In the not so distant past women draped themselves on new cars like shiny hood ornaments and worked behind the scenes to help their bosses take credit for the perfect corporate event. But thanks to a few decades of cultural transformation the roles that were once the only choices for women in the event marketing industry have become relics of the past. From booth babes to the boardroom and from event planners to global event strategists—women today have become a formidable force in experiential marketing. Yes indeed they’ve come a long way baby. But are they getting paid what they’re worth? Does the glass ceiling still exist? And can they do the job and still make time for family life?
In this Event Marketer’s first-ever special report on the ladies who are shaping the world of experiential marketing the hard questions get some straight-up answers. Need more quality time with the kids? Train yourself to be a road warrior. Want more money? Ask for it. Jonesing to move up the org chart? Delegate the details and get strategic. The women we spoke to have not only risen up the ranks in traditionally male-dominated industries like high-tech sports aerospace and auto they’ve turned their traditional marketing practices upside down and injected new life into old-school brands. Whether you’re a seasoned vet in the industry or a young pup just looking for some sound advice you’ll want to read on. Our in-depth look at how far women in the industry have come and where they’re going starts now.
Women in event marketing report that their responsibilities are becoming more strategic and less tactical. “They used to think we were always paper pushers—kind of logistical coordinators ” says Glenda Brungardt trade show and event manager at Hewlett-Packard and 19-year vet of the event industry. “Now not only do you have to do the A to Z of execution at the event but you really have to understand your company’s brand messaging that experience you want your customer to have plus the economies of scale from the return on investment to the return on objective to the return on the marketing investment.”
Yet despite the boost in responsibility female event marketers are still not being compensated equally for their contributions. In a summer 2008 EM survey of women in the industry 66 percent said they know of men making more money for the same job they currently do. Thirty-two percent of women polled think the boy’s club and glass ceiling still exist in event marketing. And 41 percent said they’re not getting paid what they’re worth. The industry snapshot parallels the national picture. According to the U.S. Census women in professional and management positions still receive 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. With so many event marketers taking strategic seats at the table why aren’t women’s salaries following suit? Experts say they don’t ask for what they want.
Girls are often taught from childhood to be polite accommodating and nonconfrontational personal attributes that according to recent research will cut a woman’s lifetime career earning potential by $500 000. In the 2003 book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide Carnegie Mellon University economics professor Linda Babcock Ph.D. and coauthor Sara Laschever found that women are much less likely than men to ask for what they want. Studies in the book also found that women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don’t.
Eighteen-year marketing industry vet Mercedita Roxas-Murray is a vp at Alexandria VA-based agency RedPeg Marketing where she manages a department of 14. She says that of the five men and nine women in her group the men are consistently more aggressive about job advancement feedback and salary negotiation. “When it comes to people coming and asking me ‘What do I need to do to move up to the next step?’ men are in my office more frequently ” says Roxas-Murray. “I have found that the women don’t ask for it and they are a little more passive. Guys will come back with multiple examples of what they’ve done and they’re a heck of a lot more aggressive about their upward mobility than I’ve found with the females in my department even though they’re equally as intelligent strategic and capable. That always surprises me.”
Good girls may make friends but a little confrontation in the form of constructive feedback and salary negotiation gets results. Time to tap into your inner “bad” girl and talk about what you want and how to get there. “To get that mobility thing happening it demands more engagement ” says Roxas-Murray.
Keeping It Professional
A career in event marketing presents unique opportunities and challenges for women. On one hand marketing has historically been a female-dominated business so as the event marketing discipline has evolved so have the roles for women who helped to found it. On the other while women are more and more becoming the driving forces behind program strategy and execution it’s still a business built on public networking events and socializing. Hang with the boys and have too much fun and you may not be taken seriously. Be too serious and assertive and you’ll turn people off. Is it a double standard? Probably. But for women who want to transcend stereotypes and create meaningful careers you have to work a little harder to keep the party in its place.
“Remember that when you’re on the road you’ve got to get up the next morning and be able to face yourself ” says Brungardt. “The adage in this industry is you work hard and you play hard but you have to make that choice of what playing hard means.”
Certain brands and event programs can create another layer of complication. In male-dominated businesses like spirits and sports for example bars and nights out are often the places where programs are activated and business relationships are made. Roxas-Murray says that getting outside of the drinking hole not only helps her keep things professional it gives her a chance to show her stuff. “I will make sure I understand what’s going on in the on- and off-premise spaces so they understand that even though I don’t go out with them every night I know what I’m talking about ” she says. In short network socialize and make friends but in event marketing be ever cognizant of the fine line between work and play.
Women who have clearly advanced in the event industry point to one overarching tip: “Be the one with the big ideas ” says Nancy Neipp senior director-global event marketing at Cisco. “Let someone else execute it but be the one to share that vision and pretty soon you’re the strategic partner that helps to guide and shape investment and drive results.”
While detail orientation organization and creativity are perennial attributes for event marketers strategic thinking and business savvy have taken over top spots for women leading the charge. “If I wanted to make my mark on the event world I would absolutely embrace and advocate what I would call full 360-degree planning around the brand campaign ” Neipp adds. “Be a champion for a 360 approach. Help the big investments in brand building go further by putting the event assets right behind them so they line up from a messaging perspective and from a timing perspective—make those things work together. Make sure your business focus is on the strategic part versus the execution part.”
If you’re lucky enough to work for a progressive company like Cisco HP or Nike where more and more c-suites are being filled by women then the sky’s the limit provided you do the work. “I don’t think there’s any discrimination against women I think it’s all about knowing your stuff ” says Neipp. “Sharpen your consultative skills learn your customer’s business know their competition understand their business objectives give great advice and learn how to effectively use experience design to drive that through.”
For others (32 percent of women polled said the boy’s club still exists in their companies) thriving in event marketing requires more than just skills and preparation. It takes confidence and a refined communication style. “Ultimately you have to sweeten your approach a bit because a forceful woman at least in my experience can be interpreted as a bitch doing the exact same thing a man would do to be interpreted as ‘having cajones ’” said one poll respondent.
Roxas-Murray says that women unknowingly feed the old boy network dynamic because they have a tendency to let men speak on their behalf or let them overshadow the conversation. “When you walk into a room with a team and the team happens to be men you have to make sure your voice is heard ” she says. “If you’re in the room there’s a reason for you to be in that room. Make sure that your place is understood and well known.”
A diverse background can also be an asset in the event marketing biz. Wherever you are in your career path or in the marketing mix keep learning and leveraging what you know as you move across departments businesses and functions. “Take the time to learn because the day you say you know it all and can’t learn anymore you don’t belong in our industry because our industry is ever changing ” says Brungardt whose 32-year career at HP has included stints in engineering human resources and events. “You may not agree with how someone does something but I always think there is a golden nugget that you can walk away with. It could be one small thing or an “aha!” moment. It’s how do you take that knowledge and make yourself better. As the industry gets better I get better.”
Nine years ago Megan Thayer started her career with Nike as a campus rep while she was in college. Today she is moving into a brand management position after working on the Ex Award-winning Nike Women’s Marathon for three years. She credits her diverse event experience for giving her the skills and exposure she needed to get promoted and plans to bring her passion for consumer experiences to the new job. “Our event team has always worked across categories and with different brand managers and so being in that role I’m pretty familiar with what my new role would be like ” says Thayer. “Events are a great springboard for future opportunities.”
If your company is slow to see your value or pigeonholes its event staff find a mentor—someone male or female who can champion you and your career. “You can get stuck but I was fortunate to have mentors looking out for me and asking me what I want to do ” says Thayer. “It’s great to have people push you in that direction and at least help you.” If someone believed in you along the way or helped reshape the way events are perceived in your organization be a pal and return the favor. As the saying goes be the change you wish to see.The Feminine Critique
For women with a busy family life mastering the skills for the job is only one half of the equation. Sixty-one percent of women polled said balancing the demands of family and children was the biggest challenge they face in their jobs. Ironically some of the talents that are inherent to female marketers’ success—organization detail-orientation the overwhelming urge to plan—can actually backfire when it comes to doing the work-life shuffle. Type-A personalities take note: you can’t do everything perfectly so stop trying. Take vacation delegate make time to celebrate the wins and resist the need to plan everything at work and at home. (Go ahead laugh and roll your eyes. We know.) Try loosening the reins now and then and keep your eyes on the prize: the big picture. It could change your life and your career.
Many women also mistakenly believe that they have to be 110 percent invested in the job every minute day and night when they’re on the road. Ever notice how men find time to go to the game hit the golf course or get a workout in even during the most grueling of event schedules? It turns out women could take a lesson from the opposite sex on this one. “It might sound counterintuitive but men have a lot to teach on work/life balance ” says Brungardt. “Whether it’s in their DNA or not they definitely do not miss out on that type of opportunity.” She says that as a self-described workaholic she has had to train herself to carve out time for the things she loves when she’s on the road like golf and reading. “Work/life balance isn’t only when you’re at home it’s what you do with the time you’re traveling ” she says. “It’s finding those opportunities to do the things that are important to me and things that keep me going away from the job.”
Women who learn to turn their hours on the road into a productive mix of work and play will see payoffs at home. When Roxas-Murray travels she makes sure she’s on the first flight in and the last flight out. Eliminating overnight trips whenever possible is her method for maintaining a routine at home for her two children ages three and seven. “It makes a huge difference if I can sit down and have breakfast with them and take them to the bus stop and send them off on their day—that means a lot to them ” she says. When the site inspection is kid-friendly she does double duty and occasionally takes the family along.
Neipp uses every technology she can get her hands on to make the most out of her travel time. She even makes her international calls from home via teleconference saving her days of travel time and helping schedule her day so she can skip the deadly Silicon Valley commute. Turning productivity tools into leadership opportunities is just one more way to get ahead. “Embracing all the technology that’s out there enables you to work in ways that you couldn’t have even thought of three years ago ” Neipp says. “Be the champion in your group to figure out how to bring a technology into the planning that enables productivity for everybody.”
Up next we present a snapshot of just some of the many talented women blazing a trail in the event marketing industry—20 ladies in different phases of their careers who are defining their own formulas for work/life balance while making their marks in their jobs.
They each took different paths some jumping into events right out of college and some zigzagging across industries and marketing functions before landing in their current roles. But they all have one thing in common—these women have killer ideas. And most importantly they’re not afraid to use them.