Expertise: Site Selection
Specialty: Research, Strategic Meetings Management, Social Media,
Corporate Meetings Network: Tell us about yourself.
Leanne Calderwood: I’m a busy-body go-getter and I love projects, whether at work or in my home. I have a hard time sitting and doing nothing. I thrive on connecting people to resources that help them in their work and their career, and I love seeing people reach their full potential. An early adopter of social media in events, I actively share event knowledge through various social media platforms and through my blog at LeanneCalderwood.com. I’ve worked at HelmsBriscoe for the past ten years, connecting conference and meeting planners to hotels and venues for their programs. My unique position as both hotel client and meeting planning supplier has honed my sales skills as well as my customer service skills, learning the do’s and don’ts on both sides of the coin. Raised in Alberta, I now make my home in Kelowna, B.C. with my husband and two active sons. Aside from my work and hobby of connecting people during the day, you can find me at the hockey rink, baseball diamond, running the hills of southeast Kelowna, working in my garden or trying new jam recipes in my kitchen.
CMN: Tell us about your work.
LC: What I love about the meetings industry is that it is different every single day. Working on site selection is no different as clients’ needs change continually. I spend most of my day being creative and helping clients find solutions to meet their needs, be it in researching hotels and destinations, negotiating their hotel contracts or helping provide direction on other meeting planning resources that will help them save time and money on their programs.
CMN: How did you get to where you are today?
LC: After spending several years as a corporate, association and independent meeting planner, I started with HelmsBriscoe 11 years ago to explore my passions and strengths in contract negotiation. Finding clients was the most difficult part of my journey in the beginning, but over time I honed my sales skills and learned how to communicate my value to potential clients. As such I’ve built a business as one of Canada’s top site selection professionals, but my goal will always be to provide exemplary service to each and every one of my clients and their needs.
CMN: What are some of the challenges you face?
LC: The hotel industry is always changing, whether by politics, economies, or simply from region to region. Staying on top of all the nuances that will affect my client’s buying decisions is the biggest challenge. It can be hard for clients who budgeted for an event based on history, only to learn that what could be negotiated last year in one market, will not work for a future program in another market. Some market changes give me an opportunity to deliver good news, but sometimes it’s the opposite, and I hate passing along disappointing news to clients when it impacts their bottom line.
CMN: Is there anything you would change in our industry, given the chance?
LC: Those of us who see the industry as a career, and not just a job, there’s still so much work to do to change the perceptions of what an event planner or meeting supplier does. While advocacy should happen at higher levels, it also needs to happen in our daily walks as individuals. It saddens me when I meet someone in the industry who regards their role as a job and not as a career or passion. We need as many voices as possible to help create awareness about our strong role in the country’s economic landscape.
CMN: Walk us through a typical day at work.
LC: As a Western Canadian, with clients and suppliers in the east, work begins early in the day for me. Tending to client emergencies and moving programs forward is my first order of business. From there, I always carve out time for strategic thinking. This can vary week to week, but it often focuses on how to deliver more or better value to clients. Reports, communications, blog posts — I don’t want a day to go by without putting some thought into how to improve on a resource. End of day typically includes a look back at the day that was, and look ahead to what tomorrow will bring.
CMN: What have been some of your biggest achievements?
LC: I really struggle with this question because we all define success so differently. By industry standards, I’ve achieved great success as a site selection specialist and as an industry volunteer with Meeting Professionals International, and now the Okanagan Meetings and Events Café, but I think my greatest achievement has been building a business that allows me the flexibility to work as much as I want and still have time to develop a strong blog and social media presence for our industry. I’m also raising two incredible kids, who both impress me every day with their strengths and proficiencies. They are my greatest achievement.
CMN: What do you like best about the meetings industry, particularly in your region or city?
The absolute best thing about the meetings industry is the people! I’ve met so many dedicated and intelligent individuals over the years. In fact, I just met someone I’ve been social media stalking for years; I was awe-struck — she’s so smart and so talented! Our industry is full of these talented people and they inspire me to be better. I’m also very lucky to live in a beautiful destination, where the potential for meetings has only just begun. There is so much more work and advocacy to be done to bring meetings to the beautiful Okanagan, and now I can help be a part of that.
CMN: Who are some of your notable clients?
LC: Most of my clients are from organizations that run lean on resources (associations or corporations); I find I work best with these planners as it offers a more collaborative and team-member driven environment. While my role may be small in the grand scheme of things, I like to be seen as a team member that can be leaned on when needed. My responsibilities increase when working with them, and I love that! Let me contribute value and find ways to be more strategic with your programs.
CMN: How do you deal with the challenges of work-life balance?
LC: I prefer balance over work-life balance. As with many in our industry, work is not a nine-to-five job. I work 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., but I also take my kids to school and their sports. I don’t enjoy sitting by the pool or the beach reading a novel, so I typically work when the rest of the gang is enjoying the sun. I find I’m highly creative when I’m on the beach or the dock, so I may as well crack open the laptop and get some strategic stuff done!
CMN: What are some of your most memorable events and why?
LC: While my role is not as the actual producer of the event, I do receive feedback when clients are onsite about the hotel and destination that were contracted for their groups. I love when a client can say to me after an event: “For our next conference, let’s find a hotel just like this one, but across the country!” Then I know they loved the layout and format, and the challenge is on for me to replicate that successful formula for future events.