Vanessa Burroughs has turned a lifelong desire to plan events into a sales career with House of Blues in Anaheim, one of the premier event venues in Orange County. Burroughs visited Cal State Fullerton on March 19 and shared her path in the industry along with providing tips on success in the entertainment business for Mihaylo College entertainment and hospitality undergrads.
Even before Vanessa Burroughs graduated with a communications degree at Cal State Chico in 2010, she wanted to facilitate memorable experiences for others through event planning. Her first internship was with a winery, shadowing staff as they put on weddings. Her second, an academically required internship that became her first paid position, was with a Chico wedding planner.
After graduating, Burroughs turned down a lucrative job offer to take a part-time, $12-per-hour role with South Coast Winery as a wedding planner.
“My aunt helped me put together a portfolio, with diagrams and photos of events I had done. I got the position and found out it was because of the portfolio,” she said at a visit to Management Lecturer Amani Roberts’ BUAD 360 – Entertainment Money Management course. “From there, I worked myself up to a full-time sales associate position.”
Three years later, as the family-owned enterprise did not offer advancement opportunities, Burroughs joined House of Blues in Anaheim in 2015 as a coordinator for all social, military, educational, religious and fraternal (SMERF) events, a common sector and abbreviation in the industry. She moved up to sales manager for corporate markets and is now currently senior sales manager. In the coming weeks, Burroughs will be taking on an interim director of sales role.
The Sales Reality of Event Planning
Though she is living her passion, Burroughs told students that her present role isn’t exactly what she pictured in earlier years. “I never knew I was getting into sales, I thought it was party planning. But it is sales – you are pitching the venue, sending contracts, sending proposals, updating things, reaching out to vendors and fans,” said Burroughs. “I do production requests, site tours of the venue and have a ton of operations meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. And sometimes we have events. But 85% of the time, I am behind my computer.”
Burroughs’ work can be challenging: Hours are long and she is always networking. But there are a number of rewards for working at the top revenue-generating House of Blues in the U.S., including a commission and travel rewards for meeting sales goals.
“I’m going on a cruise on Friday to Mexico in honor of exceeding the sales goal,” she told students. “Last year, we went to Vegas and saw the Backstreet Boys.”
Challenging stereotypes, Burroughs said that among her co-workers at House of Blues, everyone has a different sales technique. Her strategy is to be straightforward and honest, leaving nothing hidden. But she does recognize one commonality in sales success.
“In hiring our sales managers, I’ve noticed the importance of confidence in selling. If I am booking a room for $60,000, and I’m not confident, they feel that they can push that price down. Being confident is a night-and-day difference,” she said. And selling isn’t just to clients, but with partners and competitors, too.
“The Grove down the street is our biggest competition, but when they’re filled up, they can reach out to us,” she said.
Burroughs told students she has two dream jobs with House of Blues/Live Nation: vice president of sales and special events (a role overseeing the special events teams at all of the House of Blues venues and Live Nation clubs and theatres across the country) or SVP of sales and special events, which features regular travel and telecommuting.
House of Blues: Who They Are, What They Need and Where They’re Going
There are 11 House of Blues locations, all of them in the United States. The chain is in turn owned by Live Nation, which also has many clubs and theatres in its portfolio, along with Ticketmaster and North American Concerts, which puts on concerts around the world.
“Every Thursday, I’m on a conference call with all of the Live Nation sales managers, including at the Fillmore and the Fox Theatre in Riverside,” said Burroughs.
The Anaheim House of Blues location is heavily dependent on convention traffic, being adjacent to the largest convention center on the West Coast. “We are definitely trying to capture a lot of the convention business and building partnerships with hotels and convention centers to get them to push business to us,” said Burroughs. “We’ve been pushing more marketing pieces, such as get 10% off your food and beverage. We are trying to get repeat business, which is an uphill battle right now, because last year we had three huge conventions that brought in $1.5 million, but they didn’t return so we have to make up for that. Some conventions return every year, but some return every third year or every other year, or are held at different cities each year.”
Community involvement is central to the House of Blues culture. Their foundation, Music Forward, gives musical instruments to high school students in underprivileged communities, along with scholarships and connections to famous musicians. The foundation also works with the Samueli Academy, a Santa Ana charter school, to provide summer internship opportunities to high school students there.
At present, Burroughs told students that the Anaheim House of Blues is seeking a logistics manager, who will handle all details after events have been contracted and booked, including creating diagrams and overseeing staffing. “That job means probably working 12- to 14-hour days when there are events, which are long and tiring,” said Burroughs. “But it is very rewarding when you see people have a good time and the clients are happy at the end of it.”
She said the venue is also constantly hiring hosts, servers, bartenders, bar backs, cocktailers, VIP hosts and on-call staff (which are paid $21 per hour for shifts that range from four to eight hours in length and vary seven days per week depending on event bookings).
For More on Entertainment and Hospitality Management
For more on Mihaylo College’s entertainment and hospitality management academic program, please see the program description in the current catalog.
For more on the Center for Entertainment and Hospitality Management and opportunities in the field, visit them online or at SGMH 5357A. Or read more of our articles on entertainment and hospitality management.