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Laura Maddox: “Find a way to use your voice!”

Being a thought leader means that the people in your industry are looking to you for influence and advice. I personally thrive on helping others and finding ways to share my knowledge and experience to help the greater good of our industry. I find joy in hearing that my advice or information has helped someone. […]

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Being a thought leader means that the people in your industry are looking to you for influence and advice. I personally thrive on helping others and finding ways to share my knowledge and experience to help the greater good of our industry. I find joy in hearing that my advice or information has helped someone. This should be your first motivation to become a thought leader. If you’re motivated by selfish gains you ultimately will struggle to be of influence to anyone. Much like with your social media following, if you’re not serving the people that are following you, they won’t be following you for very long.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Maddox. She has over seventeen years of experience in the hospitality industry. She earned a degree in Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management from the University of South Carolina and is also a Certified Wedding Planner. Through the years she has worked in all aspects of the industry; for private clubs, hotels, restaurants in and around Atlanta, as well as a number of private employers.

Laura started moonlighting with the Magnolia in 2009 and quickly became a leader in the local event community. Her work soon earned her a partnership in the firm. She has directed numerous high-profile events with tremendous success while building an even more powerful reputation in the industry ultimately leading her to take ownership of Magnolia in 2018.

Since then, Laura has been honored to be named one of Atlanta’s Women of Power and Influence, one of Atlanta’s Top 10 Wedding Planners, The Best “Traditional” Wedding Planner in Atlanta, and many more! Laura is also currently honored to serve on the board of WIPA — Wedding Industry Professionals Association — as the Director of Programs.

Laura resides in Roswell with her husband, two kids, and two dogs — she is always ready with some pictures if you ask! When she’s not planning fabulous events around the South you can find her practicing her culinary talents, cheering on her kids in their various activities, training for her next bike race, contributing to her church or spending time with her large extended family.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

So honored to be here! Sure! I got started with Magnolia when one of the original partners asked me if I wanted to follow her for an event. Essentially an unpaid shift to see if this work was even something I wanted to do. I came, I saw, and they couldn’t get rid of me! For 2 years I worked every event I possibly could. I stayed until the end and I couldn’t get enough of it. I just loved helping to bring people’s happiest days to life!

Eventually, they asked me to become a partner in the firm. I of course jumped at the chance and quit my day job to pursue this career full time and have never looked back!

I’ve spent the last 10 years building my name and reputation in the Southern Event Industry. At that time some partners have retired and we have brought on my current partner, Sara Parker, who is also my best friend in real life. We now own the firm together and enjoy every day of it!

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I believe that if you’re not being innovative in my industry you’re not surviving in my industry. In the world of weddings where everyone says they want something totally different than what their best friend had, but they give you the exact same parameters, I thrive in finding the new innovations to get them something amazing and new!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Oh goodness! This is always such a hard one to answer! The nature of my business being what it is I get requests all the time from clients with off the wall things! We’ve had “women of the night” crash black tie events, walking robot people at mitzvahs, I’ve even had a client ask me to bring the bride the prenup to sign on the wedding day just hours before she walks down the aisle.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, it wasn’t funny at the time. But my very first wedding I ever executed I forgot to hand off the wedding rings to the best man before he walked down the aisle. Now, every time I take the rings I get rid of them as fast as possible and hand them off to the best man. I make a big deal of it, making sure they understand that they are now responsible for this very important item! Never again will I be seen running up the ranks of the side aisle with the rings!!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

A thought leader is generally known as an authority on a given topic or field. Typically they are someone people look to for guidance or advice. They differ from a typical leader in that they are typically influencers and leaders in their community. While influencers typically are bringing you new ideas exclusively, and leaders are typically guiding you through new terrain, a thought leader is someone who can marry both of these duties to find the best solution.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Being a thought leader means that the people in your industry are looking to you for influence and advice. I personally thrive on helping others and finding ways to share my knowledge and experience to help the greater good of our industry. I find joy in hearing that my advice or information has helped someone. This should be your first motivation to become a thought leader. If you’re motivated by selfish gains you ultimately will struggle to be of influence to anyone. Much like with your social media following, if you’re not serving the people that are following you, they won’t be following you for very long.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

My entire business is referral based. Sure, we do the occasional advertising, but 95–100% of our leads come from past clients and/or vendors. These clients typically come to me saying that they are friends with a past client, heard my name from a few venues they’ve talked to, and that they have read an article or two that I’ve been featured in. This is wildly helpful because we start the conversation with the client knowing I’m an expert and leader in my field. This creates a layer of trust immediately that my advice to them will be sound and built on years of experience and knowledge. Ultimately, this helps to turn those leads into clients.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry? Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  • First, soak up all the knowledge you possibly can! Stay humble, knowing there is always an opportunity to learn something from every encounter you have.
  • Find your why. As we discussed, if you want to be a thought leader but don’t want to serve the people you’ll ultimately be sniffed out by the community.
  • Join your industry organizations and give back to them. Serve on the board or committees, be a person of influence by serving those around you.
  • Find a way to use your voice! Connect with those in the media that may be writing on your industry. Ask them if they need comments or insight on their articles.
  • Remember to lead well you must first serve others.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach?

The first person that comes to mind is Rachel Hollis. This woman figured out how to become a successful leader and influencer while never letting anything stand in her way. Her inability to hear the word no and let it stop her is inspiring!

  • I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I think there’s always someone with the crab in the bucket syndrome. Call them whatever you want, but in each industry there are pillars of the community that people look to for advice and for their influence. The people are far from trite and that is what matters to me.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

There is a reason that the airlines tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. This too may sound trite and overused, but it still rings true. You cannot help others to the best of your ability if you are not first taking care of yourself.

This does not always mean vacations or spa days, but more intentional everyday things. I for example feel better about myself and my body works better in general if I workout everyday. So I get up every morning before the kids do and make sure to move my body. I also know that I only have so much time with my kids, so I make sure to set boundaries that I am not available between 5 and 7:30 pm. There is no emergency in the wedding world that cannot be solved just a few hours later. I also find if I set these boundaries from the beginning with my clients they understand and support them.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Honestly, my heart is for the middle school girl. That she would know her worth and be able to walk with confidence everyday! At no other age in your life are you aware of your body changing as much as it is when you are in these years. They are hard and confusing years and girls can be so nasty to each other! I want to create a conference where all young women can feel empowered and confident in who God made them to be!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Yikes! This is a hard one! There are so many great quotes! However something my Dad used to ask me when I was a little girl still stays with me. “If you don’t have time to do it right now, when will you have time to fix it later?” It’s a small voice constantly in the back of my head. Remember to do your best and do it right. Cutting corners only makes it harder for you in the long run.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oh Man! The chance to have lunch with someone like Rachel Hollis, Robin Arzon, Sara Blakely, or Martha Stewart to name a few! These women have influenced me to never give up, believe that I can do more and that there is enough sand in the sandbox for all of us! We should be cheerleaders for our competition, celebrating their wins while also celebrating our own! Thank you ladies!

How can our readers follow you online?

We’re on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest but we like best to hang out on Instagram. Our handle on all three is @magnoliacelebrates Can’t wait to hear from you!

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

Such a pleasure!

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