Tradeshow Cake Pop CSI: My Day in the Life of an Event Planner

An account of the day I spent as an event planner

You know how people always ask “is it hard to be an event planner? Don’t you just go to parties all the time?”


We’ve talked a lot about why the life of an event planner is strenuous, but one huge reason is that you often end up doing a lot of damage control. It might be your event tech not working, speakers with cold feet, or last minute changes you have to make.

For me, the major issue was that I didn’t expect my evil doppelgänger to show up and steal all of our swag giveaway cake pops.

Let me explain.


How it Began: Choosing a Giveaway Item

It takes a lot of work to keep on top of industry trends and event tech innovations. That’s what trade shows like IMEX are for.

It’s a good opportunity to take a few days to re-familiarize yourself with vendors, peers, and industry experts. Except in the case that you’re exhibiting at IMEX, like QuickMobile was. We had a whole team working on the event.

I’m not an event planner by title, though I’ve taken on more of those tasks. But I was really excited when our lead planner asked me to source and organize one of the key giveaways for our IMEX exhibition booth: cake pops.

Blog_Cake Pop Day in the Life of Event Planner
Who knew these spherical sugar highs would end up causing so much trouble?

We wanted cake pops for a few reasons:

  • A standout/memorable giveaway
  • Could be branded
  • Help brain function
  • Colorful and would add to our booth display
  • Universally beloved (don’t lie, we know you love these adorable golf balls)

We decided to source them from a local bakery to save ourselves from having to carry 200 fragile pastries on an international flight.

So I contacted a few bakeries in Las Vegas (from my office in Vancouver), and ran a few internal polls to pick flavor and design, as you do. In short order I had organized the cake pops for delivery to the hotel where the onsite team would be staying. The pastries would arrive the day before IMEX and be ready to go.

We were geniuses—so we thought.


An Early Sign of Wrongness

IMEX started on Tuesday. Monday was a statutory holiday in Canada, so I was at home, throwing around cat puns with my sister, when I got an email from my bakery contact.

He asked me for the last name of the person receiving the cake pops, Emily.

This felt like a bad sign, so I emailed him back—twice—with her last name, her mobile phone number, and suggested that he leave the cake pops under the company name if that didn’t work.

He didn’t respond, so I assumed that everything was fine.



Things Start Going Wrong

On Tuesday morning, I came into work earlier than usual. This turned out to be a good thing, because not half an hour after I sat down at my desk, I got an email from Emily.

Subject line: Cake pops not here

I think I actually died for about ten seconds.


The Case of the Missing Cake Pops

Once I had revived myself, I checked in with Emily to make sure I could reach her by phone. Then I started calling everybody—the bakery, then the hotel, ad nauseam. A game of international telephone tag.

First I had to make sure that there wasn’t some kind of Ocean’s Eleven thing going on. Had international criminals built a facsimile of the hotel overnight, and were they now holding the cake pops for nefarious purposes?

Blog_Vegas Day in the Life of Event Planner
That movie also took place in Vegas. Coincidence?

The man on the phone (let’s call him Abe for anonymity’s sake) said he had left the cake pops with the bell desk, because the front desk didn’t take perishables. Which was reasonable.

So I called the hotel, who said they had no cake pops. This gave me some existential despair. What were we without cake pops?

Back to the bakery. Abe tells me, sounding on the verge of tears (now I was starting to feel bad) that he had the delivery slip from the day before but couldn’t read the scribbled name. Feeling like a homicide detective, I asked him to please send me a photo of the slip.

Then I hung up and folded my hands and took a moment to wonder how I had managed to lose 200 cake pops.


A Study in Coincidences

But before I could call the hotel again, Emily sent me an email saying that the cake pops had been left under a different name. Someone had picked them up already. This was horrifying because no one at our booth had seen even a crumb.

The woman at the hotel’s bell desk told me over the phone, “It was left for Grace Cheung, and we sent it up to her last night.”

“Okay, but,” I said. I struggled with the monumental task of conveying to this woman how exactly this was all wrong.

Eventually I came up with, “I am Grace Cheung. I am in Vancouver. In Canada.”

“Oh,” she said. Then we both were silent for a moment, pondering the limits of the human language.

Blog_Convo Day in the Life of Event Planner
It was a little bit awkward.

Ultimately all I could do was ask the hotel to try to call this other Grace, and let me know when they reached her. Clearly some sort of miscommunication had happened, but most pressingly, I needed to figure out where I was going to get the dozens of cake pops we needed for the show. I had already Tweeted about them, for goodness’ sake! It was iron clad!


Solving the 200 Cake Pop Problem

Luckily, the bakery had been in touch with the hotel too. When I called again, Abe assured me that they were at that very moment re-making our order for us, and it would be ready for delivery to Emily in two hours.

I was impressed. But I was also paranoid of miscommunication by now.

I asked Abe if they were going to send them to the hotel, or to the exhibition hall. We really dodged a (second) bullet because the bakery had intended to send them to the hotel, when the whole team was already locked in at the exhibition hall!

Once that was cleared up I was pretty sure that things were back on track. All that was left was to try to focus on my other work. I admit that I was nervous they would disappear into thin air, and I was watching the time obsessively, tracking the minutes until the cake pops were due to arrive. Was it feasible, I wondered, to fly down to Vegas immediately and take care of things from there?

But my and Emily’s efforts paid off over the next few hours. The cake pops arrived beautifully, intact and whole. They even helped the team make friends with some nearby booths!

The ordeal was over by 2pm. I breathed a sign of relief, and went to buy a donut to eat my feelings.

None of us ever heard from the Other Grace.


What I Learned (that Real Event Planners Probably Know)

1. Don’t let things go unsaid

It haunts me, the idea of what would have happened if I hadn’t asked where they were sending the second batch of cake pops. Sure, I knew that no one was at the hotel to receive them, but the bakery did not. It’s absolutely vital to spell things out clearly, especially when an event planner is coordinating several people over several channels.

2. Put vendors in communication—with each other

I don’t know if this is common best practice (again, I wouldn’t call myself a seasoned event planner), but looping in vendors with one another was a vital piece of clearing up the cake pop mystery. Although I gave Emily’s contact information to the bakery, it would have helped to send the hotel a quick heads up about the delivery too.

Especially when event planners are delegating to different people, it’s helpful for those people to be aware of one another, with the ability to coordinate directly if need be.

3. No harm in double checking

This one I already knew, but it bears repeating; always double check that your message got through clearly. The life of an event planner is full of risk, especially when it comes to not receiving shipments, deliveries going awry, or even arriving looking… different than expected. Don’t be afraid of saying it again, and saying it differently.

4. You can’t control everything

There were several things that I could have done differently, but ultimately I don’t believe that this was completely unavoidable. How could I have guessed that there would be another woman with my exact name staying at the same hotel on the same date the delivery was due to arrive?

Taking a few deep breaths and giving myself a break, instead of blaming myself, allowed us to solve the problem that much faster.


Mad Props for Event Planners

My one (1) day in the life of an event planner was stressful, and yet I know that it’s not even the tip of the iceberg in terms of the everyday stresses in the life of an event planner. From organizing speakers, to wrangling attendees, and venue, catering, decoration… event planners have a lot on their plates, and they don’t get nearly enough credit for what they do on a daily basis.

#eventprofs, here’s to you.


Do you have any stories about encountering low-stakes (or super high stakes!), high stress situations as a planner? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog!