Rashada LeRoy made headlines this year when her event planning company LRY Media Group was tapped to produce the opening and closing ceremonies for the World Games, which will be hosted in Birmingham in 2022. Organizers of the World Games may have set out to select a large, national firm to put on the most visible events of the international competition, but Rashada and her team stole the show with an impressive pitch focused on Birmingham’s history and heritage. Now, a woman-owned, Black-owned, Birmingham-based business is poised to produce two nearly Olympic-sized events. We talked to Rashada about what this opportunity means for her company, what it takes to host a great event, how her company has shifted in the pandemic, and more. Meet our newest FACE of Birmingham!
What does the opportunity to produce these events for the World Games mean for your company?
I still wake up and think, “Is this real? Did we really get that contract?” This is the biggest opportunity that we’ve ever had, and this opens us up to other opportunities. We have invited six experts to be a part of this effort, people who have worked on Super Bowl and Olympic events. Our goal is to make sure we can put on the best show possible, to make sure that wherever there’s an opportunity to fill we’re looking to other diverse businesses to see if they can help us fill some of these gaps, and to make sure we represent Birmingham well.
We’re also managing the World Games Plaza, which is a multi-day experience with music, entertainment, World Games merchandise and an opportunity to demo some of the sports that are happening in the World Games. It’s a great opportunity for people to come into the city and really connect and have a great time.
Your company has produced events such as the 2019 Birmingham Freedom Fest, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, NOBEL (National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women), Bronze Valley and The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham’s Smart Party. What’s the key to a great in-person event – big or small?
The key to a great in-person experience is the attention to detail. From the time you receive the invitation or the time you hear about the event — that’s when the experience actually starts. From that moment up until the time you leave, we’re constantly thinking through how we can make this great.
I am very critical of everything that we do. No matter how large or how small — how can we make each experience greater than the one we had before? Regardless of the size, regardless of the client, our goal is to always elevate.
How has your company had to pivot during COVID?
[At first] I thought this is going to be two weeks and then we’ll be back. I think a lot of people thought that. And then those two weeks turned into four and six, and the next thing you know we’re where we are today. The day the Essence Festival canceled was my breakdown day because that’s a huge event for us. I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know the state of events. Is my company going to survive? All of these thoughts started going through my head. The next day I put together our first virtual event strategy and a client said, “I’ll try it!” and that was all I needed. It has skyrocketed from there.
Also, I have a background in strategy work. I put a hit out one day to a couple of my peers to see if anybody needed community strategy or help understanding how to navigate through social injustices and equity. The phone and the email started blowing up. Before I knew it, I was working on three community engagement strategies.
When I’m talking to people who are trying to figure out how to navigate the pandemic, I say go back through everything you’ve ever done in life to see how you can take that and turn that into something that can at least pay your rent and feed your family. COVID, to me, is not about being a millionaire. Success is surviving.
This year you’ve done successful virtual versions of Birmingham Freedom Fest and the Smart Party. What’s the key to a great virtual event?
It’s about making sure that you can still provide a way for people to connect. The biggest thing that I have learned and what I hang our hat on is you cannot go into the virtual space with the live event mindset. There’s a level of connectivity that comes along with a live event. You’re there, you’re surrounded by people, you’re looking at the space. With the virtual experience, you have to create that level of connectivity. With Smart Party, through the chat feature, you still felt like you were engaging with your co-worker or your peer or your friend you invited to participate in the event.
Quality content makes a big difference, too. With virtual events, you have to make them entertaining. There’s so much happening in your space. I could be on my computer watching a virtual event but yet I’m on my phone and I’m texting, or I could get up and leave the room. There are so many things that can distract you from the virtual space that you have to be entertained.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love to travel even though 2020 has not been a travel year. I do believe in fashion therapy. I’m not going to call it retail therapy because I used to find myself before the pandemic going to clothing stores just to touch the clothes. There’s something calming to me to be able to walk through a mall, in and out of different stores, and just put visions of outfits together in my mind whether I purchase them or not.
A lot of times when I’m not working, I’m either talking to or with my mom. On Friday nights she, my aunts and I get on the phone and talk about absolutely nothing. It’s just so much laughter and I don’t know what we’re laughing at.
My passion is earrings. I started making my own earrings very early on and I got sidetracked. Now, finally, I’m working on my own earring line.
What’s the best advice you have to give?
Be authentically you in every situation regardless of what type of pressure you may be under. Show up as your true self, and whatever happens you will be 100 percent okay because you know you came to the table as you.
Name three things you can’t live without.
San Pellegrino water, baked potatoes, and earrings.
Thank you, Rashada, and we can’t wait to see what you create for the 2022 World Games! All photography provided by Rashada LeRoy.