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Margaret Launzel-Pennes and her husband of 40 years David Pennes

Not Going Down with the Ship

When the pandemic sank one planning firm, Changemaker Margaret Launzel-Pennes got a new one afloat with staff and projects in less than two weeks.

MeetingsNet’s 2021 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2021 Changemakers list here.

Margaret Launzel-Pennes 

CEO, Pop Experiential

For boldly launching an events company at the start of the pandemic less than two weeks after her employer shut down

When a big in-person meeting canceled two days before it was supposed to begin in early March 2020, the financial consequences were significant. All parties involved wanted their deposits back, while the host property sought restitution. All of this was too much for the owner of the planning agency, who simply closed down the company on March 20. That put the agency’s CEO, Margaret Launzel-Pennes, out of work—but not for long.

“There was no warning, no severance, nothing,” she recalls. “But a couple of us said, ‘Well, we know many of our clients still need to do some type of event,’ and I had done a few virtual events before with the Virtual Edge Institute. So I reached out to a few colleagues I knew in the virtual space to work with us, and by April 1 we had a new company with a logo, a website, and sales materials.” 

Rising from the ashes, the new entity named Total Brand Experience started landing virtual programs at a frenzied pace. “If I were a new agency and called on any of these companies, they’d never trust us,” she notes. “But we started to get recommended between people who knew and trusted one of us on staff; they were looking for flexible, nimble, and cost-effective. And we recruited other people we knew who needed work and said, ‘We’re going to train you on the virtual platforms as quickly as we can.’ We didn’t know what we didn’t know, and we were charging prices with almost no clue if they were fair for how much work we were doing.”

The company executed its first virtual event in July 2020, and has handled at least 70 more since then—sales meetings, awards programs, association conferences, and more. Further, “many clients are moving back to in-person settings, so now we’re involved in setting up hybrid formats.” In June 2021, Launzel-Pennes left her stake in Total Brand Experience to another partner, Jenna Linnekens, and formed Pop Experential, maintaining some clients while using her momentum to find new ones too.

To stay nimble, Pop Experiential is “a collection of about 25 people who work on a project basis,” Launzel-Pennes says. “We started out collaborating with virtual-event experts and content editors, but now our partners include creative producers and set designers too.”

“Our clients are talking about what they want to do in 2022 and 2023, so we’re blessed and we’re grateful,” she adds. “The pandemic brought an opportunity to do things in a different and interesting way, and the events industry will be better because it had to evolve through the pandemic.” 

Advice for Handling Change

“Allow yourself to see things differently than you ever have before. There’s nothing wrong with change; you just have to be bold and confident enough to know you’re going to come out fine on the other end. Use your experience to push into new directions rather than falling back on it and saying, ‘This is the way we know how to do things.’”

Spare Time 

“I love to see my two grandchildren, and I enjoy restoring old stuff that people have discarded. I’m the person you see loading up an old desk that someone put at the curb.”

View the full list of 2021 Changemakers


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