Jane Canepa is a seasoned public relations and special events professional with over 40 years of experience. She is the owner and founder of a Chicago-based company, The Eventors, Inc. Jane hails from Baraboo, Wisconsin, where she grew up as part of a 13 member professional tap dancing family. She started dancing at age 4 and became a dance instructor in her teens. Jane gained knowledge in promotions, public relations and special events from her parents, the late Tony and Alberta Canepa. Producing dance recitals, publicizing the performances and then operating her own dance school in college. Jane parlayed those learned skills into a lifetime of events and promotions. In addition to The Eventors, Jane has been an adjunct professor of Special Events & Promotions at Columbia College Chicago for over 25 years. Read our interview with the lovely Jane below…
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
Graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, I began my career in retail at Carson Pirie Scott & Co. in Chicago. After five years, beginning as a store trainee then moving into public relations and events, I became the manager of Special Events & Public Relations for the flagship State Street store and 16 branch locations. Forty years ago on February 4, 1976, I decided to leave retail and start a company with a focus of creating events to garner publicity. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs; owning and operating a business was a natural course to take for me.
Tell us about your business.
The focus of The Eventors has always been to plan, promote and publicize a special event or product. Upon creating my business, I was hired back at Carson Pirie Scott & Co. where I created events for a group of downstate division stores and a wholesale carpet division in the Chicago Merchandise Mart. Recognition came and as did more new clients. I was hired to promote a woolen goods manufacturer from Reykjavik, Iceland. Hilda of Iceland was promoted in all of the Carson’s stores in Chicagoland and in the downstate division stores. The owners of the Icelandic woolen goods company hired me to manage their North American Operations, based in Chicago and included the United States and Canada. Soon after a local bottled water company, Hinckley & Schmitt signed on and I was taking bottled water out to sporting events along the lakefront. Many events needed bottled water for participants and someone to organize and promote the actual event. As the participatory sporting industry grew, so did my business, The Eventors, Inc.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Yes, I provide “street sampling” programs at special events for Wild Garden Snack Boxes To Go – a tetra pack of hummus and snack crackers. The snack boxes were sampled to over 2,000 runners at the F3 Half Marathon and 5K run along Chicago’s lakefront on Saturday January 28, 2017. The product was also sampled at “Hustle Up the Hancock” – where participants ran up 94 stairs or 1,632 steps or half the distance of 52 floors and 816 steps of the famed John Hancock Building. Over 4,000 participants took part on Sunday, February 26, 2017 to benefit the Respiratory Health Association, where the mission is to prevent lung disease. A new client, Gioco, is a wonderfully quaint and authentic Italian Restaurant at 1312 South Wabash in Chicago. The restaurant is celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day and running a special for Linguine and Meatballs every Tuesday in the month of March (www.giocochicago.com). An “industry night” event to showcase the food and wines to local neighborhood groups and hospitality organizations is also being planned.
As a lifetime member of The Publicity Club of Chicago, I have won numerous awards. The Publicity Club is the largest organization of PR professionals in the Midwest. The Golden and Silver Trumpets are awards bestowed on members and non-members for projects, programs and campaigns that deserve recognition during a calendar year. Several campaigns and client work has recognized my work with The Eventors.
I also have been awarded the Club’s “Pub Clubber Award” for distinguished service for the organization. In 2000-2001, I served as President of the Club and orchestrated the 60th anniversary and Golden Trumpet Awards. For over ten years, I orchestrated the Golden Trumpet Awards Ceremony. The format and overall structure of the awards program first laid out by me continues to this day. The Golden Trumpet Awards event will take place on Thursday, June 1, 2017 at Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton. www.publicity.org.
Where is your business based?
Located in Chicago – 3180 N. Lake Shore Drive Apt. 23 E Chicago, IL 60657. We also have staff members in Honolulu, Hawaii and Los Angeles, California.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Networking, making connections and meeting with potential clients took up the majority of time. The key to my success was to take a complete look at the client and their needs. If I were being hired for one aspect of a project, it was smart to learn about the entire focus of the company, the event or the project and assess the immediate need. It was important to pay close attention to time, energy and effort required to make the project a success. Setting realistic expectations, adhering to timelines, budgets or lack thereof, and recognizing the overall objectives for the project were critical. One of the most important things learned along the way was is to protect a reputation and a name. Sometimes to do that, we need to say “no” to a project.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
My business has always grown by word of mouth and keeping in like-minded projects. Early on the business grew as the running race boom took off. By handling public relations and product sampling for numerous not-for-profit road races and charity walks, I was able to add more special events to my client base. I have coordinated public relations for the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge® the largest corporation participatory running race series in the world. I began with the event in 1980 and through the early days in Chicago. The event grew from 50 teams and 500 runners to over 600 teams and 20,000 runners. The event continues today and the public relations aspect of the business was brought in-house in 1991. This event was my client for over 20 years. Today I still have relationships with most of the major amateur athlete events in Chicago.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
The ability to gain a client and have a reasonable budget for services rendered has always been a challenge. The events business is one that takes quite a bit of time and often the time spent does not equal the budget. Concessions are always being made. Special Events & Public Relations go hand in hand with not-for-profits. Realizing the costs and expenses necessary and raising funds to cover those expenses requires awareness, sustainability and an understanding of the marketplace. A creative public relations campaign, the right staff members, support teams, and key volunteers are essential. There is never a shortage of not-for-profits or charity fundraisers that need a veteran events and public relations professional.
How did you overcome these challenges?
My philosophy has always been to establish a good relationship with a client. I like to say that “I am a doctor who treats all parts.” I want to know everything about the project, not just what we are being hired to do. When people hire me, they get me! I work alongside my staff and devote as much time as needed to make the project successful. Rewards can come in all ways. Often if you take on a small portion of a project and work to make it successful, you may be granted a bigger opportunity for something else that comes along. I am proud to say that many of my clients were with me for over 20 plus years and even after the relationship may have ended, we are still connected.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
A good attitude and sense of humor is always a way to get through difficult times. We certainly felt the recession a few years ago. It was hard to not take losing some business personally. Budgets were tight or nonexistent. Patience is also a virtue and sometimes that is needed. Continue to network and attend meetings, seminars and programs to keep up on trends and new industry initiatives. Jumping in to volunteer is also rewarding, especially if you find someone who can benefit from your expertise. It may lead to more visibility and a potential client.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
I pride myself in giving the best of what I can offer to a client. I always say “thank you” and keep in contact with people throughout the year. Follow-up during a project is always essential and it is important to keep the client informed of what is happening. I find all too often that all levels of management need to be kept informed of any progress and project updates. Not everyone is in the daily communication or day to day activities for a project. Meetings are tedious and everyone is busy with phone calls, emails, workloads and life. Sometimes a personal visit to a client or a phone call is welcomed. Communication is the problem in the world and certainly keeping good communication with a client is a good way to keep them satisfied. Another way I am distinguished is that I have natural red hair!
What is the best advice you have received recently?
I always give advice and I say “thank you” and I make it a point to remember someone I have met. Never assume anything is a good rule of thumb. You should learn something every day of your life!
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Take the time to do research about what you are planning to do for a proposal, a project, and or an event. You must like people if you want to be in the events business. As a publicist, I am respected by my media contacts because I have done research on what I might be pitching to them and have done research on them personally. I am always genuine and truthful and I can take a “no” if they cannot accept a pitch or cover something that I am working on. Love what you do and be passionate about it!
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
Obviously a computer! I am learning that many people like to use texting in place of an email – I am an old fashioned telephone person! Pick up the phone! Be respectful of times to talk, text and or send an email. Be aware – read newspapers, watch television news programs and listen to the radio.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
- Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, starting to use Instagram – learning about Mailchimp and a new program we are launching.
- I launched a new website last year www.eventors.us and I am weaning myself from AOL (my son is very happy about this)! He has a business called systemsrestore.com, “When you’re on your own, trust yourself. When you’re on your computer, trust Systems Restore”– they manage the behind the scenes web services.
- We just launched a monthly newsletter [access it here].
- We are launching a monthly event on the last Monday of each month: “Social Media Social Hour” a networking night to meet and greet people in person! No phones or texting! Events are from 5:30 pm–7:00 pm at Kiki’s Bistro 900 N. Franklin in Chicago www.kikisbistro.com. Kiki is one of my oldest and dearest friends and has a well-known restaurant that is famous in River North.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
In preparation for teaching, I re-read a nice little book by a public relations veteran, Bob Kornecki, “How to Thrive in the Public Relations Business – 35 Practical Tips from a 35-year veteran”. The book is a great read. Advice from a PR professional is always good to read and the book offers excellent advice and tips for my students. I also remembered how much I liked Vanity Fair – I have a summer 2016 issue that features an article about Queen Elizabeth. I am reading the entire issue and may even renew my subscription.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
Currently my staff and associates are focusing on gaining new business. We have developed a monthly newsletter with some reflections from the past and some projections for the future. Profiles of people we have worked with, current clients and former students are included. It will be a quick read and a great way to keep connected and share information. Managing databases and learning Mailchimp programs is time consuming but will be worth the effort.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
Continue delivering our newsletter and network night concepts to our network database. It is a time-consuming goal! Gathering and updating the names, emails and information is a full-time job. Next up will be learning and including this info on the other platforms: Facebook and Linkedin. Taking the time and making this a priority is the goal. Utilizing professionals who know the process has been helpful.
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