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Planning an event your clients will want to attend

Jackrabbit Design September 13, 2014 Resources

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Thinking about hosting an event to get more face time with clients or investors? Great idea! Do you know where to begin? The key to creating an event that the right people will want to attend is all in the planning. We’ve helped with the strategy and design components behind tons of events for our clients, and have compiled some helpful hints based on what we’ve learned.

Before you start ordering the custom cocktail napkins, there are a few things you’ll need to accomplish. Similar to the Jackrabbit design process, there are four key components to planning a successful event.

Kickoff Meeting

Key decision makers and anyone who will have their hands on developing the event should be in attendance, or at least be looped in with post-meeting notes. This will become your planning team.

Here is where you should determine the goals for the event. Is this a social event – focusing on networking with prospective or current clients? Is this a content-driven event – educating investors on how you’ve been spending their money? Or is this an internal event – bringing your employees together for some team building? This may seem like a simple step, but don’t pass it over; these goals will be the backbone of the entire event.

Other things to accomplish in the kickoff meeting:
  • Determine your audience – internal (employees) or external (clients/investors) and how many people you’d like to invite.
  • Narrow down the location – East Coast? West Coast? In the office? Fancy hotel? Keep in mind weather, transportation access (distance to major airport or train stations), and other location-specific details that could affect your event’s attendance (the key is to make it as accessible as possible!)
  • Choose a few dates – having some flexibility around your dates will help you in selecting a venue and vendors – some of which may have reduced prices for weekday events vs. weekend events.
  • Set a realistic budget – your budget should reflect the goals of the event. Think about all of the costs associated with your venue (catering, décor, gratuities, etc.) and program (speakers, travel, entertainment, etc.). It’s best to overestimate for variable expenses (like food) than to underestimate!

Event Planner’s Tip:
Schedule weekly or biweekly planning meetings leading up to the event to review timelines and deliverables with the planning team. Start off each meeting reviewing the event’s goals so that they’ll be fresh in everyone’s mind when making decisions.

Selecting and Contracting Vendors

It’s important to select venues and vendors that not only align with your event’s goals, but also with your company’s values. Is charitable giving important to your company? Find a caterer that donates leftover food to a local homeless shelter.

Plan site visits to prospective venues and face-to-face meetings with potential vendors. Bring a checklist with you of important criteria that your event needs – keep your attendees in mind. Are most of your attendees driving or taking public transportation? Do you have a lot of vegetarians in attendance?

When you’ve selected your venue and vendors, begin the contracting process. Most venues and vendors require a deposit to secure a date. Don’t send the deposit or sign a contract until you’ve carefully reviewed the terms and conditions and all of your key decision makers have approved.

Event Planner’s Tip:
Ask your vendor to place a “soft hold” on your preferred date. This will give you at least 24 hours to make a decision before signing the contract and paying the deposit without losing the date.

Branding and Program Design

Branding is more than just event signage. Branding is your message. Think back to your goal. What do you want your attendees to take away from your event?

Deliver your message with a program that is relevant and noteworthy. Bring in product samples if you’re trying to engage investors. Introduce an exciting speaker to rev your employees’ engines.

The most successfully branded events aren’t always the ones with the largest budgets. Think enticing email save-the-dates or clever Twitter hashtags that carry on long after the event has ended. Don’t waste money on branded materials that may be passed over or ignored. Custom cocktail napkins are only relevant during cocktail hour – not at your Q&A session.

Event Planner’s Tip:
Go green! Green meetings are a big trend in corporate events. Instead of printing out copies of presentations for your attendees, give everyone a branded flash drive loaded with meeting materials and takeaways. This will save trees and money – plus, people love free stuff!

Execution and Follow-up

A perfectly executed event is not one that goes off without a single hitch, but one that leaves your attendees talking for days, weeks, and even months to come.

Arrive at the event with plenty of time to setup and double-check everything. Think like an attendee during your final walk-through. Are there enough plates at the buffet? Has the speaker arrived?

Once your event has ended, keep the buzz going. Follow-up with attendees with a personalized thank you note or email. Invite them to share their feedback through a post-event survey.

Be sure to debrief with your planning team to determine if you’ve successfully met your goals and to identify areas of improvement for your next event.

Event Planner’s Tip:
To get responses to your post-event survey, entice attendees with a drawing for a free iPad or a service that your company could provide free of charge. A free consultation could also lead to more business for your company!

Once you’ve gotten a handle on these four components, you’ll learn to develop your own best practices for planning successful events. Have you already learned some event planning tips and tricks? Share them with us!

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