Corporate Event Expert Profile: Aila Brookins, Manager, Marketing Events, Accela
The Corporate Event News Event Expert Profile series shines a spotlight on some of the many talented corporate event professionals who make this industry thrive.
This month, I spoke with Aila (pronounced “Eye-la”) Brookins. Brookins has been in the events industry for more than 20 years. She got her start as an executive assistant with a supportive vice president for a boss. He saw her potential and encouraged her to move into marketing. While learning the ropes as a marketing coordinator she had the opportunity to assist with the company’s trade show participation – and got hooked. As she tells it, it’s been love ever since!
Danalynne W. Menegus: What is your current role – and how did you end up there?
Aila Brookins: I’m the Manager, Marketing Events at Accela. Accela makes software that helps citizens work together with the government. For example, when you do home renovations, you need permits and licenses for all sorts of things, and of course need inspections. Our software helps speed up all those processes, from uploading and emailing blueprints for approval to inspectors being able to fill out and submit their forms on a tablet. I manage all of Accela’s trade shows as well as all user conferences and meetings.
DWM: Did you have a mentor when you were first starting out?
AB: When I first started learning about trade shows, our trade show manager left after only a few months. Her replacement became my mentor: she took me everywhere with her, showed me how to get everything done, and explained why we were doing it. That really opened my eyes to the possibilities.
DWM: I noticed on your website that you have a new user conference coming up – I’d like to hear more about that.
AB: I’m in the process of completely revamping our annual user conference, which has been renamed Accelarate. It used to be called Engage, and was a week-long program with a lot of different pieces. Now we’re condensing down to a three-day program, two days of breakouts and peer-to-peer presentations and one day of training. We’re expecting about 1,000 attendees. My goal is to better engage with our users: I want them to feel like they are participating in the event rather than just listening to presentations.
DWM: And you also manage the trade show program – how many events is that?
AB: We exhibit at more than 30 trade shows each year. It’s a lot, but I have quite a few that are set up like a “trade show in a box” so I don’t have to be at all of them. I do all the planning and ship everything, but have a great team who can handle things onsite.
DWM: Is there any of part of your job that you particularly love (or don’t love)?
AB: I love everything about my job, it is such a rush when everything falls in its place and an event happens – attendees smile and our staff is pleased.
DWM: What have you learned along the way that’s made your job easier?
AB: Have patience, go as high as necessary to get answers, step away from trouble and keep calm and smiling.
DWM: Is there any one app, program, or technology that you’ve found the most helpful?
AB: I use Excel and Word to keep everything organized. For event technology, I use Akkroo for lead capture and routing. At government shows, people still typically bring business cards, and either there aren’t lead scanners available or they don’t capture the information I want. Nobody has time to do all that data entry, so there is a delay getting the information to sales. Akkroo has been great: it is so much faster to get all the leads out to Salesforce and to the people who follow up.
DWM: What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
AB: I used to be a smoker. I gave it up more than 10 years ago, and took up running. That’s what I do now – I run. I’ve run eight marathons and I don’t know how many half marathons and shorter races. I love the feeling when I’m running – my brain is processing things. Plus, when I’m in a new city, I put my shoes on and go out for a morning run. It’s the best way to get to know so much more about where you are.
DWM: What are the biggest challenges you see corporate event professionals facing today?
AB: Keeping up with costs, creating events for attendees that have very different expectations and who want experiences. Also, the common misconception that all event professionals are some “party planners” and that everyone can do our job.
DWM: Is there any place in the industry that you see disruption happening today – or an area you think needs disruption?
AB: Trade shows as they are need to change. The time of huge booths, extensive floor marketing and luxurious giveaways are time of the past – trade shows now are much more stagnant. I want them to be an integrated part of the whole event, where exhibitors participate vs. having a separate exhibit hall where people just walk around and look at stuff. It should be a creative experience.
DWM: If you could give a single piece of advice to other event professionals, what would it be?
AB: Be proud of yourself and your work – you create new experiences every day! Our profession is as high-stress as that of police, surgeons, and pilots – we should be proud of everything we do. We put things together and make them bigger than all the parts combined. There is nothing wrong with being humble, but don’t feel the need to be humble all the time. Take credit for your hard work.
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