By Neon Entertainment Agent, Stephanie Ishman
Since I started working at Neon four years ago, I’ve attended multiple conferences, both regional and national, and spoken with countless students. Besides the questions you’d naturally expect – How much is this event? Is so-and-so available on this date? – there is one question that I am asked on a fairly regular basis. How did you get your job?
A lot of students who join their school’s activities board aren’t just doing it because they need something to do on a Tuesday night or so that they can mingle with the artists who come to campus. They do it because they have a genuine interest in the entertainment or event-planning industry. And that, my friends, is the first step in breaking into the industry. You must have a genuine interest and passion in what you choose to pursue in your career. Otherwise, what’s the point? (Yeah, yeah – making money, I know. But there are a lot of high paying jobs out there if that’s your only goal.)
Next up – figuring out which side of the industry you would like to work on primarily. If you would like to continue with the actual event-planning process, there are a lot of options. You could follow in your advisor’s footsteps and become a Coordinator, Assistant Director, or Director of Student Activities. Just know that this track often requires more schooling. Most of these positions will require a Master’s degree if not a Ph.D. Activities won’t be your only duty, either. The reason that these positions require a higher degree is all the rest of the items on your daily to-do list. You’ll be expected to meet with students, counsel them if necessary, and take part in the Student Affairs world as a whole. If you’re burnt out on school, you could explore other event planning positions. Look into the different community arts centers or theatres or even chambers of commerce in the area that you would like to live and work in. If none of those are tickling your fancy, think about opening your own event planning business. You could concentrate on a certain type of event – weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc.
There’s always the other side of the business as well, which include the agencies and artists that you work with at all these conferences and in your various planning needs. Within the agency side of things, you can work in marketing, sales, legal (contracts), or the creative aspects of the business. There are many of these agencies, and (as with pretty much anything), you can always open your own business if you have the entrepreneurial itch to do so. There are also different types of agencies. Agencies like Neon concentrate primarily on the college market. Agencies such as CAA or William Morris have a wider scope and work with everyone from colleges to larger venues.
Once you’ve made this decision, find someone to talk to! Your advisor is the perfect example if you’re thinking of following in their footsteps. Ask them your questions. They are more than willing to help you with this (in fact, it’s in their job description). If you’re thinking of coming to the agency side of things, ask an agent that you’ve worked with in the past. Or if you’ll be attending a NACA or APCA conference, ask them in person. We’re a friendly bunch for the most part, and we are willing to meet you for a lunch or coffee meeting and discuss your questions there. Email is always accepted, too.
OK, so you’ve figured out what your ideal position within the industry would be. Now it’s time to put in the work. GET INVOLVED. GAIN EXPERIENCE. Get that position on the executive board of your school’s programming committee. Volunteer at other events going on in your area. Plan events in other clubs that you participate in. Internships are invaluable. Try to get one in your local area in either event planning or the agency side. And keep in mind, no one said you’re limited to just one internship. Personally, I interned at both the Community Arts Center in my college town and at an agency. Granted, I did have to spend the summer in another city for that internship, but it gave me some great experience and gave this country girl a taste of living in a big city. That experience led me to have an idea of both the job I might like and the type of area where I might like to live.
When it comes time to actually apply for positions, first things first – Update that resume. Write a cover letter. And for the love of all that is good, if you customize the cover letter, make sure that you customize it correctly for each person/business that you send it to. There’s nothing worse than hitting send on that email and then realizing that you never changed the business name or the person’s name. Minus one for you.
Apply multiple places. Check the social media for different businesses. Network. Try to talk to as many people as you can. If that business isn’t hiring, maybe they know someone who is and can give you an idea of where to go next or a recommendation.
Remember that it probably won’t all just fall into your lap. Some agencies are small and only hire once in a blue moon. Others are large and hire frequently (although you may have to work your way up the corporate ladder). Persistence is key. If you feel like this is what you want to do with your life, don’t give up. It may take a while, but something will come along.
Just remember, as my mom always says: What’s meant for you will not go past you. It will all work out for the best in the end.