Nicola Kastner: Event Strategist with Intention

Skift Take

Unlike many who found the events industry by happenstance, Nicola Kastner, founder of The Event Strategist, deliberately chose to enter this field, guided by a passion for creating events with clear business objectives.

Nicola Kastner was one of the rare people who went into the events industry intentionally.

“I understood early the importance of the business of events,” said Kastner. “Because at the end of the day, every single event we do, it doesn’t matter whether it’s an employee sales meeting, an incentive travel program, or a customer conference, every event is meant to drive a business result and an outcome.”

The founder of The Event Strategist, a boutique consultancy firm, she helps her clients optimize their event experiences to drive bottom-line results. 

Before creating The Event Strategist, Kastner was the global vice president of event marketing strategy for SAP, a market leader in enterprise application software.

She recently discussed the importance of data in event strategy with Skift Meetings at the Future of the Events Industry 2024 virtual summit.

Light Bulb Moment

Kastner studied hospitality at university, and when she took a course about incentive travel, a light bulb went off for her. “It was the moment when I realized that travel could impact business performance that I realized this is what I wanted to do,” she said. 

After graduating, she worked on the hotel side at a destination management company. Later, she joined Maritz, where she helped run incentive travel programs for 12 years. “I was living my dream,” she said. 

Attending a conference, Kastner took a course about event strategy that changed the course of her career. 

“That created the next trajectory of my career away from incentive travel and more into using events to drive business performance as a marketing channel,” she said.

SAP Sapphire Shines

When asked what event she has planned that she is most proud of, she says SAP Sapphire 2019 in Orlando. This SAP flagship event included 25,000 attendees, 35 workstreams, and 120 content team members alone. In total, 5,000 employees worked on it. 

“I was asked by the CMO to reinvent it, and I knew to do that, we needed to lead with content. I always say it doesn’t matter how pretty the picture frame is, it’s inside what’s inside that counts. It’s the picture. And the same with an event. Content is critical,” she said. 

In addition, the conference strategy was led by data. “Seeing your strategy come to life is always rewarding, but knowing that it was grounded in data, even more so.”

Data Geek

According to Kastner, there is not much that can’t be figured out with a pivot table. “I once had a client tell me that my passion for pivot tables was embarrassing, and I was like, I don’t care. You should learn how to use them. They’re important, “she said.

Now, with the addition of AI, her pivot tables are even more in-depth. She is leaning in to understand all the nuances of AI, which she says will change the work. 

Being so data-driven has been a differentiator in her career, she says. 

Learning From TED

Last year, Kastner applied and paid out of her own pocket to participate in the TED conference in Vancouver. “It was everything I expected and more,” she said. Before she even got onsite, she had a feeling of belonging from a WhatsApp group created for first-timers. 

“Those were the people that I spent my entire week with. Of course, I met other people as well, but those were my foundations,” she said. 

Big Difference Between the Business of Events and the Events Business

“I am thrilled that the conversation is starting to change a bit around events for driving business impact, events for purpose, the business of events as I call it, versus the events business,” she says. And those are two distinctly different things. 

She said that event professionals tend to focus on logistics, not the business of events. “And we all get grouped into logistical party planners.”

Sustainability and Business Outcomes Going to Become Intertwined

“If the business impact outweighs the environmental impact and you can put the right measures in place to offset that impact that you’ve made, then events will survive,” said Kastner. “If we can’t tell the impact story, sustainability is going to push us out of business because events are non-sustainable.”

Kastner recommends everyone look at the Net Zero Carbon Events Initiative.