July 1, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

Jo-Anne Kelleway is perhaps one of Australia’s most successful event technology pioneers. She advocated for embracing technology long before its acceleration occurred due to the pandemic.

Now Kelleway has stepped into a new role as the international industry ambassador for Freeman, the Dallas-based company that bought out her business, InfoSalons in March 2018.

She’s globally connected, well informed and commercially savvy. But most of all Kelleway has shone for her passion for the business of events and the important role event tech plays in making it more customer-centric and sustainable.

She spoke to me about life in the events fast lane, the impact of tech and the joys of finding more balance in work and life.

This month Kelleway has taken on a new brief as the global ambassador for Freeman, one of the biggest and oldest event companies in the world.

The brief formally marks a new chapter for Kelleway who has been transitioning to her new role, leaving Steve Gibson as InfoSalon’s Managing Director for Australia and South East Asia and Wilbert Heijmans as Managing Director for the Middle East region.

Kelleway has always been an expansionist – not afraid of tackling China and the Middle East when these markets were foreign to most Australian companies working in event tech.

But Kelleway had a good grip on the way global markets were changing and the solutions that her Australian business brought to the global stage.

Kelleway has always been nimble and seemingly fearless with an ability to explore collaborations and partnerships quickly. And her optic has always been big picture and strategic.

That capacity to see the world as an opportunity is now the essence of her role with Freeman.

Kelleway is the quintessential broker of relationships. The connector and door-opener and as Freeman continues its growth agenda in event services and technology, Kelleway is the person with the brief to make things happen – to connect the players and disseminate information.

Long before Freeman appointed her in this role she has always been a roving ambassador – one of the influential female Australian leaders at large.

She’s always been a great communicator and cross-cultural savvy. It may be her Greek heritage, but Kelleway forms connections with people of all cultural backgrounds. And we’re not just talking about for the purposes of sharing a meal together, but to do business. She’s an entrepreneur and an innovator.

And for someone who has made a career out of event tech, Kelleway has a very formed view about its future in business events.

She sees “blended events”, Freeman’s preferred language for the hybrid format, as here to stay.

“We’re seeing a lot of blended events, finally,” she says. “It should have happened years ago.”

On why the exhibition industry was slow to take up virtual and hybrid events she says it’s largely because the in-person model was working and profitable for so long. She says organisers got into a way of working that was very successful and very profitable – so why break it?

“Our industry is very interesting. It’s very old – goes back to pre-Christ and the open markets of Egypt.

“COVID has forced people to change, to adapt and to embrace digital and so create blended events.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air – working in the digital space while not losing face-to-face,” she says.

Kelleway says that the Freeman and the wider industry are now looking at data in fresh ways to understand the visitor journey more deeply.

For example, she says that by combining data about behaviour on websites with data collected onsite at events, event tech is shedding new light on the business of customer engagement.

“Marrying insights from pre-event digital interaction with onsite behaviour is creating new insights.”

Read part 2 of this story here.