Corporate Event Expert Profile – Ric Rogers, Strategic Director of Events for SAP
The responsibilities of corporate event professionals cover the boards, from strategy and planning to content and marketing to flawless execution of logistics. Event-related roles all include at least a subset of these categories, but much like events themselves, no two are identical.
At Corporate Event News, our objective is to showcase the diverse people, programs, challenges and rewards of corporate events, so what better way to accomplish that than by talking to industry experts? The following interview is the first in a series of corporate event professional profiles to help familiarize you with some of the individuals who help make this industry thrive.
To kick off this series, I turned to Ric Rogers, strategic director of events for SAP, who has worked in the corporate meetings industry for 35 years. Full disclosure, Ric and I worked together at Sybase back in the day and have shared a lot of conference experiences – so it was particularly fun and interesting for me to find out what he’s been up to and working on now.
Danalynne Wheeler Menegus: Tell me about your first job in the events industry.
Ric Rogers: My first real job (outside of paperboy and library page) was as a waiter at our local Howard Johnson’s. There’s a crossover between hospitality and events management, of course, and for my customers their dining experience was an “event” of sorts. But I started working in banquets and promotional events in Boston sometime around 1982, or a year or two after.
DWM: How did you get into corporate event planning/marketing?
RR: It was a natural evolution. I knew hotel convention services and event logistics inside and out. I had a communications degree and wanted to put that to better use as well. I was ready to spread my wings. I had some hotel colleagues who went to work for associations and, while I didn’t feel an affinity for the association side of the business, I was intrigued by corporate events. I found a role managing content for Sybase through a colleague and things just grew from there.
DWM: What are your current responsibilities at SAP?
RR: I am the experiential global events lead for SAP TechEd, which is our premier end-user loyalty and retention program. It consists of three tech conferences in three regions (North America, EMEA and India/APJ). Basically, I’m the business owner. I set the strategic direction with our executives and make sure we stay within our pre-determined budget. My job is to ensure that we deliver an engaging audience experience, consistent with the SAP brand – but also to make sure that experience is evolving to meet the needs and interests of our audience as well as that of our brand.
DWM: That sounds like a lot of work! What are some of the day-to-day challenges you face?
RR: Budget is always a challenge, especially as budget needs are different depending upon the venue you’re using. Gaining consensus – especially when different groups internally have different objectives. Audience identification and outreach. Making sure we’re making the right decisions for the right reasons and thinking strategically about what we are doing and what we should be doing both for our customers and for the SAP brand. As the brand and products evolve, the conference has to evolve along with it, which means adding new content – but at the same time, we need to make sure we are keeping our core audience happy.
DWM: What are the biggest challenges you see for corporate event professionals in general?
RR: In the IT industry it is consolidation and global expansion. For Pharma, it’s competition. For industry, it’s proliferation. For meeting planners in general, it might be “space.” Meeting space for larger programs is being booked more than three years out. That’s great for the industry but a day-to-day challenge for me, because I’m not able to book that far in advance. In order to stay nimble, we can’t be locked in. But because of TechEd’s size (6000 attendees, exhibit hall, and a significant number of rooms for sessions and meetings), the places that the program would fit (and that we’d want to go) are booked out two years in advance.
DWM: Is there any place in the industry that you see disruption happening today or an area you think needs disruption?
RR: Disruption is everywhere. It’s impossible to keep up. My events right now are borrowing experiences from workspaces, coffee houses, universities, kindergartens, and airports, to name just a few. Why? Because they’re great ideas, and most people these days don’t want an experience they’ve had before. But they will invest heavily in something memorable. Content is still king, but “the medium is the message.” And that sentiment is growing.
DWM: What have you learned along the way that’s made your job easier?
RR: Know when to say “no.” Everyone has an idea. Everyone has a better way. Everyone has an urgent need for the business. I love discussion but sometimes execution has to take the front seat.
DWM: Would you classify yourself as an introvert or an extravert?
RR: I am introvert, but I often wind up leading executive calls or being on stage in front of staff. That’s just part of making sure the program is effective for the customers.
DWM: Books or movies?
RR: It has to be books. I love movies, too, and have seen so many movies that I never would have read as a book (“The Zookeeper’s Wife” is a perfect example) but I would rather read or listen to a book.
DWM: If you could give a single piece of advice on corporate events, what would it be?
RR: Probably my best piece of advice to a new events practitioner is to consider what it is about events that is drawing you to the career and go in that direction. Being an “experiential marketer” is very different from being a “strategic corporate planner.” Find a mentor who can help you choose the right path. Events are glamorous (but) working in events is not. But if you want to connect with people, serve your audience and have a sense of accomplishment, there are very few marketing careers that are more rewarding.