Sunday, November 2, 2008

PR Events - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As someone who is new to the field of public relations but experienced in events, I find it suprising that so many public relations students are intent on going into the field of PR events after graduation. For the past six years, I have coordinated large special events ranging from auctions that raised more than $100,000 to outdoor festivals for families with as many as 6,000 people in attendance. Although a large amount of my work has been operational, every event I have planned has been a PR vehicle and has involved a great deal of communication and media relation skills.

At the suggestion of Elana Silverman of PR Thoughts, I've decided to share the good, the bad and the ugly experiences I have had as a sample for anyone who may be considering event planning in the future.

The good:

  • Feeling an absolute sense of accomplishment when I receive positive feedback from event-goers and my supervisors at the end of a long, chaotic day. Bonus - when someone tells me that my event was the highlight of their summer.
  • Unique tasks keep every day interesting, such as carving 400 pumpkins, watching 65,000 rubber ducks float down the river, hiring a fire-juggler, stuffing 20,000 Easter eggs, and coordinating staff members I've never met before.
  • Never having to experience 9-5 cubicle fever.
  • Interactions with the media. The best experience yet was for the "Haunted Hayride" - I gave an interview while driving a reporter around on a golf cart through a dark orchard.
  • Helping to excecute events that raised thousands of dollars for local foster kids.

The bad:

  • Irregular hours. (Notice I've listed this as a good thing, too.) I often start my day at 5 a.m. and end at 11 p.m. There are no breaks except for the few moments I take to shove a protein bar in my mouth and down some water. I might make it to the restroom if I don't get called on my radio first.
  • Events are very stressful. For some reason, I always manage to stay calm but often people around me don't. Tempers flare and timelines become tight. I've learned to be prepared for anything and everything.
  • The day-of portion of the event can seem anticlimactic compared to the lead time. After spending six months preparing for every detail, a four-hour event sometimes feels like a weak payoff.

The ugly:

  • Crises. I've experienced my share and they are never easy. Children become separated from their parents, linens catch fire, bounce houses deflate while kids are still bouncing -- and most likely, things will go wrong when the most important person at the event is there to witness it.
  • I've actually been asked to remove goose "droppings" by hand from a park. Not kidding.
  • Mistakes can be very public. When you submit a late report, it's usually just your immediate supervisor that finds out. When you forget to confirm a vendor, thousands of attendees with an event map in-hand are disappointed.

Fortunately, despite all of the challenges I've encountered in my years of event planning, the one issue I have never had to face is an event that did not create positive public relations. Knowing that I've created memorable experiences for people makes me feel very good about the work that I do. Overall, I think that events are exciting, challenging and a great way for someone to strengthen their leadership capabilities and time-management skills. Perhaps I shouldn't be suprised that so many public relations students want to get their feet wet with events.


Allison said...

I'm glad I read your post. It was very enlightening for someone like me who is pondering going into event planning. I'm drawn to event planning for the same reasons you are. The challenging creative aspect of it. Right now in J453 planning and campaigns, we're doing hypothetical event planning. My group choose to do an event for the Indy 500. I found that I've really enjoyed coming up with all these fun and extravagant activities, but maybe that's because our budget is $6 million? I've come to realize that in real life event planning will never be as easy, as you demonstrated in this post, from your experiences. So, thank you for bringing me back to the reality of event planning. Hopefully soon enough, I will learn for myself that it's anything but smooth sailing.

Elana said...

Angela, your post paints a clear picture of event planning--the pros and cons with some interesting stories. Are the hours always that crazy, or is it just leading up to an event? And do you ever get to do any other public relations work such as writing? It sounds like you've had a lot of fun with your events. Thank you for this honest, clear and interesting post! Though you state the downsides, you still make event planning seem like a blast.

horley912 said...

I am happy I stumbled across this post. I have also worked in event planning for the last couple of years and found myself nodding my head to most of your post. It is always interesting to learn about other people's perspectives on event planning and hear stories of past events they have planned, since after graduation I will be an in "the real world" as an event planner.

Beth Evans said...

I couldn't agree more! Before students decide that event planning is their calling, they need to try it while in college or high school the way @Elana, @horley912 and I did. I like it for the same reasons you do, but it's definitely not for everyone.

Angela Seits said...

Thanks for responding to my post! I'm glad that my experiences planning events made an impression. I've definitely found that events are not for everyone but it's great to hear about students who are getting on-the job experience before choosing event planning as a profession.