Career Path

A meeting of minds

by Edward Chung

Event Organizer
Samuel Moon
Chief Executive Officer
dnm Strategies

Creating dialogues, not monologues, is the brief of event organizer dnm Strategies, and CEO Samuel Moon identifies this as one of the ingredients missing in much of today's conference industry.

Where many event organizers go wrong is that they do not address the real reasons why executives attend corporate events, according to Mr. Moon.

"People do not go to conferences simply for educational purposes," he says. "Perhaps more junior level staff might do so, but the reason why people really go to conferences is for networking opportunities and to exchange viewpoints with other participants. That's why we try to create an environment for dialogue."

Mr. Moon notes that over the past decade or so conferences have become far more than just a medium for addressing a particular agenda. The modern conference is also a business product and Mr. Moon believes that this sector is a real growth area for those who can facilitate tailor made co-branding events or subscription events, although the current economic climate doesn't make this task easy.

"This is actually a fairly bad time to be starting out in the conference business, especially from the revenue generation viewpoint," he warns. "The advertising industry is not at a peak time, neither are prospects for sponsorship or paid entry."

Mr. Moon started his conference organizing career in earnest with The Economist Group, transferring from the firm's Chicago office to Hong Kong 16 years ago with a brief to transform this set-up into a growth oriented, profitable venture. After 12 years at The Economist Group, he worked for Dow Jones before setting up dnm Strategies six years ago.

"My momma always told me that I 'wouldn't get rich working for other people,' and I felt comfortable starting my own business," he recalls, although there were a few hiccups along the way. "We started just before the Asian economic crisis set in, which in hindsight was a good thing, as it taught us very quickly to keep costs down while maintaining quality. Another problem was I initially thought that people would sponsor my work based on what I'd produced before, but quickly discovered that for a new venture people tend to want to see how the first event goes before investing."

Notwithstanding the teething problems of starting a new business however, Mr. Moon warns potential event organizers that the career can be demanding on a physical and social level.

"My advice for people who want to get into this industry is don't!" he quips. "In this business you're only as good as your last event, and there is a great deal of travel involved. Long hours can also take their toll, and it is not uncommon to stay up the whole night the day before a big event to make sure everything is just right. This is definitely not a nine to five job."

"I've never understood people who do not love what they do. If you don't like your job or your boss, simply find something else"

Innovation, not imitation

Meanwhile, Mr. Moon counsels those starting out in this field to innovate and make their events stand out from the crowd. He also holds that event planning is a skill that people learn through application rather than through taking specific courses.

"Try not to get caught up in the logistics end of the business, such as booking venues or administrative work - these do not add value to your career," says Mr. Moon. "Do try to bring creative ideas into the planning and marketing of conferences. Many people organize events because they are told to do it, and as a result many conferences follow the same old format. If I were to produce the same events that I was doing 17 years ago I'd be the most boring person in the world; unfortunately there are many people doing just that."

Mr. Moon's own recruiting strategy is also markedly different from many other companies, and he is a firm believer in the intrinsic qualities of individuals rather than experience or qualifications. Indeed, he often employs staff without event organizing backgrounds for the different perspective that they add to the team. "I don't hire from other event organizers because I want fresh ideas in the company - this is not something I get from competing firms," says Mr. Moon. "I hire less based on what's on the CV, and look more for the right attitude, drive and determination. Admittedly these are qualities that are difficult to identify until we actually hire someone."

He also steers clear of hiring people who specialise in administrative duties, and stresses that people who work in event organising have to really love their work.

"I've never understood people who do not love what they do. If you don't like your job or your boss, simply find something else," says Mr. Moon, adding that innovative employees can realise their potential more quickly at a small firm.

China Opportunities

Although Moon waxes lyrical on the vast opportunities for business in China, he advises aspiring event managers to exercise caution when plunging into the mainland job market. "Stay with an international firm; do not join a local firm," is his advice. "All innovations and creative solutions are likely to be learned from non-China-based companies in this industry for the time being."

"For entry-level or mid-level, Putonghua is essential to be effective," he adds. "However, for senior management it is nice to have but not critical."

Meanwhile, Moon warns China watchers that the mainland market has undergone numerous paradigm shifts in just the past few years; this means that those with the requisite transferable skills will succeed over those who cannot move with the times.

"Things have changed so much in China that experience in mainland event management five years ago may not be appropriate in today's situation."

Figures for reference only   K='000

Taken from Career Times 16 August 2002, p. 32
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