August 7, 2023
Published by Authority Magazine
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Clenney.
Laura Clenney, Vice President, Marketing Services, joined BenefitMall in May 2000. In her current role, she leads BenefitMall’s marketing and product development strategies. As a senior stakeholder of the company’s long-term strategic planning, she is extremely committed to the overall success and growth of the company through her leadership of public relations, advertising, brand management, sales enablement, customer lifecycle, interactive/digital strategies, compliance services, and product development functions.
Prior to joining BenefitMall, Clenney served on the American Airlines account at Temerlin McClain Advertising Agency. With more than 25 years of experience serving multiple different companies and clients in communication, entertainment, travel, and insurance industries, she brings a wealth of varied perspectives to BenefitMall’s marketing and customer service strategies.
A native of Oklahoma, Clenney graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Letters. In 2023, she completed her Chief Marketing Officer Certification through Northwestern Kellogg Executive Program. Residing in Dallas since 1995, Clenney is passionate about travel, spending time with her nieces and nephews, and playing with her dog, Maya.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I’ve always loved hosting events and creating special experiences for others. As a child, my mother hosted theme parties for my birthdays. We would spend tons of time making the experience as special for my guests as it was for me. Those memories carried over to my university activities. I was extremely active in my sorority and eventually served as an alumni recruitment advisor for six years. It was while volunteering that I learned many best practices for ensuring that events are successful.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
My primary professional focus is marketing and product development. Event management was never a skill that I intentionally sought out. The catalyst of my event management journey was a need to incent, reward, and engage with customers. After twenty years of hosting promotion incentive trips and product road shows, event management has evolved into a skill set the complements my marketing background and serves as another channel to build strong partnerships with customers.
It has been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting and the lesson you learned from that?
It seems like an easy obstacle to overcome, but weather can play a huge factor in success or failure of events. When I first started managing promotional trips, we would plan back-up venues for unexpected weather. Having a weather-related plan of action should encompass more than venues.
Years ago, BenefitMall faced unexpected freezing snow in the spring at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs! Creating a special experience for 300 guests, when every program event must be altered is a big challenge to overcome. Since that trip, I’ve never hosted an event without ample consideration of weather.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
It’s hard to choose just one, but a book that changed my perspective on showing appreciation, personally and professionally, was The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White.
While the book serves as a guide to showing appreciation to co-workers, it provokes thinking on showing appreciation to everyone. It really made me rethink incentive trips and how to best show unique appreciation to each attendee in the way that they will find most desirable.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” — Eckhart Tolle
Whatever I’m planning, personal or professional, I’ve always valued as much preparation as possible. Inevitably, there are always things that don’t go exactly as we plan. Learning to embrace the situations you find yourself in can often allow for success that is equivalent to or greater than what you planned.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events?
More than twenty years ago, I launched my first destination incentive program. Since that first event, BenefitMall, my current company, has hosted our clients and employees at some of the most recognized resorts in the United States and Caribbean.
Are you running any exciting events in the near future? We’d love to hear about it. What do you want attendees to bring back with them after they attend your event?
In April 2024, we will be hosting our customers and employees at The Monarch Waldorf Astoria for our 21st Annual Summit Incentive Trip. The planning is already underway!
We want attendees to return home feeling appreciated and recognized for their loyalty and partnership with BenefitMall. It is our intent to provide them with a relaxing program, lifetime memories, a like-minded network of professionals, and unique experiences that are tailored to their interests.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Salesforce does an amazing job with their annual conference, Dreamforce. The marketing leading up to the event, the content available during the event, and the keynote speakers they select are truly first-class event management. Even during COVID, they found unique ways to host a successful Dreamforce virtually.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run an event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
There are many obvious things to carefully manage such as budget, adequate space, date selection and calendar conflicts. It’s often the less obvious areas that can cause the greatest issues. A few that come to mind include:
- Knowing what other groups will be utilizing the facility during your program: It’s important that there are no business conflicts with other groups, and that other group events will not detract from your company’s events.
- Ensuring that you understand and have the best attrition and addition clauses in your contract: There should be some amount of attrition that is allowed without incurring charges. Likewise, there should be some ability to request additional space at the pre-negotiated rack rates. The pandemic taught us many lessons about the unanticipated need to defer or cancel planned events.
- Selecting vendor partners that come with references that tout their dependability and past work: It’s critical that hotels and third-party services such as performers, keynote speakers, photographers, and transfer services are reliable.
It’s important to assess in-house skills and determine where outside expertise is needed. There are many small details that add up to the total experience an attendee has at an event. There are event management companies that specialize in creating the perfect event experience, and I have found these organizations beneficial in hosting high quality events. Our current partner, Brightspot Incentives & Events, advises us on the various steps necessary to ensure a first-class experience for our attendees.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Today, people expect a digital experience. Ideally, event registration should be online. Once at the event, providing access to an interactive mobile app creates an easy participation experience with event schedules, site maps, update notices, and quick access to assistance at any time.
Finally, following the event, it’s important to survey attendees and get feedback on the experience. Utilizing online survey tools allows you to get the insights needed to keep improving your events!
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. What does it take to create an engaging and memorable event? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Event” and why?
- Create events that you would want to be invited to attend: I always ask myself if I would want to be invited to the events that we are hosting.
- Allow attendees to customize their experiences: On our most recent trip to the Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa in Cayman, we offered a variety of activities to choose from such as bike riding, spa treatments, and a boat ride to Stingray City.
- Understand less is more in many instances: Don’t overextend yourself or your team with complicated plans that are not easy to successfully execute without error. For example, it is often complicated and expensive to ship materials to other countries. We prefer to partner with local sources to secure materials for the event. It’s important to not create unnecessary obstacles that would be noticed by your guests.
- Personalize communications and gifts as much as possible: Interactive gift experiences are very popular. When you can combine a gift experience with a party theme, it elevates the event. Something as simple as getting to select new flip flops, sunglasses, or designing your own tennis shoe order allows your guests to make personal choices in what they receive.
- Balance scheduled events and personal time: This can be tricky when the event is more business than pleasure. But at the end of the day, people need down time in order to be productive at business conferences or incentive leisure trips. We recently hosted an afternoon lawn party by the beach in lieu of an evening event. Our guests loved having a night free to try local restaurants, and the afternoon event was well attended and rated in our post-event survey.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
The first step is always securing your location. If you are using the event as an incentive, you’ll likely need to contract a year or more in advance of the event. I recommend using a travel agency or event management partner to review locations and venues under consideration. Even if you want to handle a large portion of your event in-house, you still need partners for such things as airfare, transfers, and registration.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire a movement, it would be “mutual respect.” I would love to live in a world in which everyone respected each other more. We don’t have to agree on everything to respect each other’s rights and choices. I find comfort in our differences, and I have found the greatest successes in life have come from collaboration of uniquely different people.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.