Meet the planner: Kirsty Esson, Merlin Events

Snake cuddles and celebrities selfies are just another day in the office for this Sydney event manager.

Kirsty Esson never intended to pursue a career in events, but a taste of the industry at age 14 had her hooked.

Now, she heads up events at Merlin Events, which encompasses iconic venues SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds Sydney and the Sydney Tower Eye.

Here, we get to know Kirsty and hear her thoughts on favourite trends, most memorable moments and her top three must-haves for any event.

Name: Kirsty Esson
Position: Events manager NSW
Company: Merlin Events

How/when did you start in the events industry?

I started in events by accident. My first job (at 14 years old) was working for Hoyts Cinemas, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work on some pretty cool events. I discovered I loved the thrill and excitement that comes with running events.

I ended up working for various cinemas over the next 15 years, managing some really incredible events (nothing beats the thrill of a movie premiere). I then had an opportunity to join Merlin Entertainments in the NSW Events team, working on events across SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds Sydney and the Sydney Tower Eye.

I feel very lucky every day to work for such an amazing company and across such unique venues. What other events job would give me the opportunity to get a hug from a snake on a regular basis?

What is the most memorable event you’ve been part of?

I have been lucky enough to work on a number of amazing and unique events, from extravagant and star-studded film premieres to dinners under the sea at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium. But without a doubt my most memorable (and proud) event was a party hosted at Madame Tussauds Sydney on behalf of our Merlin’s Magic Wand Charity.

I was contacted by an ex-client, Eliza Ocaña, who was planning a Celebration of Life party for a young boy named Will who had a terminal diagnosis and was ending treatment. Will loved music, so myself, and the Merlin team worked with El to create an event in the Madame Tussauds Music Venue that was full of magical moments for Will, his family and his friends to cherish.

Will’s party

What event trends are you loving right now?

I love that sustainability has become a trend within the events industry. Events have the potential to drain resources, however at their core, events are all about engaging your guests, so trends in events usually mirror global social trends. This focus allows many companies to put a convincing business case to make change.

When a client enquires and asks questions about how we are able to deliver more sustainable events it is refreshing, and I love being able to talk about what Merlin is already doing, and often in the course of the discussion we discover new ideas to incorporate. It is trend I hope will last, and continue to evolve.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone entering the field?

NEVER forget that everything you do at an event is for the guest. Whatever purpose you have set for your event, the main goal is always to engage your guests. Whether it’s an informal event such as a Christmas party or a more structured event such as a conference or awards night, the guest experience must be the driving factor in your decision making.

Do not focus on what you want, or what your CEO wants, understand the “why” of your event and focus on how to convey this to your guests in a fun and engaging way.

Kirsty Esson
Kirsty and her work from home set-up

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during your career?

Always start planning your event knowing why you are planning your event. Every event has a why, but it is surprising how often the decision maker hasn’t clearly identified what it is. My first question to all my clients is “what is the purpose for this event?” It may simply be to thank your team, or give your staff an opportunity to socialise.

Or the why may be more specific: launching a product, communicating company information or celebrating a recent success. Once you know your why, your decision making is significantly easier and you are setting your event up for success.

What are 3 things you can’t live without during an event?

It is easy to say Food, Drinks and Entertainment, and these are of course important, but are also a given at any event. So for me the must-haves at any event would actually be:

1. Memorable Moments: Those unique moments at a great event that you walk away remembering and wanting to talk about or post about!

2. Genuine Connections: A perfect event should provide the opportunity for guests to connect, mingle and enjoy each other’s company. Any speeches or formalities should be created to communicate directly with whoever is in the room, not simply be a generic message which could be delivered to anyone (or no one).

3. Engaging Experiences: Don’t just invite guests to attend your event, make sure they are part of your event, create ways for them to engage with you, with the food and drinks, with the entertainment or with the venue. This will take your event from good to great!


Want to be featured in our Meet the Planner series or know someone who should?
Get in touch with the Spice team.

More from the Meet the Planner series:

Meet the planner: Alexandra Cowie, Workshop Events
Meet the planner: Vadawn Buhler, Applejack Hospitality

Meet the planner: Chad Davis, Musicland

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