Our Office Hero series shines a spotlight on the unsung hero of the office. You know who they are. They work their magic behind-the-scenes, making it all come together without a hitch, and selflessly enjoy enriching other people’s lives. They are Administrative Professionals, Marketing Coordinators, Office Managers, HR Coordinators, Small Business Owners and the like. They plan company events while juggling the demands of an already jam-packed to-do list. They have a passion for rocking events the same way we do, and we enjoy hanging with our kind.
Allow us to introduce you to this month’s Office Hero, Laura Woollam, Executive Assistant at autoTRADER.
Every once in a while we come across someone who operates at a pace that impresses even us. No stranger to the demands of being a full-time, working mom, Laura starts her day around 5am, enjoys a few moments of silence and coffee before her day turns into a whirlwind of running around, tackling an endless list of deliverables, and of course keeping an office of 103 employees within Vancouver happy and functioning. Laura spends the majority of her day supporting two different executives at autoTRADER, the VP of Human Resources and the VP of Technology, while also managing major office projects like the recent renovation of their Burnaby office as well as coordinating multiple events, conferences and meetings in a year.
Read on for more of Laura’s story and event planning advice…
Eventsage (ES): Tell us a little about yourself?
Laura (LW): In my younger days, I spent a lot of time travelling. I was really drawn to seeing how other people live their day-to-day lives in other parts of the world. I spent a number of years living in London, England and San Pedro, Belize which is in Central America but now I’ve settled into a more stationary life in Vancouver. With all my globe trotting came many unique and amazing work experiences. While living in London, my favourite job was working in creative development for the BBC. I had a number of years of previous experience working in the film industry as a researcher, co-ordinator, actress and stand-in, so had a love for the business. My time at the BBC gave me the opportunity to work in more of a production role and since I’m a naturally creative person, I really loved being able to develop show concepts and work directly with the creators of some of my favourite UK shows. It was like a dream come true for me. After 15 years working in communications, negotiations, coordination, event management and production development all over the world, my skill set is rather diverse making me a great fit for autoTRADER, where I now call home.
AutoTRADER is a dog-friendly office and this is one of their many canine mascots.
ES: What is one modern day convenience you can’t live without?
LW: This question is a hard one. I would have to say it’s a tie between my iPhone, as I live on it for work, and coffee. Although, in reality, I could definitely live without my phone if I didn’t need it for work but I could never live without coffee so I guess that wins out in the end.
ES: What’s going on in your company right now that’s cool?
LW: We are currently in the middle of finalizing our 5th annual Leadership Conference, which is taking place in Grand Cayman this year, along with rolling out a year long pilot program by Participaction called Up’N’Go which is sponsored by the BC & Ontario government to promote and increase activity during the work day. We are also very excited about recently hitting our 3 millionth app download on android. Our BC office is predominantly Sales and IT based, so like many other vibrant technology companies we are always busy organizing events to celebrate a major accomplishment, milestone or just for fun! Some examples of recent employee events include: a day at Playland, River Rafting, Paintballing, Mini-golf, Vancouver Canadians Games, Food Trucks, BBQ’s, Waffles Days, Free Beer Fridays and much more.
The team on an important paintball mission!
ES: Let’s talk about events and get your Sage Advice. How many events, and what kind, are you asked to plan each year?
LW: On average I would say I organize around 30 events a year ranging from small conferences and off site training sessions to large-scale destination incentive trips and of course let’s not forget about all of our office and holiday parties!
ES: If you could hire any famous band for a gala, who would it be?
LW: I always want my entertainment, speakers or activity to align with my audience of attendees rather than my personal preferences. They need to be a reflection of the type of event I’m planning and the people attending because this is the key to having happy guests. Having said this, I would love to hire someone like Bon Jovi because everyone knows at least one of his songs and who doesn’t like to sing along to “Living on a Prayer”!
ES: If you could hire any speaker for a training session, who would it be?
LW: Definitely Anthony Robbins. My husband and I are big fans and have read many of his books over the years, so for us, he would be the ultimate speaker, however I think my colleagues at autoTRADER would appreciate his messaging as well.
ES: What is your biggest challenge when planning an event? And why?
LW: Dealing with travel agents and airlines for large group bookings. I used to work at an airline so have experienced things from the other side, which helps me to stay calm and grounded during all the back and forth.
ES: How do you overcome this challenge?
LW: We always like to give our employees options like extending their stay, bringing partners etc. when we plan destination trips but this freedom can make things tricky when needing to change fairs at the last minute so we always set parameters for what can and can’t be done. Rather than thinking of the airlines as suppliers, I try to think of them as partners with operational needs as important as the needs of our employees.
ES: What has been the coolest highlight in an event that you’ve planned or attended?
LW: I would have to say attending a fashion week after party in London, England where Juliette Lewis’ (the actress) band ‘Juliette and the Licks’ were performing and ribbon acrobatics were going on around the venue.
ES: What’s the most important thing you’d like to share with others about planning corporate events?
LW: Start by organizing the big things first (location, venue etc.) and then spend time outlining what else will be needed so you have a road map to follow. Do this early on so you have time to focus on the small details closer to your deadline. The small details often make the biggest impact so it’s crucial to leave yourself enough time to get creative and think through every last little detail to identify opportunities for extra touches.
ES: Is there anything else you want to add?
LW: This may sound like a cliché, but I firmly believe you should never take NO for an answer. There are always opportunities to ask questions, clarify reasoning, and find solutions, especially with events. If you hit a roadblock with your suppliers, rather than giving up, keep asking questions until the answers they give help you find the solution you need.