Is event management a "profession" yet? I have been pondering this question since I personally entered the field in 1985. Coming up to 2019, I would have to honestly say NO, it is not. Here is why - and for simplicity, I'm going to use my own original profession, engineering, for comparison.
- The field is fragmented. Practitioners can be found in several different categories, each of which has their own advocacy organization and certification. Some of these include: International Live Events Association for special events (which could mean anything these days and I have written about this extensively in my books - CSEP certification); International Festivals and Events Association for festivals (CFEE certification); International Association of Exhibitions and Events for expositions and trade shows (CEM certification); Meeting Professionals International, Professional Convention Management Association, and Association of Meetings Professionals, all for meetings and conferences (CMP certification for all these). In engineering, a true profession, there is only one advocacy body per geographical jurisdiction (e.g. state or province) for all types of engineering, whether it be mechanical, civil, structural, materials, aeronautical, or any other. Certainly some amalgamation has taken place in event management but not nearly enough to consider the field united.
- Certification and advocacy are self-serving. The certification process began in most of these advocacy bodies as many as thirty-plus years ago. At that time - and even today - the advocacy was and is self-serving. It appears to be done for superficial reasons and almost entirely to financially support the individual organizations themselves rather than to make the "profession" more responsible to the public and the individual members' clients. In engineering, the professional association is more attuned to advocating for the general public and members' clients in its role as a "watchdog" with strong disciplinary powers.
- Basic education requirements for entering the field are set at too low a standard. In most cases, no basic formal education is required to be granted a certification. In engineering, in every case, at least a university undergraduate degree in engineering is required, or the equivalent in experience. In these cases, the experience requirement is much more stringent than for the field of event management. As well, harder and more all-encompassing exams must be passed to be considered for certification than are given in the event management field.
- There is no public respect for this field. Most of the general public still views event managers as "party planners" no matter what the size or complexity of the event. Until there is extensive public education and media coverage, this perception likely will not change.
- There is a breath-taking gap between the theoretical side of events (i.e. those who study events from the point of view of such other professions as psychology, anthropology, history, and sociology among others) and the practical side of events (i.e. event managers). Currently it is mostly university scholars in various disciplines who pursue research in events and then publish their findings unbeknownst to the vast majority of practitioners, the very ones who should be the recipients of this knowledge. Theory in any profession must inform practice. Indeed, engineering requires that registered professional engineers maintain currency in the latest theories and advances in their field of endeavour.
- Professional conferences do not exist. This is going to raise the hackles of many readers. The conferences that are generally available in the event management field are also self-serving. For the most part, they are hosted by such organizations as the aforementioned biased advocacy bodies and/or industry magazines, both of whose main purpose is to make money for themselves. I have been watching the topics offered at such conferences over the years and find that they continue to re-invent themselves in different forms but the content seldom advances theoretical knowledge about events. That is again because the purpose is to make money and the attendees to a large extent do not have a basic theoretical grounding, as do professional engineers. Somehow this has to change if event management is ever to be considered a profession. The academics must be invited to practitioner conferences, and vice versa. Sure, attendees may hear about the latest and greatest smartphone app for registering event attendees or the "in" colour for chair covers for this year, but do they hear about the latest theories in crowd movement predictions? Are they made aware of how important ritual is in event design? Do they know the psychological impact of different types of music on listeners and event attendees? Definitely not. Which topics are more important to the well-being of the event-going public - the colours of chair covers or how audiences may be affected by crowds, rituals, or music?
- Questionable ethics abound. The industry remains rife with kickbacks, referral commissions, favouritism, and intellectual property theft. Without a respected regulatory body with disciplinary authority this will never go away.
- Risk management still leaves a lot to be desired, especially with public events. Every year major disasters continue to occur all over the world, in many cases resulting in death and serious injuries to event attendees and employees. This must be dealt with. It would never be allowed to happen to the same extent in the engineering profession. Of the few times when it has happened, deterrent penalties have been extremely severe.
How, then, does the industry advance to being considered a true profession? Here are a few ideas to start with.
- The industry must "get over itself." It's not a high school clique or a contest for the best looking and most outgoing person. Only the most professional companies should succeed. To this end, restrictions must be put on entry to the profession. The most basic of these should be a requirement for an undergraduate university degree, with programs that are multi-disciplinary.
- Advocacy organizations across the industry must amalgamate into a single entity responsible for certifying practitioners and organizing official industry conferences whose primary goal is to advance knowledge, especially theoretical knowledge.
- This single entity must further be given the authority - with the public's blessing and encouragement - to discipline breaches of industry ethics, particularly anything to do with safety.
- Consideration should be given by all industry sectors to re-naming the discipline as "event studies." Within this discipline must fall all education, including all existing courses and programs in "event management" given at universities, community colleges, and conferences, but adding courses from other disciplines as they relate to events, including anthropology, history, psychology, sociology, and even religious studies, economics and others.
- A cross-industry public education program must begin as soon as possible to explain what event managers do and why they are needed as the professional overseers of events.
Who should instigate these changes? Maybe that question is better worded as "Who has the courage to instigate these changes?" Anybody can do it, but if it is someone from within the industry, there may be consequences in terms of getting contracts or staying employed. At the very least, I think it should be a topic of conversation at all future conferences, which also may be hard, considering the sponsors of the conferences. Maybe the best person is someone like me who has nothing to lose and can view the industry from an unbiased, external point of view. I would welcome the opportunity to present my ideas at any industry gathering.