Whether you’re stacking up those loyalty points like a boss, or your interaction with the WestJet brand is a little less frequent, you’ve likely heard and seen their “Owners Care” approach to friendly air travel. With an entire brand built around a next-level corporate culture, it stands to reason that the holiday event that brings WestJetters together to celebrate cannot be your average corporate holiday event. Fortunately for WestJet and for us, at the heart of the event is Krista Beatty, who embodies the brand’s above-and-beyond mentality and together with her team makes this one of our most rewarding projects of the year. So rewarding, in fact, that we want to give you a chance to be inspired by Krista’s enthusiasm, creativity, and know-how too by bringing you a closer look at the experience of bringing “Oh The Places We’ll Go” to WestJet employees in Toronto and Calgary this holiday season.
“I look for inspiration everywhere. I mean everywhere.”
One of the many things a corporate event has to get right is brand, and with WestJet, that means energy, a bit of humour, and stepping outside the box. One of Krista’s main challenges is that, aside from a percentage of new employees from year to year, her audience is always the same. “I produce events solely for WestJetters, and it’s something I take seriously,” Krista tells us. “These are people I care about and a company I’m committed to.” That rules out falling back on what worked last time, and puts no small amount of pressure on getting it right. “I realize theme isn’t a deciding factor for everyone,” she continues, “but if one guest (just one!) comes because they think I can take something simple and turn it into something beautiful, I call that a success.”
In addition to a brand challenge, coming up with original ideas is something of a personal challenge for Krista. “Early in my career, someone told me that there’s ‘no such thing’ as an original idea. This made me sad!” she shares. Krista refused to accept that there was nothing new to discover, and has since made it a personal challenge to make sure her work feels fresh and original, every time. So how to come up with new ideas, when there are no new ideas?
“To start, I look for inspiration everywhere. I mean everywhere. Arts, architecture, literature, culture – I’m always on the lookout! If/when something stands out, I start to curate the idea.” That step involves lots of research, digging into anything that may have been done around the potential theme elsewhere, as well as looking closely at the idea from all angles, to tease out any possible negatives. Lastly, she asks herself, “How does this theme complement WestJet’s business and culture?” If the theme can survive this initial phase, Krista knows she’s got a winner on her hands.
The genuine passion of Krista and the rest of her team is contagious and makes the design process a dream for Amy, our lead on the project, and the rest of our team. “Krista and her team are not only creative,” Amy says, “but open to taking risks, pushing boundaries, and thinking outside the box to bring their unique themes to life.” With that kind of foundation, it’s just a matter of leaning into the theme and following where it takes us together.
“Consistency doesn’t equal samesies!”
To add to the pressure of wowing a company full of full-time wow-ers, this event was held in two cities, with the expectation that each group would get the same great experience.
“Part of the curation process [for the theme] means choosing something that all WestJetters can relate to,” Krista starts, but she quickly adds that, “Consistency doesn’t equal samesies! It’s impossible to create the same environment in both venues, so instead, I work hard to create an event that’s meaningful and pays respect to each city and event size.”
For example, in 2018 the difference in guest count between the two events was 1,000 guests – a significant gap that plays into choices on everything from venue to catering. So how do you adjust as needed, deal with complications, and still make sure a Toronto WestJetter and a Calgary WestJetter go home at the end of the night having had a consistent overall experience? You create, and lean on, teamwork and great partnerships.
Internally, Krista works closely with her People & Culture team, which includes putting in the time and effort to build a strong culture of camaraderie, confidence, and creative courage. “We have worked hard to understand what makes each of us tick and focus on developing our strengths and acknowledging/supporting our weaknesses,” she tells us. “This team keeps me grounded. I rely on them for so many things and trust them… They are amazing sounding boards, idea-listeners (and sharers!), and just genuinely incredible people.”
Added to this inspiring internal team are the external partners who round out the needs of the event.
“We rely heavily on two groups of vendors,” Krista says. The core team, which includes décor (that’s us!) and AV, works closely with Krista to manage the details of executing the theme across both host cities, ensuring the same overall look and feel. The second group is made up of vendors local to each city – for example, catering or floral vendors. These partnerships are key to the consistency between and success of the two events.
“Not all of [my ideas] make it across the finish line, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Great collaboration means you have to be willing to trust your partners, value their input, and know that you’re all invested in the big picture.
“I 100% rely on [the core team] to be honest about my ideas,” Krista says. “Not all of them make it across the finish line, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Suggestions and feedback are part of the process and all work in service of putting forward the best production for WestJetters.” From our perspective, that willingness to not only guide but listen and collaborate is so crucial to doing our best work.
“Krista and her team are not only creative,” Amy says, “but open to taking risks, pushing boundaries, and thinking outside the box to bring their unique themes to life.”
Each year, it’s a true pleasure for us to see the pieces come together after so many months of planning and creating – especially since, in true WestJet fashion, both the event production team and their guests go above and beyond. “This team goes beyond décor, screen content, and lighting to bring their concept to life; it’s is also written into the speeches, and guests always dress the part. Everyone leans right into the idea and it elevates the event as a whole when it all comes together,” Amy shares.
Take a closer look at the WestJet 2018 “Oh The Places We’ll Go” holiday event by checking out our event profile. Thank you to our wonderful client, Krista, for sharing her insight here and for taking us along on this amazing ride this year. We can’t wait to get started on Holiday 2019!
If you’ve got big ideas for working together (or want a little help with the big ideas part), get in touch with us here.