When event managers ask, “Why me?”

“Why me?”

I am sure that we have all asked ourselves this question when confronted with a difficult problem and I expect that those working in special events ask themselves “why me?” more often than most.

There is another way for professional event managers to look at the “why me?” question:  “After an intense competitive bidding process, I was selected. Why me?” “In the heat of the event when everything is happening at once, everyone looks to me for direction. Why me?” Of course, the biggest one of all “When something has gone wrong, I’m expected to have the answer immediately. Why me?”

When event managers ask, "Why me?"The fact that the special events professional has to ask the “why me?” question so often is not because they are the last dog to kick but because they are at the heart of one of the most important and high-risk corporate activities.

Special events are important because the image and reputation of the company is on the line. An unsuccessful event makes a company appear unsuccessful. In many cases, CEO’s have attached their prestige to the event. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, for those within the company employed to manage special events, their jobs are on the line. For the person in the company who is responsible for the event, hell hath no fury like the piercing glare of an embarrassed CEO after an event gone wrong in front of board directors, customers, media or employees.

Special events are high risk for two reasons. There are a lot of moving parts to a special event – just one of them slipping up can set off a terrible chain reaction. When things do go wrong, it is in front of a large audience who immediately recognize the failure.

It is these elements of importance and risk that are far too often not fully appreciated in the planning of special events.

I have spent a career in consumer goods, financial services and energy where I have had the corporate responsibility for special events including annual meetings, franchisee events, media conferences, financial analysts briefings, employee meetings and major sponsorship programs such as the Olympics. My most vivid memory was the time when my employer hired a green-eyeshade consulting firm to determine how company costs could be reduced. In a meeting in front of large group of corporate services executives, the consultants looked down the table at me and said that I was spending far too much money on the long-standing firm that I used to successfully manage the annual shareholder meeting. They had determined that there were a number of much cheaper suppliers that I could use instead.

All my colleagues smiled and nodded, grateful that they weren’t being called out. I blinked. Then I blinked again. I tried to say something but no words came out. (Only days later did I think of several clever retorts that I could have used.)

The annual shareholder meetings were very important. The company was widely held. Over a thousand people attended the meeting. The CEO used the event to deliver a major speech. All the national media were there. A number of key resolutions had to be passed. The board of directors were to be re-elected. Most importantly of all, my career depended on a successful event. Fortunately, the other person to whom the event was critically important was the CEO, who had even less interest than me in cutting the event budget. By the way, did I mention that the image and reputation of the company was at stake?

The consultants giving the advice were from a major international firm. It occurred to me later that their only calculation was cost. They had failed to assess the importance and risk associated with the event. It is like an airline measuring engine maintenance by cost alone – an apprentice mechanic will cost half as much.

Because special events professionals live 24/7 with the elements of importance and risk, I believe that they sometimes do not articulate sufficiently well to clients all the activities necessary to ensure a trouble-free, successful event. This is not to say the client should be alarmed, but they do need to know why backup sound, video and printing systems are required, why the room needs to be booked the day before for rehearsals, why there needs to be sufficient staff to register and greet attendees, plus a long list of other necessary prudent precautions to ensure success.

Ultimately, the client will decide how much needs to be spent in dollars and time. Yet even if the conversation is difficult, the special events professional has a duty to ensure that the client understands the risks. It is as necessary for the client’s reputation as it is for the event manager.

Simply hearing from the events professional how importance is determined and risks mitigated takes the client a long way to feeling that they have chosen the right supplier.

Why me? Because the client is comfortable that I know what is at stake and have a plan to manage it.

About the author:

George Bothwell has spent a career leading marketing and communications strategies to build corporate reputations in North America and Europe. He has acted as the senior marketing and/or communications officer at Bank of Montreal, Barclays Bank and Atomic Energy of Canada. In these capacities, he has held the corporate responsibility for special events including annual meetings, franchisee events, media conferences, financial analysts’ briefings, employee meetings and major sponsorship programs such as the Olympics. He began his career in the Government of Canada where he was Departmental Assistant to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce; Secretary to the Foreign Investment Review Agency; and Vice Consul and Trade Commissioner at the Canadian Consulate in Philadelphia. After leaving the Government of Canada he was Vice President of Communications and Environmental Affairs for Coca-Cola Canada and Director of Packaging for Coca-Cola Europe. He has managed marketing and communications programs in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia. During his career he has lived in Ottawa, Toronto, Philadelphia, Brussels and London. He currently runs a consulting practice focusing on marketing and communications issues.

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