It’s the conversation you always wanted but never had – wages in the events industry! Because we all know that in this industry, this topic is very taboo. And what do we do better than anyone else here in Event Brew? We talk about the sensitive topics that everyone is too afraid to tackle. So, just in case our episode about controversial speakers wasn’t enough, we’re going after the money. And we’re going to ask some very opportune questions that you’ve been super curious to discuss.
Our lovely Brew Crew is in full force. Thuy Diep, Dustin Westling, Will Curran, and Nick Borelli are ready to take on the topic of wages in the events industry. So choose your favorite brew, make sure the coffee is freshly made and the tea is just the right temperature. Press play and join us for another exciting episode!
Click here for the full audio transcription.
Let’s Look At The Data
“This whole wages in the events industry topic started because Event MB put out an article on January 3rd. Event planner salaries in 2020, how do you stack up?“, explains Thuy. “This is a conversation I feel like I’m professionally having more. Whether it’s my mentees, whether it’s the title or within the company, how much they’re making. I feel like it’s such a hush-hush topic to discuss, which is so not progressive. Because in other industries such as advertising, everyone is talking about it”.
The article in question compares the UK, compared to the US. “They’re saying that the average event planner salary in New York City is $75,659, and the average planner made in London is basically $28,000 pounds. So when I first saw that stat on there, I immediately thought to the fact that also like in the AV industry, the AV industry costs are way lower in the UK than they are in the States. I think generally it seems like things are less expensive, and that’s just based on my gut feeling I’ve seen for that”.
Thuy goes on to give us more details. “So $66,000 in New York. That’s a decrease of 12.8% from last year and then the 34,000 pounds in London, that’s an increase. They increase their salary of 18.11%. The cost of living in those two destinations. I’m like, how are you living on that salary? Compared to the cost of living. Because I used to live in New York. That is insane. I feel like I was making more as a cheerleading coach than an event professional”.
Wages In The Events Industry: Are They Enough?
“One piece of data I think that’s missing on here is also how do planners feel like they are able to live on their current salary?”, says Will. “I feel like that qualitative data needs to be on here. Do planners feel like they’re being compensated enough?”
Nick adds that “when I speak to event professionals and I make a joke to the degree that I think all of us could make more money doing something else, I always get a bunch of “Yep, for sure.” So it’s not for the money. This isn’t people like, “I don’t have any interest in teeth or spending my whole life looking at people’s mouths, but it pays well.” And that’s what every dentist probably thinks. And I don’t think that we’re on the other side of that. Where we’re just like, “Well there are zero barriers to get in,” and we can just kind of like create this lifestyle or do work that is creative and has all these other impacts. But it definitely isn’t the highest paying gig that you could take on”.
“I had the same mindset in my like 20’s that I would always follow my passion and the money will come”, says Thuy. “And now that I’m in my 30’s and money is still, at the end of the day, what pays for the bills. And I remember when I joined the LA office, when we were negotiating salaries the first thing I said is, “I just want to be able to go to Sunday brunch and get avocado toast without having to second-guess it.”
“We do so much and don’t get compensated as much as I feel like we deserve. We do a lot of work”, says Thuy. And on this matter, Will adds that “the thing that I hear the most is the number of hours that we put in. So I think a lot of us in this industry get paid a fair salary. And even when we look at the stats that Event MB provided, when you look at the amount of time that most event professionals are putting in, and you start dividing that up, that is where you’ll hear wage stats. And somebody’s like, “Oh god, I wish I made that much.” And it’s not that they don’t make a fair salary, it’s that they work 20 hours a day, and they’re working 60 hour work weeks”.
“That is I think in a lot of cases, where the imbalance comes from”, he continues. “And this role, for a lot of people in the industry is a lot of office time. A lot of onsite time, a lot of travel time, a lot of time away from their families. And the question is, does this industry compensate fairly for what is being asked of people that are in it?”.
Nick recalls a time when he was working seven days a week. “The sustainability of it just wasn’t there, and I was always in a bad place. So for me, I needed to get out of that. But I will say, doing the math on the hours was something that I kept in front of me, and knew very well then. And really was the main reason why I decided that I needed to figure out a way to contribute to the industry in a way that doesn’t have me saying the words load-in or load-out anymore. And I think that this industry does afford you the opportunity. If you look at some of these stats as far as coordinator, years of experience, one to three. Manager, three years. That’s not a lot of time”.
Wages In The Events Industry When You’re A Business Owner
“As a business owner, I’ll just chime in with how we work”, says Dustin. “So in Alberta, in Canada, salaried employees can be exempt from overtime rules. So if you are a salaried employee, you don’t have to follow the same overtime structure. And our company adheres to that. So in our company, if you are a salaried employee, you do not qualify for overtime. You’re considered self-scheduling, because of the nature of our business”.
“So the expectation within our business is that you manage your time accordingly. You can track your hours, you can track your overtime hours, but they’re not owed to you. And you have to manage your schedule, your high season, your low season, to make sure that it balances out. We offer more downtime during the holidays. So we close our offices to create extra-long weekends, we do a big closure around Christmas, which is above and beyond what we have to do to compensate for that. But as a business, it allows us to have more consistent control over the high and low seasons. And sometimes it works out great for you, and sometimes we owe you, and sometimes you owe us. But we also pair that with a lot of other benefits and year-end bonuses, and education fund, and the countless opportunities that we give our employees”.
“We keep an eye on everybody’s individual work levels and make sure that nobody is completely drowning. And we give everybody the opportunity to pull in resources to get things done. That works for us. So yes, we fall into that category of people that don’t pay overtime. Now if you’re not a salaried employee and you’re an hourly employee, then you get overtime exactly as the law states. And that is more the operational end, the more of the supplier end of our business. So there are ways to do it”.
Keeping Your Particular Case In Mind
“Compensation doesn’t have to be via money”, says Thuy. It can also be time. “And so that helped with the balance of one, not burning out in this industry, and two, being able to say, “Okay, well it’s a time for me to then relax and turn off my brain for a little bit because I put in those hours.” And being able to control, and I’m on a salary. So look at the company you’re a part of as well. But then I will say, look out for yourself as well. Because if you are drowning in those projects if you are brain dead, you need to put yourself first. Because not saying that certain companies don’t care, but they’re not going to know, you need to lay those boundaries down”.
Setting The Tone With Negotiations
“I think that right when you start a job, you have an opportunity to set the tone”, says Nick. “And I think that you have opportunities throughout your time, I think that you should pick them strategically and be smart, and not do them too frequently. I negotiated to go from a five day work week to a four day work week the first job, and the next job I had, I went in three days a week”.
“I work with a lot of corporations that have really shifted their HR and hiring practices”, says Will. “They created a more a la cart menu of things that you can choose from. That will help fit your lifestyle. So when you get hired, they work with you to say, “What is going to make you a happy, productive employee here? Does that mean that you don’t work on Fridays? Or you work from home on this day? Or you start at 10 not at 9 because you’ve got to drop your kids off at school on the other side of the city?”
“And I think that sort of openness that businesses are having to make sure that the work structure fits their life is really smart. It’s coming from a need to meet the millennial mindset. To create a fulfilling and happy place that isn’t disrupting people’s personal lives. And you have to believe that that is creating a better relationship between an employee and an employer. Creating longer tenure when people are in a position that actually molds around their life, instead of their life molding around their job”.
How Much Are You Worth?
Wages in the events industry are directly related to skills, much like in any other industry. “The only way to separate yourself is to create unique skill sets that are in demand. And then you can set your price”, says Nick. “If you’re not satisfied with where you’re at, find a way to make yourself valuable, or get creative. This is what business owners have that you don’t have – risk. So find a way to do something that has an element of risk”.
“And if all you have to risk is your time, so be it. But say, “I’m willing to risk this amount of my time in order to gain this skillset. If I do that, or if I find a business for you, can I have this piece of it?” That kind of thing, especially in the small business world that is predominant in the events industry. Where it’s so many small businesses, you’ll find that people will play ball. In a large organization, sometimes it takes going away and coming back. And if you don’t have any risk, then you get what you get”.
How Non-Revenue Generating Employees Fit Into Wages In The Events Industry
“I do think that where you sit on the scale, if you’re a non-revenue generator, there’s less of a light shone on you as far as your value within a corporation”, says Dustin. “And those are the people that get turned and burned a little bit more. The best benefits are going to the people that are either generating revenue or servicing that revenue from account management. Where if they left it could be detrimental to the revenue or the success of the business. If you’re not in one of those coveted positions, then you got to do something to stand out. And something to make sure that you’re becoming a real asset to that business”.
“One of the worst parts of the events industry is that it is not a well-defined industry”, adds Nick. “There are low barriers to entry. One of the best parts of the events industry is the same thing. So take advantage of this opportunity. I know that it’s not for everybody. But I think that you can apply strategic thinking to non-strategic jobs. I think you can apply entrepreneurship to non-entrepreneur jobs. And still take that same idea of risk, of growth, of education, and not being satisfied with where you’re at, and climb. You have to be something different, you can’t be apples to apples with somebody who has half of the experience you do and expect double pay”.
Wages In The Events Industry: Being Strategic
“I will always say when I’m interviewing: I can teach you the job, I can teach you how to do a contract, I can teach you how to do RFBs. But same thing, anyone can really do my job now, but you can’t replace Thuy. And I think that’s the thing that’s really important, is that you want to not only do your job and do it well but exceed those expectations”, says Thuy. “Going above and beyond, trying to figure out how to add value to that company. The other associations, being involved in the community, getting your certifications. All that stuff adds to negotiating your salary”.
“I think that all your intangibles, and all the things that got you there, and your viewpoint on things, that is a way to stand out”, adds Nick. “But again, I also believe that you should be strategic in how you play where you’re going to go. And what your next move is. I think that you have to do the investment, you have to do the time. You have to show the metal that you have. But you would eventually be able to prove to someone with liquidity that you’re somebody to invest in by the work that you’re doing. So not only are you putting in a ton of work, but you’re investing in a potential future for that. And the employer, they’re not stupid. They don’t think that everyone is going to last forever. And you’re not tricking them. So just be upfront about it”.
And that’s a wrap on this week’s edition of Event Brew! What did you think of our conversation about wages in the events industry? Do you feel like we don’t get enough pay for the amount of work we out in? And do you subscribe to the idea of being strategic and setting yourself apart? Make sure you let us know and tune in next week for some more brewing!