In this section, we're going to look at a real conference co-ordinator job description—as described by a professional; Bill Jones, Vice President and Managing Director of Events, The Channel Company (formerly UBM Tech Channel).
The job of a conference co-ordinator/organizer is similar to that of a corporate event / meeting planner. At the beginning of the process, the emphasis is on designing the format and content of the conference, along with the program of supporting events, activities, and entertainment. Following this, most of the day-to-day work is about admin and logistics.
The main difference with commercial conferences is that there is a greater emphasis on event marketing, promotion, and ticket sales in the early stages of planning. Whereas a corporate conference is typically aimed at an invited audience with which the host has some form of existing relationship, commercial conference organizers have to target individuals and/or companies and actually sell the event to them.
While most conference-organizing companies will have dedicated sales teams for this, in smaller companies there can be some cross over with the conference co-ordinator's responsibilities.
Now let's hear a first-hand account of a conference co-ordinator job description from a professional:
Bill Jones is Vice President and Managing Director of Events for The Channel Company (formerly UBM Tech Channel, part of UBM) a global live media and business-to-business communications, marketing services, and data provider.
Bill’s event expertise spans on-demand conferences, virtual events, live events, conferences, road shows, and partner events.
Recent events include Midsize Enterprise Summit, Healthcare IT Summit, Best of Breed Conference, and Women of the Channel Workshop.
“We typically operate a ‘fully hosted’ model for our events, meaning we pay for our attendees to come. For example, if it’s a conference-driven event, such as the Midsize Enterprise Summit (MES), we would be looking to host around 250 CIO or IT Director-level executives from midsize companies that range from $100 million to 1 billion in revenue, such as universities, healthcare practices, and midsize retail chains like Papa John’s Pizza.
Instead of charging them to attend a conference, as a lot of other companies out there might, we host them by paying their airfare and hotels. Then we sell, to maybe 50 or so sponsors, the opportunity to come in and have interactions with those executives.
It’s very much a high-level, transactional type of conference—so business is actually getting done, rather than people just turning up for the free booze and to grab a t-shirt! We’re all about quality not quantity".
"The first thing we do in the planning process is look at the market segment to try and understand what the opportunity is, i.e. the event.
Then we think about who we want to attend the event. We already know we want CIO’s because that’s the market segment our sponsors are targeting, so we research who they are and move on from there. Then we try to work out who’s going to pay for it, which customers are going to sponsor the event, and whether it is a viable event for them to support. Once we start to build up the market opportunity, we ask ourselves how we are going to determine the return on investment (ROI); what is the ROI for attendees? And what is the ROI for the sponsors and their dollars?
Then we ask; is this going to be a very high-level event? Is it a C-level executive event, where they only want to see content and education, or is it the kind of event where it would be OK to have a trade show floor—where they can walk around and stop at booths?"
"Those types of questions are asked across all departments within the organization, but the conference co-ordinator/planner needs to be part of these conversations because it’s their job to understand the actual outcome; what we’re looking to do once we determine what those factors are. So we involve the conference co-ordinator/planner in all of those meetings so that they understand what we’re trying to accomplish.
In those meetings, he or she would ask questions that he or she would ask for any event they’re working on:
People might think, oh it’s just a conference, but MES for example, includes a golf tournament, networking breakfasts, lunches, cocktail receptions, dinners and an awards gala—in addition to all the workshops, keynote sessions, boardroom sessions and one-on-one meetings.
I really believe the conference co-ordinator/planner has to be involved in every meeting, with every department, prior to the event. So many times, event groups have meetings about different aspects and they don’t involve the conference co-ordinator, and I think that can really backfire on them. It’s great to be able to come up with a concept of what you’re going to sell, but if you don’t bring in the event planners and the operations and logistics team at the beginning, sometimes you can spend a lot of time coming up with ideas that you might not be able to execute. Maybe the venue does not have enough space, or the timeframe for a specific day won’t work, or it’s going to cost too many dollars—you’re not going to know that unless you bring the conference co-ordinators in from the get go.”
“The conference co-ordinator will collect all the information that comes out of those meetings and, prior to starting the day-to-day event planning, will put his or her stake in the ground and say ‘ok, now I’m going to build-out my playbook’—as we call it.
Most people call it their timeline, we call it our playbook—we treat it like a sports analogy.
That playbook is somewhere in the range of 300–500 line items of different processes that we go through on each event; it details every piece of the event-organizing process that the conference co-ordinator is responsible for.
All of that happens before we even get to the stage where we’ve found the location and the day-to-day event planning really starts to take off. Which is the next stage for the event planner; finding the location—in 2013 it was Chicago, whereas in 2014 it’s Orlando—and then the right venue, because we take up a lot of conferencing space for our events as we put a lot of emphasis on smaller break-out meetings.”
“The process for recruiting attendees is a whole other piece of the playbook. The conference co-ordinator has to work with the travel company early on; telling them ‘this is the event, these are the dates, here’s an overview of what’s going to happen, the phone calls are going to start this week, so your job is to book X many tickets at a certain price starting on this date'.
There’s a process of ‘setting the stage’ for the travel company that the planner goes through at the beginning, but we actually have a team dedicated to recruitment. They do email campaigns and get on the phone with people to talk them through the program; what the value proposition is for them—because we’re paying their airfare and accommodation, we pretty much determine their calendar for the three days.
Once prospective attendees say yes, they want to come, it’s all turned back over to the conference co-ordinator to start the process of calling the travel agent to get their airline ticket booked and make sure they come into town when they're supposed to. Once they get confirmed, then the conference co-ordinator takes charge of the accommodation room list before turning it over to the venue.”
“The conference co-ordinator/planner is involved in every stage of the process in some way; they’re the stickiness between every department, overseeing the day-to-day aspects of that event, and how it comes to life. Their job is to communicate internally and externally at all times—to both our customers and our internal staff, as well as attendees."
“The conference co-ordinator/planner is also the key person when it comes to budgeting. At the beginning, we work out our revenue budget and our projected expense budget, and it’s the event planners job to stick within that. In this day and age, in every day and every minute, we need to live and breathe budget. We need to remember that we’re a for-profit organization; we’re trying to deliver the best possible event we can, but we also want to make a profit. So their job every day is to stay on budget."
"Once the event process gets underway and sponsors are signed up for the event, the conference co-ordinator/planner is responsible for getting the online portal up and running. This portal is where attendees and sponsors go to submit information and documents for the event. So once they’ve signed up, the co-ordinator is responsible for collecting all their logos and company descriptions via this portal. It is the co-ordinator’s role to collect and follow up on all that information, then post it to the website.
This is something they have to do on an almost daily basis, which might mean contacting all the customers and sponsors to chase them before the website goes live. Further down the line, once we’re onsite at the event, the online portal is also used as a scheduling tool for live one-on-one sessions where attendees and sponsors can book meetings. ”
"We have a dedicated content team for all our events, but for each event we have something called a program manager who is responsible for things like making sure the agenda is set—or if there’s a change to the agenda that it gets facilitated to everyone internally, making sure the website is up to date and that all the speakers are listed, ensuring the speakers have their air fare and hotel booked, and that there is someone there to greet them when they arrive and collect their presentation. "
"The conference co-ordinator/planner is then responsible for the production side of all of the content; making sure the AV is all prepared for each session, making sure the speaker has the type of microphone they want, or if they’re doing a panel discussion, then making sure they have the necessary chairs and microphones for everyone. The conference co-ordinator/planner will be involved with the content team for the production side of things, but really just from a logistics perspective.”
"One element of the event that has particular requirements is the awards program. The conference co-ordinator/planner has to work on things like the décor, lighting, staging, and ordering the actual awards trophies. This also includes ballots that need to go out to the attendees for each award category. They also work with marketing and PR on the awards templates and logos.”
"The co-ordinator is also in charge of creating all the schedules for each attendee and each sponsor. We actually do very little printing nowadays. Instead, the co-ordinator works with the marketing team on a mobile app that we use for our events.
Their job is to make sure that all the data and information from the attendees and sponsors is fed into the app—so instead of printing the traditional conference directory, we now do all of that in the form of a mobile app. The principles are the same though and it’s still something that the conference co-ordinator/planner has to produce.”
"The conference co-ordinator/planner also works out the logistics around the hotel as we build out the content of the event, the different sessions, and the agenda. That involves ensuring that the location and room for each session or event has been assigned, and preparing all the BEO’s (banqueting event orders) detailing the food and beverage requirements for the hotel. ”
"All those things are going on prior to the event, but when we get onsite, that’s when the conference co-ordinator/planner is really in charge. They have temporary staff on-site to assist them, for things like front desk, content sessions, handouts and surveys, but the conference co-ordinator has to create all the materials for those temps coming in to use. They usually schedule a live meeting on-site, but prior to that they have to prepare briefing documents that go out to those staff in advance—and, of course, they have to actually hire those staff and make all their arrangements too."
"If I was to sum up the main areas that the conference co-ordinator/planner is responsible for it would be travel, rooming lists, hotel logistics, food and beverage, AV & décor, staffing, schedule, and any extra-curricular activities like golf—which might involve working with third parties, such as a destination management company. There are always some smaller elements too, such as video, photography, and flowers."
“A typical event like MES starts on a Sunday, sometimes even the Saturday, because we do a lot of customized pre-event activities, such as workshops, boot-camps, or golf tournaments. Often you can’t deliver that in the main framework of the event, so you start adding on at the beginning of the event—which just extends the whole program for the conference co-ordinator/planner. If it starts on Sunday and ends on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, the planner will be onsite from the Thursday before.
The first thing they do is get into the conference room, then go to the loading dock to check all their boxes and make sure all freight has shown up. The first few days are all about getting all the conference materials set up and ready to go. On Saturday afternoon, the program usually kicks off with some type of workshop, or the conference co-ordinator/planner might be heading off to the golf course to get set up for Sunday morning.
"On-site, we start at about 6 am every day—for breakfast at 7 am— and events, like the awards, can go right through until 11 pm—so the event planner is around even later than that. Each day is long, and it’s tough on the feet!
Although it involves long days, we do have a small team and in the conference industry, it’s a community. It’s not like working on an convention/exhibition, where you’re running around on-site checking that 500 exhibition booths are set up, or working with your decorator. It’s more about walking around making sure that the experience is great. Although it seems like a really long day—which it is—and it’s really hard work, it’s not just work all day; a lot of it involves networking and engaging with people.
There’s no doubt that coming down off an event is tough; it’s basically a 50-hour week crammed into three days. But if you have a good team, it’s a lot of fun.”
“Post event, the conference co-ordinator/planner will push out post-event surveys to the audience and some of our customers."
“There’s also a lot of follow up with invoicing and post-event budgets coming out of the hotel, or the AV company, etc. All of that budget reconciliation has to be done to make sure it’s correct before processing invoices. It is things like, checking we didn’t get billed for 50 easels if we only used 30. It’s actually quite a big process."
"There’s also a post-conference communication with all the suppliers that we’ve worked with; that’s a process we have in place for all our events that all the conference co-ordinators/planners do.
We believe that any supplier we work with has to be an extension of our team—that’s the key factor in making a good partnership. So even though we’re paying those suppliers to work for us, we believe we owe each of those suppliers a sit-down post event—or at least a conversation—to say ‘this is how you performed, this is what you did great, this is what you could do better, next time we work with you keep doing this the same way, or I really liked this particular individual that was working on the sound desk. We believe that’s a really important part of the conference co-ordinator/planner’s job to do post event; to give them feedback.”