What I Learned When… I chose a Career in Events

NEWS | 2 May 2024

Hayley Smith | Global Client Services Director

I left University with an event management degree from Bournemouth. It was the Uni’s debut year of the course and for me, the beginning of many firsts I’d like to share with anyone thinking of a career in events.

In college, the travel & tourism course had an event management module. I set up a casino night in Henley Town Hall and realised I’d found my niche. I excel at direction, apparently 🙂 and when the Bournemouth event management course launched, I knew I couldn’t ignore the opportunity.

Event courses were known as the party planning degree and only three universities offered the degree at the time, all offering little on the production and management side. I wanted to ensure that I had a commercial focus to the degree and would recommend to anyone looking to get into events to take a look at the syllabus and make sure it offers the skill-set you need.  

Out of uni, glossy degree in hand, I went straight to an events company that specialised in defence and aerospace. The agency was niche, creating conferences and exhibitions in partnership with global defence forces from Malaysia to the US and Saudi Arabia. This was my next learning curve and supports my next piece of advice to anyone looking for a career in events; try to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. You don’t know what you can achieve until you try. That’s what I realised, presenting to Heads of Defence in my early twenties, that most things are possible if you just give them a go. 

At the time, I was tasked with the organisation and strategy of bringing events to different regions to support their latest tenders and requirements. For example, when the Royal Malaysian Air Force were looking for their next generation fighter we knew that events in this region would be well placed to support companies such as BAE, SAAB, Lockheed Martin & Boeing with their bid strategies. I remember sitting in front of the Chief of the Malaysian Navy at the age of 25 and pitching event opportunities for their region! Sometimes I look back and smile at how fearless I was; I’d only been at the agency a few weeks when I had to find the right speakers for conferences and ended up on a call to Nasa!

After 6 years I left as Head of Events and started working for 2Heads in 2016. What attracted me when I was interviewed was the clear career path and the aligned clients. I was also given the choice of going client side or project side? This is an important consideration when planning your career in events as both worlds have their pros and cons. For me, I chose the client side because I wanted a greater breadth of understanding around how brands work and my skills suited a commercial growth mindsight. I also didn’t want to travel quite as much as I used to 🙂

This piece of advice I can not stress enough; really think about what element of event management you actually enjoy. For me, I found the business-led helicopter thinking fascinating and my interest lies more in the overall success of the events. Knowing that, Paul, our MD, guided me on how to manage contracts of growing size from Taj Hotels, AIR BP, Flight Safety and Pilatus through to 328, now Deutsche Aircraft. 

One of my first new business wins at 2Heads was for the Rolls-Royce global show programme. The pitch was different to anything I’d worked on before and marked a change in the industry for me. Rolls-Royce didn’t just make their decisions on creative but on who we are as a business, how we run a supply chain and how we manage risk. This is ‘events’ at their most serious and reflect their importance to a brand’s success. 

For me, the importance of events to international industry is one of the things I love. The Rolls-Royce win was a game-changer for 2Heads. The account cemented us as an agency to reckon with in our peer’s eyes and laid the groundwork for the agency to scale up to manage a global account like Airbus. In 2018, we won Airbus’ environment at HAI Heli Expo in Las Vegas, our largest scale win to date and a left-field decision from Airbus, but taken because they loved our creative and our team.

In 2018 and after delivering HAI, my first son Arlo was born followed by my second son Bowie in March 2021. It can be hard to be in events as a mum as the industry is not 9 to 5. Global clients have global timescales and you are always ‘on’ – juggling guilt of not being there and the worry about work. Luckily the industry is more accepting now and flexible working has been life-changing; being able to be present and pick your kid up from school has made the events industry far more attractive option to female professionals. Another piece of advice; the multi-tasking of events actually suits a working parent as it leans into strengths; we are more efficient and cut-throat on time management!

Our relationship with Airbus was evolving before the pandemic but our focus on how we reacted to showcase technology during the covid years became a turning point with our Airbus relationship. 2021 was the big turning point with our first pavilion in Dubai, and then onto the Farnborough International Airshow event. The home show for 2Heads and a compelling win for the team. How to handle the pressure? The Airbus presence at FIA came with a lot of responsibility, we had a very strong Airbus team but this event was commercially important for all parties involved. My advice; mitigate risk as soon as you can, plan for commercial success and have a strategy for problem solving on site. 

The planning paid off and FIA 2022 was iconic but so was the heatwave we had to build it in! It was amazing. A pinnacle of my career to date and it showed all the naysayers that we could smash it. The main thing though was the success for Airbus, which paved the road to Paris Air show, Airbus’ home. Stakes were again high but we had all the learnings from FIA that we could migrate to make the PAS event even more successful. And what are those secrets to success? More digital thinking is needed in events, with bespoke technology that goes beyond gimmicks. And more brand experience linked to commercial thinking; all brands have a growth cycle and comms team really do want to recognise what events bring success for them so work with them as partners to invest in what generates ROI. 

So what’s next? We are a top agency in aviation. We are extending contracts for our existing brand portfolio and are now working with some amazing new brands like Qatar Airways. So now it’s time for nurture. My focus is on teams and talent within the business. We are a leader in this area and we have such a breadth of knowledge we can use to train up the next generation of fresh talent from placement, unis and colleges. This nurturing also brings in new ways of working, communicating and efficiencies with technology and processes. 

I’m actively building a team based on eager people who want to pivot into events, either from college, university or other industries. For anyone thinking of joining the event and experiential industry, don’t ever doubt yourself.  Be brave, you will learn on the job, and of course check out our job opportunities on our website. 

About Hayley

Hayley is our Global Client Services Director, responsible for the account directors across our international offices. An expert in commercial event strategy, Hayley is also the key stakeholder for the our aviation industry brands. Partnering with brands like Airbus and Qatar Airways, she has been responsible for creating some of the most standout and award-winning events and experience of recent years.