• 2018 Illinois M+E Hall of Fame

    FROM THE Summer 2018 ISSUE

    It’s not just the places and providers that make our industry great, but also the people. Here are the seven great minds we proudly celebrate as selected by the Illinois Meetings + Events Editorial Advisory Board.

Lifetime Achievement
Britt Whitfield

CEO, The Revel Group

1. ON THE REVEL GROUP’S GROWTH OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS: “We acquired a company and did five startups in 10 years. We went from one employee (me) to 300 full-time and a couple hundred parttime employees. For the last two or three years, we’ve been one of the 50 fastest-growing woman-owned or -led companies in the country as well as one of Crain Chicago Business’ 50 fastest-growing Chicago-area companies. Our clients that started with us when we were a company with a couple people have stayed with us as we’ve grown. We did the first Cubs event when the Ricketts family bought the team, and we’re still their agency.” 

2. ON WHAT MAKES THE REVEL GROUP UNIQUE: “Revel’s positioning in the market is many sister companies working together. We have the ability to sit at the same table—someone from design, someone from Limelight Catering, someone from creative services— and there’s energy and power in that. Everyone working in synergy is so important.”

3. ON GETTING FIRED FROM HER FIRST JOBS: “Technically my first job was as a babysitter, but I was fired after the first time—I fell asleep and then the kids were so bad, they poured glue all over the cars in the driveway. Next was working for my dad’s developer/ contractor friend. He didn’t fire me for sleeping on the job, but I suffered a pretty dramatic injury while scraping paint off windows that caused me to have to quit. My most successful first job was working at a deli when I was in college. I wanted to put so much meat and cheese in each sandwich that every time someone got one they’d be blown away. So I got fired for using too much meat and cheese.” 

4. ON CHOOSING TO WORK IN MEETINGS AND EVENTS: “It was the fact that I could stay awake through a whole work day that tipped me off. Then I realized I could make a whole career out of entertaining people, so that made it a pretty natural fit.” 

Best Meeting Professional

Jill Engel

Meeting and Event Planner, Deloitte

1. ON ENTERING THE WORKFORCE: “My very first job as a kid was a newspaper delivery girl. My first job out of college was working as a marketing professional for a government contractor.”

2. ON HER MEETINGS AND EVENTS AHA! MOMENT: “It’s always been something I enjoyed on the side. I’ve been the go-to person for friends and family for planning gatherings big and small. In my old role, I did some team meeting planning and dinner events. The more exposure I had to events, the more I knew this was my actual calling, so I made the career change. I couldn’t be happier. You have to love what you do, and it never really feels like work.”

3. ON HER MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: “Ultimately, at the end of the night, to see happy clients and overhear others discussing things they enjoyed during the evening is the best feeling. Getting that ‘thank you’ from those who do not say it often is pretty awesome, too.” 

4. ON HOW SHE PREPARES: “I review the event from head to toe with the team and vendors to make sure we are all on the same page at least two days prior.”

5. ON HER MOST VALUABLE SKILL: “Flexibility is everything! And being able to think quickly on the fly—you never know what might pop up at a meeting or event, but you need to be ready with a solution.” 

Best Special Event Professional 

Nicole Salerno

Director of Event Sales and Catering/Partner; Rockit Ranch

1. ON HER EARLY START IN THE INDUSTRY: “I worked for my family’s grocery store chain starting at age 11 through college. I created fruit baskets, worked at the customer service desk, made doughnuts, and helped plan festivals and in-store promotions. I also wrote ads and designed flyers. I incorporate similar types of service and creativity into my work now.” 

2. ON HER AHA! MOMENT: “I like to say I grew up with a lot of chefs. All of my grandparents cooked, and there were tons of parties throughout the years that resembled big catered events by today’s standards. My mom took her themed menus and decorating to another level, and I was inspired watching her magically pull everything together. She made it look easy. We know better, of course.” 

3. ON HER FAVORITE EVENT MOMENTS: “I got to attend the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, which was so exciting. I have planned several celebrity events and birthdays (Scottie Pippen, Jeremy Roenick, Kerry Wood). I also entertained the cast and crew of Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. at a press event. Best of all, it feels good to have planned so many successful fundraisers benefiting many charities.”

4. ON PREPARING FOR A BIG PITCH: “In every pitch I’m preparing, my secret weapon is photos. I’m the queen of photos. I take pictures of everything we do and everything we can offer. If I don’t have a photo of the actual item, I will take one and manipulate it to make sure a customer can visualize what I’m offering them.” 

5. ON WHAT’S NEXT: “We opened our second Sunda New Asian restaurant in Nashville this spring in the Gulch, so I am finalizing the group dining packages there. Also, our first venue, Rockit Bar & Grill on Hubbard Street, is getting some fantastic enhancements with new lighting, technology, pool tables, and 12 giant TVs for logo projections and branding. We’re ready to party!” 

Best Supplier

Phil Cooper

Senior Designer; Kehoe Designs

1. ON HIS FIRST JOB: “I started working when I was 14 at restaurants in my hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan, a big tourist town known for its German hospitality. Those customer service skills that I learned early on brought me the most success. It’s funny because I worked at the world’s largest Christmas store in Frankenmuth when I was a kid, and now one of my favorite projects is decorating The Peninsula Hotel for Christmas.” 

2. ON WHAT HE ACTUALLY DOES: “When I’m working with a client, I like for them to think of me as their editor. I can help pick and choose what items work together and figure out the best way to incorporate them into a cohesive design. I also consider myself the eyes and ears for my clients. I feel the service I can provide is always looking out for them.” 

3. ON TRUSTING HIS INSTINCTS: “I admit I make mistakes, but I feel like I always learn from them. Even when a mistake means I have an initial gut feeling while something’s happening, and I don’t act on it, and it’s wrong. I realize I need to always trust my gut instincts. For the most part, if I have a concern, it is valid, and I can’t ignore it and hope for the best.” 

4. ON HIS FAVORITE WAY TO RELAX: “I have my own personal creative outlet: oil painting. That is my little moment of Zen where I can focus on what’s in front of me and not worry about anything else.” 

5. ON WHAT’S NEXT: “In the last few years at Kehoe, my business has changed a little bit. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to start doing fewer events but much larger events that will put me not just in Chicago but traveling more across the country.” 

Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional

Cheryl Sefton

Event Sales; TopGolf

1. ON DISCOVERING HER CAREER PATH: “I was going to college for communications and worked full time in a restaurant. I loved the day-to-day grind. I enjoyed seeing people happy, eating good food, sipping good drinks and having good conversation.” 

2. ON BUILDING PERSONAL CONNECTIONS: “I started at Topgolf as an administrator in the sales office and then was the membership director for a few years. Even now, three years after I changed to a sales role, I still get emails from executive members. I recently had an executive member who moved out of state stop in to just say ‘hi.’” 

3. ON WHY TOPGOLF IS SO GREAT: “Sometimes Topgolf can be a tough sell because not everyone is a golfer. When I came to Topgolf for a networking event I thought, 'I don’t golf,' but you can have a cocktail and some good appetizers and have a good time. I had my wedding reception here and now I work here.” \

4. ON HER FAVORITE WAY TO RELAX: “It’s sharing my day with my two teenagers when I head home and embracing the good work/life balance I have. That’s always a wonderful thing, to share the day with my kids. We’ve been chatting about Topgolf for almost six years.“ 

5. ON HER FUTURE PLANS: “I would like to get into a director of sales role, which may mean moving out of state. Topgolf is branching out nationally, and it may be possible to work for the home office in Dallas at the national level.”

Up-and-Coming Special Event Professional

Mallory Powell

Owner and Director of Planning; Chi Chic Weddings & Events

1. ON GETTING INTO THE INDUSTRY: “I went to college to be a journalist. After college I worked in advertising for almost four years in the agency world. I liked it, but I never felt motivated by it. In 2012, my husband and I got engaged. I realized there was quite a bit of business happening in the Chicago wedding market, and that weddings and special events would give me the emotional payoff I was looking for. Luckily, in the midst of planning my own wedding, I was connected through our venue to my first event industry job with Oliveaire Artisan Events & Meetings [now Abricoe Designs], where I worked for a year and a half before starting my own brand.” 

2. ON STARTING HER OWN COMPANY: “I was looking for a way to start a boutique company where clients felt they had individualized attention, like they were our only clients. We try to embody that with every client that we touch.” 

3. ON CHI CHIC’S FIRST THREE YEARS: “When I started I was a one-person team handling all of our events. Now we have a core team of five people. I have to wear a lot of hats, but in a very literal capacity I am first and foremost an event planner.” 

4. ON WHY SHE LOVES THE INDUSTRY: “My drive to get into events was based on wanting personal interaction with clients and to feel like I was making an impact on people’s lives.”

5. ON WHAT’S NEXT: "We’re focused to make sure that no matter who you are working with, you feel the presence of the whole team behind you. As we start to look at 2019, we are always keeping top of mind what other services we’d like to offer. Someday I’d love to run a venue. That’s something in our 10- or 20-year goals.” 

Up-and-Coming Supplier

Keri Miller

Account Manager; Entertainment Cruises

1. ON HER FIRST JOB: “I worked for Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria in Indianapolis when I was 15. It was known for having the biggest cafeteria line in the world. I served beverages, cut pies and cakes, and served salads and vegetables.” 

2. ON WHAT SHE’S LEARNED: “You have to be able to think on your feet and adapt, adjust and communicate when things are tricky or if something changes so that everyone is comfortable.” 

3. ON A MEMORABLE EVENT: “One of my favorite corporate events to work on was Subway’s National Convention. For the opening event, we were challenged with creating an interactive environment for 5,000 people. It was family friendly, so it was important to have experiences for all ages. Essentially we created  pavilions with different themes, and each one had prominent décor elements and interactive experiences. I learned a lot about the use of space, creating event experiences for large guest counts and elements that make the most impact.”  

4. ON PREPPING FOR A NEW CLIENT PITCH: “Understand as much as you can about the client and anticipate as much as you can. Connections are also key. I laugh a lot, and my laugh is really loud and noticeable. It’s another way I show my personality and make things personable.” 

5. ON HER FAVORITE WAY TO RELAX POST-EVENT: “To laugh and have a good time with the people you’re working with, saying, ‘Yeah! We did it!’ In this industry, it’s such a team effort in how you interact with the caterer or the event planner. We’re able to celebrate together.” 

Find out who our readers have chosen as the winners and runners-up of the Illinois Meetings + Events Best of 2019 readers’ choice awards.


Best AudioVisual Provider



Best Catering Company (On- or Off-site) 

AND THE WINNER IS: Blue Plate Catering

» Food for Thought
» Tasty Catering

Best Brewery/Winery/Distillery


Click here to view the photos from the night! Feel free to tag yourself and share on social media! #BestofIL2018