ROI’s Meet the Team Series is meant to showcase some of our exceptional team members and share in their passion for all things economic development. We also have a little bit of fun to help you get to know the ROI Team more personally.
In today’s series, we shine a spotlight on talent from Ireland. Meet Laura Martin, the Director of Training and Events. Over the last decade, Laura has steered the course in uniting Economic Development Offices with growing companies through her thoughtfully crafted events and campaigns. Laura is known for her ability to adapt to shifting event dynamics, her dedication to going above and beyond, and her insightful understanding of various cultures.
Explore the opportunities in event creation and learn more about Laura’s extensive experience in the field.
Tell us about the role you play at ROI. How do you work your event magic to empower Economic Development organizations?
Using events as part of a successful investment promotion strategy has two main advantages. 1) It provides EDOs and IPAs with the opportunity to have face time with investors, and 2) it gives EDOs and IPAs an important opportunity to really showcase their region whether the event is being held there or through the content, food and drinks and cultural experience offered.
Making in-person connections in the world of investment attraction and economic development is key to any successful strategy and that is why events play such a crucial role. I read an interview a few years ago with the former head of IDA Ireland who summed up the need for face-to-face connection very nicely with the phrase, ‘FDI is a contact sport.’ Initial conversations and due diligence can be done virtually but when companies are really considering making an investment in a new location nothing beats in-person interaction and getting to know the region and people you will be working with.
Can you describe your experience in planning and executing events FDI and EDOs?
In my more than a decade of producing investment attraction and promotion events, I have had the opportunity to organize every type you can imagine, from intimate thought leadership roundtables for a handful of guests, to large-scale, multi-day conferences for hundreds of participants. The most challenging and exciting caveat to my experience has been delivering these events spanning the globe and navigating different cultures and expectations. Location highlights include San Diego, CA, USA; Edinburgh, Scotland; Sydney, Australia; Sharjah, UAE and Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Can you tell us more about yourself and how you discovered the world of economic development?
When I graduated from University, I came back to Belfast to work on business events for a five-star hotel in the city. Through this job, I started collaborating with Invest NI and worked with the City Council to bring large-scale international events into Belfast including the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards. I saw first-hand the importance of investment and job creation and the transformative nature of internationalization for the residents of Northern Ireland and decided then that I wanted to focus my career specifically on economic development. I moved to London and got a job with a company dedicated to FDI and investment promotion events and training and am very excited to be continuing this work with ROI.
What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for event creation?
One of the biggest challenges for event creation is keeping them exciting and interesting for your target audience. Economic Development and Investment Attraction events have a great opportunity in that developing these events and using them to showcase the region through unique experiences or case studies will ultimately provide attendees with a memorable encounter creating a lasting impression on potential future investors.
Can you describe how you maintain a balance between virtual and in-person events, especially considering the changing landscape of events post-pandemic?
I have noticed that post-pandemic there is a huge appetite for in-person events – we are social creatures and people are craving that face-to-face connection that they were deprived of during the pandemic travel and meeting restrictions.
That being said, I think there has been a realization that virtual also serves a great purpose to connect where in person may not be the most cost-effective or convenient option at that time, for example, I have worked with a number of investment promotion and economic development organizations who have teams spanning the globe and it becomes very difficult to coordinate schedules and very costly to bring the whole team together for training – I have seen virtual training sessions utilized as a great opportunity to connect these teams and refresh their skills.
Could you share an example of a successful event you organized?
ROI recently delivered event and lead generation services for the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, Saudi Arabia’s Gala Dinner at Transport Logistic Munich. Our team successfully produced an incredible event attracting so much interest from C-Suite executives that the numbers for the dinner had to be increased twice in the week leading up to it. The timeframe for the project was very tight and it was challenging to source a venue, organise the logistics and deliver high-profile attendees but in the end, we exceeded our clients and our own expectations.
Share a fun behind-the-scenes anecdote from organizing a past event that taught you a valuable lesson.
My advice to anyone organizing an event is to expect the unexpected and plan for every eventuality. There have been too many instances to count where something has not gone to plan but one episode stands out. In 2015 I was running a large FDI conference in San Diego, California that included three days of conference sessions and several networking receptions. One of these receptions was a Slovenian wine tasting on a boat in San Diego Bay. A few days before the reception was due to take place, I received a call from the boat rental company letting me know that the boat we were due to use had crashed into the pier (the video is on YouTube!). I had to work with the company to have another similar boat chartered and sailed down from LA in time for the reception a few days later. Thankfully everything worked out and the reception was a highlight of the conference, but it is truly a reminder that absolutely anything can happen when you are planning an event!
If you could have any celebrity guest speaker at your event, who would it be, and what topic would they address?
Sadly, it obviously is not possible, but I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain and would have loved to hear him speak about his travels, opinions on life and experiences of different cultures and cook anything he felt like!
Describe the best piece of advice you’ve ever received. How has it influenced your life and career?
I have read and watched pretty much everything Anthony Bourdain produced during his lifetime and his advice relating to travel and experiencing different cultures has always resonated with me in my career and life in general. I hope to see as much of the world as possible and meet and learn from as many different people and cultures as I can.
“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn.”
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I am an avid reader, it is one of my favourite things to do when I have any spare time. My favourite recent reads include The Paper Palace, Daisy Jones and the Six, Where the Crawdads Sing and Little Fires Everywhere. My favourite book of all time is The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
What’s your guilty pleasure when it comes to food or snacks?
I really love a fancy cheese and charcuterie platter and during Covid lockdowns spent much more time than I should care to admit, perfecting them.