Audrey Lakin is a city girl, so she never thought she’d have to learn what a soybean was—until she became a marketing planner for the Chicago Board of Trade early in her career. From visiting farmers in the flatlands one day to schmoozing with executives in New York the next, Lakin became quite comfortable with entertaining vastly different crowds—so comfortable she took matters into her own hands by opening corporate planning firm Executive Productions, Ltd., which has a strong tie to the real estate community. As her company turns 20 this year, Lakin has much reason to celebrate.
ILM+E: What was your very first job?
AL: “I started in college with Lettuce Entertain You by booking their private event space at Bones, formerly in Lincolnwood.”
ILM+E: What made you want to start your own firm 20 years ago?
AL: “I had my first child and wanted to continue to do events but with less travel commitments. And I was lucky because back then event planning was not the most popular profession, but I was able to find my niche.”
ILM+E: What’s the biggest industry change you’ve seen?
AL: “Technology has been the biggest advancement. Now people don’t call, they email or text. I’m finding that to be my biggest challenge, trying to convince people there is still a purpose in being together for an event.”
ILM+E: How did you start building your client list in the beginning?
AL: “I have to give credit to my husband. He’s in real estate, so every time I’d meet his friends, I’d network and now the calls keep coming, especially for most big events in the city, including the 100th anniversaries of the Burnham Center and the Wrigley Building this year.”
ILM+E: Are there any challenges in planning for the same audience each time?
AL: “I have to always get creative and provide different experiences. I have to create the atmosphere, whether it’s a themed event, bringing in a sports star or having giveaways.”
ILM+E: What has been the biggest asset of your success?
AL: “Understanding that the bottom line is relationships. Sometimes that means scheduling two lunches even if I’m not hungry or I’m busy. It’s about making people feel they are the most important.”