Big Interview: Liz Taylor
Liz Taylor, MD at Taylor Lynn Corporation, chats to Martin Fullard about the events industry needing greater recognition and finding talent
How did you find your way into the events industry?
The short version is that I came from a career in retail management, via an impending birth, and ended up in the right place at the right time. I saw a great business opportunity – that lightbulb moment that people speak of. So I took the risk and the rest is history.
What’s the story behind Taylor Lynn Corporation?
The ‘Lynn’ in Taylor Lynn Corporation was Dianne Lynn, a key supplier to my first event company, Liz Taylor Associates. After nine years working successfully for myself, and within a London events company, we joined forces. It was the best move I could have made. We combined skills, set up a partnership and developed a unique style of creativity under one roof. The event industry was still in its infancy in the north west, and we set the pace in developing a strong corporate client base; much of which I retain to this day.
We were business partners until 2008, when there was an amicable buy-out and I took sole control of the company. That year we topped £4m turnover and have gone from strength to strength. TLC has evolved into a business delivering quality events for the corporate sector, but also has an established little black book of celebrity and private clientele.
What, in your experience, has been the biggest change in the industry over the last decade?
It’s growth! In 1986 the event sector was underdeveloped in the North West, but I always saw that it had potential. My clients were invariably PAs, now they are a blend of in-house event teams, communications teams, marketing directors, HR managers and a legion of discerning EAs, PAs and VAs. All of whom have bold expectations, wider choices about how to plan their events, and who to use. The number of events may have grown dramatically, but so has competition; and the need to deliver a return on investment.
Most people I’ve spoken to in this industry ‘fell into it’, yet these same people are now insisting on formal education at degree level, do you agree with that?
No. I have interviewed and employed many people, some with event management degrees and some without. The ones who I feel understand the needs and demands of the business best are the ones who have had some level of practical experience though; with or without a university education. That experience may be working in the leisure industry waiting tables or serving drinks in a bar, but above all, communicating. The ability to think on their feet, work within a team and constantly
communicate is what impresses me.
That’s not to dismiss the value of a degree as the base for a career in event management. I have employed interns who wanted to combine this formal training with experience; a great mix. My last intern was so impressive in putting the theory into practice, that I employed her.
What do you see as being key priorities for the events industry over the next few years; should it be focusing on environmental matters, mental health awareness, things like that?
Yes, they are all important, but ultimately these individual initiatives need to be part of a consolidated push for greater industry recognition.
Often seen as a ‘soft’ industry, wider business still seems to undervalue our contribution to the people and financial economy. Every event planner has a role to play in bringing a greater awareness to the contribution we make; at a local level, nationally and internationally.
The government has this year announced a sector deal which specifies benefits for the business events industry. As the profile of our industry increases, scrutiny will too. Where do you think we need to improve?
If you are an event professional, there is nothing to fear and everything to gain. Scrutiny will deliver assurance for corporate, and private buyers, that their event planner has the skills, experience and knowledge to deliver.
Of course, we will all huff and puff around the potential of extra bureaucracy, I do for sure, but the bottom line is this: if you are offering a quality service, carry on. Those promising the dream and delivering a nightmare, move over.
I am told that you dislike tendering for events, yet you boast a 70% client retention. Why do you dislike the process, what would you like to see, and how do keep your clients?
As a business professional, I understand the need for a tender process. If every event were identical in creative input and services, this may be fair. But it’s not. I am selling an intangible product that cannot be directly compared to another event provider. And the service cannot be purely price driven. For example, one live entertainer is not the same as another. Quality; performance; delivery.
It all varies, so how can you simply reduce that to a figure on a spreadsheet?
If it is a creative tender, I am happy to be part of it. Invariably it’s about cost. When I work on a project, I spend a huge amount of time understanding the brief, getting to know the company and its brand, developing relationships with the client, and coming up with innovative and ‘out of the box’ concepts. This is all part of the process in creating an event that delivers the client’s business aspirations and goals. It’s this level of detailed planning and creative input that my clients have valued for 30 years. Hence my client retention.
Importantly, clients also need to ‘buy into’ the planner they use. There must be a degree of trust involved. Trust in the creative elements. Trust that you will deliver. And trust that all the planning will ensure plain sailing on the day. That relationship is invaluable. I am not sure on which line of a spreadsheet this can be included.
What is it that you love most about the industry?
The pace, excitement, diversity and people. The industry attracts people with a meticulous eye for detail and a pathological love of organisation – which is why I am still at the heart of this business after 30 years – but there is also a huge level of personal and professional satisfaction in being creative.