Lisa Marks made her leap more than a year before the world shut down by starting her own event strategy and turnkey planning company Brand Alive. But she had to reinvent all over again when everything changed. Luckily, the experience she had built creating transformational moments for companies and people was a powerful springboard for moving ahead with optimism. Now, she is passionate about getting others to share their stories of moments that matter in this industry. Here is her story of reinventing joy.
In the Beginning
This reinvention story actually starts back in 2016. Marks was head of events at family-owned Shaw Communications in Calgary, Alberta. She had finally earned a seat at the executive table and was tasked with modernizing the company through events as it was celebrating its 50th anniversary. The focus at the company’s leadership summit was on the organization’s seven values and when it was time for the last point, she cued the beloved president of the consumer organization, who had been out for a year battling cancer to step into the spotlight and talk about the importance of “being human.” He was 50 pounds lighter than he had been the last time anyone at the company saw him. He had no hair. He was in remission and the room erupted in cheers at the surprise. “It was truly magical and poignant. To have him come back at that point in that way was an honor to be part of,” she recalled. That moment stuck with her as she considered her future.
The following year was a whirlwind. The company acquired a wireless division and she managed the announcement, working closely with company executives. “Our 14,000 employees were so excited to hear that they would be venturing into this bold new area. The impromptu energy was powerful.”
In 2017, when the market changed and the company offered buyouts, she decided it was the ideal time to create those sorts of moments for more companies that were open to creative collaboration. “I decided if there was ever a time to go out on my own, this would be the time,” she recalls. The transition took a year and her first client was Shaw’s CEO. “That relationship still means a lot to me,” she said.
Right Side Up
Then the world turned completely upside down. Marks was in the United States in March of 2020 for Catersource and the Special Event when she heard news that the NBA was cancelling games. People started mass exiting the conference center. “It was an ominous feeling,” she recalls.
She packed as quickly as she could and got home before Canada shut the borders. That was also the day she received two calls in the same hour from her two biggest clients putting everything on hold. “That was when it hit that this was not going to be a two-week thing. It was real.”
Marks was not a stranger to producing hybrid and virtual events. But she had to accept that this was going to be the majority of what she would be doing for the next year or so. She focused on human psychology, how people react to technology and adjusted the strategy to keep audiences engaged at socially distanced awards shows. “I overinvested in clients, held their hands, consulted, prepared executive briefs,” she said, remembering the uncertain time.
Then there was the self-care requirement. “As a person who chose this career because it is part of my DNA to host, work with clients and dream big, being off-line for 18 months hits in the emotions, not just the bank account,” she says.
We are now thinking differently about how to create those moments for other people. But I also had to go out and find other ways to create purpose for me.
“I now look at reality faster. Bad news doesn’t get better with age; it is not like wine. I accept hard truths and then get excited about the opportunity to do something about it. I am learning to see opportunity without fear,” she explained.
She paused for a moment on the Zoom screen, then concluded. “I agree that hope is not a business strategy, but despair doesn’t help either. I think optimism is the new business strategy.”
Telling the Story
Marks is convinced the last 18 months will go down as the weirdest of all history for the meetings industry. Bringing people together for an event is already a high-risk proposition. “This is an industry with no governing body, no guaranteed outcomes, you are on the hook for a result that has one opportunity for an outcome. It is like a pilot flying an airplane.”
That is why she thinks it is important enough to tell our story about the impact we make beyond the industry that she donated to Global Events Collective’s Moment That Matter campaign. “We have to share, teach and explain to the general public why events of all shapes and sizes matter to being on this planet. I believe that what we do is create human culture. We need to share that as far and wide as possible,” she said.
Global Events Collective is amassing “extraordinary stories of change and transformation” with the goal of creating a documentary that will highlight and remind people that life-changing moments exist because of events.
“After this isolation, we need to heal the anxiety that is rampant. Connections matter and after actively avoiding those moments for so long, we need to help people get comfortable coming together, because these small moments leave a mark for rest of time,” Marks said.