Originally featured in Business Review Europe in May 2012.
Hosting a large corporate event can seem like the easy way to garner an audience for your marketing message or publicity for your cause/product, but such events can be a huge drain of both manpower and financial resources and to ensure an acceptable return you have to be careful to get it right.
It is vital to have an appropriate lead time before the event to ensure planning and execution. Events are very time consuming and often take more time and resources than originally planned for at the outset due to the number of variables involved in event planning. Moreover, the time it takes to inform and bring in the right type of media for the event to get sufficient coverage also needs to be taken into account, if coverage is desired.
The timing of the event is also crucial – check for any date clashes with other events that are competing for the same audience. Also take into consideration school holidays and public holidays as people are more likely to be away.
To make the event more appealing, a hook or incentive is a great help. Create an interesting event with a good a VIP speaker/guest of honour, interesting talk or entertainment so that more people are likely to be want to attend. There are often a number of events to which people are invited and you need to make yours stand out, and have a wide appeal.
The invitation may well be the first time that most people hear about the event (though and initial ‘Save the Date’ email should ideally go out as soon as the date of the event is decided.) It should be well designed, with the interesting ‘hook’ well communicated. RSVPs should be acknowledged and reminders sent out the day before the event. It is surprising how many people fail to do the basics resulting in confirmed guests anxious whether their name is on the list of not. And in turn, guests do sometimes forget that something is coming up the next day.
The invitation and guest-list management are representative of your corporate image and should be considered part of the event process and given due care. Imagine your invitation is competing with a competitor’s invitation on the same night, how will you make your invitation the more interesting one to attend?
The more unique or interesting the location, the better. Think of close proximity to transport links and parking to ensure convenience for your guests. In addition the size and appropriateness of the venue are important.
Consider partnering with a well-known charity or even a wine merchant. I recently went to a corporate event at the Savoy. They partnered with Berry Brothers wine merchants and had a wine tasting before the sit down dinner. It was quirky, different and a huge success in terms of the turn out and guests satisfaction.
Accept a percentage of confirmed guests will not show up on at the event, so over invite accordingly to ensure a well attended event.
Taking good photographs and placing them in consumer and trade press ensure the benefit gained will ensue not only from those who attended the event, but also potentially from those who did not attend, but read the consumer/trade press. An edited (highlights) video of the event can be used both for the company website, YouTube and video link distributed on Twitter, and can be very useful in promoting the event again the next year, both to potential guests and to sponsors/partners.
It is very important to greet guests when they arrive and look after them during the event. Tell your team to actively approach guests, talk to them, and introduce them to other guests. People often enjoy meeting new people but need someone to enable them. If guests are looked after properly, they are more likely to attend future events. Attending events can be daunting for some guests if they do not know anyone, which is why your team should be trained to engage with guests. This is especially true of large events. Name tags and designations can be a great help in big events where personal introductions are unrealistic.
There are a number of agencies that supply well-presented hosts/hostesses who are often used for welcoming guests, however they have little knowledge of your brand or ethos so will need to be well briefed.
Some corporates have started to use image branding for their front line staff who deal with their target audiences, from receptionists all the way to senior executives. Image branding involves training on etiquette, make-up, styling and body language. Corporate employees are a powerful influence on the way the target audience perceives the corporate brand.
Invite key journalists to the event to build relationships with them. Again, timing is crucial. The more important the publications, the more notice they will need to ensure they are not already booked up.
Use social media platforms like Twitter in the run up to the event and during the event, tweeting photographs. Create a hash-tag for the event, and a large screen can be at the event showing (approved) tweets streaming directly on the screen, this was done at the ‘Huffington Post’ UK launch and was a bigger distraction for the guests than the celebrity VIP speakers. Create a buzz on Twitter before the events as well; this will engage relevant tweeters.
Work with trusted and experienced event management/catering staff, you don’t want your corporate brand to be victim to anyone’s learning curve. Ensure a good quality of food/canapés, and make sure the alcohol is flowing. Guests will rarely want to remain at an event if the drink runs out and equally there is nothing more annoying than having to wade into a crowd at the bar and have to wait endlessly to get a drink. Smoothly circulating waiting staff with drinks and canapés to hand are a much bigger incentive to stay and enjoy the evening.
And finally, make sure that the guests have the chance to enjoy the event, and not be plagued by long speeches or bad service. The best publicity will be gained if people go away with a real ‘feel-good factor’ and speak well of both the event and the corporation. Especially with the importance of social media in the current climate, this can be very powerful.