Meeting planners seem to have glamorous jobs—they spend their days crafting unique events, they travel to different cities and venues, and they encounter interesting people throughout the course of their role.
But as any meeting planner will tell you, all of this is hard work and often requires being available 24/7, which can become very stressful. As one meeting planner put it: “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the business.” Forbes recently reported for 2017, event coordinator ranked fifth out of 10 for most stressful job in the U.S.
One of the biggest joys of the job is no two days are ever the same and new things pop up all the time. And while there is no typical “day in the life” of a meeting planner, there are common themes that ring true.
Here is a look at some of the Northeast’s most successful planners and what a “normal” day is like for them.
A 30-year meeting and corporate event planner, Jane Margulies, president and CEO of The TEAM Group, LLC in Florham Park, New Jersey, has managed fully integrated promotional campaigns, corporate events, meetings, sweepstakes and travel incentive programs for a wide range of clients.
“I love solving problems and coming up with incredibly creative ways to deliver what the client is looking for in an event/meeting/travel incentive and delivering more than they ever dreamed could be delivered,” she says. “People are intrigued when you explain that you plan corporate programs all over the U.S., Iceland, Dubai, Italy, Super Bowl, California, Mexico and the Caribbean.”
A typical day for her is comprised of constant client service and new business building. She also spends time managing her team in the areas of hotel research and sourcing; menu planning; activity research and planning; destination research; and project-specific activities.
“Client project-specific status conference calls are scheduled out throughout the life of a project. Hotel and vendor contract negotiations and review prior to client legal review is also key to my role,” Margulies says. “I need to make sure our clients are happy, the vendors are delivering what we need, and building our business by attending and participating in industry events and networking opportunities. Since I own an agency, there are also many administrative tasks that take up my day.”
A good portion of her day is managing the client’s budget. The questions and requests fly in and out nonstop and she needs to ensure that everything requested still falls within the budget.
A few days before a meeting, she arrives at a venue for a “pre-con,” setting up client branding and setting up a command center or office to receive attendees. Staff is assigned to the check-in desk, sleeping rooms are advanced to ensure all the rooms are perfect, meeting space is advanced to ensure proper seating and A/V setup, meals are advanced, rehearsals for key presenters are in place, the transportation team is in touch with the transportation company monitoring all airport arrivals, the travel team is monitoring flights and troubleshooting any flight issues, ad hoc requests are handled and ongoing correspondence with the hotel team for room availability and any other issues that may arise.
On a meeting day, once all the preplanning is complete, she and her team are ready to go by 6:30 a.m.
“If I had to estimate, I would say 70 percent is preplanning, 15 percent at the meeting and 15 percent postmeeting,” she says. “Each portion of the program is just as important as the other. Postmeeting budget reconciliations, bill payments and conducting a postmortem of the success of the meeting is key to closing out a meeting and pre-planning for the next year’s version of this meeting/event."
Some of the things that can pop up and create hiccups include weather, health issues for attendees and general contract reviews.
“We play a critical part in the contract process for all vendors with our clients. Our clients are very particular with clauses that need to be included and protecting themselves,” she says. “Vendors rarely understand why we need these clauses and clients mandate them. It is a balancing act between the two.”
When it comes to weather, be it blizzards, hurricanes, intense heat, etc., a back-up plan is always needed.
“Many people think that as a meeting planner all you do is have fun,” she says. “Yes, I love my job and sometimes it is fun, but meeting, event and travel incentive planning is hard work with very long hours. Everyone thinks they can be a meeting planner, but they and their attendees learn very quickly that is not the case.”
Carolyn Browning, a certified meeting professional with MEETing Needs, Stamford, Connecticut, says organizing and planning has always been a part of her DNA. In her corporate career, she has managed internal and client meetings and communications for Sprint and GE Capital, and now focuses on a variety of clients ranging from associations to nonprofits and pharmaceutical companies managing their meetings and events.
“No two days are ever similar, but common themes include keeping organized, trying to be proactive and then responding to challenges as they arise,” she says. “Some days it’s about marketing myself to keep my name out there and the pipeline full, other days it’s working on one upcoming client project and others it’s juggling several projects.”
In her corporate meeting days, she admits things were more predictable, but as a “solopreneur,” she makes sure to carve out time each week to post on social media to share timely articles, comment on happenings in the industry, and touch base with current and future clients to keep her name out there.
“Having a good professional network is invaluable,” Browning says. “For example, earlier this year I was working on an event for a client and we had two vendors cancel at the last minute. Luckily, one of the partners I was working with was able to get a replacement for one vendor, another partner was able to produce some last-minute signage and we rearranged the room layout on-site. The attendees were unaware, the client was happy—crisis averted.”
On days of a meeting, her role is often on-site handling registration and making sure all the materials are accurate, collated and ready for distribution, and that no one waits too long to check in. In addition, she could be pitching in to assist with directing people to and from sessions, checking room setups or making sure the food and beverage is set properly according to the BEOs.
“We are always there to triage any challenges that come up,” she says. “I love watching all the plans come together and seeing the attendees enjoying themselves, whether it be at an educational meeting or a fun event. When the attendees don’t see any hiccups (because either we’ve anticipated them or triaged and overcome them) that’s a win.”
Rebecca Wakefield, a manager of events and meetings for KPMG LLP, Montvale, New Jersey, says to be a success in the business, one needs to understand their days will consist of long hours, travel, constant change and be able to make the change look like seamless to the client.
“It’s also about getting along with your team and learning how to work with different age groups and trying to get the best out of them,” she says. “You’re dealing with baby boomers, millennials and people from different generations, so it can be challenging.”
A typical day in the life for her begins where she thinks she’s going to accomplish 10 tasks, but things happen and pull her in different directions and she ends up having a whole new set of tasks that need to be taken care of.
“Not every single day is the same. Things pop up that are unexpected,” Wakefield says. “You always need to have a Plan B. When things go well, it’s expected, but when things go awry, you need to be accountable and fix it. It’s about quick thinking and responding.”
The company does about 3,000 meetings a year, and she is responsible for a majority of the events, be it a client event or internal meeting, and much of her work is planning to make sure that everything goes smooth.
Wakefield’s favorite part of the job is the actual delivery of the meeting on-site, whether it’s a one-day meeting or a weeklong event.
“I need to make sure everyone has a room to sleep in, that everyone has a meal, a seat in the meeting room, and that the entire meeting experience is pleasant,” she says. “I love seeing the end result and hearing the client say, ‘thanks, you did a great job.’”
Jaclyn Bernstein, president and partner with ACCESS New York Metro, New York, New York, has over 20 years of experience with award-winning event productions and destination management.
“We are the ones who plan the meetings for the planners and service predominantly those in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey,” she says. “We excel and love working with corporate tech clients and we have a very strong relationship in the pharmaceutical end and also work with a lot of major food brands and doing their event activations.”
A typical day for her includes putting out fires and being as expeditious as possible. The common theme is staying on top of clients’ needs, and that means responding to emails and calls as quickly as possible.
“We also need to keep up with what is out there that we can provide, so knowing what’s new with vendors and venues, knowing what went out of business, who has new furniture that we can show off to a client, etc.,” Bernstein says. “A lot of my day could be involved in nothing to do with meeting planning because I dealt with payroll or HR problems or invoicing.”
During a normal week, Bernstein needs to make sure her team is handling all requests and that there is a constant dialogue between both parties.
“Someone needs to be in charge of oversight, and that’s a chief responsibility of my day,” she says. “And I have to make sure that things are serviced well.”