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Maybe it Runs in the Family…

Posted on: March 29, 2010

Melissa McCurry is the events coordinator for Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah, Ga. She has a degree in English Communications from Armstrong Atlantic State University and has worked at Uncle Bubba’s since its opening in 2005. Uncle Bubba’s is owned by celebrity chef, Paula Deen and her brother Earl Hiers (a.k.a.“Uncle Bubba”). Melissa is my cousin so I was able to schedule an interview with her pretty easily.

 Melissa said that her education prepared her “a little” for her career. Her degree is in English Communications which is not a typical degree choice for an events coordinator but she also didn’t plan on being an event planner. Melissa originally wanted to be a writer but she quickly realized that she “could not survive off of eating peanuts.” She went back to school for her Master’s in early childhood education, but then realized that teachers have to survive on peanuts as well. She was offered a job as a manager of Uncle Bubba’s and a couple of years later she was given the job of events coordinator for the restaurant. “I love planning events,” she said, “but no one taught me anything. This position didn’t exist before me so I had to learn my own way.”  She did say, however, that her education taught her how to write persuasively which helps her to reach more clients. She also said that the marketing aspect of her education helped her to market herself into getting a job and eventually a brand new position.

 Melissa actually has a fairly regular weekly schedule for an events coordinator. She typically works from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, unless she has an event. She spends most days answering phones and emails and making contact with new companies and tour groups. She sets up parties and creates menus to meet each client’s specific needs and ensures that they are satisfied with their experience. On event days she sets up everything necessary for the event, decorates, and speaks to the host to make sure that the menus and everything else are executed properly.

 The event that Melissa is most proud of actually came about because of a terrible disaster. On February 7, 2008 a huge explosion and fire occurred at the Imperial Sugar Refinery in Savannah. Fourteen people were killed and 38 others were injured. After the plant was rebuilt, the company held a few reopening celebrations and Melissa was lucky enough to have the opportunity to plan one of the events. The CEO of the company came from Texas to host the event and 70 people attended. This was Melissa’s first in-house event for a large, multi-million dollar company. “It was gorgeous,” she said, “we had gifts for each of the guests at their place setting and a note from Paula Deen and [her sons, Jamie and Bobby Deen].” A professional photographer was brought in to photograph the event and the pictures were used by various local news outlets. The event was a great success and “the CEO, CFO, and other important initials were there and they were so pleased,” she said.

To stay current in her career, Melissa stays very involved with organizations in the community. When trying to raise money for events, she talks to different non-profit organizations to get new ideas for fundraising and obtaining donations. She’s on many Chatham County school boards and she created the “Uncle Bubba’s School Night Out” which has helped many public schools in Savannah raise thousands of dollars. She’s also involved with the Humane Society and solicits Uncle Bubba’s customers for donations for the Humane Society. “By being involved in our community and helping with fundraisers, the restaurant gets to put its name out there and let the city see that we are not just Paula Deen’s restaurant,” she said.

When asked what she wished she would have known before starting her career, Melissa said she wishes she’d known that event planning is not a steady career. “Opportunities do not just fall into your lap,” she said, “If you are not willing to work for leads then you will not have many events to coordinate. Motivation is definitely a part of the paycheck.” I thought that this was excellent advice and something that all recent college grads should be aware of. It’s a reminder that a college degree alone does not equal a career.

I was surprised to find out just how important writing is to an event planner. Melissa writes all of the contracts for every aspect of her events. She has to meticulously check every email, fax, contract, etc. for errors because even a small typo could result in a disaster. She also writes the introductions to her packages and letters to different organizations in order to get to know them and to introduce herself as well. Melissa explained that “if CEO’s/volunteers/leaders are not interested in what you are writing at first then they won’t continue reading about what you are trying to offer.”

Melissa gave three tips for those of us who are preparing to start our careers. First she encourages us to never give up. “Keep putting your name out there and people will eventually listen and want your services.” Second, she recommends starting small. “Don’t think you can get big companies right out of the gate. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your Rolodex be large at first.” Finally, Melissa said that it is important to always have a backup plan. “If a group sees that you are panicking then they will panic,” she said, “things will go wrong but you have to fix them quickly and not let the whole event go down as a failure.”

After interviewing Melissa I am definitely more likely to want a career in the PR industry. Melissa loves planning events and she has the perfect personality for it. She’s very people-oriented and pays great attention to detail, which I believe are two of the most important skills for an events coordinator to have. I’m not sure yet if event planning is the aspect of PR that I want to go into, but Melissa’s passion for it does make it seem more enticing. Whatever I end up doing in my career, I hope that I have just a quarter of the drive, work ethic and wisdom that Melissa has so early in her career. Who knows? Maybe it runs in the family.

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9 Responses to "Maybe it Runs in the Family…"

I think it’s probably best that Melissa had to learn her own way of doing things. Sometimes the best way to learn how to do anything is by doing it yourself and experiencing what does and does not work. I’m sure it might have been a little easier if she’d had prior experience whether academic or past work experience, but there’s nothing like experiencing things first hand.

I was surprised to read that event planning isn’t a steady career. I would expect that if you are hired to be an event planner, then the company that hires you would find tasks to keep you busy. After all, that is what they hired you for, isn’t it?

[…] Maybe it Runs in the Family… by Allison […]

I really enjoyed this article! I love Paula Deen and I have ate at her restaurant and Uncle Bubba’s multiple times. I had no idea that there was an actual position for event coordinating! I would love to do that. I think it is interesting how so many people work in jobs that were not necessarily their major in college. I am not sure if i will work directly in public relations, but event planning or sports marketing are definitely things I am interested in. It seems like your cousin really likes her job and has enjoyed much success. Best of luck to her and to you!

[…] “Maybe it Runs in the Family..” by Allison […]

Allison, your blogs are always a delight! I love the idea of being an events coordinator. That is a dream profession of mine! Although she did not anticipate the route her career took, it is interesting to know that she was still able to utilize a few things she was taught so that she could market herself and write persuasively to attract more clients. We can always find a way to use little things that can benefit us. It seems as though it has worked out great for her! Sounds like a fun time!

I think that your interview with you cousin offered good insight of what it takes to coordinate events. I love the fact that your cousin says motivation is part of the pay check, I think it’s important that people enjoy what they do. I also admire the amount your cousin supports local charities and hopes to establish a name for the restaurant other than Paula Deen’s. I learned that through my interview that background education, while it helps, may not teach the important lessons people need to get through in a career. I hope that your cousin finds much joy, and succeeds in her hard work for her restaurant.

I always want to try Uncle Bubba’s when I’m in Savannah, but somehow River Street grabs a hold of me and won’t let go. Sounds like a great place though and it seems like great experience for your cousin Melissa. I like her tips she gives to people looking for jobs. “Don’t think you can get big companies right out of the gate. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your Rolodex be large at first.” That’s what I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who have careers. I guess college students just build up this idea that they have to land a huge job right out of college. It’s not that common I hear. Wouldn’t it be nice though?

I really really enjoyed reading this post, especially since Uncle Bubba’s is one of my FAVORITE places to eat! I am even taking the family there after graduation in a couple of weeks. I think it is good that she shared that opportunities do not fall into your lap, that you have to be willing to work to be successful. I feel like a lot of students do not realize this because so many of us have had opportunities come knocking on our door and not the other way around. Great advice from your cousin!

[…] 22.Allison Allmond, Maybe it runs in the family […]

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