I first met Laura Burnham, Director, Partnerships & Events from Willett Marketing, an events, activations, digital, community, partnerships and logistics agency 10 years ago. Willett Marketing’s journey from a sponsorship and activation agency into a PCO offering conferences & incentives has been an exciting one which continues to grow. Laura, a fellow country girl like myself, is a passionate, straight-talker and understands the relationship of supplier/client relationships and shares a little bit of her story, her tips & how the meeting & events landscape is changing….

MJD: How long have you been with Willett Marketing? How did you get your start in the meetings/events industry?
LB: I’ve been with Willett for over 7 years now but my first foray into the industry was when I was 20 and started work experience with another events agency. It was a 3 month stint that mainly included glamourous jobs like vacuuming marquees in the infamous Birdcage Enclosure at Flemington,  long long long hours at expos painting and cleaning and doing general odd jobs for the other Event Managers. I LOVED it and luckily, was offered a full time job at the end of the 3 months.

MJD: What is something about you that we may not necessarily know about you?
LB: In Year 11 I did a GAP test, answering a tonne of questions aimed at advising what your idea future career should be. My most suited occupations were a Policeman and Florist. Although my mum was mortified and I had to do it again, I think being an Event Manager is probably exactly in the middle!! Structure and discipline mixed with creativity and fun!

MJD: What have been the biggest changes for you personally as well as Willett Marketing’s journey?
LB: The biggest change personally is becoming a leader within the business and managing a large team. It’s been a long journey from vacuuming marquees to becoming the Director of Events and Partnerships but the most rewarding aspect of the job without a doubt, is hiring young doe eyed Event coordinators and watching them grow into incredible Event Producers. There is immense satisfaction that comes from sending these producers back out into the industry knowing that they are capable, confident and ready to shake up the future of the industry.

MJD – What are some of the challenges/trends you are finding in our industry?
LB: I’m never great at pinpointing just one challenge but one thing that keeps popping up is the distinction between suppliers and competitors. Many of our suppliers are now starting to compete in the activation space and are offering design and project management skills which essentially, can make a business like ours redundant. Some property rights holders have even hired designers to compete with agencies!!!! I find that a very hard pill to swallow considering that many agencies similar to ours have formed incredible relationships with these companies over the years and now we find ourselves pitching against them in boardrooms.
The biggest trend (and I’m reluctant to call it a “trend” as we all know it’s here to stay!!!! ) is the lean towards digital and social avenues for all brand activations. It’s such an exciting space and our digital team is growing and growing, trying to keep up!

MJD What is new in the digital/experiential brand marketing space?
LB: Virtual reality and augmented reality. Extending past a physical activation space to any part of the world or your imagination is an incredible concept. The ability to be standing in Melbourne but be taken away to the hills in Chianti, looking at the grapes that were made to go into the wine you’re drinking- this just blows my mind!

MJD:What makes a great client?
LB: Open, honest, willing to take risks and treats you as a part of their extended team.

MJD: What advice would you give to someone at the start of their career incentives/events?
LB: Just get in!!!! Jump in, work hard, work late, go above and beyond, always work outside of the scope you’ve been given and just show passion. You can’t buy or teach these things – they’re just innate. You’re either made for events or not!

MJD: What makes a great event and/or incentive?
LB: Attention to detail. Not even money can buy that sometimes! If every single element is thought through,  from the minute the guest touches down at the airport to the minute we wave them goodbye at the other end. If they feel that we guessed their needs before they needed it – we’ve done our job.

MJD: What are the current trends do you see in our industry?
LB: International travel is back on the cards which is very exciting. More boutique incentives – 6 star locations with smaller groups.

MJD: What are the key challenges and changes do you see in the future of our industry?
LB: The need for greater ROI on corporate events. How do we measure someone’s feelings towards a brand because of the incredible dinner/lunch/launch/corporate hospitality experience we’ve just shown them. As a result of this untenable ROI, corporate budgets will start focusing on consumer activations and the digital space will grow and grow due to its measurable outcomes.

MJD: What do you enjoy the most about creating memorable conference, incentives and events?
LB: The look on guests faces as they walk into an event and we know we’ve blown them away! That is palpable and makes all the sweat and tear worth it

MJD: What is on the radar for yourself & Willett Marketing for future plans/clients/events you would like to share?
LB: It’s our 25th birthday this year so we’re planning a massive party for ex-employees, clients over the years, employees who have become clients, clients who have become employees…. We have a really rich history that needs to be celebrated.