Sunday, September 30, 2012

6 Lessons Learned the Hard Way About Event Marketing

Friday night I had the privilege of attending an event that I had helped organize and plan for over a month.  My main role was the go-to writer and social-media manager, but I was also a part of all the planning meetings.

This was my first time being a part of anything like this, so I learned a lot about what goes into putting on an event.  Here is what I took away.

1. Allow yourself plenty of time.

There had been talk of putting on an event of some kind for months, but talk was all it was.

And not productive talk.  The kind of talk that you hear when people talk about writing a book, running a marathon, or traveling around the world.

Aside from getting the venue, the serious planning didn't start until about five or six weeks before the event.  I don't think I need to tell you, that isn't a lot of time.

There are a lot of things that you need to get set up.  We needed to find someone to handle sound, lights, hors d'oeuvres, photography.  We needed to find corporate sponsors, donors for the silent auction, performers, speakers.

And on top of all that we needed to build up some marketing momentum.  A big problem when you have very little time.

We put together a radio spot, but it only ran once on a single station.  There was talk of getting local magazines to donate ad space, but no time to get an ad out to any of them.  And a Twitter account was started, but not much of a following could be built up.

Getting people properly worked up takes time.  Make sure you have that time.

2. Practice.

One of the cardinal rules of marketing is to test first to make sure everything works the way it should.  Test your product, test your webpage, test your marketing, test everything.

The same goes for events.  Do a dry run of everything to make sure of the timing, make sure everyone knows their places, and look for any problems that might come up.

We had platters of cheese, meat, crackers, and vegetables for people to snack on while looking at the silent auction items.  Then we took everyone into another room for the main show, and nobody thought about if we would need to put the food away.

Somebody had put it away, but then needed to take it out again during intermission.

It's these little things that can only get ironed out with practice.  And going back to the first point, give yourself time to practice everything and change things if you need to.

3. Make sure everything is to scale.

We had some people working very hard on getting items for the silent auction.  They did a great job and got a number of items from various artists, jewelers, and so on.

When it came time everyone to wander through and bid on the items, it wound up looking like a bit too much.  There were so many items that demand could not be driven that high.  Many items had only one or two bids, and some didn't have any.

We ran into a similar problem with seating.  We had a decent turnout, but still had a lot of empty seats.

If we had had a good way of accurately anticipating how many people would show up, we could have adjusted.  Perhaps if there were just a bit more scarcity, demand would have been driven a bit higher.

Though we may have also gotten more bids if we had ended on time and allowed people a last chance at the items, instead of going long and telling people, "Sorry, the auction closed while you were sitting here."  Another spot where practice would have helped.

4. Know what else is going on.

If there is a major event going on at the same time as your event, it can take away a lot of the attention that you would have been getting, but check if there are any smaller events that would also interfere.

We had an intermission scheduled in our show where people could walk around, have a drink or two, look at the auction items some more, and hopefully bid on them some more.

Except a band had been scheduled to use that same room later that night.

We lost a bunch of space in that room, and their playing was a bit of a distraction during some of the speeches at the end of the night.

5. Keep it focused, but keep it interesting.

Our event was a little bit of a variety show.  We had a speaker, a musical performance, a runway fashion show, another musical performance, another fashion show, intermission, another speech, musical performance, and one last fashion show.

It never felt boring, which was great.  Sitting through two hours of anything can be tough, even if you are interested to begin with.  By breaking the night up into several smaller events, I was never wondering when things would be over.

But at the same time it felt a little unfocused.  We could have probably cut one of the musical performances(especially since one of the performers had a bad case of laryngitis), and we would have had a night that still would have had variety, but would have been more focused and had a tighter timeline.

Keep the evening balanced so people aren't bored, but know what your event is about.  Don't be afraid to skew the balance toward that.

6. "Inspirational" videos are rarely inspirational.

It's good to have a reminder that you're doing this "for the kids," or "for the whales," or whoever/whatever, but don't expect to get a huge emotional response from your audience with a five-minute collection of film clips, unless you have one hell of a filmmaker on your team.

Despite all of this, I feel our event was a tremendous success, and I hope I get to do something like that again.

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