Looking for a new career in 2017? Fancy a job in the events industry?
Whether you’re looking for a change of direction, or just starting out after school or uni, specialist events recruiter Robert Kenward has some helpful advice on how to become an event planner.
Robert worked in senior roles at major UK events agencies MCM Creative, Sledge and Banks Sadler before launching his own specialist recruitment business YOU Search & Select.
Robert explains how he crossed over to events from a career in recruitment and what he looks for when searching for candidates.
You didn’t start your career in events. How did you come to enter the industry?
“I was in the recruitment sector for nine years working for a very large corporate. My Sales Director moved into the events industry. And about 18 months into her role she called and asked me to move over too.
“I was nervous about the move because people outside the sector see events as a bit fluffy and even now some of my friends think I’m a party planner. I went to have a chat with the boss and because my experience lies in marketing and business development found there were a lot of transferable skills. However, the product knowledge was something I had to get up to speed with.”
How difficult was it for you not having a background in events?
“I never knew there was this multi-billion pound events industry. I found it really tough initially especially as I came in at a senior level, as Commercial Director.
“I had to build my credibility, so it was asking questions, sitting in on briefing meetings, attending events, networking. It was really letting them know I was very, very interested.
“I’d sit with graphic designers and editors and just ask them “What’s that? What’s that? How does that work?” like a child would learn. I think when you do it like that, it helps them buy into you as a person.”
How long did it take for you to feel confident?
“I’d say about three months. Within that time I’d gone from nothing to repositioning our offering on a marketing front. I’d gone from zero to, “I can present to a senior exec board of a major potential new client about their event,” where I felt comfortable.”
Did you undertake any event industry training?
“No I didn’t. I’m a great fan of the right people in the right place. I know what my skills are and I know where I need support so that’s when I bring the right people in.
“For example, if a producer was going to be working on a key part of the event, I would bring the producer along. The key thing for me was really getting under the skin of the clients and understanding what they want, which I had experience of from recruitment.”
Are transferable skills important for people looking to cross over into an events career?
“Transferable skills are a massive part of it for people moving into the sector. However, a lot of candidates I meet say, “I’ve got transferable skills,” but when I ask them what they are they don’t actually know. That’s because they don’t really know what they’re getting into. They just see ‘events’ and they don’t really understand what ‘events’ is.
“With me, my role before was marketing, business development and building relationships. So I looked at, “What am I very, very good at and what does this role entail?” It’s studying the job description, the skills required and identifying which you have.
“You then need to spell that out to the employer and also tell stories about any relevant experience you have that will interest them. If you’ve been involved in an event before, don’t just mention it off the cuff; tell a story about your involvement. Not enough people do that.”
Are there many opportunities in the events industry currently?
“There is a dearth of skills across mid-level to senior managers, because a lot of people are probably paid quite a lot of money based on length of service rather than experience and the skills they bring.
“There are a lot of graduates coming in, which is great. And there’s quite a lot of movement at the top with the senior management crossing over or setting up their own agencies but there’s a big gap of “I’m ready to step up”.
“That’s where we’ve worked really well, finding people who are ready that might not be actively looking for a new role.”
What’s the best way for someone who wants to join the events industry to find out about the different roles there are?
“The first thing I did was find out what the main trade magazines were. Reading these I went from not knowing there was a sector to, “Bloody hell, look at this!”
“Before I accepted the job with MCM, I also asked if I could come in for a week. I took holiday and went to work in the office for free. I think the best way of finding out about the industry is to get involved and understand what it is. For example, I did de-rigging for an evening up at a motorcycle museum and that really opened my eyes as to the hard work that goes into setting up an event.
“There are not enough people knowing what they’re getting into. I can pretty much guarantee if someone said, “Can I come in and hand out name badges or something on your next event? Don’t pay me, I just want come along and help and I promise not to get in the way,” they would be welcomed.”
How important is having an events degree when you’re assessing a candidate?
“I think it shows a level of commitment. It shows somebody has decided to do that as a career. The biggest thing about our industry though is that there are so many companies with so many different types of people.
“The whole reason we set YOU Search & Select up was around our concept of ‘Fitability’ is that personality and cultural fit is so important. Do you have synergies with that company? If you’re going to a brand where the biggest thing on their website is CSR, and you don’t really care about CSR, is that a career for you or are you just looking for a job?
“The industry is so used to taking candidates from who’s available, so they have to go on who’s got the closest match of skills. That’s when someone having an event degree might lead to them be chosen over someone else, rather than asking, “Are they a good match for my business long term?”
What makes a candidate stand out to you?
“As a recruiter, I’m not the most important thing in this relationship; I’m just a conduit between a client and a candidate, but a recruiter should be treated as somebody who’s got the knowledge; a specialist who can add real value and not as a transactional service.
“When you see people’s C.V.s and it’s the usual personal profile that could be copied and pasted anywhere, that’s one of my bugbears. For me, that personal statement is the first thing I look at and say, “Is this person applying for this role or are they just saying, “Here’s my C.V.””
“Unfortunately, 99% of the time it’s generic. You need to show you understand what you’re going for in your personal statement and give relevant examples.”
What’s the best route for a young person to get into the events industry?
“When I was looking for a new opportunity I didn’t actually look for companies that had live roles, I looked for companies I thought I could add value to.
“I think young people can do this; seek out companies that match their personal and career aspirations and approach them directly. Pick the phone up to the HR team and tell them, “This is me, this is what I can do and the reason I’ve come to you is because of this.”
“For example, if someone had taken a gap year to South Africa and then there’s an events agency that does a lot of team building in South Africa they could say, “I have experience of South Africa and I think I could help you if an opening ever came up.”
“There are thousands of people applying to get into the industry, so you need to differentiate yourself and show you’re a good fit for the employer.”
Not having a background in events doesn’t exclude you from the industry. Figure out where and how your existing skills could be applied, gain some practical experience, approach companies you admire and make your dream of becoming an event planner a reality.