Corporate meeting and event planners are some of the most flexible, dynamic and talented professionals in the industry. They have to be. No other sector of the planning universe has to keep up with as many changes in direction, size, budget, goal, venue and attendee mix, or juggle as many overall meetings at one time. Corporate events are every bit as flexible, changeable and unpredictable as every other part of the business world.
Those who thrive on challenge and dealing with the unexpected can do very well as a corporate planner. For starters, corporate sponsors tend to have larger budgets than other types of event sponsors. Budgets may not have recovered to pre-recession levels, but corporate planners are in a stronger position to make a business case for increased budgets because corporate executives understand the need to invest in future earnings and the power of return on investment.
More importantly, the corporate world is so varied and so variable that planners have more flexibility to find—or to create—their own vision of the perfect position. Whether your dream planning job involves creating events for thousands or crafting experiences for a few dozen, you can probably find it in the corporate sector. Here are tips for success and caution from five industry veterans.
Associate Event Producer, Zumba Fitness.
Bizbash Florida Corporate Event Planner Of The Year 2015.
Fallon Chertock is part of the new generation of event planners who studied the business of planning and then moved into the industry. A degree in planning helps open doors, she says, but attitude is the key to success on the ground.
“The secret to successful events is being flexible and organized. But flexibility and organization are more about a can-do attitude and approach than specific skill sets. No matter how much advance work you have done on an event, there will always be something that pops up. What a good planner brings to the mix is identifying opportunities in those challenges and jumping on them. You plan an outside event and as much as you have a rain plan, it may not go as expected. If you know that life is going to give you a few lemons, you start planning on how to make lemonade.
It starts with learning as much as you can about the event, the organizers, the attendees, all of the details and personalities that are part of an event. The more you know about the people involved, the better you will be at anticipating some of the opportunities that can come up on-site. You become a good listener, the person who can help make the event an amazing memory and experience.
Event planning is a fun and unique opportunity to work with people who speak different languages as well as the chance to learn and work with different currencies, time zones and customs. No two days are the same and Google Translate will become your best friend.”
Owner, Events By Marilyn Roy
Marilyn Roy was a fixture in the corporate world—executive assistant by day and lead event planner after hours and weekends. As an independent planner, she relies heavily on a few trusted suppliers and vendors.
“You have to learn very quickly as much as you can about the company you are working for and the people you are working for. When you do an event for a corporation, there is always an executive who is the host for that event. Whatever happens has his or her signature on it, even if they had absolutely no hand in the production, the planning or any other practical aspect. Their name is tied to the event, everyone at the company says ‘yes, so-and-so did this event.’
Whatever the delicacies involved, whatever is done or not done at that event, all comes with the signature of the host. That person has a very close attachment to the event. They are going to be standing up on stage and they want to be proud. The planner has to look beyond the organizational chart and determine whose event this really is. That person is your ultimate customer and the person you have to please above all others. You have to identify that person from the beginning and look at everything having to do with the event through their eyes.”
LOUISA DAVIS, CMP, CMM
Happiness Catalyst, Zag GlobalL
Louisa Davis came to event planning following an early-career job search. A hotel-based interviewer suggested she was too creative for the hospitality industry but might find a good match in event planning. Twenty-five years later, she is planning internal events to support and build corporate culture.
“Universities have some really good planning degree programs now, but just because you have a planning degree doesn’t mean you will get a job. Whereas if you go through industry associations, MPI, PCMA, the others, that’s where you are going to leverage yourself into roles. It is by having a network that you will have a job and a job that you want.
Happiness Catalyst would not say planner to most people. I am straddled into the HR side where I manage the culture for the company. Morale doesn’t happen on its own, office activities don’t happen on their own, team identity and loyalty don’t happen on their own. They all need planning and leadership.
You exert your influence in different ways. If you are doing an event for thousands, you have to touch people’s sensory and emotional beings, just like you do in a smaller event. So I might do a video instead of giving somebody a hug. But you are working with similar concepts, trying to influence peoples’ behavior and actions while you align their moral values with those of the organization.”
MAGGIE YOUNG, CMP
Senior Meeting Planner, Medtronic
Maggie Young found a side door into meeting planning. She had always taken an active role in planning events in high school and college, but her first good job opportunity came up in customer service. Once inside Medtronic, she found a spot in sales training as an assistant planner.
“When I first started, we had very healthy meeting budgets. When the economy started to decline, we were expected to produce the same level of meetings with the same levels of service and quality with significantly smaller budgets. The economy is back, but budgets have only increased slightly and my suppliers are demanding a lot more.
It is no longer a buyer’s market where I was able to negotiate rates to fit my smaller budgets. I was able to get New York City for $450 and my internal clients don’t always understand why the cost has doubled.
One of the tools that can help is strategic meetings management. A lot of companies have used SMM now and again, but we have amped up the program and are holding both travelers and attendees to it. Being able to press your buying power across the entire corporation, not just meetings, has helped us negotiate and leverage our entire spend.”
Ceo, Corporate Planners Unlimited
Sherry Parks came to meeting planning from the hospitality side. Her family was in the hotel business and she had no interest in joining the family empire. She took her inside knowledge of hospitality to help corporations plan events, then opened her own independent planning company.
“We used to say that what attendees really want is bed, food and beverage. In today’s world, there’s a fourth must-have: good Internet. If my attendees have solid, speedy Internet, they’re pretty much happy, the client is pretty much happy and [so am I].
Technology has become part of the planning process. I do my own speed and bandwidth measurements during site visits. Upload and download speeds are critically important, just as important as sufficient capacity for all the devices attendees are likely to bring. And don’t forget about backup. Attendees bring two, three, five, and they all expect all of them to be at top speed all the time. Almost all hotels will say they can do it, but a lot of them don’t have the technology or the support staff to make it happen.
As a planner, you have to plan how to manage all the data and information that are part of every event. You have to plan how to acquire it, how to use it, how to store it and how to get rid of it at the appropriate time. You have to be sure no one has access to attendee names, personal information, credit cards.”