Monica N. Simons, CMP, is an award-winning event planner, a motivational speaker and the Creative Executive Officer of Unforgettable M.E. by Monica Nicole, an event planning and design firm in the Washington, DC, metro area. The 13-year association planner and 2014 Meeting Professional of the Year (ESPA) also serves as the Director of Meetings and Events for the Intelligence & National Security Alliance and is listed as one of the Top 40 Under 40 by Connect Magazine. Ms. Simons is a proud member of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners and serves on several councils and boards.
The event planning industry is saturated with mega talent and big personalities who are famed for their work producing everything from weddings to funerals — and everything in between. Take these noted, wildly successful event planners for example:
It’s increasingly difficult to stand tall amongst giants. So how do you get your name on the “go to” list of event planners? Simple! Every choice you make — from connections to contracting and design — must accomplish these three things:
Self-promotion is key. And you do that best through the work you produce. As varied as our favorite event planners are in skill and portfolio, David Tutera events, Kevin Lee Productions and Preston Bailey have one thing in common: You can’t request their services without saying their name. If you’re looking to branch out on your own, don’t stress yourself about elaborate logos and quirky names for your company. Put your signature on the event from the beginning! Have current and prospective clients speak your name from the moment they start requesting your services.
If you are a corporate or association planner, you aren’t excluded from the equation. We are all building our personal brand. Your next position or promotion is already waiting for you to submit your resumé! Wouldn’t it be great if you made sure that a prospective employer is more familiar with your work than who you worked for? When I was last in the job market, the CEO and interviewer had what seemed to be an odd request. He asked for pictures of my events. At first, I was thrown off. I wondered why he would need to see actual pictures. It’s because he knew. Our work is to create an environment, an experience for the attendees. You can’t get that from a list of job duties. He wanted to experience my work, not my resumé. He wanted to know my aesthetic; my personal brand.
It’s becoming increasingly important to companies that they hire someone whose work can elevate their image, which they can’t determine from a resumé. Your personal brand is the one thing that sets you apart from other planners. Before you enter the market, choose some of the best photos from your events and, with your employer’s permission, have the photographer put your name, company and the date in the bottom corner. Submit these with your resumé as examples of the environments you create. Make sure your name is visible as the contact on the event websites for the company for which you provide services. Also, motivate others in your company to share your name with anyone who has questions regarding the event.
Now that they know your name, make it count.
“Jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” — Benjamin Franklin
Our field is complex, and there are many avenues to take. As an association planner, I tackled membership, had to rebuild one company’s budget and sponsor branding, started green planning programs and had to oversee database implementation. Opportunity overload! And I’m grateful. I wasn’t sure I could do any of it. I was worried I would lose billions of company dollars and get laughed out of the boardroom along the way. While there were a few moments of laughter, mostly I learned from those opportunities. My contribution can take a company from functioning in the red to operating in the black…and keep it there. My resumé details it all. Those are the things you can’t see from the pictures. The risks I took. The responsibility I embraced. The times I jumped.
“Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” — Ray Bradbury
Now that you’ve jumped out there and accepted these new duties, you are going to have to take some heavy risks. Just as you do with your designs and program formats, you will need to adjust your portfolio and stretch your skill set to fit the needs of your next employer or client. When adding to your portfolio, you risk exhausting your bandwidth and company or client time and money, not to mention the self-doubt.
In my need to stretch my skills, I’ve made some interesting choices. I can look back and say they made me better at what I do, more knowledgeable in my contribution and richer in my experience (which always goes on my resumé), and I was criticized and doubted at every turn. You will be, too. Run the risk. As this is a new venture, you will undoubtedly have to call on other experienced planners along the way. You will enhance your relationships, add another skill to your resumé, and when you succeed, reinforce your position as a thought leader. You will build your wings along the way.
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” — Fred DeVito
If you want to reach the next level in your career, you have to do more than get your name out there, jump into a new skill and take a few risks. You must allow for growth. Your design, contracting and output shouldn’t look the same three years from now. The risks you took and the responsibilities you embraced beyond your expected duties should change the way you approach your events. If they don’t, you didn’t jump high enough or take large enough risks. In everything, even in the aspects of planning that you’re comfortable with, make sure there is a challenge involved. You will win or you will learn, but you will not lose.
In everything, even in the aspects of planning that you’re comfortable with, make sure there is a challenge involved. You will win or you will learn, but you will not lose.
Roll with the punches, but throw a few, too. Get knocked down and get back up. You will build your portfolio and stand out amongst your peers as the one to beat. You will be a game-changer because you’ve allowed every opportunity to change you. AC&F