I am often asked how I got my start in event planning. That is easy to answer: I was incredibly lucky! I happened to be working for a company that had two separate event departments and I was offered a junior position in one of them as I had been working on several special projects while they were understaffed. I learned everything I could about developing and executing the perfect event and continued to move up in the field. For those of you who dream about breaking into this business, but don’t see your Fairy Godmother opening any doors for you, read on to find out how you can open them for yourself.
If you’re in your first year or two of college and you know that this is what you want to do for a living, I suggest that you keep your degree as generalized as possible. Unless you are specifically in a hospitality management program, what will really help you get your foot in the door will be a background in creative areas such as: marketing, design, fine arts, and communications.
Though most colleges require math courses as part of their core program, be sure to include some technical courses in basic accounting and microeconomics. It would also help to learn at least the basics of graphic art software such as Photoshop. The more vast your pool of knowledge, the easier it will be for you to take on multiple functions within your first few roles, thus making you a more competitive candidate.
If you’re already established in your career, but dream about breaking into the event planning industry, don’t despair! Review your job history and look for common themes that can be applied to this industry such as: organization, project management, scheduling, or team-building. Just because you haven’t done this yet does not mean you are not qualified to do it.
Irregardless of where you are in your career – just beginning or about to change it completely – you can do this. It would be naive to think that a degree or using similar skills is all you’ll need to land your first event planning job. Everyone has to start somewhere. Look for junior positions with organizations that will be willing to develop and promote you. If you’re already established and can’t afford to take a pay cut, you may have to consider doing this sort of work on the side or on a volunteer basis until you have some experience beneath your belt.
I do not know of a single non-profit organization that does not rely on fundraising events to build capital. This is an easy way to get involved with the organization of your choice and learn new skills at the same time. When volunteering to help organize an event with a non-profit, you may be asked to do such things as: help collate, address and mail invitations, track responses, call companies to ask for donations for raffle prizes and take-away gifts, stuff goodie bags with thank-you gifts for guests, or register attendees onsite. These tasks may seem trivial, but they are crucial and will help you build your resume.
Be Your Own Boss
Begin by organizing a family event such as a birthday party or a reunion. Be sure to put thought into designing an invitation, allowing enough lead time for responses and making the event as exquisite as the budget allows. At the event, have professional business cards with your contact information available to give you family and friends and let them know that you will be there to help them plan their special occasions. Ask them to write a recommendation or a review of the event and keep it in your portfolio. You will have to develop and market yourself, but if running your own event management company is what you want to do, this is the way to start. Once you’ve established yourself, you can chase larger pieces of business. Always remember to ask for referrals and if your customers are happy, ask them to tell at least one other person about your services. Word-of-mouth is the best marketing tool there is.
Build a Portfolio
While you are developing your skills, be sure to keep a portfolio of your work. This should include such collateral as: save the date cards, invitations, menus (including wine pairings, if you’ve done them), samples of handouts you’ve designed or provided, photographs of the event spaces you’ve used (including how you’ve decorated them). Be sure to always have at least one photograph of a table setting per event; this should show the centerpieces as well as the overall look and feel. Make sure that these photos are as professional-looking as possible, even if they were just taken with your personal digital camera. Be sure that the photographs of your event for your portfolio are in color; it will illicit a greater response from your audience.
Make it a point to be well-read on venues, vendors and new design concepts. Find places that inspire you and visit there often. Look for creative ways to give new life to old products. Keep abreast of events that are happening in your area. If at all possible, attend them! The best way to learn how to do this is to see it done!
Get involved with your local chapter of COPE (Council of Protocol Executives) or another national event management organization. As you continue to build your experience, consider applying for your CMP – Certified Meeting Planner – designation through the Convention Industry Council. Employers in the industry look to this certification as a clear way to identify event professionals.