Are Event Management Degrees Worthwhile?

Blog-Every-Day-in-November-with-RosaliliumIn October 2013 Conference and Incentive Travel Magazine published this article: The Big Debate – Are Event Management Degrees a Waste of Time?  The Event Wide Blog then responded with this piece: A Response from an Event Student and Joanna, another event management student, blogged about it here: To a Degree of Relevance.  Event Management qualifications certainly seem to be a controversial subject!  As a graduate with an event management degree myself (graduating over 10 years ago with a 2:1 BA Hons Events Management from Leeds Metropolitan University) I also wanted to write a blog post and to add my thoughts into the mix!

In the C&IT article Simon Maier from the TFI Group suggests that the degrees are too wide-ranging. He says “The content is too broad. It mostly covers management and logistics – very little about delivery, measurement, ROI and the full gamut of event technology. I suspect that not all the lecturers who design the courses are practising events professionals and tend to come from the academic, hotel or travel side.”

Obviously I only have first hand detailed experience of the content of my own course which I imagine has changed and developed a lot in the last 10 years and so it is impossible to speak authoritatively for all event management degrees across the UK.  I would suggest though that it was largely a business degree with elements of planning, finance, marketing, HR, etc, alongside the event planning specific content.  However with many of the modules we were of course expected to put the learning into an event context.

The events industry is varied and although certain principals and planning elements apply to any event genre the specifics of organising a conference are very different to managing an outdoor festival for example.  My degree opened my eyes to the many opportunities in the industry and like many I started the course thinking I wanted to get involved in music festivals and came out realising that actually conferences and corporate event projects are my forte and passion.

When I did my degree there were very few event management degree courses and Leeds was definitely the place to be!  We had less than 75 people in the year group and you could not progress unless you had completed a minimum of 48 weeks full time work placement in the industry.  This placement took place during your 2nd year and then you returned to university for years 3 and 4.  That first hand experience was essential and certainly made the rest of the university content more real, fusing together the academic with real life experience.  One thing that does worry me nowadays is the intake in each year group and therefore the amount of event management students studying each year.  In the current economic climate does the demand by students for work placements and jobs in the industry outstrip the actual requirement in the real world?

Another element that I really valued in my degree was the regular contributions from industry speakers.  This really brought to life the realities and scope of the world of events.
Glenn Bowdin was (and still is) the Head of UK Centre for Events Management, Leeds Metropolitan University.  He has written event management text books and is Chair of AEME (Association for Events Management Education).

I had some great lecturers and it was really apparent those that “knew their stuff” and had a lot of experience.  I particularly valued the knowledge of Nick Jordan and I was lucky enough to have Nick as my dissertation tutor (now a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University).  Perhaps it was Nick that sparked my love of organising conferences too!  Of course not all of the lecturers encountered had the same level of experience and one in particular seemed to crack under questioning from inquisitive students and seemed to have only have organised a handful of events (they are no longer at Leeds Met I hasten to add!).  I agree that it is absolutely vital that anyone who teaches the event managers of tomorrow must have credibility and many years of experience running events.  A background in event management (not hotels, travel and tourism or academia) cannot be faked and so you will soon be discovered and lose the respect of the students otherwise.  Also to be able to direct research or advise students around their dissertation topic you surely need to have that deeper understanding?

We did plan, develop and execute some real events as part of our course although sometimes we had to undertake the planning for imaginary event projects too which was perhaps frustrating.  Looking back though I imagine it was very important as it gave us the opportunity to think big as if we were planning a really innovative event project with a complicated brief and a specific budget and is similar to putting forward ideas to a client and developing new opportunities in the real world.

I agree wholeheartedly with Simon Maier that delivery, measurement, ROI and event technology are vital elements to be studied.  The events industry is moving at such a fast pace I would hope that event management degrees are keeping abreast and tweaking their course content every single academic year.  Social media and health and safety are other vital components I would suggest should be given priority and whereas 10 years ago we learnt about video-conferencing, students today should be learning about hybrid events.  I know we had the opportunity to learn video editing for one module and skills such as this are obviously more important than ever for a well rounded event manager.  I hope also that all students at all universities nowadays (whatever the course) also have access to training in entrepreneurship, business planning and guidance on how to set up your own company.

One thing I think it is important to remember though is that University is not school or college.  It is about independent learning – research, critical thinking, study, reflection combined with work experience.  University is not about hand holding and telling people what to think and do – the student must come to their own conclusions and it is true somewhat that they get out what they put in (as with life in general!).

More recently I have had some links with the BA (Hons) Event Management Course at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).  I have had the pleasure of meeting the Course Leader and Senior Lecturers, I have presented to students about my career and experience of the events industry, I have participated in an industry focus group around course content and development, I have interviewed students for an events role, I have attended events organised by the students and I have worked first hand with several students who volunteered and came forward to work on a challenging event taking place within very short timescales.  I have to say I have been nothing less than impressed – the students have been really proactive and keen, the lecturers have a true background in events, the student intake each year is small and as part of the course they have to put on real events.

VolunteerWhen I graduated my industry work placement as well as the other voluntary and paid work experience I had gained were essential in helping me find a job.  Then in 2004 I set up my own company: Events Northern Ltd. (note I wrote an earlier blog post here about Starting an Event Management Company).  I know of at least 2 other graduates from my year group that did the same.  Others went on to top high flying jobs with some of the biggest companies in the events industry.  Inevitably though there were also many that didn’t go into the events industry and found jobs in human resources, marketing, retail and so forth.  I think it is a strength that our course was broad enough to allow this if people decided the events industry wasn’t for them.  The business elements of an event management degree and indeed the skills developed in terms of event planning are easily transferable, whereas someone without that event management background would not necessarily have the skills an event organiser needs.

I would suggest from an employers perspective if someone has a degree in Event Management this shows me that they are very focused on their career path (like I was – I couldn’t imagine studying anything else).  I agree that event experience would have the greater weighting if I had to choose between event management experience or having an event management degree but if recruiting I would largely favour someone with an events management degree rather than someone who had studied another subject.

I really do not envy current event management (or any students) today.  Not only do they have to pay high tuition fees (up to £9k per year) they also face a really difficult job market at the end of it.  Luckily the top students seem to realise that this is a competitive market and are raising their game and thinking ahead.

I have been impressed by the event management students I have come into contact with in person and also via Twitter and #eventhour.  They have shown an inquisitive and intelligent perspective, are gaining valuable work experience whenever they can (both paid and unpaid) and it is great to see them networking with event professionals via the virtual world through Twitter chats and face to face opportunities as well as taking the time to blog.  For me as an employer this shows real commitment.

In conclusion I would wholeheartedly defend my event management degree.  The academic preparation and inspiration it provided, in conjunction with lots of work experience has prepared me for my career as a professional event and conference organiser.  I would love to hear more from Universities that offer event management degree courses and find out about their specific course content and how they respond to this debate.

Starting an Event Management Company

Blog-Every-Day-in-November-with-RosaliliumDay two of #BEDN (Blog Every Day in November) and the topic today is ‘Something You Made.’  In this post I want to share a little about setting up Events Northern Ltd, which was incorporated in 2004.

After I graduated from university (2:1 BA Hons in Event Management from Leeds Metropolitan University) I worked for event management companies in Manchester and Liverpool.  The company I worked for in Liverpool then downsized and in essence closed its events department, leaving me without a job.  I applied for a few positions but there weren’t many events jobs advertising at the time and although I somehow got a few interviews they were ideally looking for people with 5 years minimum experience and I wasn’t successful.  At the same time a plan started to form that perhaps I would set up my own event management company, which would then also give me the freedom to do things my way!

At the time of setting up the company over 9 years ago the industry seemed even more London-centric than it is today and so the name emerged as I wanted to offer quality event and conference management services across the North of England.  To this day this remains our primary market, however we have also run numerous events nationally, plus international conferences both in the UK and abroad.

I had always imagined that one day I would set up my own company and follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather (who both set up their own businesses and always worked for themselves).  I didn’t however anticipate that I would be setting up a company before I had reached my mid twenties!  At first I was very conscious of my age, thinking that it would hold me back but I soon realised that age is irrelevant as long as you are offering a quality service, and so I stopped worrying.

Early EN pictureI accessed an eight week evening class which helped me create my business plan.  For the first 6 months I worked evenings and weekends in a bar as well as for Events Northern to give me an income until the company could start paying me a wage.  Within the first week of the business I tendered for a conference working on behalf of numerous prestigious partners including Arts Council England.  It was a great boost when I won the contract and delivered a successful event, receiving lots of fantastic testimonials.  Early on I cemented our niche of conferences for the health, arts and business sectors, however we work across many sectors for very varied clients to date.  Many of my earliest clients are still clients today and most of our business comes from personal recommendations.

The events industry, technologies and business in general has changed immensely since 2004.  It is funny to think that for many years event registration forms were filled out with a pen and faxed or posted back to us to then be typed into our database (no online registration systems!) and very traditional outbound marketing was used, social media and other inbound marketing was unknown!

Early in the life of the company (2004) I won the handbag.com Barclays Business Plan Awards, under 25 category. I was also runner up in the Everywomen Business Awards in 2006.

We have organised every type of event you can think of.  Conferences are my ultimate passion and I am excited about the many developments and opportunities the event industry offers today.  Our largest project was a complex 4-day conference with a gala dinner at the Natural History Museum and a launch party at which Diversity performed.  Over a thousand international delegates attended from 100 countries worldwide and we had over 30 event management staff.  As well as the conference plenary and concurrent keynote strands there were also 80 individual workshop panels comprising over 200 presenters.

Setting up your own company is not a decision to take lightly and as well as the highs there have certainly also been darker times too, such as battling through the recession, the NHS transition and upheaval, working ridiculously long hours and testing personal relationships as a result.  However despite the trails and tribulations I believe overall I definitely made the right choice and I am proud of our achievements.

I am passionate about business and I strongly believe that more young people and people of all ages in general should consider starting their own company.  It is import to instil entrepreneurial skills and ensure that more people do realise it is an option to them.

I have enjoyed sharing a little bit about the creation of Events Northern Ltd.  Thank you for listening!

Top Tips for a Successful Career in Event Management

The recent A-Level and GCSE results got me thinking about what advice I would give to anyone interested in Event Management.  You may be considering studying an Event Management degree and/or want to embark on a career as an Event Manager?

I was 17 when I set my mind on my future career path and I have enjoyed writing this blog post and looking back at the information and learning that I would give today to anyone just starting out on this journey.

Be warned and be prepared though; this is a very competitive marketplace with hundreds of people applying for every university place and job.  To succeed you will need to stand out from the crowd and be the cream of the crop!  Here are some of my top tips to give you the best chance of a long, exciting and rewarding career in the events industry.

Read all you can

Read as much as you can about the events industry, including event management books, industry magazines, press releases, blogs, websites, etc.  This is a fast-moving industry and it is important to keep up to date.  Not all of this information has to be purchased – there is a wealth of free information out there which will help to give you the bigger picture and teach you some of the basic principles about event management.

If you are looking to study for an Event Management degree authors such as Goldblatt, Getz, Bowdin, Watt and Tarlow (to name just a few) will help to introduce you to the subject area.

Don’t just limit your reading to purely event management based articles either, reading around marketing, customer service, presentation skills, health and safety, social media, creativity, project management, business planning, management, negotiation, finance/budgeting and so forth will all help in any future event management role.

Don’t specialise too early

Even if you are adamant that you wish to work in a particular area of the events industry I would urge you not to specialise too early, to ensure that you gain a broad range of skills and experience.  Although organising a music festival is a very different area of expertise to organising a conference or exhibition the basic principles of event planning are the same and experience of managing a live event in any shape or form will help to make you a better and stronger Event Manager.  When I started studying for my event management degree at Leeds Metropolitan University I was certain that I wanted to specialise in the music industry, organising festivals and gigs.  Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to work on every type of event imaginable; from fashion shows to awards ceremonies, exhibitions to weddings, music festivals to conferences, sporting competitions to open air movies and everything in between.  Today though, although I still really enjoy working on every single event management project, I get the most satisfaction from organising conferences and this has become my personal niche and speciality.

Organise anything you can

If you are considering working in the events industry you are probably already seen as the natural organiser within your friendship group – the one that makes things happen and generally looks after the arrangements and finer details.  Although organising friends birthday parties, holidays and nights out may be on a much smaller scale compared to organising public events it is still a little more practice for your future role and every little helps!

You can make other opportunities for yourself too.  Could you organise an event for a local charity for example?  If you are willing and able to take the initiative and help with fundraising on any scale I guarantee that they will be very appreciative.  And what about getting involved with your local amateur dramatics or other performance group?  That would be a great opportunity to shadow a sound and lighting engineer and to learn a little bit more about how it works behind the scenes.

During your career you will often be working with a tight or very small budget and so being imaginative, negotiating, making every penny count and generally making magic on very few resources is something that you should be working on at every opportunity (and your friends/local charity/theatre group will thank you for it too).

Get to grips with Social Media

You are no doubt already really comfortable with the internet and social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogging and Google+.  Incorporating social media and marketing into events is common practice nowadays so ensure that it is a routine part of your day/week too and think about how you could use it in a professional rather than a personal capacity to help promote your own future events.

Start to follow #eventprofs on Twitter and learn from the thoughts, knowledge and discussions they inspire and share.

Ensure you have a good computing skills

A lot of administration is required when planning an event and as an Event Manager you will need to be well versed in using a range of different software and tools.  Get as much working knowledge as you can of Microsoft Office (particularly Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher) and also learn basic accounting, project management, web design, video editing, design, writing and marketing skills if you possibly can.

Being familiar with the keyboard and typing quickly will be essential!  Likewise experience of writing professional correspondence in the form of emails, letters, reports and budgets will be a regular requirement.

As an Event Manager you will need to be technically proficient in many areas so seize absolutely every opportunity to learn.

Get a driving license

Event Managers often work unsociable hours and venues are not always accessible by public transport, particularly at 5 am!  Likewise you will often have a lot of equipment to transport so having a driving license and ideally your own vehicle is essential in my opinion.

Volunteer and get work experience

Volunteering and paid or unpaid work experience are absolutely vital and this cannot be stressed enough.  This shows a future employer that you are serious and committed to your chosen career and hungry to gain experience whenever you can.  Find out about local events and event management companies and ask them if they have any opportunities for you to get involved.  Don’t just think this should relate to the live event period either – the hard work is done in the office during the planning stages in the weeks/months/year leading up to the event.

Often it is possible to volunteer for events such as music festivals and aswell as gaining essential work experience and knowledge of a live event you often get a free ticket and “time off” to enjoy the festival in return for a set amount of working hours per day.  Regardless of whether you have chance to work on large-scale events such as the Olympics, Glastonbury, V Festival, etc, or events on a more local level, nothing should be discounted.

Although it may be difficult juggling your paid work commitments with your eagerness to volunteer you must do it to set you apart from the masses.  This has to be done as a long-term investment as without proof of experience working on actual events you are unlikely to even get to the interview stage.  Show willingness to volunteer and prove yourself to an Event Manager and this may of course then lead to paid work in the future.  Without getting your feet on the first rung of the ladder though you are never going to progress and develop your skills.

Of course if you can gain paid experience in the events industry that is even better.  Be open-minded about how you can gain experience too, for example could you work as an event steward?  This is a good grounding in terms of managing crowds across a venue or event site, dealing with different health and safety issues and ensuring the smooth running and safety of all attendees.

Go to events

At every possibility go to a broad variety of events and observe how things are done as a spectator.  What has worked well, what could be improved?  Why do you think things have been set up that way?  How has it been marketed?  How is everything managed?  What did you learn?  Consider jotting down notes, questions and observations that you can refer back to in the future.

I hope this post has inspired you to begin your exciting career in event management.  I love my role as Managing Director of Events Northern Ltd and find it extremely satisfying and rewarding working on events both large and small.

We wish you the best of luck to fulfill your dreams too!