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We’re currently in the longest economic expansion since World War II, 125 months specifically, as I write this. It’s not a matter of “if” we’ll head into a recession; it’s a question of when, for how long, and how bad. The last recession ended in July 2009, well over ten years ago. We are more than due.

This looming economic threat is the impetus for a webinar I gave recently for FICP (Financial & Insurance Conference Planners) titled Recession-Proofing Your Job: Strategies for Improving Your Value. While technically defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, a recession is more felt as the general malaise of a contracting economy: declines in business revenue and profit, decreases in spending, and pressure to cut costs and eliminate jobs. Public companies are under particular scrutiny from stockholders to lower overhead.

And so, at some point in the near future, business leaders are going to be having conversations behind closed doors about who stays and who goes. Which category will you be in? Where you wind up is likely determined by the answers to the questions below.

What is your VORP?

Baseball created a statistic called Value Over Replacement Player (later morphed into WAR: Wins Above Replacement) which measures a player’s worth compared to an average replacement at the same position. What is your Value Over Replacement Planner?

Ask yourself, “If I left my job tomorrow, who would the company assign my work to?” The answer is likely either shifting the work to admins in the individual business units who host the events, or outsourcing the planning altogether to either an agency or freelancer. Now ask yourself how you compare to that person? Would the event suffer? Would the client experience be noticeably worse? Would they save money? It’s important to be brutally honest with yourself here.

Do the people making layoff decisions know your value?

You might think you’re the only thing holding the event together, and if you leave all hell will break loose. While that’s likely untrue, the broader question is, “Does your boss/client have the same understanding of your value as you do?”

Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” What you think about your value is irrelevant if the powers that be don’t know it, or worse, if they don’t agree with your assessment altogether.

Are you viewed as a commodity or a business partner?

If you’re asked to make a list of everything you do, chances are you’ll include functional tasks: budgeting, site selection, menu planning, contract review, etc. As important as those are, nobody’s going to be laughed out of the room for suggesting that an admin can do them.

What’s far more valuable is your ability to be a trusted advisor and business partner to your client. To be able to help them define event goals, design the event to achieve those goals, and help determine how to measure success. Someone who can debate with a client how the amount spent per client (or employee, sales rep, etc.) on the event compares to other vehicles that could achieve the same goals.

Think about your last visit to the doctor. A receptionist checked you in, a nurse took your vital signs, a lab ran your bloodwork, etc. The doctor only came in to examine you, diagnose what’s wrong, and recommend treatment. Yet that’s what you found most valuable. In fact, it’s the only thing you found of value. Nobody changes doctors because they bring in a new person to take your blood pressure. This is not to say you can ignore your other responsibilities, but rather to really focus on what your client values the most, and make sure you really nail that.

Have you developed and articulated a compelling personal brand? 

Sourcing venues, setting up event apps, configuring registration sites, and any of the numerous other logistical tasks you manage don’t separate you from any other planner. Everyone can do them, and if that’s all you’re known for, sorry, but you’re a commodity.

It’s critical that planners also develop expertise in one or more sub-specialties within events. Whether it’s contracts, wines, A/V, social media, speakers, software/apps, expertise in international meetings, or any other specialty, you want to be known as the go-to authority in your organization. This way, when it comes to decisions about cuts, you’re providing a valuable resource above and beyond your planning abilities.

How close are your events to the company’s revenue stream?

When events get scaled back or cut altogether, the ones closest to the organization’s income are the most likely to be preserved. If your events cater to clients or prospects, you’re better positioned than if you plan internal events. Likewise, an internal sales meeting or incentive designed to motivate sales reps to hit new revenue target is much closer to the revenue stream than a company holiday party. Follow the money.

Can you calculate, or at least discuss, the relative R.O.I. of your events?

Coming in under budget doesn’t mean anything if the event itself wasn’t a worthwhile investment, which is completely determined by the client spending the money. If the group head in an investment bank wants to host a conference to cultivate clients and tee up new deals and gives you a $500,000 budget, you’re better off urging him to spend $600,000 if that’s what it will take to move the needle on results vs. coming in at budget but not generating the desired amount of leads.

Who is lobbying for you?

Since decisions about you are made when you’re not in the room, it’s critical that someone who is in the room has your back. Think about which clients would go bonkers if you left, and make sure the decision-makers know that.

Circling back around to sports, Marvin Lewis was able to remain head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals for 16 years despite having a barely above .500 winning percentage. During that same time frame, the Washington Redskins compiled a similar record, but went through five coaches. The difference? Lewis had the support of management; the Redskins coaches did not.

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