Getting OnBoard: diary of a Junior Project Manager


Sometimes landing your dream job straight out of college can be everything you hoped and so much more than you thought it would be. Travel? Check. Running events all over the world? Check check. Having fun along the way? Check check check 😊 I’m Sarah Bourke, Junior Project Manager at Cogs & Marvel. As I take on one of Cogs & Marvel’s logistic heavy event series, follow my journey here and on Instagram @cogsandmarvel as I travel across EMEA, armed with a clipboard and collecting #eventprof life lessons and adventures along the way. 


Copenhagen: on and offsite support

People please, I am only one person – even I sometimes have to skip a city, take a day off work – you know, try and have a social life? If that’s even possible when there is an abundance of cities and suppliers and things on “the list” to be ticked off. Every event has its challenging aspects, whether you are the “stay at home” organiser or immersed in the hustle and bustle of the onsite activity. When OnBoard went to Copenhagen, I took a “leave of absence” and waved from the window as my colleagues drove to the airport to lead this event.

Micromanaging at home…
Can we all agree that project managers are control freaks? Am I alone in thinking this? Is “letting go” just something I will learn? Because I’m throwing my hands in the air and owning my freakishness – embracing my true self and what not.


So when I’m supporting my colleagues from across the waters, I will have all the WhatsApp groups ready to go and the timers set on my calendar for check-in reminders. I will be on the phone to them (several times) throughout the day just saying “everything ok??”

…while we’re making things happen onsite
But that additional support is what really counts, especially when you have 500+ delegates that need to be watered and fed while the guys at home are checking that your photographer is going to arrive in the next 10 minutes and that the printer has actually started printing the certificates you need in an hour’s time. I don’t know where I would be without my team sometimes because, regardless of what anybody says, events are never a one man (or woman) show.


Oslo: dealing with the mini problems

As I write a short reflection on how the event went to my manager, I have to ask myself: is it really an event if everything went 100% smoothly? That’s a no from me. Working in this industry is all about how you deal with what is being thrown at you, Naomi Campbell style.

I mean, who doesn’t love those little cultural differences when working with a different country? On our recent venture to Oslo, I learned the local appreciation for “leaving the office behind at the end of the day” – something no event person I’ve ever met abides by. In Oslo, however, 4.30pm on the dot is home time.

A little context… Our registration team requires one hardwire to be split across seven laptops. Upon testing the wire on our set up day, it was noted that it would only work with one laptop at a time – which is not ideal for registering 300+ people. We were told that a switch needed to be flicked to open the connection. Problem and solution, right? Wrong. It was 5pm. There was not a soul in sight that knew how (or where) to “flip the switch”.

With any problem, there’s the easy option and there’s the right option. We couldn’t just assume it would all work perfectly on the day – we needed to test that the laptops would all work at the same time. So we played The Waiting Game. This game consisted of waiting for our Norwegian friends to play out their usual evening activities like going to the gym, having dinner with their families…what real people apparently do. When they had finished their life-living gallivanting, we were finally able to reach the technician at 11pm to do what so many had been unable to do before him…flip the switch. With this, we commenced the set up that was supposed to begin at 4.30pm. Event joys!


Stockholm: experiential dining (AKA no more room service)

Traveling is incredible, right? I’ve gotten to go to so many cities so far this year and, of course, I never missed the opportunity to give the Instagram followers a glimpse of the “lavish lifestyle of the international traveler”. Only the good parts, of course. If they actually saw me in Madrid where I didn’t step outside the hotel for three days or in Tallinn when I got approximately six hours sleep over two nights, the image would look a bit different. But that was last year and this is this year.

My new year’s resolution was to take advantage of the incredible travelling opportunities I have been given – to push through the tiredness after the long days of being onsite and actually leave the building: go for a walk, see the streets and embrace the culture for at least an hour (if that’s even possible).

Thus far, I have been successful in my endeavors. Shout out to our two wonderful Noodle ladies who assist us with running registration onsite. They constantly push to make sure we do in fact utilise all our free time instead of curling up in the foetal position behind closed doors. In Stockholm, we spent a very romantic Valentines night in a circus-themed restaurant – because circuses scream romance, right? To really immerse ourselves in the Swedish culture and try something new, after the event we went to Aifur, a Viking restaurant where a bellowing man with a rather large horn announced us to the room “Everybody let’s welcome our guests from Ireland, Germany, and Brazil!” (our Noodle team are very international). These are the fond little memories that make all the difference.


Helsinki: second-hand luggage

While everybody was tucked up, hiding away during the “snow storm” that shook the country, I was fighting the painful burn of -22oC in Helsinki. Cold, tired, and so glad to be back in the country, I arrived into Dublin Airport on that Thursday night – with not a car in sight on the motorway. I was stuck in no man’s land.

This is not the worst travel situation I have found myself in though. After being away on a two-week stint last November (Oslo – Stockholm – Tallinn – Johannesburg) I learned that hand luggage is precious. After three successful events, I decided to give myself a needed “rest” by checking in my hand luggage. I was en route to Johannesburg for a blissful 24 hours before getting back on site for the last event of the series and thankful I had nothing to carry after almost missing my connecting flight in Amsterdam (which involved a 10 minute long distance sprint from terminal B to F – an athletic hybrid of Usain Bolt with a touch of Mo Farah).

Lucky, right? Such a pity my bags never made it to Johannesburg…

I arrived in a different continent at 11pm with a handbag containing a dead laptop, face cream, and a toothbrush (a bit useless without the toothpaste). Ever since that day, the hit list of hand luggage has been created. It is nothing elaborate, and may seem like common sense, but it has become a sacred cross-check I make before every trip.    

Side note: this was also the trip where my phone was stolen as I went to buy clean clothes during the break of the event. To say the least, the learning curve spiked on this trip.

So, when I found myself stranded in Dublin Airport, I was happy to have all of the necessities – and a colleague with me this time! Having bagged the last hotel room on that side of the city made for a far more pleasant experience than sleeping in the arrivals gate – which would have been less than delightful, to say the least!


The background

Welcome to a little ol’ tale of adventure through the eyes of one of Cogs & Marvel’s junior recruits. Role call – my name is Sarah and I joined the “marvellous” Cogs & Marvel team in July 2017. At 22, fresh as a daisy out of the protective blanket of college and desperate to avoid a dull graduate program, I longed to be a part of something that was emerging and creative (#MillennialKid). Cogs & Marvel, newly rebranded from the event powerhouse Green Light Events to the brand experience agency that’s making its mark on the international marketing industry, took a chance on me.

So what do we do exactly? Well, we’re a brand experience agency. Basically, clients come to us with global business problems which we solve, mostly through physical experiences or events. I’m on the account side of the business so, after the creative strategy is defined and we know what the business solution is, it’s up to us to go and execute the concept, usually across multiple countries and regions.

That summer, the Google Cloud marketing team approached Cogs & Marvel to help them pilot the Cloud OnBoard series, which had only been tested on the American market. Little did I know then that joining the OnBoard project team would become a formative part of my Cogs & Marvel career.

The Google Cloud Platform offers businesses a suite of cloud computing platforms (including management tools, data storage and analytics, and computer learning) to perform more efficiently and successfully in their markets. The challenge Google faced was that small local businesses across EMEA (Europe/Middle East/Africa) are only semi-aware of what “the cloud” is and don’t know how to use the platforms to grow their business. The 2017 OnBoard series was run as a training program to get local businesses on board (see what I did there 😉) with “the cloud”.

Taking the event to 15 cities across EMEA, our job was to execute the production of these events with ease and grace for both the client and the delegates. From the branding, shipping, registration, venue search, budgeting, staffing, crowd control, technical requirements, catering… the list really does go on – and we do love our lists! In short, this project was heavy on the Cogs, but implemented with the Marvel: because one doesn’t work without the other.

2017 was the beginning of an incredible 15 city journey that was accompanied with so much fun and laughter. Now, after 46 flights, 15 hotels, one stolen phone, only one incident of lost luggage (mine) and two cases of ALMOST missing flights, it’s time to run it all again for 2018. Kicking off in Amsterdam for the 2018 launch event, we’ll be on the road through until November. What I have learned so far is that Cogs & Marvel is always up for a challenge, not too unlike myself – we’re as committed to working hard as a team as we are to our projects and our clients.

Keep following these posts and my antics on our Instagram Stories @cogsandmarvel as I bring you city by city through the growth and exciting times of my journey with Cogs & Marvel and the Google Cloud OnBoard team.


At Cogs & Marvel, we believe that every time you get a group of people together, whether they be staff, customers, partners or consumers, you have an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with you. You have an opportunity to turn passive admirers into an army of advocates for your corporate brand. Cogs & Marvel is an event agency that creates brand experiences to delight in the moment and inspire lasting change.

Want to inspire change in your audience? Get in touch with the Cogs & Marvel team.