If you have an interest in becoming an event organiser, running an event for your company is a great way to get started.
Corporate events can include anything from internal meetings, parties and team building through to client events, conferences and awards.
We spoke to Kate Conway, in-house event manager for Hyundai Motor UK and previously Tesco, about where to begin with corporate events.
Kate’s career in events started when she was a PA and progressed from organising board meetings through to 3,000-delegate conferences for Tesco and high-end car launches for Hyundai.
How did you transition into corporate events?
“I started off in domestic banking; I did 11 years working for Barclays and then the Co-Op. I was made redundant, went and did a postgraduate diploma in administration and it was doing that that drew me into events. I became a PA, which involved finance, diary management, typing, shorthand and a bit of conference organising, and I decided that was what I wanted to do.”
Is someone in an administrative role in a company well placed to organise an event?
“Absolutely, yes. If you look at a good PA or a good team administrator they should certainly be capable. The skill set is pretty much the same; it’s that organised eye for detail.”
Could organising events be done alongside that person’s normal role?
“It depends what the emphasis is on events but a senior PA could organise an event alongside their usual role. In the run up to the event you probably wouldn’t have time to do the rest of your job so you need an understanding boss who will give you the time to do it.
“It’s a great way into events for an ambitious PA. You perhaps get a couple of events to organise as part of your PA duties and then the next thing there’s an event management role that’s come up somewhere. You can apply for it and you’ve got something to show that’s of interest.”
What sort of event should someone start off with in order to dip their toe in the water?
“You can start off with meetings, like a management meeting that’s offsite, maybe with an overnight in the UK. You’re booking a hotel, transport and selecting menus, but it’s not too pressured and you’ve got the event coordinator at the hotel helping you along with it.”
When might you need to use an external event agency?
“If there is production to be done. For example, if you’ve got lots of slides that need to look good, they need to be transitioned and so on, then it might stretch the average PA’s skills. You don’t want it to look amateur when you’ve got attendees from outside the company.
“If it’s just the management team presenting to each other then their PowerPoint skills are probably fine. If you’re presenting in front of other people and you’re getting a bit further along, you might need films making, to enhance the content, and you’ll need a professional to do that.
“With regards to logistics, if it’s in the UK it’s a matter of if it gets too big and you don’t have the time to do it. Once it starts going abroad, you need somebody who can manage flight bookings and then you need to look at using a DMC (destination management company) at the other end.
“It’s a mistake some inexperience people make. They go through an agency to book the flights but they don’t seek help for arranging the transfers, finding out where to go for dinner and what you can do at the destination. That’s when you need the professional help of the DMC to smooth the path and speak the language.”
How can someone persuade their boss they should run an event? What are the benefits to the company?
“You just can’t beat face-to-face communication. You can send out newsletters, put stuff on social media or you may have an intranet where a lot of information sits, but if you want to gauge feedback or have networking, live events are always the best way.
“You can’t network properly over the internet, people don’t bond like they do after a few drinks together in the bar. It’s to do with relationship building. Internal events help your staff build relationships and different departments to work together. If you’re organising a B2B event then it means you’re going to meet people from other companies that maybe do a similar role to you. You find out what’s going on in the industry and make valuable connections.
“Nothing can take the place of a live event. In my industry, automotive, you can look at a video of a car but nothing beats it driving into the conference hall and you can hear it – or in the case of electric cars – you can’t hear it! It creates a wow factor and makes you proud to be part of the company, which is invaluable for employee motivation. A good speaker, for example, will inspire and make people think, “I want to work for this company and I want to achieve more.””
Can small companies run corporate events or does it always have to be a big investment?
“All companies should do it, even small companies. You could have a small team-building event because it helps people to bond and creates that feel good factor. Because there are fewer people it should be less of an investment, so even a small company should be able to afford it.
“If you’re doing something for customers or potential customers, however, you can’t cut corners. If you’re going abroad for example, you can’t use easyJet or Ryanair and you shouldn’t put them up in a Travelodge, you do need to spend more money.
“If you want to give guests a goody bag or welcome gift it should be of high quality and the food should be good too. You’re better off doing an event for fewer customers and doing it properly rather than trying to spread thinly. You risk damaging your brand otherwise. A customer event should be a VIP event whatever the nature of the company or the customers.”
How do you decide what’s going to be attractive content for your audience?
“If it’s an internal event, it may be that the content isn’t going to be attractive. It may be that the sales figures are actually not very good and that’s a message that is not attractive but needs to be delivered.
“If it’s for an external audience you need to know your audience before you start putting your content together. If you’ve got a mainly middle-aged audience, for example, you’re not going to take them off to a rave in Ibiza. You need to know what your customers like.
“If you’ve got a decent CRM system you’ve probably been able to ascertain what their interests are, what they do in their spare time and what kind of things make them tick. Then you put something on to suit them. It can be difficult. If you’ve got a diverse customer base you maybe only approach the customers you think are going to be interested in the thing you’re doing at the moment.”
Can the speaker be a big attraction?
“Yes, if it’s someone that you’ve heard of; someone in the public domain. If it’s an internal event, it may just be someone well known in your industry that everybody rates.
“It could also be somebody who does the same thing as your company does but has done it at another company at a high level. Take my old job Tesco, it might be you’ve got the CEO of Sainsbury’s coming to see you because it will give you a new perspective on the same thing.”
What were the key lessons you learned as you progressed from PA to event organiser?
“Check, check, check – you’ve got to check everything! It goes for any level of organiser.
“Don’t be afraid to state your opinion and push the boundaries. It might be that your company has been used to doing something for a long time and it’s time to stir things up a bit.
“Just because you’re new to event planning doesn’t mean your ideas are not going to be good ones – they’re going to be different. You can use your experience from elsewhere and bring that in.”
What are some common pitfalls for inexperienced corporate event planners?
“Perhaps they just book the standard hotel ballroom and dinner options and they don’t question it. They’ll buy the hotel AV equipment and they’ll try to save a bit of money by doing everything themselves, rather then getting somebody in who can mic up the speaker, give the PowerPoint presentations more pizazz and just make the whole thing a bit more interesting.
“With a standard three-course chicken dinner and a champagne reception, sometimes these things can get a bit samey, but if people haven’t done anything else, they don’t know what’s out there.
“There are so many unique venues and different options but it’s having the confidence to say, “We’re not having the event in a hotel. We’re going to stay in a hotel and I’m going to book somewhere more interesting for the dinner.” Of course that takes more organising and more management onsite but ultimately the guests have got a more exciting event.”
How can companies measure the ROI from their events?
“With internal events you can do a survey to see if people have enjoyed it, that they have taken back the message and feel enthused, but there’s nothing there financially to measure.
“With other events you can maybe measure the cost of your leads; how many leads did you get? What’s the cost per lead? It very much depends if you’ve got something you can measure. The value is sometimes intangible but you should get a good sense of whether it’s been worthwhile.”
Organising a corporate event doesn’t have to be a big, scary thing – start small with a meeting then try some team building or a Christmas party before moving on to a client-facing event.
You can use your administrative and organisational skills in new ways, giving you a great sense of achievement and helping your company to prosper.
Kate Conway is a board member of events industry charity Meeting Needs, which raises money to build classrooms, buy schoolbooks and fund vaccination programmes in the developing world.
You can get involved by bidding in their annual auction with 80 lots including top hotel stays and experiences, or by taking one of Meeting Need’s 20 places in the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Contact Kate for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org