Taking a Strategic Approach to Event Planning

The other day, my son was getting fitted for braces. As the orthodontist fished around my eldest son’s mouth, he asked me how my business was going. He knew that I had done event planning and business consulting, but he knew little about how I’ve merged the two.

I briefly explained this to him, to which he responded, “But aren’t all events just parties?” “Only if you want them to be,” I responded. This brief encounter solidified my conviction that events should be one of the preeminent promotional tools in any organization’s marketing tool belt. There are so many elements that you can control, from conception through completion, that you can’t control in other marketing approaches. However, be wary. You can only control them if you have a strong, well-defined plan.

Think about the ways that events can deliver a message:

  • Come together to donate money to support our cause.
  • Join our webinar and learn about our company.
  • Visit our location and “see” yourself here.

What do they all have in common? They are each an event, a moment in time that an organization uses to communicate a message, need or desire to a specific audience. I partner with clients to define their “why” and their “how” to ensure that the ROM (Return on their Moment) matches or exceeds their ROI (Return on their investment). We tackle areas like defining specific target audiences, creating well-defined pre-event, during event and post-event messaging and delivery tools, as well as ensuring that event content consistently reflects the messaging so the event’s purpose is abundantly clear.

So, as the orthodontist asked, aren’t events just a party to bring people together? If you look at an event as an extension of your marketing strategy, they are so much more. As business owners, we regularly make decisions based on ROI. As an event marketing strategist, I propose leaders make event decisions based on achieving the highest ROM possible.

Let’s examine these 3 main concepts to ensure that strategic events deliver a high ROM, no matter the reason.

Why are you conducting the event?
As you are deciding to commit resources (time, financial, personnel) to an event, first you need to ask why. A few of my favorite whys include:

  1. Why are you initiating this event? Do you have a product to sell, a message to deliver, clients to thank or a cause to drive? These are all valid event rationales, so you should decide on one and keep it at the forefront as your move through the entire event design, implementation and evaluation process.
  2. Why do you want this audience to receive your message? Be specific on who your target audience is so you can create the right opportunities throughout your event process to appropriately deliver, reinforce and activate your message.
  3. Why would they share the message with others? Have an effective post-event communication tool in place before the event happens. Asking your audience what they are taking away from the event, how they are going to use that information and what’s next needs to be strategically managed throughout the planning and implementation process.

One of the most important, cornerstone whys is to understand the events purpose. In our first discovery session, I ask clients and valued stakeholders about the event’s purpose and a few of the answers I continually receive include:

  • We’ve always done this.
  • My supervisor/owner/president wants us to do a conference/meeting.
  • We need to create awareness for our services/product/program.

These are valid reasons in a certain context, so be sure to set goals that will truly drive you to the stated purpose. If you are a non-profit that wants to host an event to raise money, be sure that you make that goal very clear in all your communications. Ask yourself, “Is this event a fund-raiser or a friend-raiser?” Once you answer this question, your tactics become obvious. Items such as ticket price, venue choice and the stories you tell at the event should all sprout from that answer.

Events are a popular tool in the higher education marketplace. Colleges, universities and educational centers host events to showcase their faculty and staff, to tie into a current event or to bring together like-minded thinkers. All of these are valid reasons to conduct an event, and they can provide very high ROM. However, I encourage my higher education clients to always keep the purpose of the event in mind. Creating an event that tries to do too many things at once, such as wooing donors, informing potential students and educating current students all at the same time will be very confusing, and it will often provide a low ROM.

How will you conduct the event?
The how becomes evident after answering the whys. If you know who your message targets are, it should become clear on how you need to most efficiently and effectively deliver your messages. For example, a client wanted to host a grand opening party for a hip new hotel. Their target audience was millennials who intake their messaging from electronic and social media. Should they invest in high-quality printed and mailed invitations or should they engage a social influencer to spread the work through social media? Taking the time to understand your how at the beginning of your planning process will give you a road map to deliver a high ROM.

How encompasses topics such as:

  • Pre-event communications – How are you delivering your message to your target audience? How is your message conveyed to ensure your target audience does what you want them to do?
  • Event experience (venue, décor, lighting, menu, entertainment) – how are you conveying your message or actions through your event experience?
  • Actual message delivery – how are you delivering the message: live, video, hands-on, webcast or other medium?

What will you do after the event?
Just like the why and the how, you must have a post-event plan or what I like to call the “and then what.” Your event should have a purpose, but the purpose doesn’t end once the chairs are re-stacked and the name tags are put away. This is a crucial area that many event managers miss. The “and then what” is bigger than the standard post-event survey. The “and then what” is the ultimate goal and the post-event plan serves that goal; what do you want your target audience, the attendees, to do with the information you so diligently and effectively delivered to them?

A few “and then what” actions include:

  • Post-Event Survey with promotional offering – incentivize the survey return to increase your response rate. Be sure the incentive has a direct and obvious correlation to your message and moment. If people have to think too hard about it, they won’t act.
  • Personalized follow-ups – if your event is designed to drive sales, ensure you have a personalized and detailed follow up plan. Who is following up with whom, what’s the message and be sure it’s a tight timeframe. Don’t lose the “moment”um you worked so hard to create.
  • Social Media campaign – always have a professional photographer and videographer at a live event, as well as a shooting plan (what needs to be captured when you’d like it captured and how you are planning to use it). Have a post-event plan to share these items with attendees, non-attendees, sponsors, interested parties to keep your “moment”um alive.

Planning events strategically is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Considering the why, the how and the “then what” before you put too many pieces on the table will create a strong framework for the event.

Elyse Stoner is a Portland, Oregon-based mom-preneur and founder of Fresh Perspective Consulting (www.TheFreshPerspective.net). By focusing on events’ ROM (return on the moment), she partners with clients to grow their strategic event and overall marketing initiatives. Grounded in years of hands-on marketing, event and fan engagement expertise, she partners with clients, sponsors, vendors and attendees to ensure events are an integral to effective strategic marketing goal achievement.