Photo by Christopher Mann McKay courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
I love the randomness of a conference.
Amid all the planning, particulars and minutiae that goes into the preparation of a conference like the HR Technology Conference & Exposition, which kicks off today at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, is the totally unplanned randomness of bumping into someone you never expected to meet.
I arrived a day early, since I headed out West a few days before the confab to visit family and friends in San Diego. I decided to make the five-hour drive on Interstate 15, stopping along the way to meet up with a former colleague who just wrote an amazing book about his days in the newspaper business. I ventured through the Mojave Desert, past the giant Bun Boy thermometer in Baker, California (102 degrees; mild, but then again, it is early October), into Nevada at Stateline and then to Las Vegas and the Luxor hotel just before traffic got nasty.
Other than an In-N-Out Burger Double-Double in Barstow, California, I hadn’t eaten all day. So, time to forage. Not at the Luxor. I had to hit the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. The night before I left, my kids in Chicago introduced me to Melanie Pierce, a former co-worker of theirs who is now a tireless advocate of breast cancer awareness for the Keep a Breast Foundation. She told me about Holstein's, a restaurant in the Cosmopolitan with a killer beer list. Yep, had to check that out.
A 20-minute walk down the Strip and I was quaffing a Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest and munching on a plate of street tacos. I had my choice on TV: Seahawks-Redskins or Dodgers-Cardinals. Any time there’s a chance for the Dodgers to get beat, I’m there.
The woman next to me was obviously a Cardinals fan, which I appreciated. I mentioned, "It’s a great day any time the Dodgers are getting beat." She tells me she’s from St. Louis, so I pull out my business card, and a big smile comes across her face.
Pam Stevens is the senior director of public relations for Equifax. And, she knew exactly who I was. Her external PR person, Jeanne Achille, had been trying to arrange a chat between Equifax and me. I tell Pam that I like Jeanne and her company, but I probably got invites from every vendor at the conference, and then some, and I am really selective with my appointments. I’m combing sessions and the hall for potential stories, I tell her, and vendor meetings rarely produce them.
“Oh, I completely understand,” Pam says. And we start talking about health care reform — an area where Equifax has recently started working in — and about several other topics as both of us occasionally glanced up at the TV to watch the Cards close out a crucial Game 3 win.
Is there a moral to this story? If anything, it’s that the best meetings — for me, at least — seldom happen at a booth. A completely random meeting with the director of PR for Equifax took place a couple of miles from the exhibit hall and sessions, not even in the restaurants and bars of the host hotels.
And — here’s the best part — there could be a story there, too.
The conference revs up in a few hours with a keynote by author Rahaf Harfoush. The hall opens shortly after, which is where you’ll find me. Vendor meetings, you know. Hopefully they’re as productive as my random meeting with Pam.