Doing hard work is no longer enough. In this article, Monique Ruff-Bell (Event Director, Money 20/20 and VP of Events at Ascential plc) shares how finding a professional sponsor can lead to success in your career.
I think I’ve done every job under the sun within the events profession. Registration lead, operations manager, meeting planner, events marketing manager, content producer and even becoming a last-minute A/V tech with absolutely no experience in the A or the V! If there was a job to do in events, I did it and worked my butt off to make sure it was successful.
I soon realized though that all of this work wasn’t leading to any significant recognition or advanced roles. My hard work only produced more work and I was starting to get burnt out! It was time for me to take a firmer hold of my career trajectory and that meant getting more focused on my goals and actually asking for help. I also realized I had to become a person a leader wanted to help.
As most of us know, women still struggle to get ahead. According to LeanIn.org, over the past five years the number of women in senior leadership has grown but women continue to be underrepresented at every level. Most notably, Black women and women with disabilities face more barriers to advancement, get less support from managers, and receive less sponsorship than other groups of women.
As a person who’s dealt with this reality throughout much of my career, I knew I needed more support for my advancement from event executioner to event leader. I was at a crossroads and it was time to become much more aggressive about my growth within the industry. I had the conviction and I had the grit, but I didn’t have a network of influencers and advocates to help get me there. I needed a champion and I switched into high gear on how I could snag one.
Career Mentorship vs. Sponsorship
Mentors are very much needed within your tribe. They provide perspective, give advice and provide guidance. I had many great mentors throughout the early part of my career, and they shared valuable information that helped me to do my job well. And though their advice was great, I realized it wasn’t really helping me with career advancement. I became better at what I was doing but I wasn’t necessarily growing new skill sets and getting better opportunities.
I needed someone in my life that was a bit more proactive, an obstacle mover and a catalyst.
I needed a sponsor.
I recognized that a sponsor wouldn’t just tell me that there was a door in front of me, they would turn the knob and push me through that door of opportunity. They would take a bet on me and back my ascension and help clear unforeseen obstacles from my path. They would join me in making my success “our” success.
How Career Sponsorship Was A Game Changer
The game changer for me was meeting Josh Brous at Summit Business Media close to a decade ago. We were the same age and had similar career backgrounds, but he was much further than me in leadership roles within his career. We immediately hit it off and recognized that we made a good team when it came to delivering successful revenue generating events. Through 7 ½ years and 4 jobs together he helped navigate me through internal politics, provided me with social capital and opened doors to more opportunities and promotions.
Every time Josh moved up within his career, he always offered me advanced opportunities that helped me move up in mine. When I was ready to shift from content producer to conference manager, he worked with me on critical skills needed and helped to make that advancement achievable. When I was ready to shift from conference management to full staff management and P&L owner, he advocated internally to morph my position into the one I wanted. Josh believed in me and provided the juice to make those opportunities happen.
To be clear, his sponsorship was not a gift. He became my advocate once I showcased a high level of performance in my current responsibilities and provided valuable support to key initiatives prioritized by the company. That I had established a positive reputation within the organization helped as well.
In addition, I became someone Josh could lean on for creative and strategic ideas which sometimes lacked from other team members. I basically had to earn and demonstrate I was trustworthy and brought value to the organization before he made an investment of time to help me.
How to Get a Career Sponsor
Career sponsorship rarely comes from strangers who aren’t familiar with you or your work. It grows from a direct connection with someone or from you advocating for yourself either with a particular leader or through your network. If you’re going to ask someone to be your sponsor, you have to create “smoke signals” that showcase your worthiness for such an opportunity because building trust is the foundation of any sponsorship relationship.
From my experience, I determined that there are several ways to attract sponsors:
- Identify leaders who showcase support and development of talent within your organization or network and advocate to be added to their pipeline.
- Make yourself more visible by sharing noteworthy achievements through internal and external platforms.
- Become a demonstrated high performer and join internal networks that support talent advancement through mentoring and training programs.
- Build relationships with industry professionals, taking the time to nurture them in order to help create future sponsorship opportunities.
Pro-active thinking and putting together a strategic roadmap to gaining a sponsor is the foundation for achieving this much-needed partnership.
Moving Forward with Career Sponsorship
I know for a fact that I would not be a Vice President and Event Director for a large global event if it wasn’t for years of sponsorship.
Being clear in what I wanted for myself and asking for help put me on a path to success. The on-the-job training, the navigation of internal politics, the intro to organizational leaders and the many connections and friendships formed thanks to my sponsor were priceless. And because I was sponsored, I am currently giving back by continuing to share my formula for success and by sponsoring other event professionals. Giving back has become a top priority for me.
As senior brand leader for Money 20/20 USA my core responsibilities include setting the show vision and strategy, plan execution, P&L management and sales & marketing support and performance. The delivery of innovative experiential programs, commercial performance and creating partnerships that drive ROI are now part of my remit.
Money20/20 USA is where the industry’s smartest visionaries and innovators come together to create the future of money (Photo: Money20/20).
I have now moved beyond event executioner to a respected leader within my organization and beyond. I get to drive successful customer focus events for a dynamic ecosystem and this path was paved not only by hard work and focus, but by unwavering support from my sponsor.
Aligning yourself with a sponsor is a sure-fire way to increase your visibility and growth within the events profession. Showcasing your worthiness, advocating for yourself, joining networks focused on talent development and setting clear goals and sharing them will help build your reputation and attract those looking to support future leaders.
Hard work is no longer enough. Having champions within your corner boosting your career will truly lead you to success. Remember, you got this!
You can check out more advice and perspectives from Monique on the IN-PERSON Podcast.