As a Government Special Events Coordinator, here is my confession.
In this series we present real-life confessions from people working in the event industry. These uncensored, frank insights tell it “like it really is”. Some details have been changed to respect the anonymity of the confessor and ensure maximum honesty can be upheld.
As a Special Events Coordinator, I take concepts for new event initiatives from my manager, break them down into actionable items, and communicate logistics to all of the pieces of the puzzle that will bring the event to life. I specifically work in the municipal sector of the event planning world, meaning that my end game is to promote, brand, support and unite local businesses, the community, city officials and anything else that makes us unique. Generally, our “special events” are large festivals based around music, arts, holiday traditions or food and are intended to cater to as many people in the community as possible. The latter half of that sentence is what I absolutely love about my job, but it’s also what makes my job challenging.
Sometimes it feels as if we had a public stock that everyone bought into and now, as business partners, everyone has a different opinion of how we should be spending our money. In addition to our budgets, spending reports, vendor contracts, etc. being on public record, we also have an active social media presence. We strive to be as transparent as possible for the benefit of our residents, but it’s too time consuming to explain all the intricate policies of bureaucracy and logistics involved with event planning.
We are easily accessible for all inquiries and complaints, so it’s not unusual to receive messages from disgruntled citizens and local business owners who feel that they have been overlooked. Since we are ultimately here to serve the public and strive to create a welcoming community, it is imperative that we remain diplomatic in our responses to reinforce that we have done our best to account for them, along with the rest of our citizens, in our decision making processes. Some days, it feels like walking on a tightrope.
Trying to Please the Whole Community
Although we always do our best to accommodate as many requests from the community as possible, sometimes we have to say no and it must always be said with grace. This is not a skill specific to the municipal sector or even events as a whole, but for us, this is vital because of the longevity of repeat business that we can, and most likely will, encounter when working for a city. Sometimes this means cutting ties with a vendor only to return to them years later. Sometimes it’s knowing that a vendor’s products or services are not to the caliber of your needs, yet kindly suggesting ways to improve, otherwise “breaking up” or “rejecting” them without leading them on. It’s eerily similar to dating, but ghosting is not an option.
Innovation Takes Time
Innovation takes time. Once I was hired, my friends made jokes about things being “good enough for government.” Yes, government has a reputation of moving slowly. However, it’s not that the employees themselves are lazy or apathetic, but that the process of proposing new ideas, contracts, budgets, and policies requires going through multiple iterations of people pulling apart the details and playing devil’s advocate before signing off to ensure that the decisions are as necessary, fair and just as can be. This makes it extremely hard to be an early adopter when it comes to the latest and greatest event technology.
Volunteers are our lifeblood. Due to strict budgets, we HEAVILY rely on volunteers to assist with tasks that are not on event production’s radar. These tasks are typically front facing and require knowledge of the event’s history, lay of the land, an eye for design/logistics, and every so often an authoritative demeanor. Some examples of our volunteer duties include greeting/info booth assistance, managing kid’s activity areas, directing vendor load in, arranging decorations, and posting signage. It’s hard enough to navigate around school and work schedules when we need help with event set up, but some of our events fall on busy holiday weekends when many residents travel out of town.
Outdoor events are at the mercy of Mother Nature and sometimes she’s like a Sour Patch Kid – first sour, then sweet. Due to the size of our events, they are usually held outdoors, rain or shine. Despite having weather safety plans in place, a bad report at the beginning of the week is guaranteed to put a dampener on the number of attendees. Our established annual events will still draw a sea of people even with heavy rains and rumbles of thunder, but it is our responsibility to look out for the safety of the attendees and we draw the line at high winds or lightning. It’s hard enough to endure the anxiety of deciding whether or not to cancel an event you’ve worked on tirelessly for months, but it’s much worse when the event is cancelled and the weather happens to clear up for one or two hours. This leads to attendees and vendors who feel they have been cheated, which sometimes that affects the succeeding event’s turnout.
I LOVE My Job
I LOVE bringing people together and sparking new conversations. One of my favorite things to do is walk a completed event site at its peak and people watch or eavesdrop on snippets of conversations like it’s Overheard New York. I love knowing that what I do facilitates the sharing of knowledge, perspectives and culture.
We get to see the project through from concept to reality. Our scope is of the bigger picture, as well as the nitty gritty details. We also have the opportunity to work across many of our departments and vendors who seek us out as clients.
The Changing Landscape
No two events are ever truly the same. The challenges of our industry are dynamic and we have to push ourselves to adapt within our means. People’s interests, security threats, technology, etc. are always changing. This forces us to keep learning about the environment we live in to figure out our best practices, and the research is highly fascinating.
Rising to the Budget Challenge
Working with a strict budget is exhilarating! I may be alone on this one, but at least I’m being honest. I like dealing with numbers, quantifying results and strategically finding ways to reach win-win situations. I get a rush out of successfully problem solving ways to work with a leaner budget while still satisfying the needs of the attendees. I’ve done this through reallocating responsibilities to increase efficiency, basic negotiation, sourcing new vendors or just hustling to do it myself. Sometimes if I am able to shave off some dollars, I get to use the remainder to add something new to the event that I think may ‘wow’ people.
Every now and then, we get the opportunity to influence the city’s projects before they hit the drawing board. Granted, this information is still presented to the public before it is passed, but we have easy access to communicate with the source and can speak up for the things we want considered in the design. For example, if we are building a new, multi-million dollar parking garage, we can suggest where we may want restrooms, handicap areas or greenspace to go.
Making an Impact
Although I never explicitly thought to myself, “I want to work for government,” prior to landing this job, I’ve come to realize that I’m incredibly blessed to have been given the opportunity to impact the lives of so many people in such a meaningful way. I think this is something that millennials seek in their careers and I’m lucky to have been exposed to this early in my career. Moving forward, I can see myself getting more involved with convention planning. The target market would be a little more specific, the work would require more technical thinking, and the budget may allow for a little more flexibility when it comes to accommodating innovative technologies. However, they both have the intent of building relationships, pushing innovative ideas, and progressing as a society.
Working for Government in a not for profit environment has very different challenges and rewards to a corporate event planner role and so I thought it was important to share my confession and experience with you all.
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