Interviews with Planners - La'Bonnae Kea
La’Bonnae is a creative, experienced, and financially keen professional with over 12 years of career experience in collegiate, non-profit, and corporate event planning. She strategically manages projects, meetings and events for corporate organizations, small-business entrepreneurs and non-profits.
Ms. Kea understands that as event professionals, it is common to wear many hats to take clients' goals and objective from an initial concept to a fiscally-responsible, carefully-designed, and deadline-sensitive execution. This is one of many skillsets that she can humbly boast she has mastered. La’Bonnae operates from the personal mantra of empowering her clients to leverage creativity and harness logistical excellence to produce exacting execution in turn, delivering unforgettable experiences.
Hailed as an “event nerd” by her clients and peers, La’Bonnae believes the meeting and events industry is the dynamic that facilitates bottom-line results in a multitude of industries. She is an advocate for continuing education, experiential learning, and dedicating one’s career contributions to the future of his or her profession. She is an alumnus of Valdosta State University where she received her Bachelor in Fine Arts degree in Speech Communication with an emphasis on Public Relations. Ms. Kea is also a proud graduate of the prestigious Duquesne University where she earned her Master of Science degree in Leadership Studies.
During her robust planning career, she has lent her gifts and talents to organizations including but not limited to AutoTrader.com, National Sales Network, Girls Inc., True Financial and Law Partners, and Abstract Elements Management Agency. Her dogmatic advocacy has led her to be a regular guest lecture at Valdosta State University and Kennesaw State University, as well as a panel contributor for topics surrounding diversity and women in leadership.
Though La’Bonnae is a dedicated colleague, industry partner, and meeting and events innovator; her favorite title is “Auntie” to four beautiful nieces.
What is the best advice you have ever received as a planner?
Don't be an order taker! We have a responsibility to our clients to advise them creatively, logistically, and strategically.
And, suppliers are your best friends. . . treat them as such!
What is the most unique location you have ever planned an event at? What was great, what was challenging?
The most unique location I have ever planned an event at was a historic fort on the coast of Bermuda, Fort St. Catherine! The view from this venue was absolutely breathtaking. I remember so fondly selecting the decor, food menus, signature cocktails. I hand-picked a Beatles cover band, I mean it was amazing. We had to exercise a little strategy with the transportation team to get our large group up the fort without the use of motor coaches. Those were the good old days.
The perfectly planned night was met with every event planners most unpredictable element. . . the weather. It was so windy that night, the linen was practically flying off the tables. Thank God, the attendees were great sports. They danced the night away and some of the attendees even wore the linen as skirts. . . Sales People!
What advice would you give to someone entering the business today?
I would say experts are people who solve the most problems. Take every event, every task, and every client on as a learning opportunity. Experiential learning combined with formalized exposure to industry education will allow your career to soar.
Also, don't measure your success by awards. Don't get me wrong, awards are great! Measure your success by the number of clients you help accomplish their goals. We are meeting planners; we help change the world!
It is not enough to benefit from your industry as top performing contributor. That is the price of admission. True passion will leave every task, event, client, organization, and industry better than the way you found it.
What do you see as the most challenging aspect of being a planner, and how do you overcome that challenge?
The most challenging aspect of being a planner is making sure your client embraces the possibilities and limitations of their budget. They really need to understand that their budget is a means to accomplish the goals and objectives for which the event is designed. When people meet face-to-face they leave feeling differently, thinking differently, and doing differently. All budget allocation should be directed with this in mind. I overcome this challenge by beginning every consultation with this question. . . "so what do we want people to feel, think, and do when they leave?"
How do you think our industry will evolve in the next five years?
Corporate profits are expected to increase over the next five years. The average corporate organization spends 24% of its marketing budget on meeting and events. To deliver on financial objectives, meeting planners will have to get strategically creative! With attendee attention spans getting much shorter, planner will need have a laser focus on event design that promotes, support, and improves content retention, brand awareness, and overall experience. ROI can't just be a term, events will need to be viewed as real investments!
What makes you successful as a planner?
I never take it for granted that I have the best job on the planet. I never forget the economic impact we have on the cities we bring meetings to, or how much our industry contributes to the Gross Domestic Product. I never forget how our skill set has the power to put so many people to work in so many industries. When people meet, they change the world, and I march forward with that responsibility gracefully resting on my shoulder each day!
In your opinion, what is the best and worst industry trend of the year?
I think the coolest industry trend right now is the growing options in meeting/event education and credentialing. It is evidence that our roles are shifting in the direction of being a business partner to organizational leadership. The specialized options are also a highlight to the diverse needs of meeting planners who support various industries!
The worst industry is trend is people who are still holding on to paper conference booklets. Please stop this!
What is the best industry book that has helped you as a planner?
Two books that have helped me tremendously are the "The SPEED of TRUST: The One Thing That Changes Everything" by Stephen Covey and "Leading Up: How to Lead Your Boss So You Both Win" by Michael Useem. These are not directly connected to the industry but I believe they are the foundation of how I engage with my clients! I read MPI Member Magazine once a month as well.
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Meeting Professional International