My Event World - Keith O'Loughlin

Keith O'Loughlin, chief executive of TRO, joined the agency in 1987 and is now delivering campaigns for some of the world's leading brands from offices across the UK, Europe and Asia Pacific. He talked to Event about why we should listen to primary school teachers and the importance of being surrounded by good talent.

Keith O’Loughlin from agency TRO shares his career story
Keith O’Loughlin from agency TRO shares his career story

I got into the event industry because... wow, that is winding the clock back a long time. Actually, I remember it clearly – a friend of mine raved about a little event agency in Norwich called Town and County Promotions which worked with Volvo in the UK. I loved cars and wanted the opportunity to see the country, so I went and asked the owner for a job – he hired me.

I have worked here since February 1987. George Michael and Aretha Franklin were number one with I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) and Margaret Thatcher was re-elected shortly after for a third term as prime minister. It would be another two years before Timothy Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and nine years before Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google.

I was attracted to this particular role because when I joined the agency that we developed into the TRO we know now, there were just six employees. I have worked my way through the business from production to client servicing. Six months into the global financial crisis in 2008, it became clear that it was time to transform the business from a domestic strategy to a global one; adapting to the rapid change in consumer behaviours and the digital landscape. As CEO you have the opportunity to drive change that keeps your agency relevant to the market, and sustainable.

Not many people know that our primary school teachers were right when they observed that we have two eyes, two ears and one mouth – features that should be used in that order and ratio. It is amazing what you can learn from the world around us and other people and cultures.

The best event I’ve been involved was the London 2012 Olympics. Thousands of event professionals showcased what the UK event industry can produce, from the opening ceremony to creative installations and exhibitions. Absolutely brilliant. We at TRO were proud to deliver hospitality experiences and brand spaces for BT and BMW.

If I could do it all over again I would do three things. I would have learnt sooner that one of the secrets of success is to surround yourself with highly motivated and talented people. Also you need to be very clear about what you agency is good at, as well as stay fitter – it takes longer to get it back the older you get.

The one thing I can’t stand is arrogance. Confidence should be admired, self-assurance should be admired but to be arrogant is wasteful.

Outside of work I spend my time... family is important; we spend our leisure time travelling, Hvar in Croatia is an annual destination in the autumn when the crowds have subsided. This summer we toured Canada – the floating wilderness at Knight Inlet was a highlight.

If money were no object I would love to own a second home at Woolloomooloo in Australia in the old wharves with an Aston Martin DB9 in the garage and a wooden Halverson launch at the quay.

If I could switch places with anyone else in the industry it would be... the event industry has many admirable captains but a character I really admire is my colleague Alexei Orlov who now runs the RAPP network – there is a grace and artistry to the way Alexei operates that I invariable learn from.

If I ruled the event industry I would... I am not comfortable with the concept of ‘ruling the event industry’, it implies some sort of all knowledgeable omnipotence which I believe undermines the potential of the thousands of talented people working in the industry. However, if I could lay down a few principles by which we should behave, at the top of that list would be a clarion call for professionalism – the better we are at our jobs individually, the more our industry thrives.

Want to be featured in a future My Event World? Email news editor Samantha Edwards for further details.

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