Pittsburgh Roots and Blues Festival now. We are the home for a lot of memorial motorcycle rides for fallen officers. We do reunions. We do family reunions. But then our ballroom, it’s a lot of weddings, a lot of big celebrations. A lot of corporate events of trainings. A lot of nonprofit, anniversaries and celebrations and holiday parties. We even do boxing matches.

Jill Kummer:   I understood that. Tell us about that.

Paulette Zanotti:   Jill, I got to tell you that is out of my comfort zone. But I’m one that says if you don’t learn something new every day then get out of the business. And just when you think you know it all, you don’t know it all. So when they said we’re having … A nonprofit’s having an event here and it’s going to be a boxing match, my head spun around like the Exorcist. I had no clue of what to expect. So we do concerts. We do a lot of school events. We do a lot of nonprofit work. We basically do it all.

Jill Kummer:   I want to go back to the boxing for a second. Describe a little bit how you actually set that up? Because your facility is geared a little bit differently than a lot of other venues. So I’m curious as to see how you did it.

Paulette Zanotti:   One of the unique things about our ballroom. And I know all of the venues in Pittsburgh. And there are pros and cons to every one of them. But one of the really good things here is our ballroom is tiered. So we have our main floor. Then we have a lower tier that has railing on it. And then we have a sunken dance floor. And it’s got a stage and a sound system. So when we did this boxing match, it was an uber event on my end. It was a new growth opportunity, let me tell you that.

Paulette Zanotti:   I know nothing about boxing. But I know about putting on events. So they actually built the boxing rink in the sunken dance floor. And it exactly fit the size of the dance floor with cables for the judges. And the officials.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my gosh, so it was a regulation size boxing ring?

Paulette Zanotti:   It was a regulation boxing match all for multiple fitness clubs. And there were matches and there were bouts. Our lower tier, we had round tables of 10 that was a sit down dinner. So you were having a sit down dinner watching people boxing.

Jill Kummer:   Cool.

Paulette Zanotti:   On our upper tier, we had about 300 chairs that people bought tickets for that they could … There’s not a bad seat in the house. So they had a buffet. The first tier had a sit down dinner. We had four bars. We had … They had, in the very back of the room, they had basket raffles and and 50/50 options. We had 650 people in here.

Jill Kummer:   Wow.

Paulette Zanotti:   Yes. And that was phenomenal. It was either going to be the worst or the best. It was one of the best experiences and it was for Parkinson’s disease. And it was so heartwarming. Not only were the boxers amateurs and so they were fighting for their position. And all their family and friends in their clubs cheering them on. I thought I was in the PPG Paints arena with all the chanting going on. But we also had people there that were in wheelchairs. And people there that were with walkers. And they had Parkinson’s. So it was just really, really special. And it was such a success for them that we’re not scheduled for year three to do it.

Jill Kummer:   Oh fantastic, congratulations. That sounds really, really fun.

Paulette Zanotti:   The set up. That was a 15 hour days. For those aspiring event planners, let me tell you that was 15 hour day. Because you never knew who was going to walk in the door. When the people were going to come in to bring in the ring. The caterers coming in. Chairs being set up. At the last minute, they made all kinds of changes because they’re boxers and they run boxing fitness clubs. But they’re not event organizers. They forgot about signage. They forgot about oh I guess we do need to block this off. Or should we number the chairs. How do we do this. So that’s where your … a facilitator really comes into play.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my gosh, I can only begin to imagine what went into that. Especially given the way your place is set up. With the floor being further down. The main floor being sunk. That seemed to be an adventure as well. So I just can’t imagine. Tell me a little bit about the pavilion because that sounds interesting to me.

Paulette Zanotti:   The pavilion is really unique in the sense that we call it an enclosed pavilion because we have canvas awnings on the side of all the pavilion that could be rolled down or up according to the weather conditions. We have paddle fans. We have ceiling fans. We have a stage with sound system. We have a whole kitchen attached to it. We also have a stationary restroom facility with pavement so it’s all handicapped accessible.

Jill Kummer:   Exactly.

Paulette Zanotti:   And in the back, we have an area that actually has horseshoe pits. We can set up volleyball nets. We sit on 40 acres of property.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my gosh, it’s huge.

Paulette Zanotti:   Yeah. When somebody needs to be driven right into the pavilion for physical needs, they can be.

Jill Kummer:   Oh that’s fantastic.

Paulette Zanotti:   And so, we don’t use picnic tables any longer. We have white tables and folding chairs because quite frankly, most people don’t want to negotiate a picnic table.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   And we can move that around. We can get 800 people in there for the Pittsburgh Blues Festival at one time.

Jill Kummer:   Oh how fun.

Paulette Zanotti:   And people can bring their lawn chairs in there and sit and enjoy. We’ve had very informal wedding receptions in there. We’ve had big family reunions in there where they’ve been in the back with the kids and inside with the older folks. We’ve had DJs in there. It’s just a really nice space that you can utilize. And we have grills. We have a huge grill that you could actually do your own pig roast if you want to.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my gosh, how cool. Okay.

Paulette Zanotti:   And we provide a full bar service down there with bartenders so that you can do that as well. And the best part is we have free parking for up to 500 vehicles.

Jill Kummer:   You got to love it because parking can add up. That can really make people nuts. So not too long ago, I actually did a podcast on that. Because that’s your guest’s first impression. And if your parking is horrible and they’re upset before they even walk in the door, that sets the tone for the rest of the night.

Paulette Zanotti:   Well, my phrase is you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Jill Kummer:   Absolutely correct. Yep.

Paulette Zanotti:   And when you have free, secure parking for 500 vehicles, and when we had one of our motorcycle memorial runs, we had 700 motorcycles here. And then after the run, all of their friends were here, so we had 1400 people that we were accommodating in that pavilion and fed them all within two hours.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my gosh. That is awesome. Do you have catering facilities there or do you use outside caterers or what did your folks do?

Paulette Zanotti:   We have a full licensed commercial kitchen that is certified by Allegheny Department of Health. We have a preferred caterer’s list. So we have caterers that we work with. If for some very particular reason, be it cultural or whatever, we may work with an outside caterer. But the reason why venues have a preferred caterer list is because those caterers know that kitchen. Those caterers come with a full uniform staff of experienced people that can provide your client with the ultimate customer experience.

Paulette Zanotti:   There are some people that are great catering companies, but they don’t have staff. They don’t do full service. So when people say we have a preferred catering list, there’s a very clear reason why they do that.

Jill Kummer:   Yes. Yeah, it does eliminate an awful lot of uncertainty. You know who you’re dealing with. You know the quality that you’re going to get. There’s certain expectations on all parties’ parts and that makes it hugely easier to deal with. Nothing like a high stress event to have something go wrong and not be happy about it.

Paulette Zanotti:   And of course, I’m a little obsessive compulsive and I have high standards and if they don’t meet my standards, then we got to talk. But it’s best on both ends. I don’t want that catering company to be set up to fail either.

Jill Kummer:   That’s true. That’s absolutely true.

Paulette Zanotti:   I want them to look good too.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   So that’s why we have a preferred catering list.

Jill Kummer:   We touched on the best event being the boxing. But as we all know, you’re only as good as your last event. What are some of the worst events that happened? Always funny. When looking back, they’re funny. When you’re in the middle of them, it’s a disaster, but looking back, you’re like oh geez, I can’t believe that happened. So what’s some of your worst ones.

Paulette Zanotti:   Absolutely. And I can give you examples from both nonprofit and my small business.

Jill Kummer:   Oh, have it.

Paulette Zanotti:   I mean I would say one of … And I call them my most memorable events.

Jill Kummer:   That’s a good way to put it.

Paulette Zanotti:   Yes, and these events I always learn and always make new rules afterwards. And always say to myself, I can’t believe I said yes again. But I do. I do. I think one of my memorable events early on was doing a barn wedding for a very young people. And she was enamored with Pinterest as we all are.

Jill Kummer:   Lord, okay.

Paulette Zanotti:   So she envisioned this lovely idyllic barn wedding. Getting married out overseeing the man made lake with the geese and the water fountain and the white chairs. And it was going to just wonderful. And her bridesmaids were all going to pitch in because her one bridesmaid knew how to make bouquets. They were on a very limited budget.

Jill Kummer:   Okay.

Paulette Zanotti:   So I said okay, we can do this. Well, it was in June. And it happened to be one of those Junes where it was one of the hottest Junes that we have had on record. All right. That shouldn’t be a problem. We’re outdoors. And the white chairs were out. And she had a friend make her two antique barn doors and stain them. That was going to be where they were going to get married in front over. Great. So he went a step further and made two door knob holes like he would on a door, except he forgot that you need a right and a left door. So he made two holes and two right doors. So now we have two holes that don’t … That aren’t on opposite sides. And she was going to put little baby’s breath bouquets in those holes.

Jill Kummer:   Okay.

Paulette Zanotti:   I said oh dear. All right. Now we’re going to decorate and we have that morning a horde of young ladies coming to decorate all of these tables with these very ornate decorations and they went to the dollar store and bought 200 votive candles.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my heavens, okay.

Paulette Zanotti:   Not understanding that those votive candles were tea light candles and not votive candles.

Jill Kummer:   Oh no.

Paulette Zanotti:   Which has a shelf life of an hour.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   Who was going to light 200 of those candles? Me. While the paddle fans are going full blast to air condition this reception hall. Me. As I’m lighting them, they’re blowing as the paddle fans are blowing out.

Jill Kummer:   Yes.

Paulette Zanotti:   Now I’m having a bit of a meltdown. Then where are the bouquets? Well, here comes all the boxes of flowers with the bouquets to be made the morning of the wedding.

Jill Kummer:   Oh you’re kidding?

Paulette Zanotti:   No, no, I’m serious. And I just went oh my. So they’re all making bouquets, but it’s now it’s time for them to go rock and roll and they’ve got to go get dressed. And what are we doing with these doors in the yard that have the two big holes in them for door knobs? So I ended up taking all this baby’s breath, making four bouquets and stapling them on to four sections of the doors so that you couldn’t see any holes whatsoever.

Jill Kummer:   That’s actually pretty clever.

Paulette Zanotti:   And I’m sweating [inaudible 00:21:05] balls at the same time. And now they forgot to have somebody tray the cookies.

Jill Kummer:  Okay.

Paulette Zanotti:   So I got to tray the cookies.

Jill Kummer:   The cookie table thing is big.

Paulette Zanotti:   So I’m … Now I have built in time to change my outfit of course. So we get all the guests there and the justice of the peace comes and doesn’t even have their information such as their names.

Jill Kummer:   Oh that’s a big thing.

Paulette Zanotti:   Yeah, I knew we were going to have a challenge here. So everybody’s there and we got everybody together. And everybody’s ready to rock and roll. And the music starts and what she also forgot is not only is this a barn. It’s a working farm with live animals in pens.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my heavens.

Paulette Zanotti:  So when the music starts, the animal start singing. It’s like Mendelssohn’s choir. We have goats going. We have the pigs going. We have the hens going. And now the ducks on the pond are all beginning to get excited and flap their wings and fly everywhere and nobody can hear the vows because we’ve got Mendelssohn’s animal choir behind us. And everyone is sweating to beat the band. And now the minister decides, he’s on a roll now. Now he’s going to go longer. And then the bride’s father, who is upset about the whole thing because it wasn’t in church, decides he’s going to give a speech.

Jill Kummer:   Oh no.

Paulette Zanotti:   And now the candles are just besides themselves. We go inside and now we’re late. And now we have dinner and everything was fine. And now she’s going to have an after party for those people that she couldn’t afford to invite to the reception with a food truck and a beer truck. Which arrives on time but the reception is late so now we’ve got people outside and drinking beer and eating hot dogs while people are still inside. So by the time of the after party, the outsiders are always drunk. The insider relatives are very upset which they would be. The music is too loud. And now I see blue and red lights driving down the driveway which are the police because someone called the cops because of all of the chaos. And I just said please just get me out of here in one piece.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   Because we had way too much drinking going on in the heat. And it was organized chaos to say the least. I just said, I just want to get into my car and go home.

Jill Kummer:   And go home, yeah. That sounds like there was a whole litany of things going on in that one that each one would have been bad on their own, but together, it sounds like horrible.

Paulette Zanotti:   Well, keeping in mind that you can have great ideas, but if you don’t have the staff behind you to pull that off then it’s not going to work. And I was the only person trying to pull this off for all of them. Because they were the sweetest couple in the world. They just didn’t know. They just didn’t know.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, every now and then I think event people are pushed into that position where they need to be the voice doom. And not necessarily in a really bad way, but just keeping folks-

Paulette Zanotti:   I had to be the mediator. Because we had people that had … Imbibed a little too much that got some muscles in their voice and they were going to take each other on while we had to keep them under control with older relatives that needed to get home because they were tired. With centerpieces that were already done for the night. But it all worked out. And that’s all that mattered. I looked like a dredged rat. I’d gone through two outfits, but it was okay, because they had the day they wanted.

Jill Kummer:   It didn’t rain, did it?

Paulette Zanotti:   Oh I wished it would have. That would have, at least, cooled it down a little bit. No it did not rain. I’ve been in those experiences. It did not rain. It was brutally hot that day. And the animals never calmed down.

Jill Kummer:   I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine.

Paulette Zanotti:   It was like a petting zoo and a wedding. And a tiki party all at the same time.

Jill Kummer:   Well, it was memorable. Memorable, that’s for sure. But that’s good.

Paulette Zanotti:   Yeah. But on the nonprofit side too, they do not go without trying to have their challenges as well. And when you’re brought in at the last minute to save an event, that’s when it becomes very difficult in the nonprofit fundraising world. And I did do this for a friend who was on a golf committee to raise money for a school district. And they had been doing it for a while. But they wanted to up it a little bit. They wanted to raise more money. Of course they did.

Jill Kummer:   Makes sense.

Paulette Zanotti:   So I was brought into a very large committee. A committee of more than eight people is not a committee. It’s not a committee. And Jill, isn’t that how it always is. You get a lot of people that are so excited and generous and kindhearted that want to be on the committee to help in any way they can.

Jill Kummer:   Yes.

Paulette Zanotti:   And you start out with 20 people on a committee. And then it goes down to 10. And then it goes down to six because everybody has obligations and family responsibilities. Or now they decided that no, maybe this isn’t or me. And then you’re having meetings to plan meetings about the meeting that you were planning on having.

Jill Kummer:   That’s exactly right.

Paulette Zanotti:   And nobody can make the meeting. And so when you walk into a committee that’s been an established as an outside, everybody has their pecking order. And this committee had their pecking order with particular members that thought they very much knew what they were doing because they knew how to golf. And they knew how to dress very well for the golf outing. And we’ve always done it this way so why should we change it now?

Jill Kummer:   Oh that’s one of the worst phrases ever.

Paulette Zanotti:   We’ve always done it this way. It works. And so your ideas are ideas, Paulette, but we don’t we’re going to use them. Okay, fine. And so there are people who have certain strengths that they don’t realize they have and maybe they don’t have. And not everybody can solicit donations from corporations in the appropriate fashion.

Jill Kummer:   Absolutely.

Paulette Zanotti:   You just can’t go to [inaudible 00:28:06], knock on the door and say give me $25,000 and we’ll put your name on vinyl. And everybody can’t go out and get what you need for those basket raffles. And at the last minute, somebody’s going to come in and throw you a shirt, a hat, and a set of the golf balls and say, here use this for your basket raffle.

Jill Kummer:   Yes.

Paulette Zanotti:   So it was a situation where I was being sabotaged and didn’t know it. So all of my good deeds. The other committees that had their pecking order and their particular identities were carrying on. And that was fine. I was there to do whatever I could do which was a lot of the busy grunt work. Which is fine. But the day of the event, the coordinator had a family emergency. And he had to leave.

Jill Kummer:   Oh no.

Paulette Zanotti:   Now who’s in charge? And they all looked at each other and said who’s in charge? Well, no one’s in charge because we are doing this and we have our specific walking orders and that’s it. So guess what? I was in charge.

Jill Kummer:   Surprise.

Paulette Zanotti:   Surprise. And surprise whenever they didn’t expect all of these people to bring all of these extra items for basket raffles and they had nothing to do with them and wanted to just throw them into another basket. Well, you can’t do that.

Jill Kummer:  Yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   And then, they didn’t know what to do when people came in and said, “Well, I’m golfing for so and so as a substitute. But their foursomes are already made up but I don’t want to golf with this person.” They were just besides themselves. They just didn’t know what to do. They just were shutting down. And at one point, I just had to take over.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, I mean in that particular situation too you’re probably not going to make friends as you’re trying to navigate this crisis because people are coming in who have no idea that all this drama’s actually going on. So when they get there, it’s like well why is this running like this?

Paulette Zanotti:   And my … Again, another one of my isms is that if it’s going very smoothly on the inside, you know it’s chaos behind the scenes.

Jill Kummer:   Yes.

Paulette Zanotti:   And there’s always chaos behind the scenes in order to make it look very smooth on the outside so that was my goal. I was going to run around and do whatever I needed to do as chaotic as it was to save this event for all of them. No, I’m not a savior. Let’s just get through it.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   And then it rained.

Jill Kummer:   Because, of course.

Paulette Zanotti:   Of course, on the golf course, it rained. And I had to explain to them that yes, you do golf in the rain unless it’s so bad that the golf pro says we’re calling it. So they will golf in the rain because you just paid for steak dinners and you just paid for everything else. And so we golfed in the rain in the cold. It was an event that I said to my friend, “Thanks for asking me. But I think I’ll pass on it the next time.”

Jill Kummer:   Please don’t allow me to have that much fun ever again.

Paulette Zanotti:   Please do not allow me to have that much fun ever again. And I’m ostracized for trying to save your event, yeah.

Jill Kummer:   Oh my gosh. Oh that’s funny. But looking back on it, it’s probably a little easier to deal with. But at the moment, you were probably not a happy girl.

Paulette Zanotti:   At the moment, I was concerned. I was frustrated. I was irritated. But then I was trying to think of all the different ways that I could bond with these individuals to say let’s be a team and let’s go through this. Because our coordinator had a family emergency. He’s not going to be here. If he’s here for dinner, we’re lucky, so somebody figure out who’s going to emcee the dinner that evening because it’s not going to be me.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   So that was my thing. I was just … As an event planner for a nonprofit. For a profit. For whatever. You’re always thinking about how can I make this the best for them? Not for me, but for them.

Jill Kummer:   But for them.

Paulette Zanotti:   But for them. And it’s a challenge in these days because as I say, you can throw a dead cat and hit 10 fundraisers on any given day for a nonprofit. And to come up with creative ways of doing new fundraisers … I mean in these times, we’ve gone to doing things online.

Jill Kummer:   Absolutely.

Paulette Zanotti:   And that is what people have gone to, please donate to my favorite charity on my birthday. And though that works, it still does not replace that human interaction and that relationship building.

Jill Kummer:   That’s right.

Paulette Zanotti:   Which brings me to the point of how are we navigating these waters right now? Because quite frankly, I have four proms that were scheduled for this year. They’re done. There’s next year. But we’ve lost that income for this year. And we’ll lose it for next year because we’ll carry it over. I’ve had trade shows that have said, we can’t do this. We’re from the east coast. We can’t bring people from all of these states in. One of our biggest clients has 1000 people here every year for a memorial luncheon. There’s no way.

Jill Kummer:  There’s no way.

Paulette Zanotti:   They can justify having 1000 people together. So we’re in new, unchartered territories right now with putting on our website, please call us. We will be … We’re not closed in the sense of we’re not shutting down. We’re not [inaudible 00:33:32]. We’re following all the standards, but please call us for a date. For your weddings, let’s talk about a Friday or a Sunday. Let’s talk about some alternative ideas for what we can do for your event.

Jill Kummer:   Are you starting to see events stack up in the fall where you have-

Paulette Zanotti:   I will tell you, Jill, that when we finally get the go to do events, I’m going to get a cot and put a cot in my office. Because I am totally slammed.

Jill Kummer:   That’s what … Actually, that’s a really good thing to a certain extent. I’m hearing that from other people as well so that’s good.

Paulette Zanotti:   To a certain extent.

Jill Kummer:   The thing that concerns me especially with the nonprofits is as those events stack up, their donors, their guests are going to be put in a position to where they need to choose and that’s a little bit on the unnerving side.

Paulette Zanotti:   The unnerving side is for the nonprofits that have planned these galas and fundraisers. They’re annual galas and they’re annual fundraisers for the fall and early winter that they really depend on. Because now, I really think people are going to be very much questioning do I want to go or don’t I want to go? Am I in the financial position where I can just say here’s my money for my ticket and don’t worry about it.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   Virtual fundraisers are okay but it still is a challenge.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, it’s not the same thing.

Paulette Zanotti:   It’s not the same thing. So we’re real concerned about that. I’m not concerned about my other events. Like the weddings will go on. But I’m struggling with those because they’re struggling. When you have 250 people invited to your wedding, what are you going to do? I had a mother that was struggling … Oh, she must have called me three times a day for three weeks about changing the date. And I tried to assure her, her date was okay, but she wasn’t assured. So she kicked it out another month. But is her caterer available? Is her ceremony site available? We’re dealing with those things as well as the nonprofits that are saying I don’t think we can afford to have that event now because we’ve had to lay off staff. Now how can we have this gala and this celebration when we’ve just laid of 20% of our staff?

Jill Kummer:   Exactly.

Paulette Zanotti:   So they’re struggling with that as well. So what we were trying to do is offer them anything that we can even if it’s a small discount if we can. If we need to. If they’re one of our regular clients. We’re offering them weekdays. Offering them things to try to think out of the box that they can do that we can help them with.

Jill Kummer:   Okay.

Paulette Zanotti:   Because this has taken a huge hit on the hospitality industry.

Jill Kummer:   Yes, and it’s really scary. I’m worried that people won’t be coming back.

Paulette Zanotti:   I’m afraid of that too. I mean one of our big restaurant groups in Pittsburgh laid off 900 folks. And I’m not sure that they’re going to be able to maintain taking back all 900 folks. But for nonprofits, it’s just they now have to begin to start thinking out of the box with how they do things.

Jill Kummer:   Exactly.

Paulette Zanotti:   Do they have virtual auctions? Do they have online auctions? Do they have online parties? I mean Zoom has been overloaded with people just trying to say can we stay connected in some way. And maybe that’ll catch on in the meantime. But I don’t foresee having big fundraisers for nonprofits of 300 and 400 people for quite some time.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, I don’t see that any time soon. And people are, I think, getting fatigued with doing Zoom and all those types of things. So that’s one of those things too. And a nonprofit’s in a position where they need to keep in touch with everybody and they can’t be pitching for money every time they get in touch with someone.

Paulette Zanotti:   And all the Go Fund me accounts. And all the reaching out to media, I mean that’s fabulous and that’s great. But at some point, that’s going to get saturated as well.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   Because you can only go to the well so many times to ask.

Jill Kummer:   That’s right.

Paulette Zanotti:  And writing proposals and writing grants is only going to go so far as well.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah. Now in your facility, are you looking at doing any social distancing and such when you seat people. Instead of tables of eight, they’re now tables of six, things like that?

Paulette Zanotti:   I have been giving serious consideration to that because the way that we currently have it is we have tables of eight, tables of 10. I’m currently thinking about using those tables of 10 and putting six people at them.

Jill Kummer:   Yes.

Paulette Zanotti:   As opposed to 10 people at them.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   Yes, we are going to definitely be doing that. Instead of putting 12 tables on my lower tier, I might end up putting six tables on my lower tier. Just in order to maintain some sense of safety and security for people. And we certainly very much have disinfected and we clean.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, absolutely.

Paulette Zanotti:   But nonetheless, you can only do so much of that. So we will be making adjustments to that. We’re not going to have people congregating like they once did with 650 people in here. That’s just not going to happen.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, I do think going forward, it’s going to be a very different environment for larger events. And there may not be as many large events at all. Even until like the middle of next year which is really-

Paulette Zanotti:   And I’ve suggested to some people, instead of having your larger event, maybe break it up into two events. Maybe break it up into three events over the year. And have phase one, two and three or whatever. Just break it up over a period of time so that you can still get that same result, but you’ve given the people the opportunity now instead of one day. Now you’ve got three days to choose from.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, I think too will make people actually a lot more comfortable.

Paulette Zanotti:   Right.

Jill Kummer:   They don’t want to necessarily be in a group. And that’s absolutely understandable.

Paulette Zanotti:   So if you have 200 people in our ballroom that holds 800 people, you’re going to feel a whole lot more comfortable than having a holiday party for 400 of your people in the ballroom. So maybe you break your fundraiser up and you have a couple of them, the same one, but repeated so you’re saving money. You’re not reinventing the wheel with each fundraiser. It’s the same fundraiser with different times and dates.

Jill Kummer:   I think that makes perfect sense. If nothing else, I think it gives you the opportunity to reach more people.

Paulette Zanotti:   Well, it does.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, they may not be able to do a Saturday event but they could do one on a Monday.

Paulette Zanotti:   Exactly. And I foresee that happening. That was just a thought that I just had now. Bing. That somebody break up that gala into portions. And then if you can’t hit the one that you wanted to, maybe you can hit the next one so that you’re not losing your audience or your base.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah.

Paulette Zanotti:   And people are feeling more comfortable.

Jill Kummer:   Wow, that’s good. That’s a really good idea. How could people get in touch with you?

Paulette Zanotti:   It’s very easy to get in touch with me. You just can go to the Pittsburgh Shrine Center. We are on Facebook. We have a webpage. You can download our event guide. You can download our wedding guide. You can also go to my website which is Paulette Zanotti Events and get the same information. But certainly you can go to the Pittsburgh Shrine Center. You can download everything. All of our contact information is on there. You can do a direct submission form. And because I work 24/7 and never sleep as you, I’m going to get back to you within 24 hours. 24 to 48 hours and you’re going to hear back from me.

Jill Kummer:   That’s good to know. That’s really good to know.

Paulette Zanotti:   Well, I’m very, very old school in that sense that if I have a lead, if somebody contacts me and I don’t contact them for five days, I’ve lost them.

Jill Kummer:   Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Paulette Zanotti:   If I acknowledge that I heard from them, even with hey I heard from you. I’ll call you on Wednesday at noon. That says to me, I cared enough to reach out.

Jill Kummer:   That’s true.

Paulette Zanotti:   If I personally call somebody and say I need something and I don’t hear back from them, they’re off my list.

Jill Kummer:   That makes perfect sense.

Paulette Zanotti:   I mean I try to extend myself as much as possible, even to my cell phone number. I’m not saying for the whole world, oh you can call me at any time. Though they do. I’ve had emails at 1:30 in the morning from somebody that just got engaged two hours before and wants to already start looking for venues. Or I’ve had nonprofits call me and say oh my gosh, my venue just canceled out on me. Now we know had that situation with one of our events.

Jill Kummer:   I was going to bring it up. Yeah, it was-

Paulette Zanotti:   And I took some of those and I got some of those in at a discount. We all banded together in the hospitality events industry to do that. But I’ve had people call me at eight o’clock in the morning. “Oh my gosh, the venue that I had double booked accidentally. And I need a place as soon as possible.” And I try to accommodate as much as possible. We all do.

Jill Kummer:   That’s how we all work which is a good thing. Especially in this day and age where there’s so much uncertainty going on in the industry. And we don’t know who’s going to be around in six months and it’s just awful situation.

Paulette Zanotti:   I know it is. But I try to remain very positive. There are a lot of people that say to me, “Oh you’re just being flippant or oh you’re in denial.” Well denial is my best friend of course. But I’m saying look we are warriors and we are survivors and yes, this is a horrific time. Don’t get me wrong. None of us saw this coming. And we’re working through it. But my thing is get up, get dressed and get going every day to get some sort of structure and normalcy back. And however it looks, we’re going to make it work. We’re going to make it work.

Jill Kummer:   I think we’re going to be just fine. I really do.

Paulette Zanotti:   We’re going to make it work.

Jill Kummer:   We’re in the business where being creative and being innovative and such, it has to happen.

Paulette Zanotti:   And I think more now than ever, we need to be willing to reach out to those people and say, “I have an idea. I’m not going to charge you for my idea. I have an idea. Why don’t we look at it a different way that you might not have thought of?”

Jill Kummer:   That’s very true. Very true.

Paulette Zanotti:   So we need to give back within ourselves to others to say, “No, I’m not charging $75 for the consultation. Let’s sit down and talk about how we might be able to do that.” You’ll get back three fold.

Jill Kummer:   Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Paulette, it has been wonderful chatting with you. It’s so good to catch up. It’s been a little bit and I’m grateful that we got together and sat down and talked.

Paulette Zanotti:   I am too. I’m excited. I’m excited for your website. I’m excited for everything you’re doing.

Jill Kummer:   Thank you.

Paulette Zanotti:   I appreciate you so much for everything that you’ve done over all the years. And I think that even though it can be a competitive field, I think it can also be very much a community.

Jill Kummer:   I think we very much, all of us work together. We want to see everybody do well. It benefits all of us when we do well.

Paulette Zanotti:   I certainly do. And to all of you out there, I’m here. If I can help you in any way, call me.

Jill Kummer:   I’ll make sure as well to put all the information for keeping in touch with Paulette on the website and on the video. And every time we release that, I’ll make sure that your hashtags are in there and we can make sure people come to you and see how awesome you guys are so okay?

Paulette Zanotti:   You’re the best.

Jill Kummer:   Okay, all right. Have a wonderful day. Thank you so much.

Paulette Zanotti:   Thank you. And thanks everybody else for listening, bye.

Jill Kummer:   Bye bye.

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