An Event-ful Career: Eileen Baird’s Passion for Conferences and Trade Shows
Far Beyond the Booth…
When we think about the conference and trade show industry, we don’t often reflect on how it all comes together. Who decides which events draw industry leaders? How do they put together a strategic agenda and draw name speakers? How do all those booths get filled and sponsorships get sold? Despite the surge in digital communications, conferences are here to stay. And women like Eileen Baird are shaping the future of the industry. She is the Managing Director of the woman-owned C5 Group, producing high-profile professional events worldwide and managing a team of 250 people.
How Did Eileen Get Started?
Now one of the highest-ranking woman leaders in the conference world, Eileen Baird began her career in the large-scale events industry almost by accident. She responded to an ad for a general marketing position at a privately-held events company, at the time knowing very little about trade shows. During the course of the interviews, she fell in love with the industry and to this day remains a firm believer that women can truly love what they do in business.
Eileen’s experience spans the full breadth of event management — from strategy to operations — for large, established global events as well as launches. We asked Eileen about women leading in this industry, how it has evolved and how her entrepreneurial spirit has shaped her career.
Tell us more about your professional journey.
I’ve been in the events business for a couple of decades now and my first big management position was Group Show Director. I learned the every aspect of the trade show and conference business, including all the day-to-day functions in every department responsible for producing our events. We were lean and mean; all hands on deck anytime needed. At the time, registrations for our largest event were mailed in: it was a company-wide effort just opening them all!
From there I spent over a decade with Reed Exhibitions and then on to the Lincoln Healthcare Group. I joined the C5 Group this past summer in my biggest role to date, managing over 250 employees worldwide. I have had the privilege of working in organizations with dramatically different business models, but all with one common goal: delivering high quality, B2B events.
You mentioned this is an industry you can’t imagine NOT working in. What fuels your passion?
This is an industry full of opportunities, but full of competition. I get the greatest satisfaction from turning around underperforming businesses or brands, taking fledgling opportunities and making them profitable: this is what I’ve done the majority of my career. And now, the owner of the C5 Group — an amazing woman who started the company 30 years ago — has entrusted it’s performance and care to me. It’s something I’m proud of and a responsibility I take very seriously.
How has the industry changed over the years? What do you see on the horizon, both challenges and opportunities?
While the value of face-to-face as a marketing medium has not diminished on the whole, it has certainly impacted sectors significantly where the need to convene physically is not as important. The business has gone through – and continues to go through – a funnel where only the highest quality events will survive. Our customers have become exponentially more demanding in terms of ROI; value proposition has to be high. Technology has had a significant impact on all aspects the business; from providing event producers with improved market intelligence, management tools, execution tools to introducing new and exciting acquisition channels for our customers.
Any advice, lessons learned to share with women seeking careers in the events industry?
Learn as much about all aspects of the business as you can from the very beginning. They are integrated components that must work together to make the business successful – or not. And always be willing to listen and learn. Earlier in my career, I could site many instances where I didn’t always listen in my drive to get things done. It’s amazing the ideas and insights you get when you pay a little more attention to your employees, your customers and the market.
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