The job of a project manager in a major trade fair is very much like that of a musical conductor. That's the view of Grace Lee, project manager at CMP Asia (CMP). "A conductor brings a group of musicians together to become an orchestra," she says. "A project manager, likewise, works to put an event together, overseeing all things related including marketing, sales, administration and operation."
Bringing together thousands of exhibitors and visitors from all parts of the world, Ms Lee finds great satisfaction in her job. She says: "A trade show may only last a few days. But leading a team and motivating them to achieve the successful end result is a challenge in itself, and to do so effectively, you need to balance management control while allowing team members to use their initiative and work on their own." CMP's flat management structure and open culture are the major factors that enable her to make things happen.
Doing a little more can make a whole lot different
According to Ms Lee, a part of a project manager's job is to be in charge of the planning and budgeting for an event. "As soon as this year's trade fair is over, we start the preparation for the coming events by announcing the exhibition report for this year and recruiting exhibitors for the next." This sales activity, she says, will continue until two months before the exhibition is held.
Visitor promotion will start in the second half of the year, followed by more intensive marketing campaigns including advertising and media briefings that will be carried out during the four months leading up to the event. Also, they need to prepare for different activities that run concurrently with the exhibition such as fashion shows, awards, best products selection and conferences.
On average, Ms Lee spends more than half of her working time on internal meetings — following up with her subordinates on their work progress and facilitate their co-operation. "I have to unblock the bottlenecks, for example, making sure the marketing department has produced the flyers on time for distribution by our sales teams." A series of meetings with senior management, plus telephone and face-to-face conferences with overseas agents and clients are also in her daily agendas.
Different roads to project manager
Prior to her present occupation, Ms Lee spent four years as the company's sales manager. The duties of sales executives, she says, are more straightforward, focusing mainly on exhibitor recruitment. However, she emphasises that there is much more to the job than selling space. "You are creating business opportunities for buyers and sellers," she says. "During the sales process, one can gain more industry knowledge from customers including product information and market trends."
Marketing, though, focuses more on visitor promotion and media relations. Both sales and marketing are the most common entry points to the field of event management, according to Ms Lee. "The different jobs call for different qualities," she says. "A sales executive needs to be outgoing, confident and presentable, while a marketing executive needs a good academic background combined with sound communications and language skills."
Sales administration and operations can be possible paths. "Sales assistants would usually move on to the sales path while the work of operations could be rather technical and those with previous experience with contractors are always preferable."
Ms Lee advises newcomers: "Doing a little more can make a whole lot different."
Ms Lee believes that trade fair business will continue to grow in China. Although formal event management training is available in the mainland, there is still a shortage of experienced and professional project managers. However, because of the substantial demand in Hong Kong, particularly as a new exhibition venue has recently opened and more trade shows are expected, Ms Lee thinks there is not much incentive for Hong Kong talent to move north.