Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Orange Bowl and Creativity: An Interview With Laila Brock

Laila Brock is currently the Director of Events and Team Operations with the Orange Bowl Committee, where she implements nearly 100 annual events in support of the Orange Bowl and the larger objective of enhancing the image, economy, and culture of South Florida. Laila will be facilitating a session on "Taking Creative Brainstorming to the Next Level" in the Workshop Series at BizBash IdeaFest South Florida on April 10 at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center. (For more information, and to register for this conference, please visit www.bizbash.com/ideafestfl)

My interview with Laila Brock:

Q.    Describe for me how you got involved in planning for the Orange Bowl.

A.     I kind of fell into events, kind of like most event professionals in my generation you talk to who feel like they just fell into it. I was a student athlete in college so there was always that connection to sports and I always wanted to work in sports because I had that positive experience. When I left grad school I worked for a nonprofit in Boston and moved on to Florida Atlantic University to work there.

I was fortunate to attend an Orange Bowl when my alma mater played in 2005. Very shortly thereafter I started dabbling in events and meeting planning, but didn't really know that what I was doing was events and meeting planning because it was just part of my job and something I enjoyed doing.

When I started with Orange Bowl, I really just started with a stint in logistics geared toward the teams visiting the Orange Bowl – their transportation, their arrivals, their meals, meeting space at the hotels,… just straight operations and logistics. As time evolved and the Orange Bowl evolved, I moved up into the position I’m in now – I oversee the operations and manage our large scale events portion of the Orange Bowl game.

Q.    What do most people get wrong when they hear you help plan the Orange Bowl?

A.     They think that it’s all fun and glamorous and sexy and it is not. There are a lot of late nights and long hours. Most of our events happen around Orange Bowl so they happen in a concentrated period of time and we’re planning 50-70 events large and small to happen throughout that small timeframe. So there are weeks when we’re at work from 7 o’clock in the morning until 9:30 that night. There are times when I’ve seen my office more than I’ve seen my house.

I think people kind of get lost in the beauty of the industry. But the industry is absolutely amazing and you definitely have the opportunity to use your creativity, use your people skills, and communicate with people to generate revenue for and organization. But it’s also about moving boxes around and coming to work in sweatpants some day because you know you’re going to have to get dirty or you know you’re going to be on your hands and knees all day putting together registration packets.

Q.    What kind of creative thinking goes into planning for the Orange Bowl? What’s your process? What role does brainstorming play?

A.     We’ll have an Orange Bowl gala, which we call our Orange Bowl Rhapsody, and we’ll do several of the same events year after year and they have the same audience, so it’s sometimes a little difficult to come up with creative ways to run the same event.

But what we’ll do is we’ll tap into our local network, our local community to figure out what it is they want to see – something that they haven’t seen before or something a little bit different. 

One of the things that with our Orange Bowl gala is we’ll take a culture and really explore that culture, like last year we had a Brazilian theme for our Orange Bowl Rhapsody. We brought in Brazilian dancers, we had Brazilian food, all the things that would make you feel like you were in a Brazilian Carnivale.

Q.    How do you recognize a successful idea from a really bad idea?

A.     Let me give you a really great example. We held a gala at the Miami Seaquarium – it is on a park and there’s a small island next to the park and we wanted to use the space on the park and on the island.

Our committee chair was very creative and wanted to take boats from the island to the park. We had 1,000 people and he wanted to take 3 or 4 boats, 15 minutes at a time, and do boat tours from the island to the park.

While in theory that would be great, logistically and operationally, it wasn’t going to work. We had an issue where we would have had people who may be drinking, getting on to boats, going to docks that were too small to handle that many people. It would have been a lot of fun, it would have been really cool if it could have worked out.

We try to look at good ideas and try to make them work and if they can’t work, we try to figure out an alternative that will.

So one of the things that we did is create an outdoor patio right outside the tent at that outdoor venue so the same idea was there – people could look at the island and have an outdoor space and really enjoy our weather here in South Florida in January.

Q.    How much has your experience as an athlete impacted the way you approach creative brainstorming and planning?

A.     I come from the background that no one does anything on their own. There is nothing that I’m going to achieve that I’m going to achieve by myself. I know that I need help and I know I need to help others  - my feedback, my expertise, my hands, or my lever. That’s the attitude we all take here [at the Orange Bowl] so I think that’s why we’ve been successful with the Orange Bowl and the community.

Apart from that I think my experience as a student athlete has helped me to improve the student athletes’ experience who are here for the Orange Bowl. You know, it’s not just about the sponsors and about our committee members, it’s about the whole community and about the student athletes who are here to participate.

Q.    What has been the hardest/most important lesson you’ve learned in your experiences planning for the Orange Bowl?

A.     I’ve learned patience and I’ve learned how to work very quickly. The reason I say that I have to be patient because we work by committee – we have a group of about 300 CEOs, doctors, lawyers, business leaders in the community that kind of drive the decisions of Orange Bowl and so you have to be patient because they know what they want and they know when they want it but then they sometimes change their minds.

But beyond that, because we work with such a condensed timeframe, everything has to be precise and everything has to be done very quickly in a very short amount of time.

So we may have everything planned out, but a team is announced and everything goes out the window so I’ve had to learn how to adapt very quickly.

Q.    What does every event planner need in his or her arsenal?

A.     A great network. I don’t think anyone can do anything on their own. What I’ve learned is it’s great to ask questions and learn from someone who has done it before. So I would say the best thing for a novice event planner to a master event planner is just a really great network.

Q. What’s the best perk for doing what you do?

A.   I’m a sports fan so working in college football and planning events is like a dream come true for me. Being able to stand on the field during the national championship games and watch the game from the field. I don’t get all the fancy trips around the world like some planners, but I’m able to be in an environment that I love and an environment that I helped create and there’s so much energy created around that.

Q. Where do you get your best ideas?

A.   I use the website and I use the magazine [BizBash] all the time – I’m always getting ideas from places around town. […] When I’m out running or when I’m in the shower or traffic, ideas come from everywhere and if we can, we’ll use them!

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