Corporate Event Expert Profile: Liz Lathan, Program Director, IBM Analytics & Hybrid Cloud Marketing Events
At Corporate Event News, our objective is to showcase the diverse people, programs, challenges and rewards of corporate events, so what better way to accomplish that than by talking to industry experts?
We’re highlighting a different corporate event professional each month in order to familiarize you with some of the individuals who make this industry thrive.
Liz Lathan, an event marketing veteran with 18 years of experience in the industry, has a seemingly boundless amount of energy. Lathan is the program director for IBM’s Analytics & Hybrid Cloud marketing events and co-founder of Haute Dokimazo, a new kind of conference for event professionals. In her spare time, she is also currently working on launching educational course content on CorporateEventMarketer.com.
Danalynne Wheeler Menegus: How did you get into corporate event planning/marketing?
Liz Lathan: By accident! I was working for a high-tech company in an international marketing and media relations role, and the whole company pitched in to help with registration for the annual conference. I was appointed to lead registration sales communications at first, but the person in charge of conference registration had an accident and I was asked to step up. The rest is history.
DWM: What are your current event-related responsibilities?
LL: I run the event marketing business for a business unit within IBM called Analytics & Hybrid Cloud. I have about 15 people on my team. We drive the event strategy, making sure we’re at the right events for our campaigns and that our marketing goals are strategically defined and implemented.
DWM: That’s your day job, but I know you do more for the industry – can you talk a little more about that?
LL: Some friends and I, as a hobby, decided to create a small event that was focused on networking and peer-to-peer sharing. That became Haute Dokimazo, which debuted this past May. It was more successful than we ever dreamed and the attendees have asked us to schedule three or four each year.
I’m also working on training courses that will bring the marketing to event marketing, helping corporate event professionals better understand marketing so they can be seen as more valuable and raise their chances of promotion. In my free time, I volunteer at the Texas Museum of Science & Technology.
DWM: I think your days have more hours in them than mine! Do you have any mentors?
LL: So many. Anita Blackwood got me into the Corporate Event Marketers Association (CEMA) [Lathan is a past president] originally – my first real introduction to a tight network of people who were there to help each other and really do peer-to-peer sharing. Anytime I had a question in the industry or a problem I needed to solve I could call on some of the friends I made through CEMA and they were there to help me. All of those people contributed so much to everything I’ve done and everything I still do, and many have become very close friends.
DWM: What is the best event experience you’ve had to date?
LL: I think it has to be an event that my local Hilton Austin put together for a bunch of association meeting planners when they first opened back in the early 2000s. They spent two days taking us through each area of hotel management, from revenue management to laundry operations to housekeeping to the operational aspects of room service. I have always loved hotels, and I learned so much about the inner secrets of accommodations that I was able to apply to my venue searches and contract negotiations going forward. It's not your traditional "event," but the education, understanding, networking, and skill building it provided makes it one of the most valuable experiences I've ever had.
DWM: What are the biggest challenges you see corporate event professionals facing today?
LL: Event marketers are still brought into the conversation far too late in the campaign planning process. We constantly struggle to be included earlier but are often only brought in after an exec has decided to participate in an event. Event managers need to be proactive about marketing: finding and recommending events that fit into campaign initiatives, suggesting assets to use, and generally proving that they can do more than operational work. It’s about knowing the concepts, vocabulary, and terminology that is being used, but also working on your own executive presence.
DWM: Would you classify yourself as an introvert or an extravert?
LL: Definitely an extravert. I am energized by people … except for my 4-year-old daughter, who has more energy than I do … she’s exhausting!
DWM: Is there any place in the industry that you see disruption happening today?
LL: The perception of the strategic importance of events needs to be disrupted, and we can do it by ensuring event managers are also marketers. Campaign and demand-gen teams know events are a strategic campaign vehicle for them. They think of events strategically but often overlook the fact that the event manager can play a strategic role in creating that event experience, so they just bring them in to execute.
DWM: What have you learned along the way that’s made your job easier?
LL: That events are a team sport. I don't have to do it alone...and in fact, I always fail when I try to.
DWM: If you could give a single piece of advice on corporate events, what would it be?
LL: As much as you can, say YES to vendor capabilities presentations and sales pitches. You learn so much about industry trends, creative ideas, and buzzwords from them – plus, it’s good to know who the key players are in the industry when you need support. Even if you can’t work with them now, you will remember them for future projects, or when you are at a new company, and you may know another event manager who can benefit from their services right now. Our industry is all about connections, so help others make them every chance you get.
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