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"It is here that you experience real and genuine partnership among our teams"

By Kelby Hicks


Account Manager, Kelby Hicks, highlights how collaboration at a congress is vital to success

Every June, 40,000 oncologists flock to the Windy City of Chicago for The Big Show. The Big One. The congress to beat all other congresses—not just in oncology, but in all therapeutic areas.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is the largest congress for our company with more than eight of our clients participating in every year. It is the one congress that stretches and challenges our planning teams like none other before it.

ASCO is the Super Bowl for our Ashfield planning teams. This industry, this congress is not for the faint-hearted. It is challenging, draining, stimulating and exciting all at the same time. From the Palmer House Hilton to the Warwick to The W Lakeshore and the Hyatt Regency —our teams were in every nook and cranny of Chicago putting in extremely long hours to make ASCO the best experience for both our clients and attendees. Kelli Ray, a Senior Project Manager from the Indy office, captured ASCO perfectly—“It is definitely a marathon”. Truer words could not have been spoken, success comes with preparation, stamina, proper pacing and the support of our “cheerleaders” back in the office and onsite.

ASCO always poses unique challenges. The city of Chicago can be hard to navigate during a city-wide congress, and nothing is ever as close as it seems. Every year it seems there is a sold-out show at Soldier Field—and this year we had to deal with traffic both Friday and Saturday nights for the Taylor Swift concert. We receive the most unusual requests from our attendees—requests that we fulfill, but some that require more effort than others. I am so grateful we have resourceful teams who can get the job done…no matter what. For example:

  • A lost Chinese passport and ID in a cab leads to one of our project executives spending several hours on the phone with the Chinese Embassy for aid.
  • Note to self: meeting planners are not doctors. We never imagined that we would be asked to write a prescription for pink eye. We may seem like we can make the impossible happen, but not in this case, unfortunately! (Solution: we did call the nearest Urgent Care and had the hotel EMT team meet the attendee in the meeting room to assess the situation.)
  • One client CEO urgently requested a “super well-done” steak for lunch, but it was outside our compliance meal limit. He happily settled for Giordano’s!

My on-site team consisted of nine people to help with our myriad of events with: over 300 ancillary meetings, a Chicago-themed reception for 250 (complete with Chicago native craft beers and street food) and 10 meetings alongside the congress. Fueled strictly by Starbucks from the basement of the Palmer House and Target-brand trail mix, we focused on what it takes to keep our 300-plus attendees happy.

It’s the people, our clients, the attendees and my wonderful colleagues, staff and friends, that makes it one of my favorite on-site experiences year after year.

ASCO is hard, it takes a village - and truthfully, it is here that you experience real and genuine partnership among our teams. I cannot tell you how many times I walked over to the Hyatt Regency Conference Center to check on meeting space, only to have my colleague and friend, Wade Johnson, (sitting outside his make-shift meeting room offering hotel directions to anyone who walked by) offer to grab me some coffee or even just a chair to sit for a minute. Then the time that I saw two other colleagues, waiting for an Uber outside McCormick Place and (knowing how long the wait would be) adding a stop to their ride so I could join. Or having our CEO, Gavin Houston, stop by our hotel just to check in on the team and make sure we were all doing okay. You can’t beat having dinner at RPM Italian—and sitting at Giuliana and Bill Rancic’s table—with both of the US offices catching up. Dinners at the Purple Pig with our favorite freelancer and staying up late—despite the early morning call time—to get a couple rounds of Catch Phrase in…these experiences are what make ASCO the definition of partnership and collaboration across Ashfield teams and offices.

congress logistics

congress logistics

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