Want To Be An Event Planner?

Monique O. Nero is often labeled a party planner. But as a certified meeting professional and manager of strategic relations and special events for BellSouth, her job is more multidimensional.

Nero, a one-woman department who reports directly to the chief diversity officer, is charged with multiple tasks, the most important of which is ensuring BellSouth’s brand presence through company events.

According to the monthly industry publication The Meeting Professional, 42% of U.S. marketing executives surveyed and 56% of executives worldwide acknowledged that as a marketing tool, events have become more important to their organizations’ success. The business of meetings and events, a $102.3 billion industry, has become increasingly critical to a company’s bottom line. For 2005, the industry expects a 4% growth in employment and a 5% increase in budgets, atop a 3% increase in 2004. This is according to FutureWatch 2005, a comparative annual outlook sponsored by American Express and Meeting Professionals International, an association for industry professionals and suppliers.

“Twenty-plus years ago, this industry wasn’t very well-known,” says Hattie Hill, CEO of Hattie Hill Enterprises Inc., based in Dallas. A 23-year veteran of the business who plans 50 meetings a year for various corporate clients, Hill says that even with today’s demand, the field still isn’t as recognized as it should be.

“We’re in a relatively invisible industry,” says Tommy Leaf, manager of the corporate recruiting department for The Freeman Companies, a full-service events contractor with clients that include the National Black M.B.A. Association and the Republican National Convention. “The trade show convention industry is a niche and does not have much public exposure. So it makes it very difficult for us to locate candidates with industry-specific skills sets.”

The good news: There’s no set track to enter this field. “Right now as an industry, there’s no clearly defined career path,” says Kelly Schulz, director of communications for MPI. “A lot of people, particularly students, don’t realize they can go into this profession.”

MPI is currently developing a program that will define core competencies necessary for meeting professionals to move from one level to the next. It also has a job bank and links to the growing number of academic institutions with educational tracks that support the meeting profession.

For those new to the industry, Freeman (www.freemanco.com), which has offices in 43 cities in North America and more than 3,500 full-time employees, offers year-long corporate sales and operation programs that allow trainees to spend several weeks at a time in almost every division of the company. Upon completion, trainees are relocated based on business needs and become either account executives or operation managers.

Transferable skills include organizing meetings and hotel experience in sales, catering, and convention planning, according to MPI.

Even with transferable skills, there’s still a learning curve. “Someone with three to four years’ experience is considered entry-level, unless they’ve worked for one of our direct competitors,” says Leaf. “It can take up to five years doing events planning, conventions, and trade shows to really understand the scope of what we do.”