Key Considerations When Hiring Event Staff

Written by Allan Stark

Allan Stark is the Vice President of GCG Event Partners, a nationwide network of Independent Meeting Planners and On-Site Meeting Managers. After a career in engineering, he earned an MBA from Suffolk University in Boston and entered the events industry in 1995. Allan lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with his wife, Elizabeth, and their Labrador Retriever, Sadie. In his free time, he enjoys outdoor adventures and improving their house.

September 9, 2022

You’re planning a live event or meeting and need “onsite” temporary event personnel or professionals to either supplement your company’s staff or to completely manage and execute the meeting without anyone from your company traveling to the meeting or event.  Where do you find the right people for your event?

What type of Event Temps or Event Staff? What will they be doing?

Roles and titles in the event industry can be quite overlapping.  Planning and execution of events or meetings can be divided in many different ways.  Temporary Event Managers and Temporary Meeting Planners can be engaged for different phases of the event.

In my opinion, when you are handing off your hard planning work to someone else to execute the “on-site” or even if you are just adding to your on-site team, you’ll get better results from an industry professional with a similar skill set. Possibly an event professional with more specialized experience, someone who has chosen to focus on event execution.  They’ll make you look good, understand your instructions on a more in-depth level, understand your concerns, are more likely to be able to resolve issues that arise, and they’ll make your event more of a success.

Our top roles for temporary event professionals are:

  • Temporary Meeting Planners
  • Temporary Event Planners
  • Temporary Meeting Managers
  • Temporary Event Manager

Freelancers in the event industry also go by several other titles, some with varying degrees of experience and skill.  Other common roles/titles are:

  • Event Coordinators
  • Brand Ambassadors
  • Greeters
  • Booth Staff
  • Travel Directors
Help Wanted: Temporary Meeting Planners, Temporary Event Planners, Temporary Meeting Mangers, Temporary Event Managers, Event Coordinators, Brand Ambassadors, Booth Staff, Travel Directors

There are other event staff roles that may require specialized qualifications like waiters, servers, bartenders, catering staff, audio-visual technicians, technology specialists and even security personnel. There are also some event staff that are simply labor-based like setup/breakdown laborers, etc.

3 important considerations for hiring Event Professionals

Hiring event staff is unlike hiring into a permanent position or hiring for a position within the company. Here are three important considerations when you are deciding where and how to hire event staff or professionals:

  1. Meetings and events happen at a set date and time. Let’s face it, you don’t have the luxury of pushing back the schedule, the event must happen as scheduled.
  2. The show must go on whether your temp staff have arrived or not! Reliability and track record are important, but more importantly, do you have an alternate plan? Most meeting planners are masterful with last minute problems, but who needs the extra stress of missing on-site personnel?
  3. Event staff and temps ARE the people your attendees interact with. They can have an impact, either positive or negative, on how your attendees feel about your event.

How to staff your event?  Internal or outsource?

Meeting Planners must first decide if they will use their internal staff or if they will hire outsourced temporary event personnel.  There are pros and cons to each approach.

Using your own employees or colleagues to staff an event

There are pros of using internal personnel to staff events:

  • Product or company knowledge
  • Travel seen as a perk
  • A reliable team that works together
  • Personnel budget not part of the meeting budget
There are, however, some big cons of using internal personnel, assuming that your colleagues and/or employees are not full-time event staff hired to travel to meetings, events, or trade shows.

  • Opportunity cost – While out at the meeting, what important tasks, client calls, or other responsibilities are put on the back burner, missed, or handled poorly and quickly while the staff member is working the meeting? Are they juggling between the meeting and their day to day?
  • Travel costs and risks – Travel can be expensive and now on top of that, do we consider illness and risk to the company? Impact to the company?
  • Fatigue – Do your employees or colleagues see traveling to the meeting or show as positive or negative? Do they tell you the truth? They are away from family, friends, and having work pile up on their desk. Doing several meetings? Are you wearing out your internal assets?
  • Experience And Meeting Skills – Are your staff skilled and experienced in working at meetings and events? It’s a different environment, it’s temporary, it’s not their typical day to day. Time to step back and assess what’s really important and what the skill sets are.

Outsourced temporary event staff or freelancers

Your team is onsite at the event, but who is doing their work?
Your team stays in the office, but can you trust the people onsite?
There are pros to hiring outsourced event staff:

  • Event pros are comfortable and experienced in meeting and event venues
  • Greatly reduced travel costs
  • Prevents internal staff fatigue
  • Eliminates opportunity cost
  • Allows for more meetings and events
  • Allows for a more densely packed event calendar
There are also cons to hiring event staff

  • Temps can be an unknown
  • Staff might not be reliable or experienced
  • Personnel costs are typically attributed to the Meeting Budget

Use a DIY listing site or app

There are numerous websites and apps that have freelancer or gig workers listed on them. A few examples would be:

    There are many others, each with its pluses and minuses. These are definitely trendy and new and at times may fit the bill.  As compared to agencies, these sites can seem like affordable options, why is that?  From my experience, it’s because there is a lot missing. Now you as the meeting planner take on the role of placement manager, recruiter, and HR manager. It’s a much more labor-intensive option even with a well-designed listing service:

    • Searching, scheduling, interviewing, and vetting now falls on you.
    • Replacing no shows, dealing with personality conflicts now falls on you.
    • Paying and being in compliance with labor laws can now possibly fall on you.

    Just like when you DIY at home to save some bucks, DIY for event staffing can save money. But at what cost? Is this the right path for your event, your company, and your career? Are you spending more time on hiring event staff and falling behind on meeting planning?

    I like analogies, they help me conceptualize and illustrate. If you think of using listing services or even direct hire as a DIY approach.  Think of your last DIY project at home. It might have been enjoyable, or it might have been a nightmare, or somewhere in between.  But how time consuming was it?  Did the end result come out better or worse than if a pro had done it? I like DIY around the house for home improvement, but I fully admit it usually takes me longer and it definitely takes away from other parts of life. To get it right, I have to spend a lot of time because I’m not a pro.

    So how did that last big DIY project work out for you?  Is it something you think was efficient? Are you hiring a pro next time? Food for thought.

    Does the do it yourself approach always work out?

    Hiring direct as a vendor or on to your payroll

    From trendy and new, we go to tried and true. Building a network of go-to on-site people has been around a long time and is a feather in their cap to many experienced meeting planners! It can take a lot of work to maintain that network, after all, freelancer and event temps tend to be a transient workforce. How much are you using them? How long of a track record do you have with them? Did you just find someone on social media? Is it a friend of a friend of a friend?

    Stay Compliant

    The big risk here is compliance. Direct hiring has been a go-to way of doing business for temporary staff in events for a long time.  Find a person, get a w-9, issue a 1099-NEC at the end of the year…simple right?  Not so much anymore.  Labor laws are becoming stricter, states are cracking down and there’s a lot of press about the gig economy, compliance, and regulation. It’s a risky way to do business and it may put your company at greater exposure than you would ever expect. Make sure you know the regulations if you are going down this road.

    And just in case you didn’t know, and you do have your own network, there are services like ours at GCG Event Partners that will incorporate your network, augment it, and by doing so, you gain compliance. Downside?  DIY is still the “cheapest” if you only look at direct costs and don’t factor in risk and other indirect costs. Compliance does add cost.

    Hiring via a generalized temporary agency

    There are a lot of temp agencies, and the big players definitely cover the event segment.  Think of companies like:

      These agencies have in-depth nationwide coverage. They can provide personnel for pretty much any need you have and more. From accounting to janitors, they cover it all.  Your company may have an account with one, making it even more enticing, quick, and easy to go this route.  So why not?

      different types of staff
      In my opinion, it depends on your need.  General temp agencies are a good source for lower level, less skilled event positions like bag stuffers or human arrows.  But when it comes to event professionals, people you can trust to manage or assist at your event, people that will interface with your attendees, customers, and other VIPS, here’s the key questions I ask about this option?

      • Do the best event professionals work via temp agencies? Where do they get most of their customers?
      • From city to city, week to week, how is the consistency of event staff that are sourced from general agencies?
      • How well does your placement person or recruiter know the event industry? Are they pressured to fill positions with less or no experience people?
      • Would that recruiter rather fill a few hourly event temp positions or an office position for several weeks or months? What type of business provides better commissions or performance standards to the agency?

      It’s all a matter of what is important, your budget, and the tasks that need to be performed.  Are you currently using a general temporary agency and happy with the results?  I wouldn’t change the solution.  Not so happy? Consider moving to a specialized event staffing service.

      Hiring a specialized event staffing service

      Would you go to a primary doctor for a heart transplant? Ok, an extreme example, but you get the point. Why go to a generalist when a specialist focuses on one particular area?

      There are several specialized “temp agencies” that service the temporary event professional and temporary event staffing market segments.  They find and retain wonderful, reliable professionals that are experienced on-site professionals who can manage and assist in so many ways. They have placement professionals that coordinate, recruit, and make sure you have the people you need.  In general, these specialized companies exist to service a demanding market where the show has to go on and people need to show up and do a wonderful job.

      Trustworthy: Dependable, Experienced, Consistent, Proven

      There are several specialized “temp agencies” that service the temporary event professional and temporary event staffing market segments.  They find and retain wonderful, reliable professionals that are experienced on-site professionals who can manage and assist in so many ways. They have placement professionals that coordinate, recruit, and make sure you have the people you need.  In general, these specialized companies exist to service a demanding market where the show has to go on and people need to show up and do a wonderful job.

      However, there are differences from company to company and as a meeting planner, be sure you know what you are getting.  Here are some questions to ask:

      • Compliance – How are the event temps hired and engaged? Are they w-2 employees or 1099-NEC contractors? What is the agency’s view and opinion on compliance? How do they interpret labor laws in respect to event staffing?
      • Results – Currently, there is a labor shortage. How do they staff? What happens if they don’t have people for your event? Will they recruit on your behalf? How do they know the people recruited are reliable and experienced? What are their standards for the people that they hire for you?
      • Stability – How experienced are their recruiters and placement people? How many years do their employees stay in place? How do employees rate them? (Maybe check out sites like Glassdoor to get insights into the company)
      • Track Record – How long have they been in business? How do their customers rate them? Check out their Google reviews and other review sites.
      • Problems – How do they handle problems like no-shows or personality conflicts? What if you’re not happy, how fast can they fix your problem?  Let’s face it, this is a people business, if someone says they never have issues, as the old saying goes… run don’t walk.  Issues happen, it’s how you handle them that matters.

      Conclusions

      The choice is yours. As a professional meeting planner or as a professional in some other discipline saddled with the responsibility of planning an event or meeting, you have to weigh the options. There is not one solution that fits all situations.

      As much as I would like it to be that our solution is always the best, in all honesty, it’s not.  We have a robust network of meeting and event professionals; we have highly skilled placement specialists and recruiters that have a passion for what they do as evidenced by the 5 star google review ratings on our profile.   We’re not the least expensive solution and you have to remember we don’t have a DIY solution. Why? Well in my opinion, because we do it better as professionals. We staff events every day, event after event.

      I hope this blog was helpful and I wish you well with your event.  How do you source your event professionals?  Do my thoughts ring true, or do you have a different perspective?  I’m still learning even after 27 years in the business and welcome your thoughts in the comments below.

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