Have you ever attended an event that really did not deliver? They were pleasant enough…just not a great use of your time and money. Well you are not alone. Over these past few years I dread to think how much private, corporate, community, public and charity money has been spent on events that didn’t deliver. Too many events are planned with little thought given as to whether they should have actually been run in the first place. In short no pre-event business planning activities were undertaken.
In my many years of helping others run their own events, I routinely find that the idea to run an event does on the face of it appear to be a strategic business decision. BUT…it is often not backed up by sound event business planning practices: the sort of business planning activities you would undertake before pressing the ‘go’ button on a new product or service. I believe you must apply the same rigour a new event too.
There simply are no givens in the world of events. No overnight events successes. In this era of free information event planners need to provide content and experiences you can’t google! Your events need to inspire, connect, inform and or entertain. So what should event planners do to ensure they produce events which are genuinely…a great use of someone’s time, effort and money?
Like most things in life a successful event will the product of hard graft, an eye for an opportunity followed up by extensive research, persuasive messaging, a great programme and a clear target market.
NB: no amount of promotional guff can disguise a poor event.
Event business planning: a strategic approach
What do I mean by a strategic approach? Well the analogy I use is if you were to go to the bank manager and ask for a £10,000 loan to run an event, the first thing they are going to ask you for is your (event) business plan. The completion of all stages of the plan will provide them (also read you, your manager and or client here) with the evidence, thoughts and forecasts everyone needs to know…before a decision to proceed to the planning and design stage can be taken. This information may also reveal that the decision actually needs to be a no or a not right now one too! In my opinion, every new event proposal needs a business plan that seeks to prove there is actually a market for it.
Before you launch a less than polite few words at the screen and say but that’s all right for the big guys with the people power to be ‘strategic’, I still maintain all event planners should do some back ground event work, however small they believe the financial risk of failure to be. I recommend that if you have big event plans, you need to do a commensurate amount of pre-event background work. Similarly, if you are a voluntary organisation and the proposed event investment is relatively high with a proportional risk: then you too need to do your homework. It wouldn’t be the first time that a bad event investment has ruined or bankrupted an organisation.
A 10 step strategy to successful event curation
I have spent over 25 years producing or working alongside others to deliver events so recommend working your way through the following 10 key steps. Some of the stages will require a commensurate amount of work (remember if you are thinking big: your homework may take weeks!), others will be quicker and or only contain outline thoughts: ready to tie down, once you have the approval to go ahead.
1.The event: outline project details
As with any project (an event is a project) you will want to create a file which requires a header sheet but remembering that it’s just an idea at this stage, so can have a working title. It should also have a ‘realistic’ time frame (month/year) and a location (NB: an area, town, region but not a venue) and a named project lead.
2. Pre-event market research
This stage is crucial and probably underpins the next 8 stages. It can require a significant amount of time, effort and if you have grand plans, then investment too. Effectively this stage is all about conducting a market analysis. You will be looking to identify a need, emerging trend or opportunity. You want to seek the opinions and interest levels of others and give some thought as too potential partners.
You will need to conduct an on-line search: look at any previous event attendee data and send out surveys. Your research, data and survey results will allow you to make an assessment of need. What evidence do you have to supports your course. Is it compelling? Does it feel like a smart idea and therefore one that might be able to move to the next stage?
My expert tip here…when you do your research be pragmatic, purposeful and not too emotional. In other words stop looking just for evidence that supports your desire to run the event. That’s what I mean by not being too emotional! You might be surprised to find out that your event idea is not of interest to others: despite your enthusiasm for it.
3. Type of event
One of the questions you would also be seeking to find out during your pre-event market research stage is what type of event would work or appeal to your outline target audience: A conference, breakfast briefing, workshop, webinar and what times, style of venue or programme items might they want. The key point here is that you’re proposed ‘event design’ must have nothing to do with your likes, preferences and what’s easiest for you.
My expert tip here: is to always be customer led. Listen to what they are telling you and not what you would like to here.
4. The competition
There are very few organisations that simply don’t have any competitors. And even these are competing (as we all are) for your audiences’ time. Your research must ascertain what kinds of events your competitors already run. Are they in the same geographical area and/or the same business category or sector as you? Now ask “Can you or should you compete with them” and if so, what’s going to be different about your event.
5. Unique value proposition
This might be a small part of the process but it is important. What could be your proposed events’ game changer? The…you heard it here first moment: the latest findings reveal: hot off the innovations desk is: the latest market intelligence suggests…etc. Your event has to be a valuable experience, a great use of somebody’s time, so there needs to be a game changer…something we can’t google or not yet. This is your unique value proposition.
6. Audience profile
If you don’t have a very clear idea who your event seeks to target: you’ll end up targeting people or groups who have no interest in your events. A clear audience profile means you can create broad relevant concepts and in time create an event programme and promotional campaign that speaks directly to them. This will definitely increase your chances of having a successful event on your hands.
Similarly, when writing a business plan you need to be able to describe in detail your ideal event attendee. Your target market. Whether it’s B2B or B2C you should be able to list 5-8 characteristic that will enable you to create events – just for them.
7. Promotional media
Once you have a clear idea of who you are targeting your next job is to work out what is going to be the best way to reach them. What promotional media do they prefer to use. Where do they hang out and discuss their work or interests. What types of posts seem to trigger their interest and get them taking action? Also seek to find out when is a good time to post events updates?
8. Event measures.
Events cost, time, effort and money. So it pays to measure what the effect of your event will be. While a short tick sheet and a few smiley faces may work for a low key event, it’s important to have a clear idea about what things you want to measure. Your key event metrics. As in project management I believe you should also write down what a successful event would look and feel like: this is your success criteria.
You will want to have financial and I suggest some behavioral measures too. In other words I think you should measure whether your event (particularly relevant to the more business focused events) has resulted in changing the behavior of its attendees. For example: do they now better understand this process: your company’s approach to this problem: the way the market is a responding to this trend: the work of your charity…etc. I call such a behaviour change the ‘money action’ and it needs measuring.
9. Cost and forecasts
There will always be event costs. You may be able to beg, borrow and contra deals your way round some event supplier costs but trust me, you will have to pay for some things. At this stage the more you can understand where and what your major costs (staff, facilities, equipment, marketing, other professional services involved in running the event) are going to be the better. Your estimated figures should I suggest be inflated or at least rounded up. You need to be able to go into the ‘to proceed or not to proceed’ stage with a clear idea of the financials: the risk.
The other element that will also effect costs is what I call the quality standard. What I mean by this is that if the original idea is all about trying to see if there is a market for a high quality, bespoke business event, then on a scale of 1 to 5 you might be pitching for a 4/5 rating (5 being the highest quality rating: 1 the lowest). The reason for giving some thought to this quality rating is that it will affect costs. If you want to impress (great keynotes, high quality on–site services…etc.) it will come at a cost and so should be reflected in your expenditure forecasts.
10. Revenue outline sources and forecasts
Having now got an idea of what your major event costs will be, it is now time to decide how your event might be able to generate some income. I accept that this stage may not be necessary for all event business plans.
You will want to consider what you can sell. These might be such things as delegate/customer tickets: merchandise: concessions and exhibition space: workshops…etc. I would also suggest now is the time to indicate what you think should be the events’ financial strategy: to break even, spend the budget and make a profit / loss. In this case I would err on the pessimistic side when trying to work out possible income levels. Always best not to give false hope here. Your background research into competitor or comparable events would reveal some helpful information, as to a possible pricing model.
10 essential steps to complete before pressing the event planning button!
There you have it, a strategic event business planning approach. Why? To see if a new event idea has indeed got a market. A market that has proven interest levels and the cash and authority to buy what you are selling. If you do your homework you are going to dramatically increase your chances of providing an event your target audience actually want, and so increase your chances of having a successful event on your hands. Now what event manager doesn’t like the sound of that? I know I like to have that level of event certainty.
a) Apply the process to all new events you become involved in. It’s also worth revisiting some existing events and running them through the process too. It can be quite revealing.
b) Was this article useful? Would you like to receive regular event planning articles like this plus invaluable advice about the ‘how to’ of successful events, then opt-in via the purple box on the right and download your FREE – 7 Steps to the perfect event report.
About the author: Chris Powell, Director The Event Expert
I run an event management training and consultancy company delivering in-house and on-line bespoke event training courses and consultancy services to accidental, occasional and professional event managers.
My objective: to give you the confidence and ‘how to’ skills to design, plan and deliver their own successful and rewarding events.
Need a little expert events help then why not check out the links above and see how I can help you.