A lifelong foodie with an insatiable appetite for adventure, 28 year-old New York native Kate Levenstien is passionate about creating big, bold, one-of-a-kind experiences. In 2013, she brought her background in events and PR to the world of food and drink, launching the event management agency Cannonball Productions. Today, Cannonball’s signature food and beverage festivals–from the Bacon and Beer Classic to Lions, Tigers and Brews–draw sold-out crowds across the country.
For more information, go to the website for Cannonball Productions.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I started to realize my passion for events in high school. As the team captain of my junior class Relay for Life team, I spearheaded a number of fundraising events. I remember having so much fun planning a school-wide pep rally; it was the school’s first pep rally in ten years, and I went all out. I got the sports team captains involved and convinced the faculty to let students out early to participate. What I loved about that project and about events in general is their power to bring people together, build community, and raise awareness for meaningful causes.
What did you find most appealing?
My favorite part of any process is the initial brainstorming and conceptualizing of different experiences. The impermanence of events is the most intriguing aspect to me. You have a finite amount of time to make a lasting impact and then it’s over. Poof.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
Most of my training was learned through internships and extracurriculars in college. I was always interested in the marketing field and held internships and positions with my state’s U.S. Senator (NJ), The Economist Group, Euro RSCG and The Oprah Winfrey Show. During my 4 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was on a team that managed the largest non-alcoholic student-run events in the country, which also solidified my passion for producing events. Until LivingSocial recruited me to run their Live Events division in Chicago, I didn’t know there were opportunities to produce social events! There, I learned everything from contract negotiation and ticketing to marketing and execution.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
People have been incredibly supportive and have encouraged me to continue growing Cannonball even during some of the difficult times. When I started my own company I felt overwhelmed and uncomfortable to a certain degree, so being surrounded by positive people kept me focused and energized.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
Doubt really isn’t in my vocabulary. My thinking is always what’s the worst that can happen? Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to work for a big corporation instead of running my own start-up, but that option is always going to be there. Now is the time to take the leap.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
When LivingSocial downsized and closed their events division, I found myself at a major crossroads. I was the head of the Midwest events market and absolutely loved it. The last thing I wanted was for my job to end, but the second best thing was to start my own version of it. I felt like I had nothing to lose. As sad as I was at the time, leaving LivingSocial proved to be such a rewarding long-term opportunity.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
Every event we host poses unique challenges, from coordinating with the stadium to recruiting local vendors to selling tickets in a new market. My biggest challenge, though, has been building and maintaining a strong team. No one tells you how difficult the HR part is! As a small business owner, I am constantly thinking about how to find the right talent, retain that talent, and structure the company so that it continues to grow with my team.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Networking. Whether it be the family I used to babysit for or LivingSocial’s former CEO, I have called upon contacts from all phases of my life for business advice, support, and to connect me with new partners and resources.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
We were recently hired to produce the Bacon and Beer Classic for a national organization. I was thrilled to be approached for this project; it is so validating to have people across the country notice our event and want to share it with their communities!
Any advice for others entering your profession?
I would encourage anyone interested in the event space to volunteer at as many events as possible before committing to a full-time job or project. The events world is so broad and varied; figuring out what kind of events appeal to you is really important. Is it weddings? Corporate parties? Music festivals? Before, during or after the event, try to speak with the producer and get their perspective.