In 2016 alone, 1.9 million meetings and events took place in the United States and attracted approximately 251 million participants, according to a report from Oxford Economics released in February. That's a lot of event planners, event coordinators, exhibitors, venues and more.
The events industry is substantial, and in it exist many loosely defined terms—meaning certain words and even job titles may mean different things to different people. Take the actual word "event," for example. By itself, it can mean a charity auction, a trade show, a birthday party, an industry conference or an appreciation lunch, a seminar, an executive retreat or incentive program, a golf event or convention, or almost anything else!
These varying interpretations of different industry words often cause confusion and misunderstandings, especially with job titles, as for event planners versus event coordinators. But we're here to clear up that confusion.
Job Description of an Event Planner
Let's start with the event planner. Whether you're looking to get into social events or corporate events, event planning is not party planning. While the result may look like the profession is simply to throw great parties, it's not that cut and dry. Every event planning professional starts by focusing on the big picture: What is the goal of this event and how will I achieve that goal?
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) classifies those in this profession as "Meeting and Convention Planners," noting that they "bring people together for a common purpose, and ... work to ensure that this purpose is achieved seamlessly." The DOL also describes these professionals as coordinating "every detail of meetings and conventions, from the speakers and meeting location to arranging for printed materials and audio-visual equipment."
Event planners, according to the DOL, "work for nonprofit organizations, professional and similar associations, hotels, corporations, and government. Some organizations have internal meeting planning staffs, and others hire independent meeting and convention planning firms to organize their events."
An event planner creates a charity auction (or trade show, birthday party, industry conference, appreciation lunch, seminar, executive retreat, incentive program, a golf event or convention) that addresses the purpose, the impression and the message their client or organization seeks to communicate.
Successful Event Planner Skills and Qualities
Those interested in pursuing a career in event planning don't need a background in the field to get started, but having certain qualities will help you be successful. Such qualities include:
Though your previous profession and/or academic background needn't be related to event planning, many employers prefer that event planners have a bachelor's degree in one of the following:
Without such a degree, however, many people still make their way into event planning. They can often do this by entering through administrative roles that include meeting planning responsibilities. The following are the skills and traits that successful event planners develop throughout their career:
There also are certain things event planners develop knowledge of
over time, such as catering, conference services, entertainment, gifts, lodging, production, transportation, and venue selection.
An event planner is a direct connection to the client; he/she works with the customer to determine that client's vision and needs for the event and the budget for making everything happen.
An event planner for a wedding would sit down with the bride and groom to talk about how formal they want their wedding to be, how many guests they want to invite and what sort of overall vibe or tone they're going for.
The event planner then designs an event with one goal in mind: wowing the client. Based on that initial meeting, the planner will select a venue and choose the entertainment (live band, pianist or DJ, for instance). A second step is to work with the client to determine a menu.
The event planner focuses on the big-picture items—the things that make an event memorable. He or she also ensures that the client is happy. The event planner ultimately is designing an event that fits the customer's needs and expectations. Being in this position carries a lot of responsibility because whether the client is happy rests in the event planner's hands.
Job Description of an Event Coordinator
The event coordinator position is an ideal job in which to start a career in event planning, giving a strong foundation for moving into an event planner position down the line. In fact, it's often necessary to spend several years working as a coordinator before becoming a planner; being an event coordinator is a crucial step along the event-planning career path.
If the event planner is the event "designer," then the simple way to describe the event coordinator is as the "doer." He or she handles all event logistics and serves as the contact for all event-related issues.
Event coordinators must possess excellent written and verbal communication, and must work well with others, including (but not limited to) vendors, clients and guests. An event comprises many moving pieces, all of which fall on the coordinator.
Event Coordinator Duties and Responsibilities
Once the event planner has determined the event's vision and vibe, the coordinator assists the planner in making that vision and vibe a reality by managing the event's individual components to ensure it goes smoothly. The event coordinator will assess vendors, handle logistical tasks and organize delivery dates.
Most event coordinators are responsible for organizing everything at the venue—in just a few hours before the event begins. And, of course, this is when most issues arise, meaning that a good event coordinator is organized, focused and resourceful.
The coordinator instead manages the event's individual components to ensure everything goes smoothly. Minus that design, the event coordinator controls the event from concept to clean up—he or she will meet with the client to iron out the details; scout for and book locations and make sure the venue is appropriately decorated on event day; organize the catering, entertainment, staff and cleanup; handle any permit requirements; make sure vendors are paid; work on marketing the event by posting on social media or passing out flyers (if the event requires it); and will face off with difficult people or handle any problems that arise during event time.
Event coordinators make sure the melon and prosciutto skewers stay cold and the DJ stays hot!
So What's the Difference?
Though many people don't understand the difference between a planner and a coordinator, the difference is relatively simple: The event planner makes the critical decisions (the who, what, when, where and how) while the coordinator makes sure all details are executed and as seamlessly as possible.
More specifically, event planning is the creative, pre-event process. It consists of managing all activities before the actual event and helping the client to make such decisions as:
Contrast this with the event coordinators, who are less involved in event décor and design and focus more on the actual scheduling and directing of event staff and management of volunteers—not only for the event itself but also for set up and take down/clean up. Coordination also includes scheduling and directing of vendors.
Coordinators handle event logistics, but that doesn't mean coordinators never get creative. This role also includes finding solid, reliable vendors and firing them if their services aren't up to par. Coordinators also must ensure that the event's visual aspects are appealing.
While the role of an event planner and event coordinator are technically different, they are also extremely similar. Whether you're planning an event that will take place in the future by carefully selecting colors, entertainment and a menu that will suit your client's needs or coordinating every detail of that event in real time—each role requires that you think on your feet and survey your events. You must be ready to handle whatever crazy or unforeseen thing that comes your way, whether it’s a missing wedding dress, a downpour during an outside fundraiser, or a caterer that's running behind.
Remember that becoming an event planner doesn't happen overnight; it takes years of experience, including working as an event coordinator to become familiar, comfortable and well-versed in what it takes to make an event happen. Being an event planner carries a great deal of responsibility—it's ultimately up to the planner to ensure that the client is happy by crafting and designing an event that fits his or her (or their) needs and expectations.