Why does it seem that those who do so much for us often go unnoticed? It might be grandpa Joe who picks you up from campus late at night or your co-worker who brings you coffee every morning; sometimes we take these people for granted.
Everyone deserves recognition for their work and this week we’d like to acknowledge a fellow industry professional that does a lot for our city:
Ottawa’s rich history and culture attracts thousands of visitors every year. The Ottawa Convention Centre (formerly the Ottawa Congress Centre) is home to a multitude of festivals, conventions, and political events, accounting for 25 per cent of non-local attendees in its opening year of 2011.
In 2011, the Ottawa Convention Centre (OCC) accommodated 562 events and more than 200,000 attendees, contributing nearly $67 million to Ottawa’s GDP. The centre plays an enormous role in Ottawa’s economy.
Loretta Briard, director of events at the Ottawa Convention Centre, works behind the scenes to help the organization reach its maximum potential. Her roles include, but are not limited to, revenue generation, developing marketing and sales plans, event logistics, client and service appreciation, and implementing leadership tools designed to maximize the success of her department.
Loretta manages and supports a team of ten in their roles at the OCC. These people include event service managers responsible for planning, sales, client meetings, food and beverage; and business development consultants who bring business to the OCC.
As imagined, a lot goes into planning a large convention like the NHL All Star weekend, for example. A ‘three-step client cycle’ takes place, meaning sales, planning and execution occur within three separate departments.
“My department is responsible for the planning of the conventions- set up and floor plans, food and beverage, timing, logistics- we set the operations team up for success,” Loretta explained.
For smaller gatherings like weddings or consumer shows, Loretta and her team are responsible for the sales and planning of the event- a ‘two-step client cycle’.
“So in this case, we are there for the initial meeting right through planning, but within days of the event we introduce the client to the operations manager who is in charge of physically executing the event,” she continued.
Events like dinner galas can have as many as 3,000 guests, whereas multi-day conventions can host even more. To this date, the largest occasion hosted by the OCC has been a four-day public show with 30,000 visitors. Stress levels can drastically increase with projects of that size, but Loretta insists she knows how to stay calm.
“It takes many team members to plan and run an event. It is not stressful when everyone understands their roles. Things run smoothly then. I don’t find the job difficult anymore, but at times it can be incredibly busy,” Loretta says.
Loretta admits meeting new clients, watching an event come to life, and seeing it successfully unfold are the most gratifying aspects of her job. She confessed sometimes there are small hiccups in the execution on the day of, but they are so minute only those involved in the planning process notice.
Not everything at the OCC is a piece of cake, regardless of how many years of experience an employee has under their belt. When the Ottawa Congress Centre was demolished in 2008 to make room for the Ottawa Convention Centre, many employees lost their jobs. To many of those who remained, the transition was not an easy one.
“Several people found it difficult to accept change because it can be stressful. I was excited for what was to come and actually welcomed it,” Loretta explained.
More than 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry has prepared Loretta for nearly any type of situation and has strengthened her skill set. But her passion for the industry began at the age of 14 when she bussed tables as a part-time job.
Unwavering from her realm of interest, Loretta pursued an education in hospitality management and food nutrition management. Several years and plenty of serving jobs later, she found herself at the OCC.
“I was interested in event planning but my experience was very operational within the industry. I saw an ad for an event manager position with the OCC and recognized it as my chance to put my foot in the door. I had hoped one day I would move up to a higher position. It worked,” Loretta happily remarked.
Loretta has always had a desire to work in an exciting atmosphere and be in the heart of the action. She believes the Ottawa Convention Centre has been a great match since day one.
“You have to have a passion for the industry. You have to be able to work in a team environment and be able to remain calm and in control when the event takes on a life of its own.”