9 to 5: Sarah Fortune Gill, Public Relations Coordinator in the Funeral Industry

new feature!

This week's 9 to 5 lady is one of my favorite online friends, Sarah! I always love following along on all of her traveling adventures via her blog and twitter, and now her biggest adventure (she's about to have her first baby!) is the best yet. Trust me when I say that Sarah is one of THE cutest mamas-to-bes I've ever seen. Or, stop by and say hello and see for yourself! :)

 Tell us about yourself.

I’m Sarah, but I go by my first and middle name in internet land. Raised by hippies in Memphis, Tennessee I received the middle name Fortune, hence my blog, sarahfortune.com. Now thirty years old, I live with my amazing, curly haired husband, Todd, in the college town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. I have to say, I never thought I would end up in Arkansas, but I am completely in love with my sweet little town. We’re expecting our first baby, a girl, this October, so lately my blog (and brain) has been taken over with all things tiny and pink!

For the past three years I’ve worked as the Public Relations Coordinator at a non-profit organization in the (wait for it...) funeral industry. And that’s not even the exciting part. Truth be told, I don’t work directly with death, funerals, or even the deceased. My company, which has been around for over one hundred years, administers the exam people take in order to be licensed funeral directors across the United States. In my position, I help out around the office with typical day-to-day administrative tasks, but the best part about my job is that I organize our company meetings at various hotels. We typically hold these meetings across the country and it’s my duty to find the perfect location. Now THIS is the exciting part.

Describe a typical day at work.

During a normal week, I do the 8 to 5 thing in a small office. When it comes to meeting planning, there is a ton of research that goes into selecting locations before I ever set foot on a hotel property, which I do from my cozy office in Fayetteville. I’m fortunate to love the people that I work with and that I get to wear whatever I want to my laid-back office, which is a major perk if you ask me.

But probably the number one aspect of my job is that I am given the difficult task of trying out prospective hotels to see if they would work for our meetings. Is the food good? Are the beds comfy? How are the bath products? Yeah, it can be rough. Meeting Planning is a huge industry and hotels go way out of their way to make sure that you pick their property. The memories I’ve gained from the travel I’ve done are incredible. A champagne helicopter ride over Las Vegas, dinner on the beaches of Maui, and box seats at the 2011 BCS National Championship game in Scottsdale are just a few memorable experiences I’ve had so far in my career.

I often work closely with the Convention & Visitors Bureaus of prospective cities, who send out my request for hotel proposals and help me determine what might be the best fit for my group. Occasionally though, I’m invited to attend exclusive Meeting Planner “Familiarization Trips” which are designed to show off a certain city or hotel that maybe we haven’t considered before. These trips are intense, lemme tell you. It’s usually a few days of non-stop tours of hotels, where each one literally wines and dines you. I’m talking the best food, the best drinks, the best VIP concerts (I may have watched Ludacris perform by the Palms pool in Vegas once). While it all sounds like a rather lavish ordeal (and it is), experiencing a hotel first hand truly is invaluable when it comes to making a final decision. And for every fun-filled trip I take, there is a meeting that I meticulously plan out every detail of and then make sure it all folds out according to plan. The act of carrying out the meeting is far less glamourous, full of early mornings, late nights, and aching feet from running around in heels all day. But it’s a great feeling to see an event that you’ve worked so hard on for a solid year come to life, hopefully with no major bumps along the way.

Did you always want to work in this industry? How did you get into this field? What kind of schooling or background did it entail?

Honestly, before this job I had NO idea that the meeting planning field even existed. When people ask what it is exactly, I compare it to event planning, but more for the corporate world. I have to choose the room set-up, select the food and beverage, stay within my budget, book travel, line up speakers, and then help it all unfold seamlessly. Although many Meeting Planners went to school for hospitality, my major in college was Advertising and Public Relations. While studying, I worked for myself selling vintage clothes through my online shop, Bittersweet Styles. Knowing that I didn’t want to do that forever, I took an internship right after graduation doing public relations for a local performing arts center. Once that came to an end, I literally opened the newspaper and this job jumped out at me from the classifieds. I’ve been fortunate to have an employer that has been willing to teach me the ins and outs of meeting planning, plus allow me to attend classes and conventions where I gain continuing education credits in the field. So while I knew the things I was interested in, I never had a clear idea of what exactly I wanted to do with my degree. But as with everything else in my life, it all seemed to fall right into place.

Is this what you hope to do for the rest of your life? If so, how do you see yourself growing in this career? If not, what else do you dream of doing? Where do you see yourself in 10 years, career-wise?

It’s hard to say where I’ll be in 10 years, but I would love for it to be right here where I am now. With this career, I feel settled, yet I still get to experience new things all the time. Every day I think about how fortunate I am not only to have a great job in today’s economy, but to truly enjoy what I do. With a baby along the way though, I can see myself wanting to travel a little less and focus more on what I can do for the organization here at home. Beyond all of the exciting travel, it feels really good to work for an organization that, even though most people don’t know it exists, plays an essential role in maintaining a high level of standard in the death care field. Something we’ll all unfortunately have to deal with at some point.

If you could tell your 17-year old self anything about your life today, what would you tell her? 

I definitely took the non-traditional route, so this is a tough one. I was home-schooled for my last two years of high school and then took some time off to travel, work, and live in Washington D.C. for a couple years before concentrating on college. Part of me would tell my 17-year old self to go to college immediately after high school, but if I had done that I wouldn’t be where I was today - happy and content, with tons of great memories.