How to Run Your In-House Event Team Like an Agency

Lance Wieland of Boston Consulting Group shares tips on how to be more entrepreneurial, what to look for in new hires, how to provide value, and investing in your team’s skills.

Key Takeaways:

  • Develop an entrepreneurial mindset: What if your company didn’t have to choose the in-house team?
  • Hire staff who are intuitive, flexible, and comfortable taking charge.
  • Find out how the event host is measuring R.O.I. and build the event around delivering is that.

At Boston Consulting Group, the corporate events team has a very different relationship with the rest of the company than most in-house teams do at other firms: They’re optional. Other departments can choose to work with the in-house team or hire an outside agency. As a result, the BCG team is motivated to provide superior service and value to win its own company’s business.

It’s this competition—gaining and keeping customers—that requires event teams to be innovative to keep their jobs.

Lance Wieland, BCG’s global meeting services director, leads a team of 35 people around the world who support about 500 meetings a year. They deliver event management services such as meetings technology, sourcing, planning, strategy, and more.

As part of the Event Leadership Institute’s Event Masters series, Wieland shared how he builds a customer-service mindset and other management tips that are useful for any type of event professional. Read on for highlights from the conversation.

Working Without a Mandate Removes the Safety Net

At BCG, there is no guaranteed flow of work for the in-house event team because no one is mandated to use it. Wieland said he prefers this entrepreneurial approach and has chosen to operate without a mandate in previous jobs. It’s up to his team to provide “expertise in service and excellence in delivery.”

“We all have customers. And if our customers stop doing business with us, we lose our jobs,” Wieland said. “Knowing that helps sharpen what you want to accomplish and helps focus the team on doing the right thing.”

What Traits to Look For in New Hires

“We hire for a service mentality,” Wieland said. That means people who are comfortable taking charge and making decisions. He looks for people who are: 

  • Smart
  • Intuitive
  • Flexible
  • Comfortable taking charge
  • Calm in face of emergency

Like an agency, he also looks for “a sense of presence and presentation” to talk with customers and vendors. And they need “really good digital skills.”

Because BGC events are multicultural by the nature of our attendees, team members have to be respectful of those differences. “They’re willing to observe and pay attention and adjust as they need to,” Wieland said.

Ask What Your Clients Want

It’s a simple but often overlooked step. What’s their goal? What services do they need? Since some units within BGC have their own event staffs, Wieland’s team may only be offering support such as advice on contracts. Other times, they are providing full event management. Knowing what they need—but also educating them on what you are able to provide—will help you meet their immediate needs and perhaps grow the business in the future.

“If you have a customer that trusts you and you have a seat at the table, as we say at BCG, there’s an opportunity to guide them,” Wieland said. “There’s an opportunity that gives you a sense of ownership, a sense of satisfaction.”

It’s also essential to know how they are measuring ROI. At a trade show, that may be a specific metric. Other industries may identify a softer ROI, like brand positioning. “It is really understanding what your executive team really wants,” Wieland said. “Getting to understand that and use that as your north star can guide the delivery of your service.”

Accept Feedback and Fix Mistakes Quickly

Good event teams own mistakes and fix them immediately. “We make mistakes. but when we do, it’s on us,” Wieland said. “We want our customers to be happy. The level of responsiveness to taking mistakes and correcting them is super high.”

Initially in the novel coronavirus pandemic, clients were patient as meetings went virtual and forgiving of tech glitches and other issues. That’s changed. “Patience has worn out. We’re in this now for a while,” Wieland said. “There is absolutely the expectation that these programs are delivered as professionals as any physical one was.”

Invest in Your Team’s Skills

In the wake of the pandemic, about 20 members of Wieland’s team completed the Event Leadership Institute’s Virtual Event & Meeting Management certification course while others sought other certifications and training. “We’ve taken the opportunity to invest in education and up-skill that team,” he said.

A difficult strategic decision is deciding whether event planners should stay with a client year after year, building trust and institutional knowledge, or rotate through projects to gain new skills and experience. Wieland called it “the ultimate question” but says clients often favor retaining the same team. Still, managers should look for opportunities to cross-train employees to add skills.

“The core principle of what we do every day stays the same,” he said. “That adds stability to our mission. But the reality is how we go about delivering service and creating value is vastly different than it was a year ago or five years ago.”

Continuing education can take the shape of courses like those offered by the Event Leadership Institute or more informal time spent looking for sources of inspiration. “Give yourself time to focus on the strategy of the business,” he advised.

To Move Up, Learn How to Talk Business

If your goal is to lead a corporate event team, you need to speak the language of executives. Know your sales figures, customer footprint, and where you have saved the company money.

“It’s about being a business manager, not an events manager,” Wieland said. “If the language that we use and the tactics we use resonate across the senior executive team, then there’s confidence that you’ll run the business [well].”

“The conversations I have with my boss are about philosophy and strategy. have those types of conversations to give them the direction they need to drive their own decisions.”

ELI Members can watch and listen to the entire conversation: Lance Wieland of BCG: Running a Corporate Events Department for more insights. 

Not a member? Our affordable membership program begins at $25, with multiple member-exclusives, including access to conversations with event leaders..