IN the special event business since 1973, Andrea Michaels — president of Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Extraordinary Events — has seen the business grow from a little-known specialty to a full-blown profession, and her Gala Awards program for January's The Special Event in Los Angeles dramatically demonstrated her expertise in the field. Now she's assisting special event new-comers by providing something she herself never received: guidance. Michaels plans to offer an in-the-field special event education through a mentor program, which she is now developing. Read on to discover the knowledge Michaels can pass on thanks to more than 30 years in the business.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: Why are you starting a mentor program?
ANDREA MICHAELS: I think that the wealth of knowledge amassed by me and my peers can help build a solid foundation for the next generation of event professionals, one that is based on an unwritten code of principles and standards that create a strong, ethical and profitable future. To that end I want to begin a formal mentoring program that can be expanded as time goes by. As it stands now, it will be twofold. One: We will work with industry associations and universities to find students and entry-level professionals who want on-the-job training. Two: We want to create a more formalized job-exchange program with other professionals.
This is personal training as an apprentice, possibly with class credit, if appropriate. The apprentice will work with one of Extraordinary Events' senior staff on one or possibly more events for a set time. Along the way, we will meet to discuss progress and learning experiences. The apprentice's strengths and weaknesses will be fairly ascertained, and guidance will be given for improvement if needed. From these apprenticeships I hope to build a series of case studies, which will benefit others who may wish to implement similar programs, as well as create articles and possibly even a book that will benefit the industry.
As for the job exchange, we have done this already with companies in New York, Canada and Germany. They mentored one of our teams with their events, and we did the same for their people. In this way both companies benefited and were strengthened with an influx of new ideas and operational methods as well as general company philosophies.
Q: What sort of background is best for aspiring event planners attempting to enter the special event industry?
A: The best background is an internship, attending all industry meetings and events, and paying your dues to learn from the best. Ethics to me is the single most important element.
Q: Did you have any mentors in the event industry?
A: I really didn't. When I entered the world of special events, the industry didn't even exist. If anything, I listened to my accountants and lawyers.
Q: What might newcomers to the industry learn from your outstanding Gala Awards program at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A.?
A: We did just about everything one could do in the way of an event: F&B, decor, venue selection, entertainment, headliners, graphics, audiovisual, stage management — and the list goes on. I personally wrote the script and designed the entire evening.
What [newcomers] can learn: Hold true to simplicity. You don't need to throw in every vegetable known to man and create minestrone soup. Even if it's donated, [it] doesn't mean that it's right for that particular event. You are allowed to say “no,” even to peers.
Buy the best help money can buy, and if there's no money, hire that help anyway and pay for it. It makes or breaks you.