Trinity House’s Zoe Turner on her MA in event management

After more than 20 years in the hospitality industry, Zoë Turner joined London venue Trinity House in 2006. Over the subsequent 13 years she has overseen thousands of events – everything from corporate board meetings and dinners to product launches and exhibitions.

Over a two-year period in 2016/17, she completed an MA in Event Management at the University of Greenwich, while simultaneously holding down her job at Trinity House. She was subsequently awarded a Certificate of Distinction, and received the highest mark in her class for her dissertation. M&IT caught up with her to find out how she did it – and what an academic qualification can bring to an event professional’s career.

What made you decide, after so many years of practical experience at a senior level in event management, that you would benefit from an academic qualification in this industry?
I wanted to validate and advance my knowledge of the events industry further. Practical event management seemed disengaged from the academic events industry somehow – I wanted to understand both aspects and felt my career would benefit from having more a comprehensive knowledge.

What topics and key areas of management and operation did the course cover in those two years?
The course included strategic financial management, sponsorship proposal writing, relationship marketing, innovations and enterprise and, of course, the planning, management and execution of an event. We could choose any event-related topic for our dissertation and I chose to write on ‘The Role of Events in the Sustainable Management of Historic Buildings’ because this is so relevant to my work at Trinity House.

Trinity House entrance

Trinity House entrance.

What made you select this university/degree and how much research did you undertake before committing? How much time did you need to commit to gaining this qualification?
I looked at three London universities and the University of Greenwich seemed to have the best course structure. Many senior board members at Trinity House also attended the University of Greenwich (when it was still the Royal Naval College) so it seemed appropriate from that perspective as well. I made the decision to get out of it as much as I possibly could so I committed every spare minute to the course for the whole two years required… When I wasn’t at work, I was reading, writing assignments or in classes. I had virtually no social life at all for two years!

Were you worried about undertaking such a time-consuming quest while holding down a busy, full-time job? How did your employers respond?
I was not worried at the time because I had no idea how much work would be involved. Once I started the course, I realised how much I had underestimated this aspect but I was committed and determined to make it work. My employers were very supportive when I first broached the idea and remained so throughout, for which I am grateful. Difficulties sometimes arose when there were classes mid-week, as these are the busiest days for events. In hindsight, it might have been an idea to take on an intern.

What have you found to be the benefits of completing the qualification?
Completing the degree and gaining a Distinction – and the highest mark in the class for my dissertation – has certainly boosted my confidence. After the pressure over two years of such an intense academic and practical workload (causing disruptive sleep patterns), I can now relax when I’m not at work and life is a lot more enjoyable. Although it was very demanding, I’m glad I persisted and am more aware and appreciative of my own capabilities and endurance.

Would you recommend other event managers to consider doing something similar?
I would definitely recommend other practitioners/events professionals to take up further formal education as it can be an enlightening experience. Undertaking an academic course opens up the mind and encourages participants to think differently – consider things from another perspective. The assignments encourage students to explore diverse aspects of the industry not encountered on a day-to-day basis. It’s also an excellent way to meet people wanting to get into the industry – there can be no better way to determine someone’s ability and commitment than working alongside them.

What suggestions do you have for the industry?

Both sides of the events industry (academic and applied) should work more closely together for mutual benefit. Most students are young and inexperienced so practical internships should be a mandated element of the qualification process. I also think that some form of research undertaken for a company by the student/intern as part of the qualification should be incorporated – it is not easy to get a ‘foot in the door’ for graduates and this is one way to prove ability. It would encourage students to try harder and also be of practical help to the prospective employer.

For such a hands-on vocation like event management, the perceived opinion is that it’s more beneficial to gain as much early experience as possible; that this is imperative for a career in events. It’s true that experience can tell a future employer more than a certificate about a candidate’s immediate ability, but completing a formal qualification equips a professional with a much wider range of skills and allows him/her to explore and develop a specific area of interest within the industry. However, while university doesn’t provide young professionals with hands-on experience in event management, it’s definitely worth considering after professionals reach a certain stage to round out their careers.