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Event Service: A View From the Top

By Paul Ruby, CMP
President, ESPA

Paul Ruby

Once seen as glorified order-takers, today’s event services managers are responsible for the entire ‘event experience,’ motivated by knowledgeable clients with high expectations. Event managers must juggle tight deadlines and face challenges procuring the right information to pull off an outstanding event.

A recent survey of meeting planners found that 71 percent said event services “greatly affected” their decision to rebook a city or property.

Anthony Lombardi

To understand the role and challenges of today’s event manager, we sat in on a recent webinar featuring three prior recipients of the Event Service Professionals Association’s Executive Excellence Award, which recognizes ESPA members who embody executive commitment and dedication to the profession and those on their event services team. Award recipients are nominated by their event staff employees.

“A View of Event Service from the Top— Successful Leaders, Smart Moves” was moderated by Sissy Lawty, CMP, of Travel Portland.

“We must create miracles and magic with the information we’ve been given. Event services managers make it happen— that’s the norm, delivering miracles,” said Anthony Lombardi, director of sales and marketing at Sheraton Dallas and the 2015 Executive Excellence Award recipient. “It’s all in a day’s work.”

Event service professionals, often known as CSMs, step in after an event planner has booked a venue. Working with the planners, they manage all aspects of the event, from working with suppliers and vendors to room setup to the overall look and feel and managing every detail during the event.

Julie Pingston

“Customers are savvier, do more research and they want to replicate the best experiences,” said Julie Pingston, CMP, CTA, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau. Pingston, who has 23 years in the convention services industry, received the 2012 Executive Excellence Award. “The question is, how do we meet those expectations? It’s a good challenge because it helps better us all. We want to make events better and make them different. This will keep us moving forward as a profession.”

Lombardi, who began his career as a room attendant in Newport, Rhode Island and has since worked in every operational aspect of hotels, says he asks himself and his team, “Did I add value today? My motto is never stop learning and never stop trying to be the best daily you can be. Sometimes at the end of the day, I’m pulled in so many directions, it’s hard to think about what I accomplished. That’s why I like keep a to-do list, something to show my tasks and their impact, it helps me move forward.”

Heavier Workloads, Stress Management is Critical

Eric Blanc

Event service managers need to have a personal drive to succeed, agrees Eric Blanc, CMP, director of sales, marketing and convention services at Tampa Convention Center. He is a 2014 Executive Excellence of the Year recipient and a 24-year hospitality industry veteran.

“Success doesn’t just happen, you can’t just show up and do what’s required,” Blanc said. “You must have a desire to learn new things because this industry is ever-changing and no two events are the same. My motto is if you make it through a day without learning something new, you weren’t paying attention.”

During the recession many companies cut back their planning departments and have not rebuilt, leaving those who remain with heavier workloads. Where planners may once have handled five or six meetings per year, now they may be handling 10 to 15 events. “They have more responsibilities but fewer resources and that trickles down to the event service manager,” Blanc said. “It’s a broad challenge for the industry.”

Enter the event services manager, who assumes the role of an on-set producer.

“Every step of the attendees’ stay becomes an experience,” Lombardi said. “The relationship between planner and event service manager has grown, the event service manager must build a rapport with the customer as well to execute a phenomenal event. Just remember to keep things in perspective. Remember that we’re not saving lives, but creating memories, one event at a time. Relax, enjoy it and do the best you can.”

Customer service and stress go hand-in-hand. “When you’re younger, you feel invincible and you work a lot of hours. I learned the hard way after three instances of burnout that you control what you can control and don’t worry about the other stuff, it will play itself out,” Blanc said.

Pingston, whose stress management mantra is “It is what it is,” credits the career skills she’s acquired as a CSM for her success. “We consistently problem solve and troubleshoot and those are the qualities of strong leaders and those are what we fall back on. I can work with anyone and I can do it amid stress and tension. We have to be cool, calm and collected and build long-term relationships. That’s how you portray yourself as a leader.”

Being proactive with your event planners is key to staving off stress, according to the three award-winning service executives. Ask for information in advance and continue to remind planners if you don’t receive it or can’t find it elsewhere.

“Sometimes you can get the information from the customer’s website, but if it’s crunch time, be honest with your customer,” Blanc said. “Say, ‘look, we depend on this information to plan properly. If we don’t have it, there’s no guarantee that we can properly service your event.’ That tends to get attention. Planners want us to be partners, not service providers, and honesty works wonders.”

Teamwork is the Key to Success

It was once true that event sales and event services worked in operational silos: once an event was booked, the salesperson handed the file over to the services manager for execution. Now it’s all about teamwork, including educating salespeople on what features are available at each location.

Salespeople should be well versed on products and services, working in tandem with the service managers so the venue can exceed client expectations. For example, if a planner wants Wi-Fi for 2,500 people, salespeople should be transparent with the client about whether that will be a problem, if there may be issues or what it might cost to provide robust Wi-Fi.

Event services professionals who want to advance their careers should seek ongoing training and cross-training, find a mentor, keep up with industry trends, acquire certifications and join industry associations (like ESPA) which offer extensive education opportunities and industry networking. A CMP certification sets you apart, shows your skill set and has flexibility because it spans different hospitality sectors.

“Don’t just settle for the status quo,” Pingston said. “Don’t be satisfied staying where you are and offering what you deliver. Think about what you need to do next year to improve the status quo. Think about how you can do it better. Always look forward.”


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