Want To Work in Events?

I receive lots of emails and requests for help from people wanting to ‘work in events’ or work in ‘Event Management’. I thought I’d write this article to help answer some common questions.

This long, though hopefully useful article, is split into the following sections:

1. Event Management is an Almost Meaningless Term*

2. Different Types of Events

3. Different Roles

4. Think Laterally

5. Client or Delivery?

6. Event Management Courses

7. The CV Question

8. Summary

9. And Finally…

I’ve spent years working in and with live events and still love it. Little compares to the adrenaline of seeing something play out live.

You’ll meet some amazing people, see some amazing things, you may see some amazing places, you will probably have some emotional moments, you will certainly see a lot of spreadsheets and emails.

1. Event Management is an Almost Meaningless Term*

Wikipedia defines Event Management as: “The application of project management to the creation and development of festivals, events and conferences.”

This is as good an explanation as any, although, personally I think the term ‘Event Management’ is so broad it is almost meaningless in any practical sense (*bear with me!).

Wanting to work in Event Management is akin to saying you want to work in Medicine, Construction or Entertainment. There are many many roles, industries and disciplines within those sectors – just like there are in the industry or sector that is ‘Events’.

Event Management is a fairly generic term that doesn’t help anyone you might be approaching identify what you actually are or want to do. In turn, the term can mean different things to different people and in different organisations – so doesn’t really help you refine who you want to target.

It’s true ‘Event Manager’ can mean exactly what you think it means in some organisations. In some large agencies though, the term can refer to someone looking after purely the operations side of things (travel, accommodation, catering, registration) rather than the whole event. In some organisations it might be the person not actually managing the events, but the person overseeing external Event Agencies. Some organisations don’t use the term at all (see below). Unless the organisation you’re targeting uses this term to refer to something you actually want to do, you’ll need to research the terminology they do use – or risk sounding vague.

For example, when I applied to the first company I wanted to work for I received a phone call asking which department I was interested in working for? I didn’t have a clue, so in a blind excited panic said I wanted to work in ‘Production Management’ as I wanted to Manage Productions – or Manage Events. Little did I know that this particular company used the term ‘Production Management’ to refer to the technical team. I didn’t know it at the time, but I should have said I wanted to be a ‘Producer’. They had no ‘Event Management’ department.

2. Different Types of Events

Events exist in every sector: sport, the arts, media, entertainment, marketing . . . any sector you can imagine.

There are so many types of events too: festivals, guerilla marketing, experiential marketing, meetings, major events, mega events, public events, public art, sports events, demonstrations, marches, live communication, summits, expos, protocol, exhibitions, concerts, award ceremonies, conferences, trade shows, pop-up events, brand experiences, theatre, cultural events, ceremonies . . . to name but a few.

3. Different Roles

In my experience most people who want to enter the world of events don’t really care what they do so long as they get into it (I was one of these people) – this is fine, nothing wrong with that. In order to get into this world though you need to focus your efforts, and this means drilling down into something (not necessarily the thing) you want to do.

If for example, you want to be someone that does everything on an event, you are likely going to have to focus on small events or small companies that will actually let you do everything.

The larger the event or the larger the company, then the more people will be involved and people will have very defined roles.

If you were to work with a small charity for example who wanted to stage a small fundraising event, it’s common and sometimes cost effective for someone with little to no experience to take on the reigns and pull together all the individual components.

If you were to work on a large product launch for a large brand then it’s extremely unlikely, unless you’re an industry superstar that you’ll be doing everything. Such an event would typically have on it a Producer (someone experienced gluing everything together driving things forwards), a Designer (who designed the event), a Production or Technical manager (to deliver it physically), a Logistics or Operations manager (catering, accommodation, travel etc) and a myriad of other people doing a myriad of other things: Writers, Stage Management, Lighting Designers, Lawyers, Choreographers . . . etc.

Many cultural and arts events see people at an entry level bringing them to life, with many of them often growing as the experience of those managing them grows. Again though – as they increase in scale and complexity, the number of people required increases.

If sport is your thing, then again, smaller events present more opportunities to do more things, the larger they get, the more people get involved with specialities in different areas. Take a fun-run for 100 people at one end of the spectrum and the Olympic and Paralympic Games at the other, and you start to see what I am getting at.

4. Think Laterally

Events can consist of almost every discipline and industry under the sun. You don’t need to focus on Event Management to ‘work in events’.

If you used to be in the Police, you could look at working on security or crowd management of large events.

If you have a degree in Marine Biology, you could look at getting involved in events that are based in the sea and transfer some skills.

If you have a law degree or you’re a lawyer, events need lawyers.

If you are a builder, plumber or electrician, events need all these skills.

If you have written plays or if you’ve done some journalism, events need copy and script writers.

If you have worked in healthcare, consider working for or contributing to healthcare or medical conferences.

If you’re an IT expert, events use IT.

Start to think laterally and you may find a much easier way to get to ‘work in events’. Once you’re in – you can then start looking at how to move around to do or find what you’d like to do.

5. Client or Delivery?

Another important consideration is whether you want to work client side or delivery side . . . or both. Some organisations (the client) have event teams that pull together all the requirements the company has and then oversee (manage) external delivery partners (individuals or agencies) to actually deliver the event.

For example, large banks have large event teams in house to create and deliver events and then for larger events often outsource the event requirements to event agencies. If you’re more used to managing and working in large corporations and have experience in a certain sector but not in the events world, this might be a route you could consider.

Many brands and sports organisations have similar set-ups. Some companies deliver all their own events in house, so your ideal role might be in a ‘client’ organisation rather than an event company or similar.

If you currently work client side and are considering moving to the delivery or agency side, a key challenge is the customer service mindset. Clients are demanding, and client satisfaction is the lifeblood of any agency – particularly the small ones (which are the majority).

Many people leaping into the agency side struggle with this customer service mindset as they are sometimes more used to commissioning rather than servicing. Dealing with internal clients (in larger organisations) or consumers is quite different – so making sure this is something you understand and can demonstrate is important. It’s also important to make sure this is something you want to subject yourself to. If you can demonstrate this customer service mindset with humility – you will be head and shoulders above a great deal of people.

Consider too the myriad of suppliers that contribute to events: catering companies, security firms, florists, lighting, sound, video equipment, TV Production, scaffolding, medical services, massage . . . there’s an endless list. If you have a specific skill, interest or talent, you can find a use for it somewhere.

Working for a supplier will likely see you end up involved with a great many more events and types of events than you would if you work for an agency or brand. Suppliers, the good ones anyway, are busy servicing all manner of people and companies.

6. Event Management Courses

I often get asked whether I think someone should take on an Event Management Degree or Course.

As I’ve outlined above, unless someone is doing everything themselves, it is rare anyone will be ‘event managing’ in the real world anyway as the role will be split between different people (a Producer, Production, Logistics, Creative, H&S, legal etc etc). In addition, the way event management gets taught in a degree, might be (rightly or wrongly) completely different to how an organisation wants to ‘event manage’ in the real world. There’s no standard.

Unless what you’re being taught on your degree are the methods and practices that marry up to what your boss is going to want you to do in the real world – then the degree serves more to give you a rounded view than getting you match-fit and ready to go.

Event agencies, brands’ in-house event teams, event companies that own their own events etc. all have different structures, different terminologies, different practices . . . it’s not like construction where an architect is the architect where everyone knows what the architect does. In our world a Producer could be a creative genius with 30+ years experience of creating live masterpieces or it could be, in effect, an account executive 1 year into their career responsible for researching and booking inspirational speakers for a conference.

Do I think an event management course is worthwhile? I think it depends what you make of it while you’re there and I think it’s only part of the equation. People applying for a job should be judged on their own merits. A person with a medical degree might be far better placed to be a medical conference producer (event manager) than someone with an event management degree. Likewise having an event management degree doesn’t automatically qualify you to manage an event; any more than a law degree qualifies you to take on a high profile legal case. Inevitably it comes down to experience and attitude in my view, and it’s on this I’ve always hired people. What degree they have is interesting, but it’s the person and what they can bring that’s important.

I am not totally sold on the ideas of degrees (in any subject) anyway unless it’s truly vocational (medical, law, accountancy) where there’s a minimum level of comprehension required by law (unlike event management). It’s what you do whilst you’re on your degree that’s perhaps more important. I didn’t do an Event Management degree but arguably spent more time event managing during my degree than many people on an event management degree did. It was this experience that got me my start.

That said, there are a few skills that seem to be missing with many people fresh out of university, or early into their careers.

There are five key areas that, I believe, if a candidate could demonstrate (demonstrate not merely talk up), would set themselves head and shoulders above the majority of the competition:

The ability to format documents and make them look presentable and professional.

The ability to write coherently.

The ability to negotiate and deal with people – in the real world, not just theory.

To know what taking responsibility actually means.

Humility.

These skills / experience can be learnt doing any degree, any course or at any time.

It’s a case by case judgement I would say, and an Event Management degree has no more or less value than any other degree in my view. It’s about the person and their experience (or their potential).

7. The CV Question

I get almost as many questions about how to prepare a CV as I do about how to ‘work in events’. Here’s my take on CVs.

As someone who’s been doing this for almost 20 years and who has employed goodness knows how many people – it’s not all about a CV.

This will sound harsh – but it’s about experience and standing out – so please take this as constructive advice from someone who has an inbox full of (I am sure) beautifully crafted, but unread, CVs . . .

Getting a job and doing a job are two very (very . . . very!!) different things. Getting a job is the hard bit. Everyone tries to prove they can do the job, if you are also just tying to prove you can do the job, you look like everyone else. If you look like everyone else you don’t stand out.

At an entry level, make no mistake, there are an abundance of people that can do the job so you need to stand out.

Meet people, get known, get your name out there, tell people about you, who you are and what you can offer. The more people you meet, the more people will know you, the more people who know you, the more likely it’ll be you that gets the phone call or recommendation when someone is looking to fill a role.

You can meet people at conferences, at events, at venues, at exhibitions . . . . You need some ooomph and pluck (technical terms those!) – make yourself known (be nice!).

If you’ve done voluntary work (or any work) get it online (this costs nothing), talk about it, showcase it, you can then reference this as and when you get any interviews. If you have no experience; get some – even if it’s voluntary. Find anything – something, just get some experience. If you’re looking to enter the world of events at a more senior level get some experience in something that will be relevant and transferable to wherever you want to head.

You need to find ways of standing out. A CV and interesting covering letter sent speculatively will unlikely get read (but you never know!). The exception to all of the above is large organisations where you have to follow a rigid process. Even in a rigid process though – if you reference people you know, things you’ve created and things you’ve done (that differentiate you), you are far more likely to get noticed.

Remember too – this is a harsh world and no one is interested in how brilliant you are (at least not in the first instance) – they are interested in what you can do for them, how you can help and what you can add. There’s a very old (and clichéd) saying many a motivational guru has used: no one goes to a DIY shop wanting to buy a drill, what they really want is a hole. It’s all about the results!!

For example, take me . . . if you want to work for me and are applying speculatively rather than to an advert or request, I need to know that you understand what I and we do, what our challenges are and how you are going to solve them. Telling us you have organised this that or the other is of little interest – unless it is high profile and it was actually you that did organise it – but if that is the case we probably already know you.

Finding out what we do is easy. Finding out how we do it is less easy but still not difficult; try and speak to those we work with or for us – or who know us. Finding out what our challenges are is a little harder – but again if you start researching us you will start picking up themes and people talk. Some people love talking! You can then start working out how to tailor an approach.

This is all relatively easy to do with the internet and a phone (and some confidence). Incidentally: I am using ‘me’ and ‘us’ as an example and not suggesting you specifically research me or my work.

In doing the above you will also come across other people and opportunities. Get out there, research, talk to people. Talking to people is key. It really is so important.

Tip: you can even set up Google alerts to ping you an email as and when specific words or phrases (think: opportunities, key job titles, issues etc) pop up in the news or on the Internet. This costs nothing (so long as you have access to the Internet). Easy – saves you having to do what was relatively easy in the first place.

Explore linkedIn too. Just get out there and start thinking cleverly / differently.

As and when you get to talking to someone about a job – then yes – provide a CV etc, but ideally they should have heard about you beforehand with the CV as evidence and back up to your claims.

8. Summary

Unless you have all the time in the world and an abundance of cash, you need to focus your search for work.

What type of work do you actually want to do?

Research what roles exist? What terminology do they use? What are the roles you want to do actually called?

Do you have the required skill sets? If not, how do you get them?

Do you have any experience or transferable skills?

What sector and what type of events do you want to work on?

Once you’ve worked that little lot out, start working out who you can approach and target, use the terms and language that your targets use and start getting noticed.

Consider too going it alone. There are many people quite happy freelancing – earning much better money and with much more freedom than they would ever have as an employee. If there’s something you’re passionate about, consider starting your own company: win work, find customers or get funded – you can always hire people with the expertise you don’t have.

9. And Finally…

If you do your research and make the effort, you’ll get the rewards.

By way of an example, let me tell you about one of the best interviews I ever conducted.

We’d advertised a position and one shortlisted candidate came in and all I said was “Hello”. This interviewee then (politely and eloquently) explained to me who she was, where she came from, what she knew about our company, what she had concluded we needed and why and how she was going to help fill that need.

She got the job. In truth I knew she had the job after about 5 minutes of listening to her. And this was not someone with years of experience, she was relatively young at the time.

It is this level of self awareness, comprehension of your audience (the company you are approaching) and how you can help them that you should aspire to. Not easy I admit, but it’s much easier than you might think. Try it.

If you’re interested, you can find out how I got into this world here.

Make an effort.

Be nice to people.

Stand out.