Laura Purdy is an accomplished leader in Canada’s exhibition and event management industry. With over 25 years of industry experience, she has been a part of the leadership team (currently the general manager) at Exhibition Place throughout some of its most high-profile events including the Pan American Games, the World Youth Day Conference and Papal Visit, and the G20 Summit. We asked her to reflect on the top five lessons she’s learned along the way.
"Don't be afraid to be bold in your approach to problem-solving and keep your eyes open to opportunities that leverage under-the-radar assets."
Lesson 1: Lead with Transparency & Empathy
Staffing is one of the biggest challenges our industry is facing today. Today’s workplace has changed, and we have adapted through incorporating hybrid and flexible work models and fostered diversity, equity, and inclusion in all that we do. One major factor in retaining bright, talented people is leading in a style that responds to these changing dynamics.
"I’ve always found that leading with empathy has allowed me to better understand and engage my team and build positive relationships that engender an environment of positive collaboration, accountability and integrity."
Today, it’s important to lead with transparency, fostering a culture of open dialogue to build trust. In addition, I’ve always found that leading with empathy has allowed me to better understand and engage my team and build positive relationships that engender an environment of positive collaboration, accountability and integrity.
Lesson 2: Bold Solutions Open Doors
Being adaptable is at the core of what we do as event professionals. This virtue, combined with out-of-the-box thinking, are great tools to create bold solutions at work. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our team plotted a course of action to prepare ourselves for the short term. Once we quickly realized this was a long-term, international health crisis, Exhibition Place pivoted and boldly converted our venue into a film studio.
Leveraging our existing relationships with studios and streaming services and working in tandem to achieve our GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation, we activated our workforce to serve one of the few industries to continue operations during the pandemic, and doing it safely. This allowed us to retain staff and they gained experience operating with strict health restrictions. I’m proud that our team delivered over 30 film projects in a year and a half. When the time came to reopen to live business events, we were well practiced in meeting the needs of our clients.
"Once we quickly realized the COVID-19 pandemic was a long-term, international health crisis, Exhibition Place pivoted and boldly converted our venue into a film studio. I’m proud that our team delivered over 30 film projects in a year and a half."
Lesson 3: Stay One Step Ahead
As our industry moves beyond reopening into recovery, we’ve learned that human connection and in-person events are irreplaceable. Yet, the digital realm is playing an increasingly important role in live business events and Wi-Fi is the thread that ties it all together. Wi-Fi facilitates business transactions for exhibitors and offers new ways for delegates to interact and engage.
Lesson 4: The Value of the Long Game
Almost two decades ago, in 2004, our management team created a strategy to plan for the long-term sustainability of Exhibition Place inspired by the City of Toronto’s environmental initiatives. At the time, sustainability came with an extra price tag in the MC&IT industry, and there were challenges to making this attractive to clients. So, we played the long game and brought our CSR to market with no additional cost to our clients.
"Today, our long-term sustainability strategy has paid off for the health of the planet and made us leaders in this space across North America with our LEED convention venues, the Enercare Centre and Beanfield Centre."
We knew that clients would benefit by achieving a level of sustainability at their event that they couldn’t have achieved in the past simply by hosting their event at our venue. There was a parallel initiative to educate and inspire our clients help take their sustainable initiatives to the next level. Today, this long-term strategy has paid off for the health of the planet and made us leaders in this space across North America with our LEED convention venues, the Enercare Centre and Beanfield Centre.
Takeaway: Long-term thinking is an asset, especially when it comes to sustainability.
Lesson 5: Give Back to the Industry
Over the last 25 years, I have had the benefit of working with inspiring people in a dynamic and engaging industry. In gratitude for all that I’ve learned, I truly believe in giving back to the industry. Volunteering on the board of organizations like the Canadian Association of Exposition Management and Meetings Mean Business Canada isn’t only rewarding, it is a reinvestment into the future growth and evolution of the events industry. It’s critical that we encourage young professionals coming into the workforce to choose our industry and build a rewarding career on the show floor.
Takeaway: Find ways to volunteer your time to support newcomers, it makes our industry grow stronger which contributes to our future growth and viability.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.