If you were the kid who wanted to put on a circus in your front yard or orchestrate the games at your birthday party, then a career as an event co-ordinator might be something to consider. “You kind of know if you’re an event type person,” says Karen Hopkinson, senior project manager of PR1ME Strategies, an event production company based in Vancouver.
PR1ME is a conference and event company that puts together what it calls “extraordinary experiences” for corporate clients, associations and organizations. Though based in Vancouver, the majority of its business is national and international. Its events include conferences, symposiums, corporate meetings and tradeshows ranging in duration from two hours to four days. Karen has been with PR1ME for three years, though she had 32 years of industry experience before joining the company. “It’s always challenging, and the result is a tremendous sense of satisfaction,” she says. “Making the event or the conference successful is my high. It’s a happy line of business.”
Karen began by organizing an event for an insurance company where she worked as an office manager. “One of the aspects of my job at the time was having to plan an incentive conference that the company needed,” she says.
“So once I had one event under my belt, I felt like I really enjoyed that sort of enthusiasm, that sort of business — to plan, to co-ordinate, to manage, to have control of different factors. The management of an event had a lot of scope to it, as compared to just doing an office manager job. The scope of what the business was all about really intrigued me, as well as delegating, connecting and organizing, with the end of having one fabulous conference.”
She says that those thinking of such a career should have some marketing background, some computer skills and a great telephone manner. She advises that it is not a position best suited for someone right out of school, and that those who are most successful at this career have some life experience. Successful applicants, she says, “have to have some tourism experience or tourism management behind them. They have to know about how food and beverage works and how the budgets are designed.”
Karen also has her Certified Meeting Professional designation, a credential offered by Meeting Professionals International, which has about 35,000 members. The designation requires a course of home study, a three-hour exam and recertification every five years.
“Nobody who wants to go into this business need apply if they’re afraid of hard work,” says Karen. As an event approaches, a normal work day starts to lengthen roughly four weeks prior to the date. Days can lengthen to 10 to 12 hours and, once the conference is on, there can be 14- to 15-hour days.
On a typical day, she begins by dealing with about 50 emails, creating a program grid for the conference that outlines all aspects. She then checks with suppliers and the audiovisual team she has chosen, with her hotel convention-services managers to make sure they are within budget and can provide what she has asked for. Then she consults with her own staff to ensure that registration for events is going well, while also learning about problems they may be encountering. She verifies accommodations, transportation, printing and signage. She is a bit like an air traffic controller overseeing a busy runway.
“As a project manager,” she says, “you are actually a planner, a manager and an accounting person. You have to be assertive and strong and know what it is you have to do.”
Karen is one of the most highly regarded professionals in her field, with many prestigious testimonials to the quality of her work. Asked to analyze what qualities in her makeup enabled her to excel in this field, she says, “I’m optimistic, creative and always open to new ideas. I look at the big picture rather than get stuck in the small stuff. I’m calm under fire, big time. And I’m looking for new ways to do things.”
Anyone considering the event management field should ask themselves whether they are organized, outgoing, flexible, assertive, considerate and whether they enjoy working with people and managing the logistics of a project. Are they calm under pressure and able to stick-handle many different aspects of a project at one time?
“Some conferences follow the book,” says Karen, “while some can start to slide sideways on you. You have to be able to put out fires along the way. Drama queens are not invited.”