Sharon Madden Head of Events at AECOM and previous ICEAWARD winner is not just a party planner!
A big thank you to Sharon for finding time between fracturing her foot, twice...at yoga! to tell us a bit about her career to date.
1 Head of Events must be a huge responsibility, tell me a bit more about your role.
I head up events for our Europe, Middle East, India and Africa region, which in practical terms means that I work on all large cross geography, cross market sector events for both staff and clients, and all leadership events. These can be conferences, dinners, drinks receptions, sponsorships and exhibitions. My role involves all planning, but also ensuring that any event we hold or get involved with, fits into our marketing and business strategies.
There are only two of us in events and so I work closely with marketing and other colleagues, acting as an advisor on events that we don’t directly manage.
We have also recently moved into amazing office space that AECOM designed and is considered a showcase office. As such we host many events and I work closely with our fantastic onsite catering team to ensure seamless delivery.
2 What do you enjoy most?
The variety, the constant challenges, the opportunities to be creative within a planning role, the fast paced nature of the role but also the sheer adrenalin rush you get from being onsite and seeing all the hard work come together into something that you see people enjoy, or take away new ideas and a revitalised energy back to their teams. Even if you’re planning an annual event, it’s always a challenge to continue to improve it and make it better than it was the year before.
3 What is the best career advice you’ve been offered?
Decide what you want to do, break it down into steps and go equip yourself to get there. This might mean taking on challenges that make you uncomfortable, or gaining knowledge that is not necessarily directly focused on your job, but indicates an interest in the company….and do something you enjoy.
4 To get to where you are now, what has been your biggest challenge?
When I started out in events, the role of events manager was not taken very seriously as a profession, particularly in-house...the ‘party planner’. There was a lack of understanding of the complexities of the role and that a well planned and executed event adds great value. I think this perception has changed a lot.
5 In your view, what makes a good leader?
Someone who has a clear and practical vision of where we are going and is passionate about what we do, yet will listen to others’ opinions and knows that it is teamwork that will get us there. And of course, it almost goes without saying, someone who also has integrity!
6 How do you continue to develop yourself and your skills?
I am a member of EMA and try to attend as many of their seminars as possible. I belong to communities such as ICEOnline and attend the ICE awards to learn from other event managers, and attend tradeshows such as BNC Show and SquareMeal when I can. Plus reading publications such as C&IT.
7 What do you see as the biggest challenge for the industry at the moment?
It’s pretty much the same story as in previous years, smaller budgets but higher expectations from leadership and attendees; keeping on top of all the digital and technological advances in events; and continuing to ensure that we are demonstrating return on interest and delivery of business objectives in all that we do.
On a more personal note, I also feel that there is a general lack of career opportunities for more senior in-house events people.
8 Any words of wisdom for those wanting to get ahead in the industry?
Gain practical experience wherever you can. Help arrange your school/college/university events, give your time to charity events. Demonstrate proactivity when pursuing an events role. Much as I love being in-house, I think working in an agency initially will give a far great spread of events experience in different sectors and roles are generally more plentiful.