Running an event management company entails much more than managing logistics and executing flawless events. You must partner with clients to learn about their businesses. Since the bursting of the tech bubble and Sept. 11, 2001, corporations spend much more cautiously. Meetings, conferences and special events no longer stand alone; rather they are now linked to the overall corporate strategy as a tool for achieving organizational objectives.
As an event planner, you must understand your clients’ business and industry to ensure optimal return on investment (ROI). This value-added approach makes you more than a planner—you become a strategic partner.
This case study evidences how I’ve used this method with my team to overcome challenges and to execute a successful first-time, multi-day conference.
The Challenges Last spring, a client approached Monarch Events about playing host to a fall conference. The opportunity presented several challenges. - It was a first-time, multi-day event. - The budget philosophy was undetermined. - The client had set the conference dates and booked a keynote speaker without securing a venue—during peak season in New York. - We had only four months to plan the event.
First-time, Multi-day Event A successful event requires much more than great vision. The step-by-step processes taken before, during and after ensure across-the-board success. However, with no history to review or benchmark, we had to work quickly. A first-time event doesn’t offer the luxury of referring to prior conference history or past evaluations. Instead, you start from scratch to identify the client’s goals and objectives.
This client’s main goal was to raise company visibility, but we needed to identify specific categories as benchmarks for success and outline specific objectives. Some of those objectives included optimal attendee and sponsor numbers and development of post-event evaluations to measure success.
After determining these objectives, we examined them with the client to determine if they were, in fact, SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based.
Sometimes the benchmarks don’t meet the above standards. In these cases, we work with clients to create goals that achieve their objectives within the available framework.
Undetermined Budget Philosophy With no prior history for guidance, we were charged with working with the client to determine the budget philosophy. In determining financial goals, clients must assess whether they want to make a profit, break even or operate at a loss.
Although no one wants to lose money, sometimes a corporation plays host to a client incentive program without focusing on financial concerns, instead viewing the event as a cost of doing business. In the other scenarios, a nonprofit organization plays host to an event for the sole purpose of funding programs. In the case of our event, the client was looking to break even.
The Monarch team helped the client create a budget, determining how much to spend on the venue, food and beverage, audiovisual equipment and decor. Because the client wanted to break even, we analyzed registration fees and other areas that would create revenue. Clearly, the event needed more than registration fees to cover costs.
Here, our fund-raising experience kicked in. We created sponsorship opportunities to help cover expenses. As part of this effort, we developed a sponsorship letter and three levels at which sponsors could participate. These levels offered benefits that ranged from an onsite booth and inclusion in conference promotional materials to visibility in press releases and complimentary tickets.
Securing a Venue, Attendance The planned date fell during one of the peak months and weeks in New York, with many major events taking place at the same time. Venues had been booked a year or more in advance.
After much research and a bit of luck, our planners secured the perfect venue that could properly accommodate both the multi-day conference and the keynote speaker’s availability.
Next, we focused on the audience. Often, planners get so caught up in the planning and logistics that they sometimes forget the purpose of all of this activity—catering to the attendees.
Although it’s important at any event to know the audience, it is especially crucial during a first-time event to identify and segment the target audience and the key objectives of each. This event had three audiences—general attendees, sponsors and speakers—and we had to market this program specifically to each.
Outcomes 100 Percent Attendance: Few events generate 100 percent attendance—meeting, conference or other special event. This first-time conference with more than 200 guests didn’t have a single name badge left on the registration table. All guests, sponsors and speakers showed up—in some cases with guests.
Financial Goals Met: With the sponsorship opportunities, the client broke even—and then some. The conference exceeded the goal for number of sponsors secured. Meanwhile, the sponsors were happy with the visibility they received before, during and after the conference.
Rave Reviews: The three post-event evaluations created for the guests, sponsors and speakers returned overwhelmingly positive results, with a 3.5 average rating on a scale of 1 to 4.
This first-time event succeeded on many levels, offering a testament to hard work, thorough research, good communication and precise planning.
Planners need to understand clients’ needs, immerse themselves in client businesses, help them develop a clear set of goals and objectives and create ways to measure the outcomes. At the same time, planners must manage clients’ expectations without over-promising. Set clear benchmarks for success.
These are just some of the ways we have worked to transform ordinary events into extraordinary experiences. This same value-added approach can help you create a positive and lasting impression with your guests for years to come.
ARLENE M. KAROLE, CMP, is president of Monarch Events Inc. and member of the MPI Greater New York Chapter. She can be reached at [email protected]
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