BABE #269: DEBRA BETEL - Site Director, Danny Wimmer Presents
As Site Director for Danny Wimmer Presents, Debra is in charge of designing and building event sites for the largest independent festival producer with 14 annual festivals in 13 US cities. She has her hand in all parts of an event timeline from start to finish: locating the perfect site, organizing, determining layout logistics, setting up and breaking down, etc. Debra is the reason so many DWP festivals operate effectively and efficiently, and was lucky enough to realize her dream of working in the industry from a young age. We’re thrilled to be meeting her at Welcome to Rockville this week, and catching a glimpse of this hustlin’ babe live in action.
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Current city: Los Angeles, California
Alma mater: San Diego State University
Degree: B.A., Communication
Very first job: Magen Boys Entertainment in Toronto; my first real experience in the event industry. I loved it.
Hustle: Site Director, Danny Wimmer Presents
Babe you admire and why?
My Grandma Hope is the most inspirational woman I know. She is strong, kind, hilarious and so passionate about everything she does. I admire her for always standing up for what she believes in, and having the grit to accomplish any goal she sets. It’s women like her who show the rest of us to stand up for what you believe in—it matters.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Steak, broccoli, rosemary potatoes and crème brûlée for dessert.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
Cooking! Up until about a year ago, I was number one at eating out or ordering take out. I have very recently found this love for cooking and I can’t wait to keep learning more.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Aaron Rodgers, hands down. I’m a huge Green Bay Packers fan, and it would be my dream to have a cup of coffee with Rodgers.
What’s your favorite Danny Wimmer Presents event and why?
I am so excited about Hometown Rising. I love country music, and can’t wait to see so many artists I listen to every day.
Tell us about your hustle.
My job is to design and build event sites for Danny Wimmer Presents, the largest independent festival producer with 14 annual festivals in 13 US cities. When we design our sites, there are a lot of stakeholders (internal and external) who have very specific requirements that need to be incorporated onto our site maps like sponsorships, food and beverage, production, ticketing, media, etc. We also have specific operational requirements that we need to meet to ensure the safest and best-possible experience folks can have at our events. Things like anticipating where our patrons are going to flow, making sure we have the proper number of emergency exits, placement of activations and concessions for line control and the perfect amount of restrooms. It’s my job to make sure everyone has a voice on-site and that everyone’s department specific goals line up with the overall goal of putting on an incredible and safe event. Once we have an initial site design, we get to start locking in vendors to help us build our events. I oversee site operations, so the vendors I bring in are things like tents, power, fence, bike rack, golf carts, heavy equipment, site lighting, office trailers, portos, radios, clean-up, ground protection, flooring and networking/IT. We work with the best vendors, and I love that I get to work with them on a daily basis. You build really strong relationships with folks over the years. The best part of the event industry is that you see the same people around, no matter what part of the country (or the world, for that matter) you’re in.
What does your typical workday look like?
There are two really different versions of what my day could look like: when we’re in the office and when we’re on-site. My day inside the office usually starts with reviewing my to-do checklist, from large-ticket items like hiring site crew and locking in vendors, to smaller tasks like making our radio channel cards. After I review my list, I jump right into my emails. Most of our shows are on the East Coast, so I try to get to all my vendors first, because they are usually out of the office by the time it hits 2 p.m. over here on the West Coast. After that, it’s a little bit of everything, and it’s constantly changing. My days are a mixture of meetings with other departments to go over our site maps, updating equipment orders, working on production schedules, talking to vendors, working with our partners at venues, building CADs for new and current shows, site visits, creating RFPs, reviewing orders, contracting, payments, working with stakeholders, getting everything ready for my site crew, budgets, budgets, budgets—did I say budgets? My days on-site look a lot different. The world feels centered, and everything else besides your build just melts away. It’s pretty incredible. It starts with a quiet site. I show up to a blank slate of either a green-space field or a giant parking lot and get to start marking our site, usually with hot pink paint. I take all the things we’ve drawn on our CAD and get to measure them out and place them in real life. Sometimes what we’ve designed works, and other times we show up to a big surprise like a ditch or a giant tree that’s been planted where it doesn’t belong. Once the site is marked, my site crew starts to trickle in and the deliveries begin. We always start our build with our compounds, followed by our perimeter fencing. Once that fencing goes up, it’s go time. We usually have around 20 site operations vendors show up at the same time ready to load in everything we’ve ordered and start to build our city. My crew divides and conquers, while we work together to get everything placed in the perfect spot. After a few days in, more and more folks start to show up from our office to start adding all of their layers to our city. Layer by layer our team builds something magical. Once everyone is on-site, it always makes it feel real. Seven days later, morning of doors, AC/DC’s “Let There be Rock” gets blasted through the speakers. It means doors are open and it’s time to rock and roll.
What did your hustle look like before Danny Wimmer Presents?
I knew the event industry was where I belonged from a super young age, and I haven’t left since. There’s something about having a blank slate and getting to turn it into something magical that gives you this sense of pride and accomplishment. Planning an event is so unbelievably challenging, but it’s also the most rewarding feeling. After college I worked at two event rental companies that helped me build the foundation for what would be my next 10 years of event operations. After six years in rentals, I left to work on the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles, which changed my career path. Instead of just overseeing a few of the operational vendors like tents, power, fence and portos, I was now in charge of overseeing most of the operational vendors needed to build a site. We loaded in 22 venues across Southern California, all basically at the exact same time. This job taught me so much about being an event director on-site; it was the first time I oversaw everything, and had to fix everything without the support of an entire warehouse of equipment behind me. This was another job in which I was fortunate to be surrounded by so many talented and experienced folks. The knowledge I gained alone was worth everything. The reason I’m where I am today at Danny Wimmer Presents is because of a very special vendor I worked with at the Special Olympics. It’s pretty great looking back to see how exactly you got to where you are, and I try to remember that for where I see myself going.
What’s your approach to staying organized with a job involving many moving parts?
Write it down. I learned this lesson the hard way, and fortunately my boss gave me this book to read called “Getting Things Done.” It’s changed everything. Create a to-do list you allow yourself to rely on. I have every little thing written down there, and I check it a hundred times a day. The trick is to be super clear about what the task is when you write it down. I have mine broken up into different categories like “Pants on Fire,” “Action Needed” and “CAD Updates.” Once I realized the relief it takes off your brain when you get it out and down on paper, it allowed me to think clearly again. The other really cool thing about having a list of everything you need to do, although super overwhelming at first, is that you realize you can pick and choose what tasks you want to do. Sometimes my brain isn’t in a place to work on something challenging, so I pick an easier thing to do at that moment. It is all my work that has to get done, but if something is going to be a struggle to work on in that moment, I’ll pick a new task. It helps me stay focused on one thing at a time. It’s nice to see it right in front of you, and having the ability to cherry pick what’s right for you to work on at that time is a great feeling.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I don’t think being a woman in this industry has ever slowed me down, but I do think this is a very male-dominated industry, and we (women) need to continue to help each other grow, and work together to feel empowered to lead with confidence. I’ve experienced firsthand what it feels like to go into a market and be treated differently simply because I’m a woman. The first time it happened was such a shock; it rocked my world. I got some advice from someone I look up to while it was happening, kept my head up, did what I knew how to do and at the end of the event had multiple people come up and apologize to me for how they treated me. Women are smart, quick, and know how to problem-solve under any type of condition. I’ve had some incredible women take me under their wings and teach me what it takes to be a badass in the event industry, and for that I am forever grateful. I want to make sure I am always paying it forward.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
When I first started in the event world, it was definitely more of a male-dominated industry. I don’t think that’s as true anymore. I’m surrounded by smart and talented women everywhere I look. From inside our office to vendors and site crew, the culture has changed, and I see women leaders all over our industry. I think over the last five years there has been a shift. I’m noticing a lot more women on-site when it comes to vendors, venue managers, even our own crews that we are hiring. It used to be women were the ones back at the office doing a lot more of the administration work; now I’m seeing them out in the fields. The more women there are in leadership positions, the more women we will continue to see in the event world. I think this will continue to evolve because of how badass women are. Our skill sets are perfect for events.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
No one really sees the time and effort it takes to plan and operate an event. There are so many moving pieces that really don’t stop moving until after the event is over. The event world is not black and white; it is very gray, and you have to always roll with the punches. If you’re looking for a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday type of gig, this is not the world for you. Working nights, weekends, holidays, when it’s close to event time is the norm, not the exception. We do have down times during the year (which is great), but we always have our heads in the game. You have to have the passion to be able to constantly be giving it your all.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Mindy Weiss and Hillary Harris are two women I’ve looked up to since college. They’re two badass women in the event industry, and both still kicking ass. I actually interviewed Hillary at Warner Brothers Studios when I was still in college. It is still to this day one of my favorite (and one of the scariest) things I’ve done. She had so much advice for me about how to get to where I want to go, and I remember feeling so grateful that someone like her even made the time to meet me. I made a promise to myself that day that if I was ever in that position, I would always make the time to teach. Hillary recently left Warner Brothers to start her own company and it was for the best reason ever: to put herself first. She gets to still do exactly what she loves, but now gets to balance work and life. Mindy Weiss is another woman I think so highly of. She has created her brand from the ground up, and is someone I would love to learn from. Everything she does is with such class, and she knows how to make everything sparkle.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Find your passion—that thing that makes you sparkle—and go for it with everything you have. I feel so grateful that I knew from a really young age that the event industry was where I belonged. Whatever your thing may be, make sure you put your whole heart into it.
In partnership with: Welcome to Rockville
Welcome to Rockville is an annual festival featuring some of the biggest names in rock and metal music. Hosted by our friends at Danny Wimmer Presents, the ninth annual edition of “Florida’s Biggest Rock Experience” will take place Friday, May 3 through Sunday, May 5, 2019, at Metropolitan Park in Jacksonville, Florida.