Steve brown from aspiring actor to US head of event operations
1 Head of US Event Operations at Infopro Digital must be a huge responsibility, tell me a bit more about your role.
It’s a lot of responsibility but extremely rewarding. I originally took up this role four years ago when Incisive Media (as we were known then) was undergoing a restructure. They wanted to appoint heads of each department to be able to look at all of our processes and procedures and align these with the company’s global standards, and this has been an interesting ride! I manage a team who are responsible for all of the planning and logistics for Infopro Digital’s US Events.
This covers 60+ events throughout the year ranging from large congresses through to small training courses and everything in between. The main focus is on controlling budgets and heading up strategy that will ensure our events are delivered to the highest standard with maximum revenues, ensuring synergy with other departments. As a satellite office without an appointed MD or CEO based here, the day-to-day management of the US office is overseen by a steering committee which I also sit on, and this adds a whole different dimension to the role.
2 What do you enjoy most?
The variety and creativity. I originally wanted to follow a career in performance/acting, and I often think a career in events is not too far removed from this. There’s a certain amount of theatre involved in putting on a successful event. I enjoy striving to ensure relevant departments are working well together to ensure that Infopro Digital deliver the best event experience possible whilst at the same time constantly evolving and keeping on trend so that our sponsors and delegates enjoy and get the most out of our events;
So to use the acting analogy again, it’s basically putting on a show, working with a fantastic cast, making any tweaks necessary in the hope of getting great reviews from critics and audiences who will spend money and come back for more!
3 What is the best career advice you’ve been offered?
Never assume anything. It has stood me in good stead – whether that’s assuming a job will last forever to assuming electrical sockets come included in the room hire! Always challenge, ask and get the right information.
4 To get to where you are now, what has been your biggest challenge?
This is probably true of any job, but the constant changing of the economic and political climate have brought with them some of the biggest challenges in my career. Take your pick; working through the 2008 crash for a company managing events in the Financial markets was a huge challenge for our business (and everyone else’s).
I have worked for small companies being sold to bigger companies, which brings the challenges of re-organization, restructuring, and sometimes redundancies. Brexit and a new presidency, and as a result fluctuating exchange rates, directly affect my event costs. More recently, moving to the states with no major network and having to navigate a completely different culture and way of working and building contacts whilst taking on a whole new team was hugely challenging but a massive career highlight.
I think a certain amount of adaptability has helped me overcome these challenges, remaining focused and just being extremely vigilant for growth opportunities, whether that is mitigating losses through stripping budgets or moving into a new business sector or job function.
5 In your view, what makes a good leader?
I have always lived by the rule of team work and never asking of your team something that you are unwilling to do yourself. In the ever changing and often unpredictable world of events, you need to have a good team in place who respect you as a leader who understands all the facets of the job and is able to bring everyone together in the interests of delivering an excellent event. Obviously there needs to be a hierarchy, but being able to “muck-in” yourself where required is essential.
6 How do you continue to develop yourself and your skills?
I make a concerted effort to keep up to date with business and industry trends. It is extremely important - particularly in the event industry - to not become so absorbed in your day to day job that you can’t see beyond the way the company you work for does things. I am a great believer in evolving, trying new things, and also recycling old ideas in a new way. For example I try to bring in new technology where cost allows, whether it’s implementing Slido or gamification through event apps or innovative new ways for delegates to exchange information (Blendology).
One aspect of my job that is very rewarding is to nurture new talent, it is great to get new perspectives on the business. Despite the saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I think you can and should!
7 What do you see as the biggest challenge for the industry at the moment?
Events are still extremely important when promoting your brand and bringing people together to do business - whatever sector your events represent. Sponsors are increasingly opting to run their own events in-house and there are more competitive events than ever for people to choose from. Increasingly people see events as purely cost but they offer a huge opportunity to earn revenue. Event budgets often remain flat year on year, so I think the challenge is to get business owners/leaders to invest more money into their events and take a few more risks, particularly on those annual events that have been established over a number of years and therefore need to be kept fresh to keep sponsors interested.
8 Any words of wisdom for those wanting to get ahead in the industry?
Words of wisdom from me, am I at the age now where I can offer wisdom!?! Be nosy and inquisitive, get involved with anything and everything and be as helpful to everyone as you can be. You never know what doors will open!