Step Up Draws Former White House Staffer

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Chicago women are known for their love of wine, design and fashion. Not necessarily in that order. On Wednesday, May 29, Chicago women will be dazzled by Nicole Miller Designs as they also learn more about Step Up Women’s Network.

“What better way to network with like-minded women,” says Alison Ray, co-founder of Women.Wine.Wear, a luxury event series created for women by women. “We are excited to partner with Nicole Miller and The Dana Hotel to raise awareness and the resources to sponsor 10 girls for Step Up Women’s Network mentoring program.”

Step Up Women’s Network is a non-profit membership organization dedicated connecting and advancing women and girls. The event will be held at the Vertigo Sky Lounge (at The Dana Hotel & Spa, 2 West Erie Street) and will feature a fashion show emceed by Laura Schwartz, former White House director of events, who served eight years in the White House as the youngest female presidential appointee in history.

With no political connections, Ms. Schwartz started volunteering and answering the phones in the Office of Media Affairs. She then moved up the ranks becoming a staff assistant, the Midwest press secretary and director of television. In 1997, Ms. Schwartz moved from the West Wing to the East to become the White House director of events.

Today she’s a professional speaker and author of Eat, Drink & Succeed a bestselling book on networking. Ms. Schwartz is also a respected international television commentator, based in Chicago, and was named to TCW’s 100 Women Making a Difference in 2011 as she is very involved in Chicago and will be again as she emcees the Women.Wine.Wear fashion show. Ms. Schwartz took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.

Who is your mentor/professional idol? I believe that life is full of many mentors – some that come into your life and stay, others that were there for a moment in your life or career and others yet that don’t even know that they are a mentor to you, but rather you look to them and their life to model aspects of yours.

I would say that my White House mentor was Evelyn Lieberman, and I still look up to her. She’s a tough, professional and smart woman who was the first female deputy chief of staff for the White House. In both celebratory as well as difficult times through those eight years, I looked to her demeanor and reactions to help shape or bolster my own – she’s not unlike Secretary Clinton.

In life, it is my sister Andrea. She climbed her own ranks as did I and is vice president of Macy’s North for Media Relations and Cause Marketing based here in Chicago. She finds a great balance how business can be a part of the community and vice versa, as well as how to give back and balance – or should I say fuse work and life in a job that is incredibly demanding.

When it comes to community in Chicago I look to Donna LaPietra. I have always admired Donna’s commitment to Chicago and recently had the wonderful opportunity to work with her at Kurtis Productions where I learned so much professionally and personally from her – what an opportunity. Donna’s approach to life, work, family and community with such a passion combined with her smart prowess is inspiring. These are just a few of my mentors – many of which are incredible Chicago women.

What are your event mantras? “We do not host events, we host guests” By that I mean we have to always focus on the guest, because no matter how beautiful the venue may be, if one guest cannot see the stage, get to the food or hear the program you will loose them. A successful event looks to each moment of the guest’s experience from the rsvp process, arrivals, the event itself, the message, departures and beyond.

“The Power of the Host is in creating an event that is both enjoyable and productive” I learned from both President Clinton and Secretary Clinton that creating and event is about helping guests solidify partnerships and the ability to help them create and turn ideas into realities at what are sometimes seemingly ‘social’ occasions.  For example, the foundation for DreamWorks was laid when the Clintons invited Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to the 1994 State Dinner of Boris Yeltsin. In black tie, far way from Hollywood, a board room or studio lot,  Steven, Jeffrey and David Ate, Drank and turned an idea into a reality as just 13 days later they announced what would be come one of the most successful studios in history – DreamWorks. The Clintons goal to create that positive productive atmosphere by bringing people together, by being the connectors and networking that helps others, was one of the inspirations for me to write Eat, Drink & Succeed: the Networking Power of Social Events. It is filled with positive, behind-the-scenes stories from the White House, Oprah Winfrey and beyond providing tools and techniques, teaching people of all ages both professionally and personally to Eat, Drink AND Succeed!

What is your favorite memory from planning events at the White House as the director of events? There were many incredible events through the more than 1,000 I was part of – such as those on the world stage like State Dinners, NATO’s 50th Anniversary, America’s Millennium Celebration, the Concert of the Century, press conferences…even a carnival on the South Lawn.

But one that has always stood out for me had no fanfare and no press coverage because we didn’t allow it. In fact, no one hardly knew about it except a few. An incredible organization called the Children’s Miracle Network brought serious or terminally ill children with their families to Washington DC once a year and would always request a White House Tour. We would, of course, arrange a private tour for this group of about 50 special visitors. Without their knowledge, the president – if in town – would stop on their tour as a complete surprise and spend almost an hour with these kids and their families talking to them about the history of the White House, making pictures with their families, high fiving and just doing a lot of smiling.

Well there it was – a moment that transcends all other splashy star studded events and that was to think we were able to create an hour or two where these kids weren’t in a hospital room and parents weren’t thinking about what’s next but simply living in the moment with the president at the White House where it was all about them and the experience – not the illness they were facing. And then the president would eventually go back to his office – with no fanfare and no press.

That time with the families wasn’t a press event to the president because there wasn’t any – it was quite simply about also being a parent or a kid in high school. President Clinton even got to meet President Kennedy in the Rose Garden. He always remembered what that meant to him and how these families moved him. So there he was, simply being present, involved and creating a moment for those kids and their families. It still remains one of my favorites for that very reason. No matter what event we are creating, we are creating experiences and that is what we were able to do that day – no celebrities or fanfare required.

Tickets for the May 29th event are $75-$95 and available by clicking here. Proceeds benefit Step Up Women’s Network to help sponsor our goal of 10 underserved teen girls in Chicago. Chicago’s most influential women will come together for an exclusive evening of networking, philanthropy, shopping, fashion and wine. Guests will shop luxury retailers, savor delicious hors d’oeuvres and sip fine wines. The event highlight will be a fashion show presented by Nicole Miller, emceed by Laura Schwartz, Former White House director of events and author of Eat, Drink & Succeed and local community leaders Bethany McLean, Gina Marotta, Michelle Molise, Tsi-tsi-ki Felix, Elise Hofer and Shalanda Holmes walking the runway showcasing the 2013 Spring/Summer collection.

Christine Bachman

About Christine Bachman

Christine Bachman is founder and president of Plan It PR, a public relations and marketing firm. The mother of five shares tips and survival stories in “Play Dates and Power Lunches.” Ms. Bachman started working public relations after a long career in broadcast journalism, which included work as a television anchor, reporter and producer.