Valerie Bihet has more than 20 years of experience in the management, design, and production of special events that communicate and achieve her client’s objectives. Her event experience spans high-profile social occasions, non-profit fundraisers, corporate meetings, conferences, product launches, and incentive trips.
Originally from Paris, France, Bihet got her start in events working as the Public Relations and Special Events Manager at Disneyland Paris and Public Relations Director at Club Med Paris. In those roles, she produced and managed the events teams for many of the two companies’ largest events including Disney’s 5th Anniversary Celebration, Club Med’s 50th Anniversary and The Race, and the world-renowned Tour de France.
While at Club Med, the opportunity in the North American offices presented itself and Bihet transferred to the Miami office in 2000 as the Communication, Public Relations, and Partnership Director. During her four years in that role, she produced events and managed large production teams for the brand’s high profile events as well as being responsible for all marketing and press events.
In 2004 Bihet founded VIBE, an event design and destination management company, in Miami, Florida. Since then, she has grown the company to eight employees and produced more than 1,100 events throughout the United States, Europe, Mexico, East Asia, and South America.
Her clientele includes global brands like Dior, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, LVMH, Coty, L’Oréal, Barclays, Banco Santander, McCain, Merck, Thea Pharmaceuticals, and many more.
Valerie Bihet received her Master’s degree in Marketing and Business Administration from the renowned Sorbonne University, Paris.
How long has your company been producing events? What is your main focus?
In 2020 we will celebrate 15 years in business. We specialize in working with luxury brands to bring their marketing & sales goals to life through events. From choosing the best city to host to the venue(s), to scheduling their program and designing the tabletops – we cover it all to make the best overall experience that will engage guests and keep it sticky in their minds after they have gone back to work.
What do you enjoy most about your role in corporate event planning?
I really love the creativity required in putting together the right program for the client I am working with at that time. Every client is different and their goals are different so you have to find the right venue, the right hotel and design everything to be aligned with the objective of their event.
Once those pieces are in place, then we must create the story. Everything is about storytelling right now. Marketing companies are doing this a lot now, though I’m glad to say it’s something we’ve been doing since I started the company back in 2004. Every detail in an event has to connect to the overall story you are trying to tell the guest.
For example, we recently did an event with a company in the food & beverage industry that needed a huge transformation for their event and business overall. We chose to host the event in downtown LA because not only is that area very food-centric, but it’s also going through a transformation of its own. It fit perfectly.
How do you keep up with the constant change in the industry?
Education is so important to every event planner. I recommend anyone allocate 20% of their time in a week to be dedicated to education. Read magazines, watch TV shows & news, all of this. That’s where you take your inspiration from. Depending on if you are more specialized in one area over another, you need to find the information channel for you to be educated and inspired in that realm.
What do I mean? Because I do destination management I watch a lot of shows from around the world on destinations. I actually read the airline magazines when I fly because they are all about destinations and travel – precisely what I need to know about. When I read them, I take notes and pictures and then after when I work on the destination for a program, I go back to those notes and that’s how I find my venue and my other vendor partners.
Since I am in design and building and staging, I read a lot of architecture too. They give you the trend of what is coming about and we can reformat that for events or trade shows.
I also read food magazines for my gala dinners because in those instances I am helping to design the catering experience and how the plate and the table are set up. Once I see what’s trending or what restaurants are doing, I can then bring those ideas to the catering company or F&B staff at the venue I am working with to have them make it.
I have a section in my email inbox labeled “reading of the month” and each time I receive an article or newsletter, I put it in there. Then once or twice a month I block time on my calendar for 1-2 hours to go through and read it all.
Do you have any advice for a company having a hard time choosing a theme? Is a theme necessary?
If you want to draw attention and have them remember your event and why you hosted it, whether employees or clients, you need to tell a story and every story has a title. That title is your theme.
Everything should start with brainstorming sessions and see what words come up over and over as you talk about the company and its goals. For example, “ignite” has been a popular one for sales meetings in the past and “we are one” for other conferences where companies want to really unite their teams together.
If you have a message to pass I think it’s so important. You don’t do a convention just to do it. Why are you hosting your meeting? That purpose, whatever it is, always comes down to making sure people remember WHY they were there and, when done right, you can surf on the wave of that event for the next six months or a year.
What do you see as the corporate event industry’s greatest challenge, currently?
I think in the early days of events becoming an industry to its own, practitioners weren’t as professional or educated (we didn’t have the event degrees and certifications there are now) as they really needed to be and just threw numbers out there for pricing, which often led to 40-45% margins in their business.
That triggered clients to become more educated on how they are being charged and why, which in turn has them asking more questions now to ensure they understand before they pull the trigger, which can lead to more meetings and longer sales processes.
That being said, I’ve always run my business on a few simple principles that I think will overcome this if others adopted them too: Stay true to yourself. Stay honest. Be transparent.
I hate to see when people want to do everything. We have marketing agencies who are trying to become event planners. You have catering companies trying to plan events. We need to stay in our own playground and do what we are truly good at VERY well. Then hire the other experts in their various fields to contribute where THEY do something really well.
What is your favorite city for events and why?
While I wouldn’t say I have a favorite city per se, I have cities where I have more personal connections with vendors than in other cities. Choosing which city to take my clients to really starts with which city is the right one for the objective of their event, like the LA example I gave earlier, then I either use connections I have or work to make new ones.
Sometimes the objective of an event fits with the cities I’ve been to a lot, like San Francisco or Chicago, and other times I watch a TV show or read a magazine that shows a city that has a lot of interest to me. Last year I was really attracted to Austin and we ended up hosting four programs there that the clients all loved.