In 2005, more than 250 nonprofit CEOs told PCMA what they were looking for in their meeting-planner staff. In the survey, respondents told us they sought business acumen — contracting, negotiation, budgeting, and financial management — as well as soft skills, including the ability to lead others. And they ranked meetings and events second only to executive management in terms of importance to their organization’s mission.
Which begged the question more than a decade ago: Why don’t many event organizers have a seat at the executive table?
Twelve years later, we wondered if more of them are pulling up chairs there today. We decided to revisit the themes explored in that original survey with a similar one conducted this year. Like the survey we commissioned in 2005, this year’s research was underwritten by a grant from the PCMA Education Foundation. Unlike the earlier survey, we reached out to executives at both corporations and associations to find out what’s on their minds when it comes to the business-event strategists they have on staff today — and what they’re looking for in new hires. The similarities and differences are telling.
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
More than 100 corporate and nearly 40 association leaders — a mix of CEOs, CMOs, COOs, presidents, directors, and executive vice presidents — took part in the survey.
Respondents were asked to rate on a scale of 1–5 how satisfied they are with the performance of their organization’s business-event strategists in a variety of areas.
More than three-quarters of association respondents were extremely satisfied with their event staff’s logistics proficiencies, compared to 54 percent of corporate respondents, and nearly twice as many association execs were extremely satisfied with their budgeting and financial-management acumen compared to their corporate counterparts.
Meanwhile, corporate leaders indicated that they were more satisfied with their event planners’ soft skills — including presentation skills and pitching ideas, and ability to create engaging experiences. Given that the majority of corporate planners sit in the marketing department, the emphasis on communication skills and creativity is not surprising. The biggest knowledge gap for both groups appears to be data capture and analysis. Quantifying ROI for those attending the event is another area for improvement among corporate and association event organizers.
Both corporations and associations have diverse goals for growth, anticipating it will come primarily from new audiences, new products, and new markets. Ten percent more association execs vs. corporate execs are focused on gaining new audiences. One association-executive respondent said, “Expanding to new audiences with highly valued education will increase both meeting attendees and possibly membership.” In terms of the skills needed to ensure that events continue to drive growth, both corporate and association respondents said that strategic, big-picture thinking, people skills, communication skills, and creativity are key.
On Their Wish List When corporate leaders were asked what they are looking for from event strategists, people skills topped the list, and they emphasized finding candidates who are energetic and engaging. One corporate respondent wrote: “Someone who has a very magnetic and outgoing personality and who’s able to connect with others.”
They also value experience with large groups and logistics savvy — “someone who is detailed and can handle the pressure of a big company,” one corporate exec wrote. At the same time, an ability to innovate was prized — “an appetite for creative and unique experiences,” one wrote. Not surprisingly, being tech-savvy was cited by many as essential to that innovation. Communication skills are highly prized among corporate execs, as is the ability for an event strategist to connect with the company vision — “an individual who recognizes our core values and is in tune with present and future goals” is how one respondent described it.
On the other hand, the attribute most often mentioned by association execs was strategic, big-picture thinking. As with their corporate counterparts, creativity was also in high demand among association execs. One mentioned an interest in learning and looking outside their field to identify new ideas, and another wanted candidates who were willing to take risks in designing events that meet their stakeholders’ needs. Considering that events are a critical revenue stream for associations, a strong grasp of financial management is also an imperative for this group. “Has to be able to evaluate the financial and cultural feasibility of events while understanding the educational goals of the group,” one association respondent wrote. Another said: “Understands that the event is more than an experience but a business asset that must develop revenue for the organization.”
Finally, both groups said they are seeking well-rounded individuals who combine “excellent attention to detail” with an “under-standing of the big picture,” according to one association exec. A corporate leader put it this way: “Someone who can be a coach [and a] player and balance the strategic aspects with tactical execution.”
Supported by a grant from the PCMA Education Foundation and brought to you in partnership with Marriott.