Job file: conference producer

by regananddean-user

What is a conference producer?

A fascinating blend of research, planning, people skills and intuitive management, Conference Producers are professionals that take ultimate responsibility for the success of an individual or series of events by making sure the intellectual content is right.

A good Conference Producer will have an input into virtually every aspect of a Conference's development, from inception, through marketing to eventual delivery. They are often the primary stakeholder as to the essential details and components, and as such must have a keen eye for detail in addition to being able to look at the bigger picture.

A Conference Producer's life is governed by deadlines, relationships and an innate ability to capture the imagination of the target audience. It can be an extremely exciting and rewarding career role for professionals with the right blend of skills and experience.

What do they do in the role?
As with many roles within Events, the ability to manage people and contacts is a key and primary skill, although the remit of a Conference Producer goes much further, and begins much earlier in the production stages, than that.

Initially, a Conference Producer gets involved in writing Conference proposals and creating the actual shape and content of the event itself, so meticulous research and planning is central to the role.

They will also play a large part in attracting relevant speakers and building relationships with industry people in order to be constantly aware of the burning topics and influences that could potentially translate into a compelling, rewarding and successful Conference.

Marketing experience is also important, in terms of being able to accurately define the event's target audience and create communications material that will appeal to them and instigate a desire to attend.

Finally, a Conference Producer will be present at the event itself, ensuring that the Conference flows smoothly, that the speakers are looked after, and that the planning process is executed flawlessly in practice.

Who might they work for?
A Conference Producer could conceivably work for any organisation that had a requirement for, or a business model that includes, the staging of commercial Conferences.

A commercial events company is a business that exists to deliver bespoke events aimed at certain industry and interest groups, such as the Utilities, Finance, Education and Legal professions. The overarching objective for companies like this is to attract paying delegates to ensure that the event is successful, well attended and makes money.

A publishing company may have a similar requirement for a Conference Producer, although their objective in staging an event might be slightly different. Publishers might run an event that relates specifically to one of their media titles and the interests of its readership, which fulfils a dual role of generating revenue whilst at the same time developing the media title brand itself as a key player in the industry.

A Conference Producer might also operate in a standalone capacity for an association or institution that has a less directly commercial objective behind the event, to ensure an engaging and relevant programme of events and content is generated by the association on behalf of its members.

The key to success for all these different types of Producer however, is the ability to manage events that feature content and speakers that the target market genuinely want to see.

Who do they deal with in the role?
Externally, a Conference Producer will need to be in regular contact with influential industry figures, who may be useful either as speakers themselves or as conduits to other people or commercial entities. This will enable the Conference Producer to keep a 'finger on the pulse', stay networked, and develop ideas for conferences that are proven to be interesting.

A good Producer will also be in regular contact with sponsors and potential sponsors, who may wish to target the same audience as your Conference, providing them with regular updates and opportunities where they may be able to get involved.

Internally, a Conference Producer will be constantly liasing with the Sales and Marketing teams to ensure that the marketing communications are being managed correctly and the sales figures for the event are strong. Invariably, the Conference Producer may well have an obligation to report to the board of directors, or senior management, in order that they may be presented with a top line summation of the event's practical and commercial progress.

The Producer will also link into the Operations team - who will be responsible for all logistical aspects of the event, the venue, catering etc. (In some companies the operations role may also fall to the Producer, but normally this is a separate function).

What skills, experience and qualifications are required?
A degree is normally required, although not essential, for any Producer position of responsibility, as it demonstrates to a certain extent (dependant on the degree) the ability to employ strong research techniques and abilities to a focused endpoint.

Good copywriting skills, excellent interpersonal skills and organisational skills are also core competencies that contribute to a successful candidacy. Above all else, however, solid industry experience (whether gained within the degree, reflective of a personal interest, or gained within past production experience) is highly prized, and will enable you to develop the confidence to deal with senior level contacts, also a critical skill.

Producers often develop areas of specialism in terms of the sectors they know - highly valued, some roles might demand this specialist knowledge as essential, but Production skills are normally viewed as transferable across sectors.

Career Path:
As with many roles, there is not always a straight, linear path towards becoming a proficient and respected Conference Producer. The traditional career path, however, consists of the following stages:

  • Junior Producer
  • Producer
  • Senior Producer
  • Conference Manager
  • Conference/Divisional Director

Producers will tend to 'grow through the ranks' of a company - but they may enter the profession at a higher level from other areas of specialist topic knowledge.

There is also a strong freelance market for Conference Producers. This can be a very attractive option provided that you have good experience gained at a recognised company.

What other roles are there out there similar to this?
Event Manager - some, although not all, Event Manager roles can require some Producing elements, particulary within Associations or similar content/interest-led organisations.

What are the Salary & benefits within the role?
An entry level salary begins around the £18K pa mark, rising to around £23-35K pa for a Conference Producer. An experienced Conference Manager/Director can expect to earn in the region of £35-45K pa.

Bonuses are normally part of the package based on the commercial success of the events produced, and can contribute significantly to a high OTE.

What's it really like: Diana Dixon
Diana Dixon has worked as a Conference Producer on behalf of some of the most successful commercial events companies in the UK. With over 10 years in the profession, Diana now produces conferences on a freelance basis.

What are the best and worst bits about being a Conference Producer?
“I think for me one of the best parts is the high degree of autonomy and diversity within the role. A good Conference Producer needs to be able to take responsibility for, and deliver, a great many elements simultaneously, such as forecasting, budgeting, planning, writing, arranging speakers, and briefing the marketing team, and I enjoy the challenge of balancing these diverse areas.

On the downside, there is a huge amount of stress and pressure in ensuring that these things are delivered and create a successful event. In Conference Production, there are very strict timelines, and if you lose time in one area, it will start to compress the other areas, such as marketing, due to the finite, project based nature of the work. If this starts to happen, it can impact on the success of the event.

Does the role suit a particular type of personality?
There is a duality about the role, a need to be both introvert, in order that you can focus on the research and writing aspect, but also a real extrovert, so that you can network, create an energy about the project and persuade the right speakers to participate. Similarly, you need to be able to balance an eye for detail with an ability to see the bigger picture, often at the same time. This is quite a tricky ability to have, although it becomes much easier and more intuitive with experience.

I think that there is a parallel in skills with journalism - the ability to research, write and call people up cold and get them involved are very much part of both jobs, and not everyone can do this. I am also very much a project person, and I like the fact that a Conference Producer role has a defined start and finish point.

What do you think is hard about the role?
The job can be very frustrating at times, if a speaker pulls out of an engagement at short notice for example, this can be pretty stressful, particularly if you have already sent the conference programme to print. The industry is also pretty competitive, with many different people trying to put on conferences for the same sorts of people at the same time. This can lead to some fairly intense rivalry, which can be quite draining.

How did you get into Conference Production?
I started off working at (broadcasting company) ITV, before joining IBC, which then became Informa (commercial conferencing company). Working for two of the best agencies gave me a lot of valuable and varied experience, and also enabled me to travel, which can be a real perk of the profession, particularly when you are just starting out in your career.

Best lessons learnt/best advice could give
If you are new to the role, try to gain experience working within a larger, more reputable company that provides good training programmes. You may well get thrown in at the deep end, but concentrate on developing your writing ability, people skills, contacts and self-belief. Everything gets easier with experience.