By Justine East
Not so long ago, events management conjured up images of corporate hospitality or sporting events. Today, it is a vast and fast growing industry, with events managers involved in arranging anything from trade fairs to weddings and from conferences to street festivals. The types of employers are also increasingly varied, so whilst you might work for a single venue, you could also get a job with an events management or PR company dealing with a range of venues.
“I thrive off the fact that one day I’ll be having lunch with a celebrity to discuss her birthday party and the next day, I’ll be arranging a West End launch,” says Crissie Bushell, events manager for Eden Cancan. “It’s glam, it’s sociable and it’s diverse.”
It wouldn’t suit someone who values their sleep, she jokes. “It’s definitely not 9-5 and it’s often very hard work and long hours, particularly in the days leading up to the event,” she explains. “But if you love this industry like I do, you don’t really mind.”
It’s all worth it when you see the event come together, agrees David Cunningham, events manager for Lewis Media Centre in London. “Just last week, we ran a Comic Relief press conference attended by the likes of Bob Geldoff and Annie Lennox and masses of broadcast media people. It was such a buzz,” he says.
Events managers are essentially the ambassadors for clients looking to organise an event, whether it be a charity fundraiser, dog show or party. “Once the sales team have confirmed the booking, we take over the coordination,” explains Martin Litherland, acting events operations manager for the QEII conference centre in Westminster. “You have regular meetings with them to discuss their needs, then you sort out the venue and make sure the support services are all coordinated – such as catering and audio visual.”
Litherland entered the industry 12 years ago, having done a degree in psychology. “I realised events management would really suit my skills set. You have to be a multi-tasker because you’re usually dealing with lots of events at the same time. You have to be able to communicate with people at all levels and you have to be someone who is a good negotiator and organiser. You also need to be a quick thinker and someone who can cope with tight deadlines.”
In addition, you need to be resourceful, imaginative and a problem solver. “After all, you’ll be expected to learn how to source things where others can’t and to work out how to meet clients needs, no matter how complicated.”
Being a good team player is key too. “In my team, there are seven events managers all working very closely together,” says Litherland.
It tends to be a young person’s job, he admits. “A lot of people burn out after a few years because the work is so demanding. But others, like me, move into management and some set up their own businesses to cope for the growing demand for events of all kinds.”
For those that do leave, they generally find their skills are snapped up in other industries, he says, adding that many people find they miss events management so much that they return to it after a short break.
Many people, like Litherland, enter the industry with an unrelated degree, whilst others move from PR or marketing. Degrees in events management are also becoming a popular route in. “The first degree started in the late Nineties,” says Kevin Fields, senior lecturer in events and hospitality management at the University of Gloucester. “Prior to that, it had been taught as modules on tourism courses, but it became clear that there was a demand for a distinct discipline in itself.”
If you do a search on UCAS, he says, you’ll find about 140 courses. “They are all very different, so it is worth doing some research before choosing one. For instance, you can do a pure events management course or couple it with something like marketing or specialise in areas such as arts or sport or fashion.”
Admissions tutors look for enthusiasm, as well as people who have thought about why they are attracted to events management. “For many, it’s the satisfaction of working towards something tangible. A lot of us do jobs in life where it’s a long time before you see what you’ve achieved, but with events management, it’s not long before you’re at the event thinking, ‘I made this happen’,” he says.
Even if you have no desire to move into management, there is room for progression, he says. You can simply move onto bigger and more complex events. Think Robbie Williams concerts, Labour Party Conferences and the Olympic Games.
When choosing a course, make sure you find a university with a good track record, advises Fields. “Some universities have come to it relatively new and struggle to attract the type of staff they should – those with a combination of theoretical knowledge and industry experience. It tends to be the universities with the best reputation and who have run the course for a while that have such teaching staff on board.”
You should also look at course content. “At first glance, courses appear to be very similar, but the content is worth exploring in some detail to make sure that it devotes quite a bit of time to areas like financial acumen and creativity. After all, you can run the best event in the world, but it’s no good if you can’t keep within a budget or it has no sense of innovation about it.”
Whatever route people choose, they should be prepared to start at the bottom and remember that any relevant experience is worthwhile, even bar work or waiting on tables. Young people should also take any opportunity they can to gain experience of organising events such as a university ball, as well as gaining work experience with an events management company. “You might have the best degree in the world, but a good personality and experience matters more to me,” says Caroline Harms, head of events at the Roof Gardens in Kensington.
Sam Jameson, director of Organza Events, which arranges events for the likes of Big Brother and Mac Make-up, agrees. “It’s an incredibly competitive industry, so you need to make sure you stand out.”
To get ahead quickly, says Alix Francis, head of events at marketing agency JJ, people should learn how to visualise events quickly and make sure they always have attention to detail. And perhaps most importantly of all, they should never rest on their laurels. “Events are essentially a performance,” she explains, “and you are only ever as good as your last one.”
CASE STUDY ONE
Chris Zachar, 31, is operations manager for Grass Roots Events
“My role mainly involves client relations and seeing a project through from start to finish. The variety involved in this is incredible, especially as we deal with anything from incentive travel to meetings and conferences. Every day is different, every destination is different and every person you deal with is different. I also enjoy the buzz of putting together an event, although it’s not a job for people who are afraid of long hours and a sometimes pressurised environment.
My advice to anyone wanting to go into events management is to get as much experience as possible, even if it’s voluntary, and think carefully about where you apply for jobs. There are lots of different event management companies with specialisms such as incentive travel or team building. Once you’ve thought about which one appeals to you, impress the interviewer with the research you’ve done about the industry and why this particular company.
My degree is in media studies and I was lucky enough to join a small agency, which did a lot of sporting hospitality and incentive travel. I started off doing research and loading lorries and I progressed from there. Grass Routes is the third agency I’ve been with and I’m now in a relatively senior position.”
CASE STUDY TWO
Adam Pollington, 29, is an events manager for Warwick Conferences
“I’m responsible for the management of events at three purpose- built, dedicated training and conference centres, situated at the University of Warwick. I manage the logistics of each event and venue requirements to match and exceed client expectations. I’m also responsible for managing quotes and ensuring the highest level of customer service throughout the venues, and I’m the account representative for key clients.
I love the way that each project I work on evolves. I enjoy the variety of clients too. At Warwick, we deal with large firms who know exactly what they want through to people who are desperate for ideas, through to academics who expect nothing but the best.
My degree is in leisure management, but I’d say attributes are just as important as qualifications. You need to have brilliant customer service skills, the ability to be pragmatic and to respond to change. You need to maintain composure under pressure and interact with people from all different walks of life.
My message to careers advisers would be to really promote this industry. It’s increasingly lucrative and the opportunities both nationally and internationally are amazing. My work in previous roles has taken me to the USA, Poland and Russia among other countries. Trust in what you do, and get as much of your material out there as you can.”