Event Managementby Rus Slater
The people involved
Inevitably, running a successful event involves communicating effectively and working with people at all sorts of levels.
Every event needs a ‘sponsor’, who is normally someone who is
- Significantly higher in authority than the event manager or his/her team
- The person who is going to measure, and probably take credit for, the outcomes, when the event achieves its objectives and the benefits identified in the justification/business case come rolling in
- The initiator of the event, or the person who got it its blessing at the most senior level
- Prepared to champion this event and its planning at senior levels, if the event is challenged or jeopardised by other priorities or when the planning team runs into problems and extra resources are needed.
In some cases, the sponsor may be outside your immediate organisation – a client, partner, subsidiary or parent organisation, for example.
The event manager will need to keep the sponsor regularly updated on progress and potential problems on the plan so that the sponsor is fully able to handle any questions or challenges immediately.
If an event is being held to launch a new product, the event board might consist of the technical, R&D and marketing directors.
With smaller events there is usually only a need for a sponsor, but with larger events, you may want an ‘event board’.
An event board may consist of senior representatives from the departments with the most input/commitment to the event as well as the departments who stand to gain most.
An event may be run with a partner – another organisation – with a joint risk and benefit. It is important to set the expectations on both sides before you begin:
- Is either party subordinate to the other?
- What are the demarcations of responsibility during the planning, delivery and post event?
- What are the arrangements regarding funding, settling bills, income split, accounting, and communication?
- Who can make what decisions?
- The event is partially underwritten from the point of view of business risk.
- The cash flow effect is eased by joint responsibility.
- There may be the possibility of practical and professional help in planning (depending on the partner).
Your ‘partner’ could be another department of your own organisation... office politics is all-invasive!
- The partner is going to have some expectation of ‘value for their money’.
- The partner may end up taking over the event to their benefit and your detriment.
- You and your partner are now locked together in terms of image
If you have a partnership deal on an event, it is vital that you have a clear (preferably written) agreement regarding the amount and timing of funding, logo use, name of event and sponsor privilege, management authority, risk and HSE responsibility.
You need to consider all phases leading up to the delivery of the event, as well as all aspects of the actual event. For example, you need to consider
- The staffing of the planning/decision-making phase
- All aspects of preparation/setting up
- Managing and delivering the event
- Clearing up afterwards.
You must take into consideration whether these people are full- or part-timers, paid or volunteers, or staff of a supplier. These factors will affect availability and cost on a very significant basis as well as motivation (see also Team performance).
Who is actually going to manage, plan and deliver this event?
Sometimes, with a very small event, this will be one person: managing, planning and delivering the whole thing alone, over a short period. In this case, the person will need all of the skills listed below. Generally, however, there will be a team, with an event manager at its head.
The choice of event manager is quite crucial; as they need to have particular skills:
- Multi-tasking – to handle the issues across the entire range of tasks/resources and people on any one day
- Logical thinking – to plan the progress of the event
- Lateral thinking – to see where activities can be managed concurrently
- Commercial awareness – to oversee the whole event in a cost-effective way
- Numerical acumen – to juggle the financial and resource aspects of the event
- Communication skills – to deal with the team, the stakeholders and the suppliers efficiently
- Leadership – to motivate a diverse, probably matrix team (which can include members who ‘outrank’ the event manager)
- Diplomacy – to handle the sponsor and the board, especially when the event plan hits problems, and to deal with change requests
- Imagination – to consider downstream impact when changes are needed.
The rest of the team will need to have technical expertise as well as having the ability to
- Manage their own time and output effectively, especially where they are part-time team members with departmental managers and other responsibilities apart from the event
- Make judgement calls regarding the scheduling and progress of their parts of the plan
- Work to fixed deadlines and to specified standards of quality, possibly without supervision or support
- Understand the big picture of the adjacent parts of the event plan rather than just their own part
- Recognise the importance of accepting the leadership of an event manager who may well be junior to them and who may have little knowledge of their area of expertise.
As with everything in life, getting the ‘right’ people on the team from the outset makes it all go much better. Sometimes the team will consist of whoever is available, but on other occasions it is possible to pick a team specifically for the task.
There are some functions that need to be carried out throughout the lifecycle of the event (often you will have one person carrying out a number of functions).
- The team needs a leader, this role acts as the figurehead and conduit for contact from outside and may be the spokesperson for the team; they make sure that the team stays focused on the important decisions and milestones, at and between meetings, and have the casting vote if necessary. The leader need not be the most the senior person on the team, so long as all know who the leader is.
- The team will need a secretary; this role takes the minutes of the planning team and keeps all the records and documentation.
- The team needs someone to act as treasurer; this role controls all the funds in and the payments out and maintains the books in accordance with the governance rules
- Depending on the size of the event, there may be other team members, who are there for general input or who have specific roles, such as publicity, entertainments and so on. If the event is small, it is quite probable that the roles of leader, secretary and treasurer will all be one person!
- In the event of a joint venture or a heavily-supported event, the partner or sponsor may be represented.