Corporate Event Expert Profile: Wendy Laugesen, Director of Global Events, MarkLogic
The Corporate Event News Event Expert Profile series features interviews with some of the many talented corporate event professionals who make this industry thrive.
This month, I spoke with Wendy Laugesen, the director of global events for MarkLogic, a privately-owned enterprise database company with over 500 employees and 14 offices worldwide. Laugesen initially dreamed of becoming the general manager of a hotel, but after several years in the hospitality industry and earning a bachelor’s degree in hospitality administration, decided that event management was a better fit.
Danalynne Wheeler Menegus: How long have you been in the events industry?
Wendy Laugesen: I started my career at the Flamingo Hilton back in 1993, doing data entry to track Hilton Honors points, then moved to a guest service agent (GSA) role. After doing that for a few years, I realized I didn’t want to stay in hotel management and moved back home to the San Francisco bay area. There, I got a job as a banquet manager in a restaurant that had a couple of private rooms that were rented out for events – and I discovered I loved that side of things.
After that, I took a job as a housing coordinator managing room block inventory. That taught me a lot which has been useful throughout my career. A friend referred me to Ziff-Davis (which went through a lot of name changes over the years: ZD Events, Key3Media, MediaLive International were all the same company), and I moved from housing to registration to logistics, including managing a sponsor showcase at COMDEX one year.
DWM: How did you get into corporate event planning?
WL: It’s really all been through relationships, just knowing people. One of my former colleagues was at Veritas, and got me the interview. Then, Veritas was acquired by Symantec. A former manager was working at MarkLogic and made me a great offer. This September will mark my six year anniversary at MarkLogic.
DWM: What are your responsibilities?
WL: I'm the director of global events. There are just two of us on the team. We plan all the company’s proprietary events, so our user conference, our sales kickoff or President's Club, things like that. We also help support various other events like trade shows and regional meetups by providing trade show assets and giveaways, and negotiate rates for corporate business travel.
DWM: What are the demographics of your events?
WL: Our US user conference typically has 500-600 attendees. We have one in the United States, usually one in Europe that gets 350 attendees, and one in Tokyo that is a little smaller, around 300. Attendees are our users (database administrators and software developers) and partners. We use our corporate branding for the conference, and also for the trade shows we exhibit at – there are typically around five large events per year that we support.
For the sales kickoff, we get to be a little more creative because it’s internal, and we want to motivate our sales team. This year our theme was heroes, so we incorporated heroes into all elements of the event. It was really fun to work on, and great to educate and inspire our employees.
DWM: What is your favorite piece of planning the events?
WL: As planners, we kind of geek out on the process of putting everything together and just crossing your t's and dotting your I's. Checking things off the list always feels good. But there's also that creative element of being able to take a theme or tagline and run it through every aspect of the event. I'm a stage manager at heart, so onsite I’m always torn. But the reality is you can't be the event director and the keynote producer and stage manager, so you need to have people you trust and let them do their jobs.
DWM: Is there any one app, program, or technology that you’ve found the most helpful?
WL: As planners, we are trying to be more conscious of our impact on the environment. I think mobile apps are a great way to do that. They’re live, so it’s easy to make last minute changes if you have a session cancellation or a room change. Plus, anyone who has ever put together a program guide for print is probably really happy to not have to do that anymore!
Another thing is that many of us in the events industry have to work remotely. Even if we are based in an office, with our jobs, we’re traveling a lot. For that, document sharing technology, especially the solutions that allow you to simultaneously make edits, has been a huge help to our industry.
DWM: What are the biggest challenges you see corporate event professionals facing today?
WL: The challenge of doing repeat events is thinking outside the box to change things up. Sometimes we have events in the same city and same venue every year, and the format for sessions may not have any significant changes either. We need to find ways to make small changes that will provide a fresh and different experience for our attendees.
DWM: How about disruption – is there any particular area within the industry in which you’re seeing disruption?
WL: The main thing I'm seeing right now is the whole debate around hotels cutting commissions. I would definitely consider that a disruption because it has shaken things up. It will be very interesting to see what comes of it, especially with third party planners in agencies that are doing the bookings. How is this going to affect their business if their commissions are significantly affected? As a corporate planner, I’m not directly impacted, but we're all in the same industry and I'd like to believe that we all care about each other’s success. It’s definitely something that everybody should care about.
DWM: We’ve talked a lot about work. What do you like to do for fun?
WL: I am fairly active in my community. I just moved here about two and a half years ago, so I'm still trying to kind of build up my network. I love to do volunteer work — I volunteer at church and just joined this organization called Team RWB (red, white and blue) which supports veterans. The reason I moved to San Diego is to be closer to my two youngest nephews. I love spending time with them. I’m making sure they get exposure to old-school classics like Wile E. Coyote and animated movies like Mary Poppins and The Lion King. And I do love a good glass of wine, so wine-tasting is always fun!
DWM: If you could give a single piece of advice to other event professionals, what would it be?
WL: Corporate social responsibility isn’t just a buzzword. Try to minimize your footprint, don’t print things if there’s a digital alternative. Ask the hotel banquets or catering teams for smaller plates and smaller portions, to minimize waste. Donate leftover food whenever possible. Look into involving a local charity or having a charitable component to your event. Incorporating health and wellness is great too: morning walks, yoga, whatever opportunities you can give people to be healthy in both mind and body.
We are so blessed to have a wonderful job and giving back just seems the right thing to do. The more planners are thinking about that and asking our hotels and vendors what they are doing to help, the better it's going to get in the industry.
Want to recommend a friend or colleague to be featured in an upcoming event industry expert profile? Send me your suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org.