Scares of Event Planning

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With Halloween just around the corner, we thought the time was right to talk about the public outreach tactic that can send chills up the spine of many a communications pro: staging and managing events. As mediums of communication, events are unlike print, web, or video. There are no edits, no revisions, no do-overs. Events are more like theatrical productions. When the curtain goes up, the show goes on—no matter what. And that can be a scary thing.

We’ll unmask a few trade secrets to help you make sure events don’t send you—or your attendees—screaming for the exit.

Start early

Seems simple, but the most important part of an event happens days, weeks, and months in advance. Here’s the one thing we know about events: the unexpected will happen—it always does—and the only way to be prepared is to have everything else locked down so you’re free to troubleshoot and problem solve on the fly.

Do your research

You’d be surprised how much time and money is wasted by event planning that’s rushed without time set aside to step back and give every aspect a good long think:

Event purpose: Why are you doing this event, and what do you want attendees to
walk away with? What should everyone know after the event that they didn’t know
before? Is this a high tech moment or a feel-good grassroots gathering?

Conflicts: What other events are currently scheduled? Does your event coincide with
any holidays (religious or otherwise)? Are there lessons to be learned from similar,
previous events?

Stakeholders: Who are they? Are there underserved populations? What do they care
about? How do they receive information? Who are their influencers? What media
outlets are applicable?

Venue: Is there on-site parking? Enough restrooms? Accessible by public transit?
Handicap accessible? Allows food and drink? Provides AV, podium, projector,
tables/chairs, and easels? Will they provide event staff? Do you need insurance?

Subcontractors: Do you need catering, AV, equipment, presenters, translators,
stenographers, or security? Who are the best, closest, and most cost effective?
Are there past reviews or references you can contact?

Get the word out

Here’s the nightmare on Event Street: giving an event no one shows up for.  Plan your promotion strategy carefully, with different kinds of reminders and mediums to keep people interested. Remember that research you did on preferred communication channels?  This is the time to make sure you connect with your potential attendees wherever you can.

Earned media: Press releases, interviews, media alerts, and calendar listings.

Paid media: Advertisements, commercials, direct mail, and billboards.

Owned media: Website, save the date, e-invitations, flyer, poster, and social media.

Word of mouth: Advocates, people or groups of influence, organizations, companies, schools, and community groups.

One more walk through

Even though you have (hopefully) done multiple site visits to your venue, make sure you arrive well ahead of time the day of the event or even the night before for a final on-site review.

Set up: Check equipment, arrange the room, organize materials, and hang posters and directional signs.

Dress rehearsal: Review the agenda with event staff, subcontractors, and presenters—make sure you have cell phone numbers for all support staff. Practice transitions and memorize the sequence of activities.

If you have done your due diligence prior to the event, when the day comes you will be able to address the unexpected—here are a few of our real-world favorites:

A panhandler started soliciting attendees—we slipped him some cash to leave the premises.

The caterer neglected to make a vegetarian lunch for our client—ran to a nearby deli to grab a backup falafel.

We arrived to find the venue ceiling gutted for repairs—headed to a nearby marina and rented sailboat sails and fish nets for a quickly devised aquatic theme.

The keynote speaker cleared his throat, and a rock band started thumping drums—we’d befriended every custodian of course, who unplugged the offending noise.

From All Hallows’ Eve to corporate launches, good planning will bag a great event every time.  It’s the trick that gets the treat.

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What’s a communications audit, and why do you need one?

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Hardly anyone welcomes an audit with outstretched arms, but if you want to know the return on your public relations and marketing dollars, a communications audit is the best way to uncover what’s working well, and what needs to  be strengthened—and that will go a long way in getting the right messages to your markets.

Here’s what to expect from an audit, and tips on how to keep the process streamlined and effective:

Step 1: Collect and analyze your current communications materials.

Pull together the materials—internal and external—used to inform people about your business, from mission statement and annual report to newsletters, press releases, brochures, and social media posts. Review them for effectiveness:

  Is the message on target?

  Does it anticipate and answer questions?

  Is the brand consistent?

  Is there a clear call to action?

  What was the goal of the communication, and was it met?

  Are there missed opportunities?

  What are the metrics?

Step 2: Collect and analyze input from your internal audience.

Interview senior management, and conduct focus groups and surveys of employees at all levels of your organization. Learn leadership’s vision for internal and external communication and determine:

•  Does your messaging reflect the vision?

•  Does it match employees’ vision and understanding of messages?

Step 3: Collect and analyze information from your external audience.

Conduct in-depth interviews (IDIs) with current and prospective customers, conduct a survey, and review material that competes for the attention of your audience.  Take a look at media coverage on your organization and your sector—how does the market view you and your business? Keep these questions in mind:

•  How do your markets view your organization?

•  Is your message reaching them?

Step 4: Complete a SWOT analysis.

Organize all the data you just collected into four categories: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT). SWOTs provide the basis for an informed analysis that will help clarify what’s worth keeping, what’s worth enhancing, and where to take your communications.

Once these four steps are complete, you’ll have a clear direction for how to optimize your communication strategy to ensure your investment pays.

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