Special Events Management is by far the largest full-service producer of events in the Midwest. This includes many of Chicagoland’s most popular and best-known runs/walks and art/street festivals. In fact, each year nearly 500,000 individuals participate in SEM-produced runs/walks while another 1.5 million visit our art and street fests.
Among our marquee events are the Wells Street Art Festival, Belmont-Sheffield Music Fest, Northalsted Market Days, Taste of Lincoln Avenue, AIDS Run/Walk Chicago, Chicago Craft Beer Fest, Festival de La Villita, Roscoe Village Burger Fest, Lakeview Taco Fest and the Rosehill Cemetery ‘Crypt’ 5K Run/Walk, to name just a few.
SEM also owns the iconic annual Chicago Flower & Garden Show. Held each March at Navy Pier, the nine-day horticultural extravaganza draws 50,000-plus visitors from Chicago, the Midwest and beyond. In addition to lush gardens, it also features educational seminars and workshops, ‘Garden Gourmet’ cooking demonstrations, a Marketplace, kids’ activities and much more.
Each year SEM-produced events raise millions of dollars for scores of non-profits, charitable organizations and an eclectic mix of community, civic/neighborhood groups and chambers of commerce. Our corporate philosophy is best described as:
- We’re a company that’s passionate about serving our clients, and about customer service.
- We’re a company with efficiencies that controls costs. We beat other event companies by keeping overhead in check. These efficiencies offer value and increase fundraising returns for our clients.
- We offer a competitive advantage over other event management companies. With nearly 30 years of providing professional, full-service production and management services for events both big and small, we’re Number One for good reason!
SEM was founded in 1988 to fulfill the professional management and event production needs for both non-profit and corporate clients. SEM’s wide-range of one-stop services include event planning; on-site logistics; budgets, accounting and financial planning; event consultations; marketing, graphic design and public relations; sponsorship sales; vendor/artist relations; staging and sound systems; talent/music bookings; security; cleaning services; security; and governmental relations that includes working with elected officials as well as police and sanitation departments, among others.
With 30 full- and part-time employees and a seasonal staff of 150, SEM produces approximately 25 runs/walks/marathons/half marathons and 30-plus art/street fests in Chicago, its suburbs and beyond each year. Our staff is comprised of event managers, vendor/artist relations specialists, an accounting team, sponsorship sales personnel, a music booking director, and stage/sound, marketing and graphic design specialists.
SEM also provides assorted services (e.g., staging, barricades, street closures, run/walk course equipment cones, etc.) to more than 50 other events annually including parades and concerts. In addition, SEM Exhibits & Trade Show Services is a specialty division that provides a one-stop, full-range line of customized exhibit booth design, construction and other services.
Hank Zemola – Founder & Chief Executive Officer
If there were ever a pioneer in the field of event management, it would surely be Hank. A lifelong Chicagoan, he founded Special Events Management (SEM) in 1988. Since that time the company has grown to become the largest full-service producer of runs/walks, art/street fests and other special events in the Midwest.
Leading by experience has been his model. A former event director himself, and former executive director of the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA), Hank has directed more than 800 running events including the Shamrock Shuffle and YME Race Against Breast Cancer where he was honored as race director of the year.
Within the festival and other special events community, Hank has been the director of some of the largest festivals in the City of Chicago including Northalsted Market Days and the Wells Street Art Festival in addition to other top special events that include:
- National Championship of Cycling
- National Championship of Inline Skating
- National Championship of Inline Hockey
- World Championship of Inline Hockey
Hank started in the event business at an early age after working at United Parcel Service in a management role where he claims the foundation of hard work and high quantity taught him the basis of a good business operation.
After UPS he owned nightclubs and managed music venues which included TUTS, Stages (now the Metro) and the Vic Theatre. A musician in his youth, he became a skilled talent buyer of national entertainment. He later served three years as executive director of the then-infant Chicago Area Runners Association before founding SEM.
Today Hank’s company produces more than 70 annual runs/walks and art/street fests, concerts and provides assorted services to scores more. He also oversees the company’s eight event managers.
An active member of several Chicago area civic and professional organizations, one of Hank’s primary visions since founding the company has been to produce events that raise money to benefit non-profits, community/neighborhood groups, chambers of commerce and scores of others.
Veronica Carrillo – Director of Operations
Veronica holds two key positions at SEM. One is as director of Event Bright! A department that staffs for all warehouse, street team and cleaning services. The other is as an event manager where she oversees several street fests, including two that are held in Chicago’s Hispanic communities. Veronica holds an MBA in International Business with a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Keller Graduate School of Management. In her free time, Veronica does volunteer work with children, is an interpreter for international businesses, and teaches Spanish classes.
Steve Bingham-Hawk – Regional Director
Steve heads up High Altitude Special Events Management (aka HASEM) which SEM has established to pursue event production opportunities in the Western U.S. HASEM has an office in suburban Denver. Before relocating to Colorado, the always-versatile Steve served as SEM Chicago’s director of operations where he oversaw the incorporation of new technologies at the company.
In addition to operations, event manager and staffing coordinator are two key positions Steve has held since joining the company in 2005. A St. Louis native, he holds degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before joining SEM, he was a business analyst with human resources/consulting giant Hewitt Associates. Off-hours Steve enjoys music and outdoor activities.
Bruce Buzil – New Business Development
As SEM’s new business development consultant, Bruce likes a challenge. A lifelong Chicagoland resident, he’s always on the hunt for identifying opportunities for the company. This runs the gamut from finding new events and ways to expand existing events to selling event sponsorships. At day’s end, Bruce will be the first to say it’s all about building relationships. Before SEM he was a partner in a broadcasting company that owned radio stations in small and medium markets nationwide. He was also a partner in a company that owned and managed marathons around the country. In his free time the father of two sons likes to relax by biking recreationally.
Gehrig Peterson – Music Director
One of SEM’s most veteran staffers, Gehrig has been affiliated with the company since 1990. He has an extensive background with Chicago radio stations in sales and promotions, and a phenomenal talent-buying resume that spans more than three decades. His relationships with local, national and international music acts and managers verges on legendary.
Each year Gehrig books nearly 250 unique music performers for scores of SEM-produced events. This includes bands, solo artists and deejays. While many are from the Chicago and the Midwest, large percentages are big name headliners he secures for SEM’s street fests from the U.S. as well as internationally.
Gehrig’s unique background allows him careful insight to contract negotiations and talent requirements associated with execution cost. All this benefits client budgets and the success of festivals.
In addition to his music background, Gehrig serves as a key account manager for some of SEM’s most important corporate sponsors. With 30 years in radio, Gehrig has also has long-lasting relationships with the advertising and marketing communities.
John Gabrysiak – Production Director
Anyone familiar with SEM knows it’s an entertainment-intense company. With more than 250 acts performing at 30-plus fests each year, John is energetically involved in every aspect of the company’s eclectic mix of music. From working closely with performers, bands and their management to staging, sound systems, staffing and entertainer hospitality, John oversees it all. He also markets SEM equipment rental services beyond SEM’s core fest base.
A lifelong Chicagoan, after earning a degree from Northern Illinois University, John jumped into an illustrious 25-year career that began as a talent agent for both local and nationally-acclaimed blues and rock touring artists. In the corporate world, he has held key positions in the tour sponsorship and event marketing arenas.
For the past few years, John has also found the time to share his keen insights into the music and entertainment industries as an adjunct professor at Chicago’s Columbia College. Off hours he enjoys (no surprise!) attending concerts and keeping current on Chicago’s fine dining scene.
Karyn Serota – Media & Marketing Director
Karyn manages all aspects of SEM’s diverse marketing efforts. Key among them is leveraging $2 million worth of company media advertising, trade-outs and buys each year. She negotiates with some of the biggest media players in the market including Tribune Media Group, Sun-Times Media and radio behemoths Clear Channel, Hubbard Radio and CBS Radio.
Karyn also oversees SEM’s Web-based marketing efforts including maintaining/updating the company’s website with its 500,000 unique monthly visitors, and compiling and disseminating SEM’s weekly E-blast newsletters to nearly 100,000 subscribers. In a bit of trivia, the consumer “click through” rate on SEM’s website is an amazing 6 percent vs. the national norm of only .2 percent.
In addition, Karyn oversees the company’s social media marketing (including Facebook and Twitter) and manages creative planning and logistics with SEM’s graphic design department. A graduate of Illinois State University, she joined SEM in 2002 as an event manager.
Sean McGahan – Art Director
Every SEM event is a brand. As SEM’s art director, Sean’s graphic design skills are the indispensable visual ingredients that creatively identify hundreds of street fairs and runs/walks produced by the company. With SEM for more than 13 years, it’s no exaggeration that he’s designed hundreds of logos as well as collateral pieces that include posters, postcards. brochures, advertisements and much more.
Today many of his creations are trademarked with copyrights used by both SEM and many of its clients. Sean also has vast expertise and knowledge of the latest design technologies and state-of-the-art hardware and software. Not only does Sean design, but he understands how graphics work in context of the final product be it print, websites or advertisements.
Sean graduated from Eastern Illinois University. Before SEM he worked at a major print house. He enjoys music and movies and keeps busy during off hours on home improvement projects.
Norine Smyth – Sponsorship Sales
Over a truly illustrious selling career, Norine has done it all: From years in broadcast sales to more than 20 years in her favorite: corporate sponsorships. A native of Chicago’s North Shore suburbs and resident of the city’s Wicker Park neighborhood, Norine’s eclectic passions include U.S. Presidential history, astronomy, holistic foods, cooking, the ballet and tending her elaborate garden.
Laura Wilke – Sponsorship Sales
Enterprising and tenacious. These are just a few skills Laura has mastered over the last several years to secure more than a half-million dollars in sponsorships annually to help underwrite events. From street/art fests to runs/walks, she re-signs past sponsors, accommodates new sponsors and targets prospects. She’s also on-site at several events to ensure sponsors feel welcome.
Laura worked several years in membership services at the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) of which her mother was one of the co-founders. It goes without saying that she understands the running community. For any event, Laura is committed to improving the experiences of both sponsoring underwriters as well as event participants and visitors.
Laura holds a marketing degree from Chicago’s Northeastern University. Off hours, her son and daughter keep her busy but she still finds time to enjoy concerts of her favorite classic rock acts.
Danielle Crouchelli – Event Manager
A native of Chicago’s southwest suburbs, Danielle was a seasonal events assistant for six years with the Brookfield Zoo’s marketing department. During that time she also earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing (with a minor in Spanish) from Illinois State University in Normal. Danielle’s background with the zoo led her to SEM where at first she interned and is now a full-time event manager. A passion for logistics, and the challenge of a different event nearly every weekend, is what Danielle finds most exhilarating. Off hours, she’s a huge fan of both country music and the Chicago Bears.
Nick Dogali, Event Manager
Nick’s the consummate people person, an attribute that makes him the perfect event manager. Big picture, he’s also a bit of a renaissance man. The Florida native earned undergrad degrees in finance and sports management, then a master’s in information systems, from the University of Florida before moving to Chicago where he lives in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Before joining SEM he held stints as a bartender and was on the operations team for races for athletic behemoth Life Time Fitness. The diversity of SEM clients and events fit well into Nick’s passions for both people and entertaining. Off-hours he enjoys the challenge of games like Dungeons & Dragons, loves golfing (including spending winters in Florida), and is an avid guitar player which often finds him strumming (and singing) at open mic nights at a neighborhood club.
Kyle Kocinski – Event Manager
Traveling the country to work at music concerts during college led Kyle to an appreciation for events which, in turn, led him to SEM after graduation. A native of west suburban Wheaton, Kyle earned a degree in advertising from the University of Florida in Gainesville before returning to the Midwest and moving to the Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood. The planning process is something he enjoys most about events, and he’s versatile enough oversee a mix of both runs/walks as well as street fests. In keeping with his fondness for music, Kyle’s off hour hobbies include playing drums as well as deejaying.
Sarah Skwarczyk – Event Manager
With a sunny personality, one would be hard-pressed to match the enthusiasm and commitment to events than Sarah. A native of Chicago’s southwest suburbs, Sarah earned a dual major in public relations and event management from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo which, subsequently, led her to joining the SEM family. On-site logistics and troubleshooting are two of her favorites when it comes to fest planning. Off hours, Sarah is a longtime practitioner of kickboxing including finding time for weekly classes. She also enjoys spending time with Zeus, her Labrador mix who she fell in love with at a local animal shelter.
Audrey Strecker – Event Manager
Audrey holds a unique position at SEM’s Chicago office: she’s an event manager serving as a liaison for local and Midwest runs/walks produced by High Altitude Special Events, SEM’s Denver-based sibling. It’s a distinct role for the north suburban native who moved to the city after graduating with a degree in political science from Illinois State University in Normal. Before joining the SEM team, Audrey held sales and event management positions where she enjoyed helping raise money (and awareness) for good causes which is what SEM’s run/walks are all about. Off hours Audrey enjoys exploring Chicago’s vibrant restaurant scene. She also taps her inner creativity by painting on event-free weekends.
Daniel Oleksiuk – Production Manager
Although his official title is production manager, Dan is better known around SEM as warehouse manager, trade show manager and carpenter extraordinaire. A true chameleon, he pretty much does it all! The Northbrook, Ill., native (where he still resides) earned his bachelor’s degree from Chicago’s Columbia College in music, business and concert production. But for those who know him, his true passion is for building things. From showcase booths for the SEM-produced Chicago Flower & Garden Show, to intricate exhibits at national trade shows for Fortune 500 clients of SEM’s trade show & exhibits division, his detailed craftsmanship is awe-inspiring. During off hours Dan, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, enjoys sports and music.
Rosalia Robinson – Exhibitor Relations Coordinator
Rosy works hand-in-hand with Joe Persfull, the company’s exhibitor relations manager, in coordinating SEM’s relationships with vendors. This entails working with more than 1,500 artists, merchants, food/restaurant vendors, bars and community groups who take part in more than 35 art and street festivals the company produces each year.
Rosy is hands-on with details. She also reviews all required vendor paperwork. This ranges from insurance to municipal permits required for an event. She also has oversight in preparing food vendors for pre-event health inspections for products that they serve at festivals.
A resident of the near southwest suburbs, Rosy started at the company in 2010 in administrative positions that led into her current role.
Fred Newton – Communications Manager
To say that Fred is a writing/editing and communications chameleon is an understatement. With more than three decades of experience, there’s little he can’t tackle. Fred’s a focused writer, voracious reader, hard-nosed editor and quick study on virtually any subject. From writing more than 200 SEM event releases each year to disseminating information and working with scores of media outlets (print, electronic and Web-based), he’s adroit on numerous fronts
A native of metro Detroit and Michigan State University journalism grad who started his career at newspapers, Fred’s diverse experience includes a long-running stint as communications and editorial supervisor at Chicago-headquartered SmithBucklin Corp., the nation’s largest association management firm.
KimYada Ardson Smith – Staffing Coordinator
Staffing SEM’s eclectic mix of street fests and runs/walks involves strong managerial skills which KimYada (aka Kim to many of her fellow staffers) excels at in her oversight of the company’s seasonal workforce. Understanding human behavior is key to the leadership of people who, behind the scenes, help make SEM events a success. Before joining the SEM team, the born-and-raised Chicagoan (and whose mother was once an event planner) has a background that includes computer training from DeVry University, being a brand ambassador, and who even earned a carpenter’s license. She and her husband are proud parents to an adult daughter and school-aged son. And when not busy with staffing, KimYada enjoys family time as well as sewing, swimming and bike rides.
Gary Wilson – Operations
As a 25 year veteran with SEM, Gary assists in account management for both runner registration. On the festival side, product management. With the SEM team Gary works closely with company’s controller in payment processing, billing, customer service, and ensuring historical data is gathered for both charitable donations and on-site product sales.
At the events, Gary works in numerous capacities of the runs and walks. Leading up preplanning in the management of on-site needs advancing registration and packet pickup.. You’ll also find him personally involved with on-site run/walk registration. And at more than a dozen street fairs, Gary’s there to fully manage the product service area that supplies vendors with on-site needs for their booths.
Esmeralda Bravo, Administrative Assistant
When you call SEM, chances are the cheery voice you’ll hear on the phone will be that of Esmeralda. She’s also the person to most likely greet you at the reception desk. But she’s more than a friendly voice and face. She wears other hats including general office manager, coordinating messenger services, sorting staff mail, tracking delivered packages and other responsibilities to ensure the office runs smoothly. Now a Southside resident who grew up in both Chicago and Nebraska, before joining SEM she was in the hospitality industry. A mom to two teen daughters, Esmeralda likes to cook in her free time.