Event management career opportunities at associations

Often I get the impression that event management graduates are looking to pursue their career at an agency or corporate environment, missing the opportunity to explore event management career opportunities at associations.

Associations are big business, but usually under represented as a career choice. Over the past years I met many colleagues who work for associations, and even I worked for one for seven months myself, the Event Marketing Association. I found the experience very rewarding and if I had known that this could be a career option from the very beginning, I would have explored this career path.

I interviewed three colleagues to share with you their experience, daily tasks and responsibilities, challenges and tips for success.

Christina Petrova, Operations Manager at the Event Marketing Association (EMA) UK, Monica Fontana, Executive Manager at The European Renal Association – European Dialysis and Transplant Association (ERA-EDTA) and Amanda Thurlow, Member Network at Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).


Event Marketing Association Summer Soirée at The Magazine Restaurant and Serpentine Sackler Gallery, June 2015

Please provide a short background about yourself, your job title and how did you find yourself in your current role

Christina: I currently work for the UK’s in-house event planners’ and marketers’ association, EMA (Event Marketing Association). I started my career, after completing a MSc in Events Management, with contract work for SportsMark (GMR). They are an experiential marketing agency working with some of the biggest corporations in the world. I worked with P&G and VISA on their corporate hospitality campaigns during the London Olympics 2012. I was also involved with the UK Chapter of MPI which gave me a great exposure to the corporate events world and helped me to make some valuable connections. Shortly I was recruited by Reed Exhibitions as an Account Manager working on the Hosted Buyer Programmes across the IBTM events portfolio, and stayed with the company for 2 years. I learnt a lot about client relationship management, attention to detail and the ability to multi-task. After working on such big scale events (the biggest exhibition is over 15,000 attendees) I knew it was time to move to events which were smaller in scale but more focused and gave the opportunity to build real relationships with my clients. I joined Travel Weekly and their Connections Meetings portfolio which is an innovative and inspiring way of organising trade events and managed their buyers programme and operations. I started working for EMA in the start of 2016 but I must confess that I’ve always found the association very interesting and quite unique, and always wanted to work for them.

Monica: I started working for ERA-EDTA in 1991 a few months before I got my university degree (foreign languages – English, French and Spanish), it was supposed to be a temporary job (I was the secretary of the Secretary – Treasurer). I was in charge of the ERA-EDTA Membership Office. I am a very efficient person, good at multi-tasking, and a very outgoing person as well – a people person. By working at close contact with the members I was able to get to know very closely what was needed just by listening to the members themselves (my phone bill was extremely high!), especially when there was a problem: finding a suitable solution was my goal. I was also deeply involved in all the rules and the constitution of the Society, which then made me the suitable person to advice the main officers and the Council. Finally, in the last 5-6 years, again due to my people skills, I became the person who started doing PR and all the international relations with other Societies. Now I am the Executive Manager, in charge of all the ERA-EDTA HQ staff and, again, the international relations and the advisor to the ERA-EDTA Council. Due to my new role I am back working in an office in Parma, which, actually, is a very nice change after working from home for so long.

Amanda: I currently work for ACCA as a Member Network Manager. I work with panels of volunteer members across the Midlands and the South West to increase member engagement. This includes creating a programme of events that offer continual personal development (CPD), learning and networking for our members. I have worked at ACCA for just over a year and prior to that I worked for the Chartered Institute of Housing for nine years. I started as an event administrator then progressed to Exhibition and Sponsorship Co-ordinator and then to Conference and Seminar Organiser.

Why consider event management career at an association?

Christina: I think that associations and members’ organisations in general offer a great proposition for their network by creating a following of individuals with similar needs and challenges who can connect to each other and grow this way. The association gives me the opportunity to not only build important connections with the in-house corporate event leaders from companies such as Barclays, Société Générale, Heineken, Microsoft and more, it also enables me to have direct impact on this group of professionals and learn from them through frequent and continuous communication with them. EMA is a not-for-profit association and everyone who is involved in the Executive Board is giving their time voluntarily in order to drive the association forward with the aim to turn it into the voice of the in-house corporate events industry. Being part of this is humbling.

Monica: I do not organize events, I supervise persons who do this, but I am not involved directly but I can say that event management is a great way to meet new people, environments, places. It’s a lot of work and you must be very well organized, but it gives a huge amount of satisfaction. One must be patient and very people oriented but, especially, a great problem solver (a positive attitude is essential).

Amanda: It’s a great way to gain an all-round insight into event management. The role is all encompassing so you get to build your skills in all areas of event management. This is really useful because you learn how each element of event planning is interdependent on the other elements. Many associations represent an industry or a cause so it is also a great way to support something that you are passionate about.

What are your daily task and responsibilities and how do you see your role evolving in the next 2-3 years?

Christina: My daily tasks vary but they’re mostly related to membership management and liaison, partners and sponsors liaison, events planning and organisation, strategic planning and implementation, social media and marketing – pretty much overseeing all operational activities with the support of the Chair and Executive Board. Looking in the future, I see this role becoming more strategic and having students or starters in the industry being in charge of logistics and other operational activities that would help them learn and develop professionally. I see incorporating initiatives that give back to the industry such as apprenticeship programmes or/and mentorship programmes.

Monica: At the moment, as mentioned above, I supervise all the staff of the ERA-EDTA HQ in their tasks, I’m in charge of the bureaucratic matters related to the office (safety issues, labor issues, etc.), I’m the person who is in charge of the contracts and the relations with the banks, I also am the person in charge of the international relations with other Societies (drafting the agreements for example) as well as the advisor to the President and to all the Council and other ERA-EDTA bodies, and staff, when it comes to our internal rules and regulations. I hope that in the next 2-3 years to be able to see a true growth of ERA-EDTA in the international standing related to the field of interest of the Society (nephrology): if I can do this, and get the just recognition, I will be happy. I’ve just recently started in this new managerial role and I hope to continue growing, from a professional and personal point of view, in the direction that I’ve been going to up to now.

Amanda: Deciding event topics, sourcing speakers, monitoring attendee bookings, sourcing sponsorship and marketing events across six different regions. In the next 2-3 years I think there will be even more focus on webinars for learning, which is already challenging the way associations and other organisations offer live events. There is a growing need for associations to become more commercial and events are part of the income strategy. I am lucky that I have always worked in an environment where I have been tasked with generating income for events so these are skills that I have already gained but generally there will be an increasing focus on events being cost neutral or surplus generating.


Event Marketing Association event at Middle Temple, November 2015 

What’s the main challenge working for an association?

Christina: There are different types of associations. Those that are not-for-profit present quite a few challenges, such as having volunteers on the Executive Board who have to juggle responsibilities between this and their daily jobs which is difficult. Budgets are quite restrictive as well, as I am sure you can imagine. Another challenge is that the industry should welcome opportunities to support industry associations, such as ours, and commercial interests should never be a reason to show low levels of commitment. Undermining the power of collaborations with industry associations and the damage the lack there of could cause is destructive and is a failure.

Monica: The main challenge that I find is that the trustees, thus the Council, is an elected body and there is a constant rotation of its members – who are all physicians and, therefore, have very little knowledge of the kind of work that we at the HQ do (and this is absolutely normal, this is not a criticism, but a statement of a fact). Basically by the time they have understood what you do and exactly who you are their term is over and you have to start all over again.

Amanda: This varies depending on the association you work for. Choosing topics or themes that appeal across the membership can be challenging especially if members work in different sectors. Many associations are not for profit so budgets can be tighter. This adds to your skills as an event planner though, as you just have to work harder to create partnerships with other companies and to generate income through various ways. There is a requirement to make money but this also has to be balanced with member satisfaction and engagement. Events need to offer value to our members and help support them in their career but they also need to be engaging. Thinking about how to freshen up events or change the style of them to improve engagement is a constant process.

What tip would you give to someone starting their role at an association or considering it as a career option?

Christina: Working for an association is perhaps the best way to learn about the industry the association operates within. Associations are well respected and are seen as networks that drive the growth of the industry. There are challenges but for those hungry to learn and make an impact, this is one of the best decisions to make. Also, if you love building deeper relationships with your clients to understand them better, this job will be perfect for you.

Monica: My tip would be to think positive, don’t stop at challenges, always look at the glass half full: working for an association can be challenging, but it also gives a lot of satisfaction. You might not make as much money as working for a company, but you get to meet lots of very interesting people some of which become also friends for life!

Amanda: Do your research. There are many different associations. Look into who the association is for and decide if you will find it an interesting industry to work in. Also decide what type of events you want to be part of delivering – training courses, conferences and seminars, internal team meetings or CPD offerings, they all have similarities and differences and different teams within the same organisation are responsible for delivering them.

Photo credit: Event Marketing Association 

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