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Event leaders share success at The Business of Events conference

Australian event leaders define business success

Posted on May 6th, 2019 in Customer-Centricity, Event Legacy, Event News, Industry Insight, Leadership

The Business of Events conference 2019 opened with a panel of leaders from high-profile Australian companies discussing one simple questions: what does success look like for you?

The panel was led by Laura Schwartz, former White House director of events and featured six notable names in Australian event business:

  • Andrew Stark, General Manager, World Surf League Australia
  • Terese Casu, CEO, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
  • Helen Sawczak, National CEO, Australia China Business Council
  • Andrew Westacott, CEO, Australian Grand Prix Corporation
  • Penny Lion, Executive General Manager of Events, Tourism Australia
  • Damien Hodgkinson, Executive Director, Melbourne International Comedy Festival

How do top CEOs define success?

Andrew Stark

As with all events, engagement is a huge consideration in the surfing world – both with the audience and the community. Whether it’s before, during or after the event, having a positive connection is vital.

Andrew said, “We’re very digital-centric. Because of the nature of the sport, it’s difficult to achieve linear broadcast metrics but our digital side of thing is incredibly powerful and growing. The world of social has played into our hands.”

“The other factor is community engagement and the impact we have around communities that we go to all over the world. I think that’s a really powerful point of our events.”

Terese Casu

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras dates back to 1978 when a “radical bunch of passionate people” – the 78ers – took to the street to celebrate Sydney’s first Mardi Gras. With such a long history, it’s important that the event nowadays is designed with all generations in mind.

Terese said, “Success for me is to run an organisation where we are as relevant, on the LGBTQI level and with the political work that we do, to an 8-year-old as we are to an 80-year-old.”

“That’s such a challenge when you look at how we remain relevant to our 78ers in a world that changes so quickly but also how we embrace the younger generation where gender diversity is the first thing on their agenda.”

Helen Sawczak

For some organisations, their goals are more clear cut. The Australia China Business Council was established more than 40 years ago and now has a presence in every state and territory around Australia, each with the aim of improving relationships between these two great nations.

Helen said, “Our mission is very clear: to promote bilateral trade and investment between Australia and China, cognisant of the fact that China remains the key to Australia’s future economic prosperity and one of the chief reasons why we survived, pretty much unscathed, through the global financial crises in 2008.”

“Success is increased trade and investment, and that is continuing. Last year we had a record $183 billion in two-way trade.”

Andrew Westacott

Although the Melbourne Grand Prix has motor racing at its core, that’s not the only reason people attend. Recent changes to the race experience have turned a car extravaganza into an occasion that can entertain everyone.

Andrew said, “We’ve got to create memorable moments. Success is about making sure people remember Melbourne, remember our event, and are inspired to come back again.”

“You’ve got to give people a reason to be a repeat attendee. If they’re a passionate motorsport fan, they’ve got to come back every year even if, perhaps, the racing is a little bit passé. If they’re a first-timer, they’ve got to go away and talk to their friends.”

Penny Lion

Sometimes, though, it’s not possible to have just one single goal. In her role in charge of events for Tourism Australia, Penny has to make sure that she secures more events and also that the events she runs are successes.

Penny said, “For us at Tourism Australia, we exist purely to bring more international visitors to Australia. My role has two key parts.”

“The first part is the business events. It’s the specialist unit that sits within Tourism Australia, and our complete remit is to look at how we get more events inbound into our country.”

“The other side of what I do is more of an operational aspect, because within Tourism Australia we have 45-50 events that we run every single year. They take place both here in Australia and overseas, and we have to get those right, we have to run those events successfully because the people who come to those events are our potential customers.”

Damien Hodgkinson

Likewise, Damien’s role has two complementary factors: one to deliver a world-class event and the second to nurture and develop the talent to make that possible.

Damien said, “Our organisation is entirely focussed to delivering Melbourne a world-class comedy event and supporting and building a strong comedy industry. The festival is the main game, we are one of the three largest comedy festivals in the world, very proudly. ”

“What we do, year-round, is we run development programmes, providing opportunities and platforms, mentoring and pathways for people entering comedy, and supporting their comedy.”

Key takeaways

To summarise the panel, Schwartz asked each CEO for tips to achieve success at an event.

Stark: The aspect of talent in terms of the people you’re employing in the key roles in your organisation is fundamental.

Casu: Find your unique aspect so that you remain visible within the noise of events. Ask questions like ‘who do we exist for?’ and ‘why would someone specifically come to our event’?

Sawczak: Really know your target audience. The event space is becoming a lot more crowded and people are more China-savvy, so we change how we deliver things every year.

Westacott: Share collective wisdom. No single person – whether it’s operations or marketing – has a complete view of what’s going on.

Lion: From a leadership point of view, you have to take people on the journey. If anyone is single-mindedly focussing on their one component, united synergy won’t occur.

Hodgkinson: Build an event for how the audience is going to engage at every touchpoint, from initial promotions to when they walk into the venues.

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