After submitting two entries in prior contest years, the third time proved to be magic for Jennifer Laurence, the winner of our Magic of Protocol Contest in honor of National Protocol Officer Week. Learn more about Jennifer’s winning entry and about her unique experiences in protocol as an estate manager consultant and owner of www.luxurylifestylelogistics.com.
Jennifer, congratulations on winning the “Magic of Protocol” contest in honor of National Protocol Officer Week. We asked entrants to demonstrate how protocol officers around the world use their “magic” on a daily basis—working behind the scenes to properly plan and orchestrate VIP visits, ceremonies, meetings and special events. Tell us a little about your entertaining entry and how you got the idea for your presentation.
I really resonated with this year’s theme of magic and I just went full steam ahead with a creative entry! I’ve wanted to attend PSOW since I first graduated with my undergraduate degree. I knew the opportunity to study with PSOW would be an incredible milestone in my professional development journey, and I am thrilled and honored to have been selected as this year’s contest winner.
Your entertaining entry has you “auditioning” to become a magician’s assistant. But while you do, you also pull out a few protocol tricks along the way.
I’m a huge magic fan and actually had a magician named James Sanden entertain guests at my wedding several years ago. So, once I read the contest entry rules, I called James and asked him to help me execute my entry. The premise of my video is that I am applying to be James’ magical assistant and for the interview process I am asked to perform basic magic tricks for James. All the while weaving in my protocol knowledge. For example, James has a business card magic trick and I followed it up with my own knowledge of the protocol of an international business card presentation. In the end, James ultimately outdoes me with his real magical skills and tells me I should skip the job as his magical assistant and go straight to protocol school. We tried to keep it upbeat and humorous!
Why do you think protocol knowledge can be a magical resource for businesses?
I think that in order to set themselves apart, a successful business needs to have an extra measure of etiquette and protocol because that’s what can differentiate them from the competition. From a hospitality organization to a retail business to a commercial enterprise, being courteous, polite and making people feel special all go a long way toward retaining long-term customers. I think you can insert the phrase “customer service” with “etiquette and protocol” to help someone understand the nuances of customer retention and differentiating themselves from their competition.
How did you enter this hospitality field?
I have loved all things domestic since I was a little girl. When other 13-year-old girls were reading Cosmopolitan magazine, I was fascinated with Martha Stewart Living. I had loved china and dishes and hosting and entertaining my whole life, but I didn’t really know managing those things could be a career. During college, I worked in Nashville in an artist management company. That’s when I had my first taste of supporting someone in the limelight with all the things that go on behind the scenes to support someone who is in the public eye. At this company, I had my first taste of event planning and logistics management. At a particular event for our firm, I worked a special event at a beautiful, historic home for one of our clients. When I saw all the staff and the professionalism that it took to support the VIP’s at the home level, I knew I had found my calling because estate management encompassed the business and creative aspects that I enjoy managing.
What drew you to this field?
Estate management combined all the beauty and grace of etiquette along with the decorum of fine dishes and china while still being very business and administratively minded because managing an estate requires you to be very organized. So, after working this event, I decided to continue my education in specialized private domestic service at a college in Chicago for my bachelor’s degree before going on to receive a certificate from the Charles MacPherson Academy in Toronto, where I was trained as a professional butler.
And you soon found out that estate management was a lot more than just fine china.
In estate management, you are first and foremost a property manager. You are dealing with vendors and HVAC technicians far more than you are serving cocktails. You’re curating someone’s entire lifestyle. I worked in estate management for different owners as a primary household manager and quickly worked my way up to a crossroads in my career. There’s a saying in domestic service that “if you want to move up, you have to move out.” A private family isn’t going to grow in stature to give you a bigger job description. So, even though they are millionaires or multimillionaires, if they only have two houses to manage, you only have that amount of opportunity to develop your managerial portfolio for your resume. So, to expand my horizons, I decided that a consulting position would allow me to help address some of the problems in our industry, such as domestics not always being treated well. I wanted to be the industry advocate who could help ensure enhanced communication between owners and their staff and help implement standard operating procedures in the operations of estates.
Working in luxury hospitality, estate management and private domestic service, tell us why protocol and etiquette are both so important to you and your clients?
In my opinion, luxury hospitality is the birthplace of protocol and etiquette because in the Victorian and Edwardian eras the way you dined at a formal table depicted the level of society that you were in based on the training you had with your upbringing. Because of this, domestic staff were trained on how to carry out the very strict rules of dining and hospitality service on behalf of the employer. But now, etiquette and protocol means so much more than which fork to hold. Now, proper protocol can be the determining factor on whether someone wants to do business with you or not. It can also mean how you represent your business or country, or how you carry yourself with personal diplomacy in everyday life. I think the clients and companies I work with understand this at the very highest level and it’s why they put the time, effort and resources into making sure all the details are managed properly so they can reflect well to their clients in every aspect of their businesses.
What’s a typical client relationship like?
A client will typically reach out to me because there’s some kind of conflict or something is not working well at their home—for example say the housekeeping department isn’t functioning properly. So, I follow the same method any other consultant would, and I observe. I give clients and/or their staff best practices and after observing for a while I give my opinions on how they can improve. They either take these suggestions in stride and decide to change things or they request that I facilitate the training. With that, I would have a conversation on a client’s preferences on how to run their estate (food, beverage, housekeeping, etc.). There are so many nuances to consider at every estate—many of the same things one would consider at a hotel setting but, you’re just transferring the same skills for a private setting.
Can you give an example of how knowing or following protocol helped you with a particular client or in the successful management of an estate or special event?
I once performed private duty domestic service as a full-time estate manager for a Silicon Valley executive with a Middle Eastern background. It was imperative to my client that his staff reflected the gracious hospitality of his culture, especially when guests arrived at his home. This had to be completely ingrained in our staff—the workers had to be quiet and the guest was to be honored and revered. Even though I had been trained in all of this, working in the home of someone from a different culture resonated so much more because I was able to see it depicted in a totally different way. For example, serving tea correctly was a very important custom for my client along with it being a gesture of kindness for the guest. Something that seemed simple helped to foster an open and welcoming atmosphere so that my client could focus on the business at hand. In any aspect of being an etiquette or protocol officer, we’re always the one working behind the scenes to let the people on stage shine and giving others a solid foundation in which they can excel.
You deal with a very select group of high-end clients who value protocol in both their personal and professional lives. But tell us why following protocol is also important to people from all walks of life?
I feel that everyone in a civilized society mostly understands what it means to have proper procedures with other people and how to conduct themselves accordingly. So even though the general public don’t have formal training in etiquette and protocol, most everyone understands the basics on some level. Everyone appreciates someone who is polite and courteous and that goes a long way in a wide variety of scenarios—whether it’s their personal or professional life. It’s really about the golden rule of treating other people how you want to be treated.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that protocol professionals face in today’s world? What are their biggest opportunities?
I think the biggest challenges and opportunities lie in the political arena. Anyone who turns on TV news has seen an increase in uncivilized conversation in the media, especially in politics. I think that it has a trickle-down effect in giving people permission to act in a distasteful manner because our leaders don’t always conduct themselves with the grace and dignity that should be required of their position. I’m not pointing fingers but in the last decade or so there has been a lack of civility in the media. Rarely do you see a positive headline lead the news and the positive stories tend to be buried in the last three minutes of the broadcast. I think that if we, as a society, could flip that and lead with all the good things that people are doing in the world—things like charitable acts, stories of redemption and self-sacrifice—it would give people a better understanding of our culture and a different example to follow. I think it’s up to protocol professionals to be the thought leaders and to inspire people in all walks of life to be kinder and more gracious to each other and in their professional settings.
As winner of this year’s contest, you will receive complimentary tuition in protocol officer training. What do you hope to gain from this educational experience?
First, I am looking forward to having the whole world of protocol opened up to me and learning from protocol experts about the variety of ways in which protocol can be applied. Second, I am looking forward to being able to take on more complex protocol scenarios—whether it’s for my estate management consulting or any new opportunities that open up to me.
I’ve always known that going to PSOW would be an important part of my professional development. As I become a more well-rounded hospitality professional with my training at PSOW, I can imagine a lot of crossover opportunities for the high-profile people that I serve both in their professional and personal lives. I am so appreciative and grateful for this opportunity and too, I hope to carry the PSOW torch and be a good representative of the School!
Check out Jennifer’s award-winning entry: The Magical Audition.