When I first started in the industry, I took any program opportunities that came my way, from weddings and birthday parties to corporate conferences and meetings. As my company (Red Velvet Events) grew, I noticed a divide among corporate planners and social planners. Eventually, I transitioned my company to focusing solely on corporate events and found myself and my peers presenting an unconscious bias against the social side. It would manifest in the way we introduced ourselves and our businesses. We’d say, “Oh no, I am definitely not an event planner; I’m a meeting planner or I’m an event strategist.”
The fact is, planning for social and corporate markets are very different beasts. There are nuances and challenges that come with both sides. In recent years, I have noticed that more and more social planners have tried to move into the corporate market—and many are failing. Why is this switch happening in the first place, and is it possible to be successful in both markets?
There are a few reasons most people go from social to corporate rather than the other way around. First, most planners simply start their careers in a social capacity, and I would say that is because there is an easier barrier of entry. With the overrepresentation of social planners (think about all of the wedding planner rom-coms or crazy sweet 16 shows) compared to meeting planners in the media; even I did not realize that corporate planning was a professional job until I was well into my first career.
However, the largest reason social planners continue to move into corporate planning is because of the money. The pricing model for social events is challenging, especially for those in their first few years of business. Many social planners are undercharging for their services, not marking up resale components and not turning a sustainable profit. People see big bucks in corporate planning—which may sometimes be the case. But hastily making the switch to earn some extra cash without considering the additional responsibilities required and key challenges is the reason so many of these independents taking on corporate events eventually fail.
On the surface, planning a corporate event may not seem so different from planning a social one. Planners are used to adjusting program details such as venue, food, decor and entertainment based on client preferences, so really what is the big deal if your client happens to be a company? The truth is, corporate clients operate with completely different mindsets, and the foundations of how to pitch, sell and execute are nothing like what you would approach a social client with.
There are many common subtleties that inexperienced corporate planners fail to consider. The largest and most difficult-to-obtain skill you must have is a thorough understanding of the client’s business goals. Companies may plan events for myriad reasons, but they are always looking for some sort of return on their investment. The challenge for the planner is to understand the specific metrics that are important and relevant to the client’s business. To help the client achieve their goals for the event, a planner needs to understand how to maximize attendance, engagement, net profit, and/or a number of other metrics. Sometimes a planner has no control over these things, so you must be proactive in asking probing questions about what your client needs for them to consider the event a success. Together, these distinctions are crucial to succeed in working with corporate clients, and an inability to recognize or understand them is bound to result in failure.
If, after proper research and consideration, you decide working in both markets is the right business move, here are a few pieces of advice:
1. Watch Your Language
Ken Kristoffersen of Pop Kollaborative is a great example of someone who has built a company that does both social and corporate and does it well. How does he do it? He says that it is all in the language. No matter the type of program you are planning, everything is client-focused, and your success is determined by how strongly you communicate with your client. You need to recognize that a social client does not want to hear about all of the logistics-heavy moving parts of your event, but a corporate client may find those the most important.
2. Be Prepared to Work Around the Clock
Social and corporate worlds operate on opposite clocks. Corporate clients expect to work between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in their time zone. Social clients generally have a day job, so they may not be readily available during regular work hours. This means if you have clients in both markets—let alone international markets—you will need to be available at any point of the day or night, workday or weekend.
3. Be Prepared to Prove Yourself
Frankly, there is a bias in the industry and many people may doubt your abilities to make the transition happen or blend both worlds. It is up to you to prove them wrong. I always remind our team that you are as good as the last event you produced, not just to your client but also to how you handled yourself with your event partners. So, can you do both? Absolutely, but please do not assume one type of planning is “better” than the other. If you try to specialize in both social and corporate planning and you do not have the capacity to do both well, you are setting yourself up for failure. Being the best in one market is better than being second-rate on both sides. Before making the jump, truly consider whether expanding your market size is congruous with your company goals and culture, and you may realize the grass is green enough where you already are. Samantha Kagel contributed to this article.