From climbing up the ladder as an employee to bidding for gigs as a business owner, friendly rivalry in the work world abounds. Fortunately, so do the means of self-promotion. Savvy meeting planners know how to make the most of personal branding, certifications, social media and marketing to stand out against the competition. Here’s a battle plan for scoring the next big promotion or landing that dream client.
First, you need to brand yourself. An often-misunderstood buzzword, “personal brand” means having a clear vision of who you are, and it makes the difference between a wildly successful planner and a mediocre one, says career and branding coach Amanda Guralski, president of bizMe Consulting. Begin this year with one big career goal, Guralski advises; smaller goals will follow in time.
Next, ditch the suit. “Clients should view you as partner, not a vendor,” says Richard O’Malley, a 15-year veteran of special events planning and president of The O’Malley Project, a production and tradeshow services company. “When you go on the site visits, dress appropriately. Don’t wear the $3,000 suit to the lighting warehouse, because then you look like a pompous fool.”
It’s also important to remain calm. Clients need to see your consistent enthusiasm, even on tough days. “The planners that get called back time and time again are the ones who don’t let anyone see them sweat,” says Guralski. In a bad mood because of a speeding ticket acquired on the way to a meeting? If possible, reschedule. “It’s not worth losing the client.”
New planners have to cut their teeth in the industry somewhere, and a good place to start is with positions at non-profits. “It teaches you how to talk to people and how to negotiate, because you have to get everything for free,” says O’Malley, who got his start as a wedding DJ in college, then transferred that experience to fundraising events. “Having an endless budget [at a mega firm] is easy. At a nonprofit, you become a better producer. The in-the-trenches experience is unmatchable.”
As you continue to brand yourself, understand that there are times where you’ll be uncomfortable. You need to be uncomfortable to challenge yourself and advance your career. Too many mid-level planners become burned out or lulled into a comfort zone, no longer giving their all. A client’s big day becomes “just another job” to them. “It’s not just the bottom line on this one job,” says O’Malley. Create wonderful memories, add value to events, and clients will return.
Planners often seek professional certification, but O’Malley cautions against pursuing every certification opportunity presented. Thoroughly investigate the instructor’s credentials before signing up. “There are a lot of charlatans out there who hold seminars to hold seminars.”
While Guralski is an advocate of continual learning and personal growth, she says work experience often outweighs certification. “Anyone can memorize a book,” she says. “Business savvy and maturity come from applying skills and knowledge.”
“If you’re not on social media, you don’t exist,” says Guralski, who encourages the business owners she coaches to be very clear in their 140-word bios on Twitter. Make it easy for potential clients and peers to understand what you do, what you specialize in and, eventually, to recognize you as an industry guru. Host Twitter chats on topics relevant to your expertise or form a content-driven group on LinkedIn.
Planners need to provide valuable content on social media. Content is still king. When sharing links via Twitter or LinkedIn, give your audience ideas of substance—articles on how to run their business, for example. “Posting a link to your event’s photos, saying ‘hey, look at me,’ is not content,” says O’Malley.
Be smart and include money for event sponsorships in your marketing budget then select opportunities that optimize exposure. “Your stuff should be highlighted, not just thrown in a goodie bag…that’s wasted marketing money,” says O’Malley. “Make sure it’s something that’s seen and experienced by the crowd as important so they’ll take away the memory of it. If you’re a florist, don’t do the centerpieces—build the podium out of flowers. Maybe one or two people will say ‘look how nice that centerpiece is,’ but 500 people will say, ‘Is that podium made out of roses?’”
Maria Carter is an Atlanta-based writer focusing on business, travel and other lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in dozens of consumer magazines and trade publications. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.