Thursday, April 12, 2012
Nicole McGill - Special Events Director
Looking for a unique way to entertain clients? Want to surprise Mom and Dad on their anniversary? Or is it simply time to go for the gusto with a couple dozen of your best friends? No matter the occasion, Nicole McGill, Special Events Director, is here to help groups large and small plan an afternoon of non-stop excitement revolving around Thoroughbred racing. The University of South Florida graduate has been the track’s Special Events Director since answering a newspaper advertisement 11 years ago. McGill and assistant Denise Shaffer organize and execute events and interface with other track departments to ensure your visit is one that will be fondly remembered. In recent years, McGill has promoted Tampa Bay Downs to become a prime wedding location. She contracts the event, organizes the setup (DJ, cake delivery, photographer, florist, officiant and decorating crew), orchestrates the wedding procession and choreographs the steps to saying ‘I Do.’ Prior to arriving at Tampa Bay Downs, McGill worked 17 years for Busch Entertainment Corporation, where her late father, Rick Mank, was a purchasing manager for 25 years. McGill has two children: Amanda, 16, and Anthony, 14.
I’m a big believer that first impressions are very important. I’m proud to receive this trait from my father because he was very outgoing and always extended his hand to greet people when he met someone new. My mom, who was the head nurse in the emergency room of St. Joseph’s Hospital, is more of a laid-back, down-to-earth person who gets along with everybody, and she passed that along to me.
With Busch Gardens, I started with the operations department and moved my way up to special events, including radio remotes, film shoots, weddings, corporate events, holiday parties and private events. My responsibilities included contracting and implementing the entire event. From that experience, I knew in my heart that working in the hospitality industry would challenge me the way I wanted to be challenged.
I was a little anxious about coming into the racetrack environment, but I knew my field and felt absolutely confident I was the right person for the job. I thought I could pick up what I needed to know on the horse racing end. I’m not an expert, but I’ve learned a lot and with the strong support of my co-workers, I’ve expanded my horse racing knowledge.
My favorite part of the job at Tampa Bay Downs is working with people. Every event is different, and you never know what to expect. You have to be spontaneous and able to adapt to changes that might occur and different personalities.
In order to put together an event, it is important to meet the expectations of your guests and focus on the challenges you face every day while staying organized and structured. At Tampa Bay Downs, about 75 percent of our groups are repeat customers or spin-offs, which is wonderful because it tells us we’re helping to provide people a rich, rewarding experience they will remember for years to come.
Our daily groups range from large exhibitions to corporate retreats and everything in between. We host holiday parties, educational school events, senior outings, birthdays, tour and travel agencies, anniversary and bachelor/bachelorette parties, and weddings.
During the year, Margo Flynn, Vice President of Marketing, and I travel to trade shows and speak to different community groups to promote Tampa Bay Downs group specials. There are so many other aspects of this job besides the groups at the track – night parties, attending trade shows and wedding shows, and luncheons where I meet with vendors such as DJ’s, florists, videographers, etc. These are the kind of tools and resources I can use to help people plan their events.
Kim Harvey, Administrative Assistant, and I go to the gate every race day to greet the groups and assist them to their reserved area. Denise Shaffer helps groups in all of our venues with questions they may have during their stay. While Denise meets each group in the winner’s circle for their race presentation and photo opportunity, I handle the daily operations of scheduling, box seat sales, event reservations, financial commitment of each event and preparing for the next day’s events.
Although my title is ‘Special Events Director,’ it takes a team to put together a successful event. I work with many of our departments from admissions, food service and commissary, housekeeping, maintenance, mutuels, publicity and security to ensure the event will run smoothly down to the smallest detail. Everyone here is willing to make it happen, and it is nice to have that kind of rapport with my co-workers.
I feel it is necessary to have a positive outlook in order to work with all the different personalities because there are always special requests and last-minute details that need to be made.
This is our second season promoting Tampa Bay Downs in the Perfect Wedding Guide magazine, which is also an online service. Two other Web sites we promote are The Knot and the WeddingWire. We’ve booked eight weddings to date and have scheduled several for 2013. It is a part of our business that has really blossomed! Weddings, as well as corporate parties, are important avenues we actively pursue.
We offer a lot of different wedding packages to give couples the flexibility they need in planning. If they don’t see something they want on the dinner menu, our chefs are willing to be adaptable. And our weddings are definitely priced at a point that is affordable to all.
As the event planner, I ensure the bride, wedding party and the family have what they need from start to finish. The timing of the event is crucial, as many of the ceremonies are held in our newly renovated garden area and the reception in our Skye Terrace dining room.
I take a lot of pride in our weddings. Not only do I organize the special day, I ensure the bride and family have what they need from start to finish. Naturally, I am very happy for the couples who get married here, but I don’t get emotional during the ceremony because I want to be professional and strong for the bride.
I know it is very sentimental for the families and I just want to make sure what we do meets their expectations. But I do grow close to them during the planning and preparation, and if I see them outside of the track, I’ll stop and talk.
Both of my children, Amanda and Anthony, help me wherever possible with a lot of my events. I’ll take a lot of the projects home, and they’ll jump right in to lend a hand. I think they see how I interact with people and how I introduce myself and they know that developing strong social skills is very important.
Actually, sometimes I think they are the ones setting the example for me. Amanda is in the ROTC program at her high school and volunteers during the summer at the YMCA. Anthony, who is in middle school, is in the young Marines program and frequently volunteers at Lifepath Hospice Thrift Store.
With the kind of support I receive from them at home and from everyone here at the racetrack, I feel very blessed.