In her role as creative director at JAK Creative & Events, Kerryn Howell has the enviable job of generating creative event concepts and bringing them to life.
Like many business owners and event profs, Kerryn wears multiple hats and on any one day can be client liaison, head of marketing, head of sales or conductor of outbound comms and content creation.
Reflecting on her 20 years of experience in the industry, Kerryn shares her career highlights, biggest learning moments and some advice for those looking to break into the industry.
Where did you start your career?
After graduating from RMIT Visual Merchandising, I began my career as a window dresser for The Technical Book Shop on Swanston Street and more formatively as the in-house creative designer for the Metro Nightclub on Bourke Street in Melbourne.
I took on every challenge they threw at me from dressing Boy George’s stage and Courtney Love’s dressing room to engineering balloon drops with 3,000 balloons and body painting fashion models. I was adopted by their lighting crew when they needed an extra set of hands and in return they taught me what lights could do, rigging techniques and a bit of the jargon which has been invaluable ever since!
Before I knew it I was freelancing my designs and installation concepts to a range of venues. When Jane Klose and I established what was then ‘Theme from JAK’ in 2000 (us in our early 20s), having the ability to converse competently with AV suppliers and technicians was a huge asset.
What events are you working on at the moment?
We are currently working on a very exciting Alice in Wonderland-inspired theme as well as an F1-inspired event, a Las Vegas house party and a fabulous, sparkling 1920s creation (which we truly hope we can roll out in 2020!).
With the current landscape resembling more of a ghost town than a thriving event market place, we are focusing much of our time internally on business operations. Our aim is to ensure JAK Creative is ‘business fit’ and ready to move, create and inspire as soon as our clients and venues are ready too!
What’s the best thing about your job?
Working with event professionals at the top of their game. It’s such a joy to be surrounded by specialists with the common vision of creating incredible events. We work with a range of specialists in their respective fields who all bring their own experience and insights to our creations. Working collaboratively in this way really raises the bar, teaching me new things and offering new perspectives with every event.
What advice would you give to someone entering the field?
It might sound a little clichéd but it’s how I got there: say yes to things! Be willing to get involved, learn and volunteer yourself to gain experience. Having a ‘can-do’ attitude makes you more visible to the people you aspire to work with. It creates connections and opens door to meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
Being bold and diving in is a really great way to push the boundaries of your own capabilities too. I spend quite a bit of time mentoring students and presenting to tertiary classes. The majority of our ‘stand-out’ employees end up at JAK as a result of these interactions. I’m always drawn to the personalities who put their hands up and say ’I am here, I am passionate, I am brave and if you say no I’ll just keep coming back!’ A little bit of determination goes a long way.
What would your dream event look like?
I really love designing completely immersive spaces to give the guest a real sense of being transported to a different reality. My dream event would look like a fantasy scape full of jaw-dropping visuals, ‘Instagrammable’ moments and delightful discoveries to bring out the child in us all.
Heston Blumenthal creations will inspire the menu, if by chance he is not already in the kitchen. The lighting design will blend effortlessly with technology and entertainment creating it’s own ecosystem of light, sound and atmosphere.
A curation of bars and lounges, high places, low places, eating places and playful places. There is space to explore and to be energised as well as space for an inspired conversation… Now I just need the right client!
What has been your career highlight?
I really, really loved working on the Cisco Live Customer Appreciation Event in 2017. It was one of those perfect storms where the budget allowed us to create things as we envisaged them and then some!
Our client really encouraged us to pull out all the stops with our creative approach and gave us the space and trust to really explore the full spectrum of what was possible. We had a team of superstar builders, lighting designers and production crew who were a delight to work with and equally committed to delivering a ‘wow factor’ event.
Watch the event highlights here:
Have you had any major event disasters? What happened?
Oh, of course we have! We are pretty meticulous in our planning and design processes, so if things go wrong it definitely devastates us more than any other stakeholder. Fortunately, to date there has not been a disaster that could not be managed. We prioritise all our production to arrive early at the warehouse where possible in order to troubleshoot any errors with enough time to correct any oversights before the event.
Errors are opportunities to review and improve procedures to eliminate the same mistake happening twice. The majority of mistakes we encounter are the result of information being ‘lost in translation’ as well as people making presumptions where there is a lack of information. It’s always a result of being human.
The most stressful things to happen are; items delivered to the event site late, incomplete or damaged. One time we had a custom stage arrive that was being built onsite painted in the completely wrong colour! Definitely a major disaster! A crew of incredibly dedicated builders stayed up all night repainting the stage by hand to have it complete for the following morning. Fortunately everyone did whatever it took to turn it around. It’s also important to have a beer afterward and have a toast to pulling out all the stops to deliver no matter what.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during your career?
So many big lessons! But I will choose the one that has impacted me the most personally. I have learned the value of having the hard conversations as soon as they are identified. This has been quite the learning curve as I am a serial people pleaser. The hard conversations can range from the clients budget not aligning with their vision to something going wrong during development or production.
If you can remove the anxiety and disappointment from the conversation and focus on the desired outcome, then you can get back to making a great event much faster. Putting it off weighs you down and slows the process. The rewarding part about it is that it instills confidence. It places you in a position of leadership, allowing you to navigate to optimal results in the most professional way. Being honest and to the point in all areas of the client/supplier relationship builds integrity and trust.
Find out how Kerryn Howell and the team at JAK Creative & Events can bring your event to life here.