Ah, the 1980s. A magical time for creativity, invention, individuality and timeless movies that taught us valuable business lessons. Wait? What was that last one? Yes, believe it or not we can learn quite a bit for the workplace today from ’80s movies and their characters.

When we think ’80s movies, most of us visualize a gentle ET hoping to phone home.  Or, perhaps, the teen angst of a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal.  If you asked my Mom, she would just smile and simply say, “Patrick Swayze.”

As a marketing executive for over 20 years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a multitude of event planners and every single one has my respect. It’s an incredibly tough job with high demands that is not for the faint of heart. Everywhere I’ve worked, I made sure we partnered with a professional event planner from day one. It’s a no brainer for me and we need look no further than the trials and tribulations of Clark Griswold and his family “vacations” to know how important it is to work with a pro.

So, what can the movies and characters from this righteous and totally awesome decade teach us about the job challenges of an event planner. Let’s take a look at a few:

Unexpected Changes

John Bender, The Breakfast Club: “Screws fall out all the time. The world’s an imperfect place.”

And so is the event planning world.  When things aren’t going as expected—when a speaker cancels at the last minute or the AV system decides to crash, leaving you, in the words of Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer”,  always remember that you do have the tools to fix the problem: patience, innovation, determination, leadership and confidence.

Lack of Respect

Referring to professional event planners as party planners is like saying that Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing was just a dancer. Most people have no idea what it takes to create, plan and deliver on the event they are attending. It’s the “press the magical button” theory and presto, there’s your event. The reality of pulling off the perfect event is more like what Doc Brown told Marty McFly had to be done in order for him to go Back to the Future when he said: “Don’t worry. As long as you hit that wire with the connecting hook at precisely 88 miles per hour the instant the lightning strikes the tower, everything will be fine.”

Yes, yours may be the only job that requires a working flux capacitor to ensure success.


The Outsiders: “Stay gold Ponyboy, stay gold.” Just as in life, event planning has ups and downs. When things are going well, our character is rarely tested. Even during tough times, great event professionals never lose sight of their ethical and moral compass. With the responsibility to manage and coordinate a multitude of team members and vendors, it is important to remember that your business and your human legacy will be built on how you  handle the worst of times rather than the best. Channel that inner Ponyboy and always “stay gold.”

Remember these little nuggets from the ’80s for your next event and you just might find yourself, in the words of Katrina and The Waves, “Walking on Sunshine.” You can thank me later for that song being stuck in your head the rest of the day.

Chris Clews is a speaker and author of the book What 80s Pop Culture Teaches Us About Today’s Workplace. Book No. 2 coming this fall. More information on Chris and how to book him for your event or conference can be found at chrisclews.com.