Marin bumpMarin Bright knows how to pack a hotel ballroom.

After a successful career start in hotel sales, Bright decided to share her conference room-filling wisdom with industry peers through magazine publishing. Twenty years ago, she published the first issue of Smart Meetings, the world’s leading publication focused on the meetings industry.

Her entrepreneurial journey is filled with grit and perseverance, along with a generous dose of serendipity and fun.

Bright started Smart Meetings in March 2002 – shortly after September 11 around the dot-com crash. But she knew the magazine would fill a need, and was confident the meetings industry needed a cheerleader, more than ever.

To get the magazine up and running, she borrowed against her home, maxed out credit cards and depleted a 401k. She claimed a table at the local Starbucks to conduct interviews.

Her bet paid off.

“There was nothing to do but keep going, even though it was very, very challenging,” said Bright. I remember thinking, if I had somebody else's money and it wasn't working, I probably would've gone, ‘Well, this is too hard. I'm walking away.’ But if I did that, my house was gone, my retirement was gone. There was no way out. I had keep going forward.”

When Bright mailed the first run of magazines out to subscribers, she realized the return address was larger than the send address when all the copies were returned. She spent a day at the Mill Valley, California post office sorting through copies.

It worked out: Not only did people get their copies, but she met one of the clerks in the mailroom who had an interest in travel writing. She added a new journalist to the team.

As the first consumer-oriented meetings magazine, Smart Meetings was a hit and continues to grow today. Bright and her team fill each issue with news, leader insights and engaging photography.

“Early on, I was out to a dinner and a meeting planner said, ‘When Smart Meetings comes in my mailbox, I feel like a friend came over for coffee.’ I've always loved that. To me, that was the goal.”

As the magazine evolved, Bright continued to innovate. Frustrated by the standard trade shows that left too many people without leads, she saw an opportunity to create events featuring one-on-one meetings with planners and suppliers to meet with targeted prospects. The first curated events started in 2008 and are now an industry standard.

The pandemic created numerous challenges for the hospitality sector, especially business meetings and conventions, but Bright is bullish for a strong comeback.

Her team is back to planning events and filling up conference centers, while helping meeting planners navigate the new normal.

The buzz of a packed event is a familiar and exciting feeling for Bright. She’s committed to helping the meetings and convention sector triumphantly return stronger and better than ever.

“I see bright horizons on the forefront. I think we're really going to come back in a big way,” said Bright.

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