Corporate event risk management: How strong leadership strikes the optimal balance between branded guest experiences and effective security

May 5, 2017 - By Eric Stewart & Sonny Schürer

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The days of cookie-cutter event security are long over. Or at least they should be for corporate events. In this blog, we examine how we approach the new normal of corporate event risk management with some of our most forward-thinking clients: balancing carefully designed guest experiences against the complexities of ever-changing risk scenarios. Corporate event risk managers need strong leadership skills to negotiate the often competing agendas of many stakeholders – and to keep events as safe as they are on-brand.  

As corporate event planners innovate and seize opportunities further afield than ever, new security threats evolve in places and ways that no one imagined possible just a few years ago. Developing markets have transformed from far-off prospects into high-growth priorities. Innocuous delivery trucks have been strong-armed into lethal weapons in otherwise peaceful European capitals. The cutting-edge technology corporations launch at one event can be used against them at the next. And all the while corporate events continue to expand in scope, frequency and complexity.

From event security as an afterthought to forward-thinking event risk management

Event security used to get tacked on to event planning almost as an afterthought, and the only corporate staff who worried about it were event planners. Guard companies were hired to protect entrances and assets, to escort the occasional unruly guest off the premises, and to comply with whatever minimum standards were applicable by law or venue management. Event planners’ greatest concerns regarding this low-wage, low-skill industry were reliability and cost: getting the right number of people in the right places, on time – and at the lowest price.

Now, event risk management involves many more stakeholders in the corporate ecosystem and far more varied sets of objectives. Understanding all client needs and motivations – not just those that obviously have to do with security – is paramount to successful risk management planning in corporate events.

Of course, event planners are still heavily involved, but the conversations with them now move beyond duty of care and increasingly include topics like brand experience and event tone, look and feel. We work with marketing and communication departments to ensure that brand positioning and corporate reputation goals are reflected in risk management. This can include everything from the clothing security personnel wear to blend in or stand out, to facilitating hands-on product demos without losing products, to dealing with protestors when any disruption can now be captured on a smartphone and go viral in minutes.

Event risk managers must now also coordinate with corporate executive protection teams, often months in advance, to leverage event risk mitigation processes to meet the specific needs of C-suite security. They liaise with corporate intelligence analysts to gain insight into more locations and a greater diversity of threats. They coordinate with legal departments to conduct TSCM sweeps and protect both privacy and intellectual properties, and they hire K9 teams to sniff out trouble before it happens.

And yes, there are more conversations with the bean counters, too. As event risk management becomes increasingly integrated within the corporate ecosystem, its importance to the bottom line becomes better understood. The benefits of mitigating risks to employees, reputations, share prices and revenue streams are now weighed against the costs of providing effective security that supports broader corporate values and objectives.

From behind the glass door to the parking lot, hotel, airport and beyond

Another transformation we see happening with large, corporate customers concerns the coordination of risk mitigation across security layers.

Event security used to start behind the venue’s glass doors and paid little attention to what lay outside of these. Access control was the name of the game and the venue perimeter defined the playing field.

Now, event risk management must ask more questions about more places. Could a truck on an adjacent road turn into a lethal ramrod against an event crowd? Can we strengthen security at one layer to save costs or improve the guest experience at another? At events with thousands of participants, how can we increase traffic flow without reducing security?

Balancing security and guest experience can now even begin at the airport or hotel.

Balancing security and guest experience can now even begin at the airport or hotel, where event participants can quickly register without waiting in long lines at the venue on the morning the event opens. It can continue to the parking lot, where legitimate participants, as well as potential bad guys, leave their vehicles.

Why leadership in corporate event risk management makes a difference

Leadership matters in any security activity but is especially important in corporate event risk management. The job calls for management of diverse teams that can include dozens or even hundreds of protective security personnel, both locally-sourced hourlies and security experts on retainers. It requires foolproof coordination between multiple security layers. And it depends on balancing the sometimes competing agendas of a variety of corporate, municipal and law enforcement stakeholders.

Without strong leadership, the many moving parts might look good but don’t come together to provide security that is effective and aligned with the corporation’s culture, values and budget.

We’ve done a lot of work in event risk management – especially for corporate clients – including:

  • IPOs
  • Board meetings
  • Shareholder meetings
  • Product launches
  • Conferences
  • Trade shows
  • Holiday parties and other celebrations

These many types of corporate events all present different challenges and require their own customized approaches. But over the years we’ve found that strong leadership in event risk management – particularly in corporate contexts – is especially important in two ways:

1. Integrating best-in-class security at every stage before, during and after the event: In our experience, the best event planners know that they get way better security – at lower total costs – if their security advisors are involved in all key phases of the event and not just during event days.

This means bringing security leaders along on venue walkthroughs, usually months in advance of the event, so they can understand the peculiarities of the place and how these impact security, then suggest customized plans accordingly. It means thinking through the load-in and load-out periods, too, when corporate assets might be left exposed (and disappear) in what is often an organized chaos of livery trucks, suppliers, cleaners and even competitors. Finally, it means involving security leaders in event post-mortems to determine lessons learned and enable everyone to improve for the next event. 

2. Balancing competing stakeholder agendas: A wide variety of stakeholders influence corporate event risk management, and their interests don’t always mesh. Hired venues might demand that their own security staff play a central role even though such organic security doesn’t meet the corporation’s needs or wishes. Local municipalities and law enforcement agencies have their own rules and regulations. Corporate executive protection managers have requirements for VIP security that might go beyond the planned setup. Marketing executives might be adamant about keeping their new product launch under wraps until the last minute, but still need to build the display during load-in when all kinds of strangers are running around. And don’t forget that everyone wants things done as soon as possible, as cheaply as possible and as perfectly as possible.

Being able to balance diverse security agendas seamlessly necessitates experienced and diplomatic leadership. It’s up to event risk managers to make sure event security lives up to the corporation’s goals for the event as well as its values – and to balance all competing stakeholder interests so that risk mitigation is as effective and on-brand as possible with the available resources.

Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things. Event risk mitigation needs both.

Event risk managers can learn a lot from management guru Peter Drucker. It was Ducker who famously said “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” For effective event risk mitigation, you need both.

So let’s look at Drucker’s classic description of the five things effective managers must do through the prism of event risk management.

1. Set event risk management objectives & plan accordingly 

  • Make sure event risk management is based on an objective situation analysis – the Risk, Threat and Vulnerability Analysis (RTVA), that includes all relevant facts
    • How controversial are the event and its hosts? What kind of disruptions can reasonably be predicted?
    • What foreseeable threats face the event? What is their probability? What would be their impact?
    • Which VIPs will be attending the event? How are they being protected otherwise?
    • Does the client control the venue (e.g., a corporate campus) or not (e.g., rented conference centers, hotels, etc.)?
    • What are the security layers of the venue, from parking to inner sanctum? What are their boundaries and what are their vulnerabilities?
    • What local laws, insurance policies, bonding agreements, etc., apply to the event and its security?
  • Ensure that event risk mitigation objectives are aligned with the corporate brand, vision, culture, values and mission statement
    • What is the optimal guest experience for stewards of the corporate brand? How would security support or inhibit this? What are the tradeoffs between “happy” and “safe” in terms of risk mitigation?
    • Should security elements blend in or stand out? Or maybe both? When? Where? How?
  • Consider all available risk mitigation elements and layers, how they interface and interact – and determine how they’ll help you reach your objectives: What are your strategies, tools, resources?
    • How do we best think “outside-in” through the concentric layers of security?
    • Which risk-mitigation elements should be included in the mix, and how do they interact?
      • People
        • Managers
        • Protective security personnel
        • Traffic control personnel
        • Volunteers and/or corporate staff
      • Access control
        • Vehicles
        • People
        • Tech
          • Magnetometers + wands
          • X-ray scanners
          • Drones and anti-drone systems
          • Barriers for crowd management or protection from vehicles
        • Intel
          • Behavioral specialists at entry
          • Explosive detection dogs
          • Technical surveillance countermeasures (TSCM) sweeps to get rid of hidden bugs, cameras, etc.
          • Predictive analytical intelligence, including social media monitoring and venue geofencing
          • Eyes and ears on the ground to blend in and understand what event participants are talking about; counter surveillance agents at perimeters, etc.
        • Emergency medical services and fire safety
        • On-site communication so emergency or other security information can be reliably given to event participants if and as needed
      • Set measurable, actionable goals in relevant areas that you can translate into KPIs and follow up on (see below)
      • Ask “What if” – think through foreseeable emergencies and contingency plans concerning threats according to their probability and impact. It’s all very good to have a detailed plan for a terrorist attack or active shooters, but not at the expense of knowing how to remove a sick or belligerent guest from the venue.
        • Where do ambulances come in case of emergency?
        • How to get VIPs through the back way?
        • How should troublemakers be dealt with efficiency and dignity – and ready for protestors to film and share on social media?
        • What to do if tech breaks down?

2. Organize the event mitigation team and its interfaces with other stakeholders

  • Assign clear roles, responsibilities and tasks for all groups, team leaders and individuals.
  • Do a pre-event walk-through for all risk management personnel and relevant client staff (event managers, C-suite members, etc.), organic venue security and law enforcement liaisons
  • Establish an unambiguous chain of command
  • Communicate clearly to everyone on the team
    • What to do
    • Why it’s important to do it
    • How it’s supposed to be done
  • Choose the right people
    • Managers: You need a few good people. Heads, not hands.
    • Security personnel: Make or buy? We often need to source people locally according to local rules, regulations, union involvement, etc. – and budget constraints

3. Communicate with and motivate the event risk mitigation team

  • Maintain constant communication flow at team level before and during the event. Follow up with a good debrief.
  • Empower employees to act as needed – but within clearly defined boundaries
  • Stay in touch with all relevant stakeholders within the corporate ecosystem – remember that you’re also positioning excellent event risk management as compared to the cookie-cutter variety

4. Measure event risk mitigation team performance

  • Set up and monitor well-defined KPIs
  • Benchmark with other event risk mitigation programs – learn from best in class providers

5. Develop the people who perform event risk management

  • Train staff
    • Make sure all personnel know exactly what their role requires and how they should do it
    • Train all staff how to use relevant tools
    • Ask “What if” – think through foreseeable contingencies
  • Continue to develop management/leadership
    • Identify and nurture leadership talent
    • Bring in additional expertise to improve management
      • Local expertise
      • Security expertise

Experience has convinced us that Drucker’s five leadership principles also apply to successful event risk management. But don’t take our word for it. You can use the above as a checklist for your own risk management team – or to ask some hard questions of your provider. And please let us know what you think!




Eric Stewart

Director of Operations, Embedded Services

Eric Stewart is a retired U.S. Army officer having spent over twenty years with Army Special Forces, serving worldwide, primarily in Latin America and the Middle East.

During his time in the military Eric was deployed on countless highly sensitive and specialized missions while working directly for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense. He is thoroughly cross-trained in all military special operations and intelligence skills and is a recognized authority on counter-terrorism tactics and techniques, and Latin American affairs.

After retiring from the military in 2006 Eric worked extensively as a security consultant with the international media, charged with safety and security of high-profile news gathering teams from CNN, Fox News, the BBC and others as they traveled the globe reporting on breaking world events. Aside from the media, Eric has worked on countless other interesting projects as a security consultant, such as the CBS television reality show, The Amazing Race.

Within the corporate security industry, Eric worked as a Project Manager for an immediate response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and again for the BP Oil Spill in Louisiana in 2010. Eric is highly skilled in all executive protection operations, and during his career has formed, equipped, trained, and deployed several executive protection details around the world.

In late 2015 Eric became an Operations Manager for AS Solution, building and managing corporate security projects throughout the world for what is now knowns as Global Special Operations.

In January of 2017 Eric assumed the role Director of Operations for O&R Protective Services, the event division for AS Solution.

A year later in February of 2018 Eric was named Director of Operations of AS Solution’s Embedded Projects Division, where he is currently serving.

Eric has a B.S. in International Finance, an M.A. in International Studies (Latin America), and an MBA. He is a Nationally Registered and active Paramedic, donating time to a Level One Trauma Center in Chicago as well as training Emergency Medical Technicians. Eric speaks fluent Spanish, and elementary Japanese, Arabic, and Mandarin.

Sonny Schürer

Senior Vice President

Sonny has helped manage AS Solution since its founding in 2003. A leading member of The Danish Trade Organization for Safety and Security and an active member of ASIS, Sonny has extensive experience in executive protection, event security, investigations and maritime security.

As a member of AS Solution’s management team, Sonny heads the company’s European operations from its Copenhagen-based European headquarters. Sonny has also overseen the development and growth of AS Solution’s anti-piracy services, Scandinavia’s largest maritime security service with operations worldwide.