As a little girl, if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I probably would have responded with a dream typical of any child: a princess, a super hero, maybe even an astronaut. Fast forward to today and I’m none of these things because as I grew up, so did my career aspirations. (Above, Susan Wormald discusses the program with a hotel staffer.)
Working as an operations manager for a destination management company has been a part of my life for 30 years and I would definitely call it my “dream job.” But I often hear the groans of colleagues who question my motivation for entering into such a chaotic career field. My response is the same every time: “If done right, there’s no chaos in my day.”
On its face, destination management requires a lot of creativity. But after the sales department transfers the program to operations, it must transition to more strategic planning.
And so it begins…
My job begins with an initial meeting that we call the "turnover meeting." Everyone from sales, account management, IT and operations will come together to discuss the project. We must understand the goals of the client and the purpose of the attendees, as well as have a working knowledge of the financial pieces of the program. Additionally, we must work closely with our vendors and communicate their role within the program. All of the puzzle pieces eventually come together in a very methodical way.
Once the initial turnover meeting is done, I can start strategizing on a plan. While we strive to execute the program as sold by the account executive, we also have to exceed the client’s expectations --and nothing motivates me more than exceeding expectations. This is the point in the process where I begin to feel like an orchestra conductor as I coordinate all the pieces to eventually compose a successful performance. After leading this process for many years now, I have found there are three main components to successful event operations:
1) Be communicative: I find that if I am constantly disseminating information to vendors, hoteliers and field staff in a clear and concise way, they are bound to be successful. Having strong relationships with all facets not only makes communicating easy for me, but also allows me to trust that each will do what they’re supposed to do on the day of the event. Communicating effectively with all of the people involved in this process helps in producing a flawless event, as well as building great relationships.
2) Be accessible: Part of being a strategic planner is being accessible. Attending site visits, client meetings and conference calls helps me to have an in-depth understanding of client expectations as well as any particular hot-buttons.
3) Be prepared: The day of any event, I am the first to arrive and the last to leave. Working behind the scenes to make my clients look good or being prepared for any problems that might arise is the type of work that energizes me. As a successful operations manager at a DMC, I am an analytical thinker and a creative problem-solver. While I prep and plan for weeks or months, I am always prepared for any type of issue on the day of the event, and I strategically work my way through it. I have to ensure I have direction and management over everyone involved in the process, which could be anything from making sure the field staff has radios, to securing a manifest for the transportation vendor. On this day, I find that preparation is my best friend.
It’s not over ‘til it’s over...
Being the last to leave an event still doesn’t mark the end of my work for a client. Every project I work on has to come full circle, ending with a program recap for everyone involved from the client or the hotel to the event venue and internal contacts. My feedback to our Account Managers and Account Executives is always helpful for future events. We can see what went right, what needed work and how we can improve for the future.
Although I have worked in the industry for 30 years, I want each client to have a unique and individualized experience. That’s a huge reason we use the Whole Brain Approach at 360 Destination Group. While the creative side of a project is important to any event I work on, the operations of each project is crucial to turning a basic program into an “experience.” So the next time you meet an Operations Manager and immediately want to ask how she deals with the pandemonium, remember, done correctly, a savvy Operations Manager’s job actually prevents the chaos!
Susan Wormald, CMP, is the director of operations at 360 Destination Group in Orange County, Calif. She has been working in the event and meeting industry for nearly 30 years. 360 Destination Group has been included on the Special Events "25 Top DMCs" list.
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