The MICE Exchange, Episode 2: How your success as an event professional is impacted by your location vs being remote

I attribute my career progression to the time I was living in London from 2011–2016. I had access to events, education and networking, all of which today also remain fundamental to my business operations. 2011 was the year that I got into events. I was doing an internship at an event agency in Munich when I found out that it is, in fact, possible to study for a full degree in event management. I became aware that Regent’s University London offered a scholarship competition requiring the submission of a research-based study on one of the topics suggested by them. I was awarded with a full scholarship for a BA in International Events Management, and being in London presented further opportunities to create content for my blog and network because the industry in London is highly concentrated, and there is always something going on. So, alongside my studies, I attended many events and covered them on my blog.

Since 2016, I have been based in Heidelberg, Germany. Despite being well connected with public transport to major cities in Germany and Europe, I attend events perhaps once a month rather than the 2–3 times per week I was used to in London. My business lifecycle has changed, and that doesn’t require me anymore to be at the centre of everything. Becoming established and connected in the industry means that a lot of work can be accomplished online, with necessary travel only for essential events and meetings.

Sabrina Meyers from Hot Hospitality Exchange and my co-host of The MICE Exchange, which we host weekly on Instagram, also has an international background and lived and worked in most of the exciting destinations around the world: Singapore, Sydney and London. 

She was born and raised in Singapore, studied hospitality and worked in Australia and London in hotel sales before moving to the agency side, subsequently moving to Brühl, close to Cologne, Germany, seven years ago and becoming self employed.

In this episode of The MICE Exchange on Instagram Live (you can follow us on Instagram: @themiceblog and @hhospitalitye), we discussed how the success of an event professional is impacted by their location vs being remote. We further extended the discussion to the #eventprofstalk Twitter chat; so, below I share insights both from my interview with Sabrina and from the online community. 

What opportunities are present in major cities/business hubs that are not available to #eventprofs based outside the hustle and bustle of a big city 

Sabrina thinks that location does impact career success. She bases this view on her experience living in London and having her career start there, and still today, she is able to leverage on her network built during time living in London. BUT, given that Sabrina and I have now established our networks and are also active online, we can continue our business activities while being remote. 

According to Sabrina, there’s an opportunity when based in a big city to be more physically ‘visible’ when attending industry events, which take place regularly and at a larger scale than in remote areas. The second aspect is being closer to the clients and suppliers to engage and interact with. And lastly the ad hoc, spontaneous meet-ups with industry peers, such as casual after-work drinks or lunches. 

Robert Kenward, founder of You Search & Select, added that ‘People, networking, knowledge sharing, socialising is all easier in a big town. There’s also a perception thing; with some clients, if you’re not in London, then you’re not “cool”, but some assume that you’re expensive etc., so they won’t approach you.’

Kayleigh Griffith, Event Manager at MOI Global, added that ‘In a big city, there are more opportunities for jobs and networking within the industry or with clients.’

Megan Strahle—a Tourism, Hospitality & Events master’s student at the University of Queensland—highlighted the accessibility aspect, ‘Accessibility to other destinations for a varying amount of events/networking (i.e., It is much easier to get from London to Oxford than it is to get from Dover to Oxford.)’ 

What are the negatives of being centrally located?

Sabrina shared that ‘You tend to assume that if you are centrally located, there are only positives, but there are also negatives. Taking London as an example, there can be too much; so, you need to be very strategic with choosing where you want to go, and there is always an opportunity cost by giving up other options of what events you could have had attended. Therefore, you need to be highly strategic and make smart decisions.’

Another aspect is that ‘When being centrally located, you tend to develop an entourage. Hence, you more often than not go to events where your posse goes; as a result, your decisions are based on where the group goes. That can be a negative thing because you might miss out on a good event, or you’ll feel the pressure to go with your group. Being remotely based, you don’t have issues like that—you make your decisions based on the actual event and not on where someone else is going.’

In a sense, you might be too accessible. There may also be more distractions, and you might get influenced a lot by what’s trending as opposed to when you are remote, when you may get more creative.

Megan also added that ‘First, there’s more competition (but let’s make it collaboration in the future!). Second, sometimes it stifles your creativity (but sometimes it ignites it) and thirdly, it makes it harder to “slow down” and enjoy where you are in your life right this minute.’

Do you get complacent if you are centrally based compared to being remote and having to essentially ‘hustle’ harder and smarter?

According to Sabrina, ‘Complacent is rather a negative word. The right expression would be “Do I take for granted” certain opportunities that are available? Probably yes. Being in a big city, I’m in control of when I want to meet and go—I have a choice. Being remote, I have to go out of my way to search for what events, networking etc. are out there that I want to attend. Such decisions are more conscious. In a big city, you can spend every day going to an event, and it can be hard to say “no” ’.

‘Furthermore, everyone needs to stay on top of their business and keep it ‘on its toes’. The magic is in the hustle and making the circumstances work for you and not the other way round. You definitely need to ‘jump’ a bit higher and shout a bit louder if you are remote. But this could also be where you are in the lifecycle of your business. If you are more established, being remote might support growth rather than hamper it.’ 

Kayleigh shared that ‘I don’t think so. You still have to deliver where ever you are located. The industry is quite competitive; so, clients can move quickly if they don’t feel that the service is up to scratch.’ Megan also added that location doesn’t determine how complacent one becomes, but rather it is dependent on the person’s attitudes—location doesn’t determine a person’s hustle to achieve goals but can help that person stay motivated.’

What skills do you think you should have to become successful whilst being remote?

Sabrina highlighted networking as a key skill that needs to be sharpened both online and offline. ‘It’s important because how you socially interact online and offline determines your visibility. By being remote, you don’t look at just one city—you have a broader picture. Another important skill is being able to identify various events that will build you up in a global sense, as opposed to just one geographic region or audience.’ Staying visible whilst remote is a skill.

Furthermore, the skill set depends on the lifecycle of your business. You might hustle more in the beginning, but the skill is to identify when and where you should do what and find/identify opportunities. You need to pick up certain skills when you are not in the heart of it. 

Another particularly important skill is the ability to identify the right collaboration opportunities, which is also another way of networking. Collaborations done right will help you access a much wider audience and expand your reach. You can recognise who can help you grow your brand, and that means it’s give and take between the parties—the final goal should be to have a win-win from this relationship. 

Megan added that ‘Flexible working days, the ability to network across all formats (in person/online), collaborative and confidence!’

Do you feel that you’re missing out on business opportunities not being based in or close to a business hub? Share examples when yes/ no.

Yes and no.

‘Yes, because if you’re not in the heart of it, there will be business opportunities that you will miss. Purely because of proximity, such as going for catch-up drinks—the instance is magnified when you are in a big city.’

‘When you are remote, the opportunity comes as often as you put yourself in it. We need to go there and find the business; we create the opportunities by ourselves. Being remote, we create a world of our own where we are more focused and concentrated, only having to go to a big city for a valid reason.’

From my experience, the opportunities in big cities are with the big brands who are headquartered there, but there are also smaller clients who are based outside. You need to have a clear strategy regarding what you’re going after, and by being present online, you’ll be found by both big and smaller brands. 

Megan added, ‘If you asked me two months ago, I would have said yes (preferring to be in Sydney than Brisbane). Right now, everything is remote and digital, and it gives me the opportunity to network online during events I would have missed in person or assist with projects.’

What type of networking can you engage with when you work remotely? 

Right now, due to the COVID-19 quarantine, everyone everywhere in the world is experiencing the networking we do by being remote. Now, being ‘remote’ is taken to a whole new level.

Sabrina concluded, ‘The online world is your oyster! You can collaborate, go LIVE on social media, join Twitter chats and webinars. We have so many digital tools that allow us to partake. Don’t forget the good, old-school telephone call. I also take part in selected forums, trade-shows and industry events; live events are still key for me because it’s just something you cannot replace.’

Being remote, event planners need to be selective about which shows to attend because they will provide the best networking opportunities for them. That includes research, time and money investment. 

Collaboration is a great way to start a relationship. Sabrina’s new show #EventprofsTogetherAtHome is an example of collaborative networking done online. During this daily show, she interviews people she met at past events or interacted with online but hasn’t maintained regular contact with. This show allows her to reconnect with all the people she knows and discuss their daily routines working from home because we are all going through this situation right now. The most inspiring aspect of this project, from my perspective, is that she is giving a voice to small agencies who are not active on social media or visible—those who don’t have a big voice but are the backbone of our industry. 

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