Producing or participating in a well planned event can contribute considerable value to your company’s overall marketing strategy. Events are strategic moments in time that are carefully planned to influence behavior. Events are live vehicles (or communication platforms) that engage your target to interact with your brand in a three-dimensional environment with the power to increase awareness, generate sales, celebrate achievements and build client loyalty. Question is, which is the right vehicle for your business: a trade show, corporate dinner, press conference, promotional program, sponsorship, awards gala or product launch? If your business is ready to integrate an event as part of the marketing plan, there are strategic tools that should be implemented during the planning stages that will help you create an event with measurable results and a positive return on investment in time, money, technology and human resources.
Calculate Goal and Investment
As with the planning of any marketing project, start by determining the desired outcome. The following three-step process will not only provide the marketing goal for the event, but will serve to determine the scope of your investment.
The goal should simply state the desired outcome of the event. For example, “I want to increase overall sales.” This might seem obvious, but spelling out the general goal will help you nail down the specific objectives you will need to accomplish in order to achieve that goal.
Define the objectives that will achieve your goal. An effective exercise to ensure you accurately develop the objectives is applying the old SMART technique (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). When applied to your goal, the new statement becomes, “By December 31, 2008, this company will increase net sales by 25% as a result of signing on 12 more accounts.” The objectives provide a catalyst that will drive your actions, serve as a beacon when a clear decision needs to be made, and stand as the benchmark of success or failure. But defining the objectives will be useless if you do not conduct a post-event evaluation to quantify your results (see step 4 below).
Determine the resources (investment) necessary to research, design, plan, coordinate, manage, produce and host the event. Ask yourself the following questions and review your answers carefully before proceeding.
-Time: Will it take a year, six months, three months or a month to plan and organize? If this is your first event, cushion your timeline to allow for unanticipated snags. Definitely create a week-by-week timeline to manage all the tasks and deadlines. Factor in how long it will take to review the timeline so that you can anticipate potential problems before they arise, develop solutions and get back on track.
-Finances: Determine your event budget based on your financial documents. Do you currently have funds, or will you need time to raise capital? Will you sell sponsorships or cut funds from another line item? The type of event you choose may be dictated by your finances. Keep in mind that events always seem to end up costing more than you anticipate, so pad your budget for unexpected expenses. If every dollar in your budget is spoken for in the planning phase, consider other options such as staging a less expensive event, getting sponsorships or bartering with vendors (see “Event Countdown”).
-Human Resources: If you choose to plan the event in-house, who will be responsible for managing the planning process? Just keep in mind that planning will have an effect on the everyday operation of the business. You may want to consider building a team in-house and delegating tasks to each person, rather than putting the load on a single employee (or yourself). Or you may choose to outsource the job to a planning professional who has the resources and vendor relationships to produce the event or who can work with you and your team.
-Technology: Evaluate your current technology resources and assess your needs. Whether you plan this event in-house or outsource to an event planner, you might have to invest in a technical infrastructure to record all the planning elements necessary, such as an event website, online registration and e-commerce.
Quantify your event results using your post-event evaluation. This is not an easy task, nor can it be calculated immediately following the event. It may take several months to a year for all the returns from the event to be realized. In addition to answering the question of meeting the objectives, you’ll want to assess everyone’s performance, review costs and develop revised objectives for future events.
Location, Location, Location
Once you’ve mapped out an event strategy, you can make an informed decision on what type of environment is best suited for your purposes. Keep in mind that the location of the event will determine the marketing efforts to drive attendance. The SWOT chart here illustrates the benefits and pitfalls associated with a sample of various locations.
Making the Match
Sandra Placide is a certified special event professional, founder and president of Illumination Marketing + Events, LLC. She can be reached at illummktevents.com.