There are no short-cuts or guarantees to event success, but applying these 8 tips when planning your event can reap significant rewards. We know this because we do it ourselves!
1. Scope the venue like you’re Jason Bourne
The perceived experience event attendees have is often as much related to the venue as the speakers, products and services they are there to see. Well researched venue choice should allow you the maximum potential for a positive experience of the event, and this WILL reflect on your company as the organiser.
- Is the venue the right ‘fit’ for your company and the expected visitors?
- Consider the practicalities of the venue. Is it convenient to get to? Does it have adequate parking and transport links? What about the facilities, refreshments, Wi-Fi, signage, security? Don’t be afraid to get creative with your location, but make sure that it is practical - that castle on a Scottish island might make for a great experience but will the travelling discourage delegates?
- Is the seating adequate? What about temperature control, lighting, audio and visual facilities? Will the delegates sitting at the back of a packed auditorium be able to hear the speakers?
- Scope the venue before the event and put yourself ‘in the shoes’ of one of the attendees - and potential customers. Event days - especially trade shows - can be long and tiring - and little bit of empathy for attendees can go a long way towards giving visitors a warm glow about their experience to your event or stand
2. What's It All For?
You or your boss decided that promoting your company at this event would be a great idea. Maybe you have been doing this one for years and think you could do it in your sleep, or maybe it’s a first time thing. Either way, you need to define in black and white the aims of holding the event; knowing the bigger picture 'Whys' will keep you focussed when you most need it. Possible aims might be:
- Taking orders, making sales or capturing those precious qualified leads
- Making new targets aware of your company - and making a good first impression
- Reinforcing relationships with your existing clients
- Maintaining your profile in the marketplace
3. Plan and delegate
Keep in mind the 7 Ps: Proper Planning & Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. It’s an oldie but a goodie.
- Diarise a date to start planning, and then bring it forward 2 months! This will allow for that unforeseen thing called ‘life’ that gets in the way, with its curveballs and cock-ups. Don’t be scrabbling around at the eleventh hour because you didn’t order the name badges in time
- People who become marketers and event organisers can be naturally and compulsively inclined to make lists, but if not, LIST EVERYTHING! List dates, venues, licenses, literature, contributors and speakers, content, catering, internet access, sound systems, location of the nearest bar - and all of the associated tasks. Be meticulous and tireless
- If a team is available to you - lucky you! You don’t have to do it all yourself; your skill is in delegating the tasks on your list to the most suitable man/woman/monkey for the job. Allocate each task on your list to a team member so that everyone knows who is responsible for what. Using a team calendar or project management software can help to keep everyone on track
- Look back at previous events and use conversion data and staff and customer feedback to learn what worked and what didn’t
4. Scheduling the operation
- Plan your event well in advance - generally, the bigger the event, the sooner you will need to start
- A crucial part of planning an event is researching locations. If you’re planning far enough in advance, you should have the pick of venues, and may benefit from discounted rates. Make sure the event is not going to clash with other events and holiday seasons
- If your event will require presenters and speakers, ensure venue availability aligns with theirs - if your ‘headline acts’ are good, they are likely to be busy and in high demand, so be prepared to compromise on venue
5. Budget carefully
A customer-facing event can be one of the most important "investments" a business can make, and with proper planning and management, you can turn it into a long-term profit-maker that will benefit your company for years to come. After the event you should be able to present evidence of the return on the company’s investment.
- You need to be disciplined when it comes to budget; marketing departments can no longer get away with being a loosely regulated cost centre in the way that they once were.
- Prioritise your spend - if your budget is very tight, consider carefully where it is most likely to make the best return. Make an ordered wish-list and be prepared to compromise on the lower items. Is having crowd-drawing speakers more important than laying on a free lunch?
- Keep a contingency element to your budget for the inevitable curveballs or unforeseen costs
- Make time after the event to analyse the event’s success in financial terms - this may be just days or up to several years after the stands are packed up and everybody's gone home
6. Talk to the people in shiny suits
You may have heard the joke: What’s the difference between a used car salesman and a software salesmen?
The used car salesman knows when he's lying.
Sales and marketing teams are not always known for harmonious relationships - but don’t underestimate your sales team’s potential to be a rich seam of information about your customers. Nobody understands them better than the guys who are talking to and emailing them day-in, day-out. So pay them - in tea, coffee, cake, hair gel - whatever it takes to get them to talk (keep it legal!).
With a bit of work you can coax your sales team to line up customer stories, case studies and insights that your customers are providing about products and services. Use these to understand your customers; reflect the new understanding in your marketing materials and in conversations with the event attendees. That’s how sales teams can help you to execute a brilliantly targeted event
7. Continuous, consistent marketing
You needn’t be a genius to know that if an event isn’t well-marketed, the rest of your expenditure and work could all be a big fat waste.
- Don’t underestimate the resources needed to market the event; make sure that they are included in the your budgeting
- Market and advertise your event via the usual channels: email, social media, standard mail, your website, PPC etc. Your messages should convey that missing the event means that they will be missing out
- Ensure that event details are plentiful and easy to find on your website - don’t put barriers in the way of visitors decision to attend by leaving them with unanswered questions
- Creating an online pre-registration process gives you valuable insight into how many people are likely to attend, as well as capturing data about previously unknown targets. You can then market to them right up to, and after the event
- Send out bulletins when a speaker is confirmed, and whenever you can, make informative announcements
- If you have an attractive, famous or unusual event location, tap into its positive features to spread the word about the event. Use the location as a marketing tool to increase interest
- Use show guides, merchandise and literature to reinforce your brand messages at the event itself
- When engaging visitors at your event try to capture their details, whether by asking for their business card or incentivising with a prize draw
- Then...keep marketing! After-event communications are very important. Survey attendees about their experience. Gather customer and target data into your CRM and slice and dice it for your sales and marketing teams to us
8. Brand your event
So the doors to your event are open and your carefully ‘groomed’ targets are physically in front of you - Result! Now you need to take the opportunity to continue to promote your brand and messaging by putting it physically in front of them.
- Define a clear theme to the conference/event branding that is easily identifiable
- Make sure that your branding is consistent with your other channels - it should be a seamless continuation of the messaging you’ve broadcast in the run-up to the event
- Keep your organisation front of mind with published materials, signage, stands, lanyards, bags etc. The opportunities are many and varied
- Consider carefully the use of promotional merchandise. In terms of give-aways, good quality, practical items are known to be well received and represent a good return on investment because your message is seen every time the product is used. Giving out branded bags for delegates to carry their show booty is an obvious and cost effective way to ensure maximum brand visibility. Get creative with products, and take relevance into account; would a nifty electronic product be a better choice than a notebook for software company delegates?
Whatever type of event you are holding, the golden rule is to plan it well, and plan it well in advance.