The job of a planner involves a lot more skill than choosing chicken for a banquet menu. But does corporate America know that? In other words: Can event and meeting planners leverage their skills to climb the corporate ladder?
Absolutely, says Amy Giglio, manager of talent acquisition for Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac, a supplemental insurance provider that has 15 meeting planners on staff.
“Meeting planners have a number of skills that are very desirable in other positions and departments,” Giglio says. “They have the ability to persuade, influence and motivate others. They know how to sell a new idea. [And] let’s face it, they are independent thinkers who know how to resolve issues.”
Giglio says that several of Aflac’s meeting planners have been promoted outside their department. One became an executive office manager for one of the company’s top executives. “It was an easy transition,” Giglio explains. “This was a very high-profile job, but she was used to dealing with senior executives because of her job as an event planner. That was critical for this position.”
Giglio says meeting professionals also make excellent sales people. “Event planners build relationships, both internally and externally. In sales, [if] you build trust, you make the sale. Another easy transition is into procurement and vendor management, [because] event planners know how to handle budgets, order and take care of a problem if one arises.”
The marketing department is another place where planning skills translate well. “An event planner has to be creative and know the mission; it is never a ‘party,'” Giglio says. “It is an opportunity for business to be conducted. There is a mission, and event planners never lose sight of that.”
Other skill sets planners possess that could catapult them to positions of greater corporate responsibility include “staying focused on costs, adaptability, patience, composure and the ability to see the total picture while staying focused on the details,” Giglio says. “Those are very desirable competencies.” Not to mention the “ability to hear lots of ‘no’s and persevere with energy, patience and a smile,” she adds.
The skills planners learn on the job also prepare them to become entrepreneurs. For several years, Samantha Goldberg worked for a company in the hair and beauty industry as a trade show organizer. In 1998, she launched her own event planning business, Gold Events. Today, she oversees and directs a staff of 11 planners who coordinate events all over the United States and in key international destinations. Goldberg divides her time between planning celebrity events and private functions, and making personal appearances in support of a budding television career.
“I definitely believe working as an event planner gave me the nudge to start my own business,” Goldberg says. “It motivated me to branch out. Being a meeting planner is like [taking] a 101 course on everything you need to know to start your own business and succeed. You have organizational skills; you know what is essential to make a meeting successful and what would be nice. You develop the skills to figure out what you want and how to brand it, or how to do what someone else wants. If the boss is looking for something special, you have to figure out how to make it happen.”
Goldberg says a successful meeting planner turned entrepreneur “certainly knows how to multitask and handle all aspects of a project. They are calm and collected and can go from Plan A to B. Those are tremendous skills.”
Norma McGrody also took an entrepreneurial path. A former teacher, she worked as a meeting planner at Coldwell Banker and D.C. Health and Company before becoming the director of meetings and travel at The Prudential Real Estate Co. Today, she runs Meetings Management Associates, a Sherburne, N.Y.-based meeting and event planning firm.
“The skills that are absolutely necessary to be successful in meeting planning are creativity, flexibility, [being] detail-oriented and organized, [and] the ability to prioritize,” McGrody says. “These skills have helped me easily transition to an entrepreneurial role.”
If meeting planners are looking for a new career entirely, David Schafer of David Schafer & Associates, a Palm Springs, Calif.- based career counseling company, says they have many options. “Event planners have very transferable skills: They are good with people, can multitask and can handle conflict resolution like no one else.”
Schafer suggests that event planners segue into careers with health care companies, working with the elderly, or with cruise and hospitality firms. “They are a natural fit with advertising firms … in the [trafficking] departments. It’s a very viable position, because they know how to keep schedules and keep people on schedule.”
Real estate is another career option. “An event planner understands logistics and is someone who could manage the physical needs of buildings, making sure that if the roof leaks, the proper person is called,” he says.
Meeting professionals also are perfectly suited to work for convention and visitor bureaus, he adds. “Someone with an event planning background would be able to help market a city to the right people, [and know] whether to go after high rollers, the foreign market or Middle America … and how to put a package together to sell to them.”
But, Schafer warns, before meeting professionals seek new opportunities, they need to check them out thoroughly. “I tell people to talk to [people] who have the job you want,” he says. “It may not be as great as your think. Every job has a downside. But I have a lot of friends who were event planners, and now are working with hotels and catering companies. They’re on their own, working a lot, but loving it.”
Regardless of what path meeting planners chose, Goldberg says they will be well prepared. “If you’re a good event planner, that means you have the stuff to run your own company, go up the corporate ladder – do it all.”