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Almost all businesses will have to put on an event at some stage, whether it’s an intimate lunch with clients, a product launch, or large-scale charity event. Rebecca Spicer asks experts what makes the difference between wow and woe factor in event planning.

Active ImageNo matter how big the event you’re putting on, and no matter who you’re putting it on for, the ultimate goal of any business owner should be to create the ‘wow’ factor, giving your audience a lasting impression of your business, product, or goals.

While target audiences, subject matter, and objectives will differ between businesses and events, the wow factor is the number one thing our experts agree on. And the good thing is, creating it doesn’t have to break the bank—you just have to be creative, or hire an events management company to do it for you.

Most businesses will put on an event to deliver a new message, company goal, or product launch to clients, employees, or the media, "and it is certainly about giving people a unique experience," explains Sean Brandtman, director of Think Big Events. His company specialises in helping businesses stage themed events, and pays close attention to aesthetics such as lighting and music.

Jody Lennon, managing director of PR agency Kinetics, agrees that having a theme is extremely important, especially for media events. "We have to ensure the theme is fitting with what we’re launching. Knowing how to theme the event can make or break it.

"It’s important to make it interesting for the media, but it really depends on what you’re trying to launch as to whether it should be a fun event, or whether it should be a business event and quite focused."

Wowing people can also be as simple as educating the speakers to deliver the message effectively, says Brandtman. "Educating the speakers and people presenting at these events to talk for shorter periods of time but really push the message across, has been effective with the work we’ve done."

Active ImageHe warns, though, that you won’t always be able to please everyone. He maintains a realistic goal to impress at least 95 percept of participants enough that they’ll walk away saying it’s the best event they’ve ever been to, or the most memorable, fun, and exciting. "And the other 5 percent who will have some criticisms? Be constructive with that. Find those people and find out why they weren’t happy," he says.

And it begins with budget. Along with your objectives, your budget will determine the size and type of event. While your options are limitless and you could have a budget of anywhere between $1,000 and hundreds of thousands, the key is to ensure that you make a success of the event in order to get a return on your investment.

Brandtman advises starting with a venue or location—decide how much you’re willing to spend on that, and keep that cost separate; establish how much you want to pay per head for food, drinks and any gifts for participants; and finally, allocate separate funds for a theme, lighting, entertainment and ‘wow’ factor. And if you choose to engage the help of an event manager, you’ll need to factor in the cost of their time and expertise as well.

He especially warns businesses to take into account mark-ups at peak times such as Christmas. This is where planning is crucial. "You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘what’s the purpose of the event?’ Then you want to look at cost-effective months of the year to do it." You might want to put on an end of financial year party in June/July, a Christmas function in November/December, or a sales conference could be held at the start of the year to motivate salespeople for the year ahead. But consider things like school holidays (when people are less able to get away for long periods and most hotels are marked up), or consider holding a Christmas in July party to get more bang for your buck.

Jill Keyte, event producer and owner of event management agency High as a Keyte, recommends SMEs consider holding an event within another event to keep costs down. For example, she runs the outdoor Starlight Cinemas in Sydney and, through that, provides client and staff entertainment facilities in a reserved Star Class Area for businesses wanting to stage an event. "SMEs don’t always have the budget to put on a special event, so holding an event within an event is an ideal way for them to entertain. Events aren’t cheap to put on, so if you can find an event to align yourself with, and the image and presentation of that works with what you’re endeavouring to achieve with your own business, it can be a quite cost-effective way of entertaining people," explains Keyte.

Active ImageLennon says the secret to getting the most out of your budget is to be creative. "We’ve worked with many small budgets, and it’s just a matter of making it creative without costing a lot."

If peak times are unavoidable, make sure you’ve planned and booked well in advance. And for even the simplest events, give yourself at least two months to prepare.

Being well organised is crucial, says Brandtman. "Pre-production is the most important thing. It’s important everything is running on time. Even the smallest thing could throw it out, but if you’ve done copious amounts of pre-production and planning, your event will run smoothly. You’ve got to do research and homework, as well as risk assessment to figure out how will you rectify problems and create a backup plan."

Depending on the purpose and nature of your event, it could also be worth consulting your accountant as to what, if any, tax deductions might be available.

 

Planning your own event Vs Hiring an event planner

Active ImageWhile it stands to reason, given this is their business, that our experts would recommend SMEs outsource their events management, it’s also a sensible proposition when putting on an event isn’t your area of expertise. You might be a top IT company, architectural firm or wholesaler, but that won’t always mean you’ve got the resources in-house to deliver your desired results from a business event.

When making the choice to go it alone or outsource, Keyte recommends business owners ask themselves the following: what do you want to achieve; who do you want to entertain/inform; what message do you want to convey and why.

Once you know what you want to achieve, ask yourself if you have the resources, time, and the creativity to put on an event that’s going to wow your target audience. If not, you should look at outsourcing.

"By using an events management company who have all the production, entertainment and catering contacts, it’s much simpler and more cost effective than trying to reinvent the wheel," she says.

When it comes to media events, Lennon says using a PR agency will help you establish whether your product or service is actually newsworthy and, if not, how to make it newsworthy. "Understanding how journalists work and what they need, and what each journalist likes—what their hot buttons are—helps to ensure you get a better outcome, which would be your media coverage," she says. "The advantage of hiring an agency to do a media launch is, they already have the contacts, they know where to go, what the message is, and they know how to tailor the message for the different audiences that might attend the launch."

Brandtman recognises that not all businesses will have the budget to outsource the entire event, so suggests outsourcing
only the parts you find most challenging, such as the theme development, budgeting and cost allocations, or location options.

Think Big Events has also launched a new consulting arm to the business, whereby they’ll consult with businesses on a daily basis about how an event should be structured and the right questions to ask suppliers—or basically any aspect of running an event they’re unsure of. So, while the PA, office manager, social committee or marketing department still put the event together, they can be advised as to the best way to go about it, without the cost of outsourcing the event completely.

Brandtman warns that suppliers can often spot an inexperienced event coordinator a mile off, so if putting on an event yourself be careful about paying too much and don’t be afraid to ask for reductions on things. If you decide to outsource be warned that a simple Google search will reveal a plethora of events management companies wanting your business. Experience is everything, so looking for one that has worked with your type of business before or specialises in the type of event you have in mind, can be a good starting point. High as a Keyte, for example, specialise in entertainment events, so if you’re looking to reward staff with a night out or to entertain clients, looking for this type of specialist company could narrow your search.

"When you use an external agency for any type of event, you need to look at what that company can offer," explains Lennon. "Looking at the accumulated experience in terms of the number of years the company has been running events, or the experience of the team, and the variety of events they’ve worked on, is important."

Keyte also advises using your own business network. Ask other businesses what companies they have used, and get their feedback. Lennon agrees that word-of-mouth is one of the best resources and, in terms of media agencies, she recommends searching for an agency on the Public Relations Institute of Australia website (www.pria.com.au). The site’s directory will also indicate what industry a particular agency specialises in.

"The best thing for an SME when they’re hiring someone is to have a pre-meeting to determine what the logistics of the event are, what your current expectations are, and set your objectives upfront. That way the agency can discuss with the client what capabilities they have for managing things in-house, and what they then need a partner to manage," explains Lennon.

Our experts recommend asking two to three companies to come in and do a pitch for your business, and make sure they can provide testimonials from past clients. It’s also important that you feel confident you can work with the event manager and that you’ll have a good relationship.

All businesses will have a key objective for their event, so working out if this has been achieved is important. If you’ve simply entertained staff for a job well done, feedback will be your measure. If there’s any negative feedback, find out what it is and rectify it for next time.

If you’re doing a sales conference, Brandtman recommends consulting with the sales team, say, six months later to see where they’re at. Have they reached those sales targets?

If the aim of your event is to drive recruitment, measuring success is a matter of establishing whether you’ve achieved recruitment targets. And if you’re showcasing a product, have your sales increased? What’s been the feedback from the product launch? Were you happy with the number of people who turned up? What do you want to be different next time? And Lennon says you’ll need to see continual media messages after the launch so there’s a momentum in the market.

Keyte advises providing a feedback form for event participants and offering a prize as an incentive to get people to fill out the survey.

And simply ask yourself: have I achieved what I initially set out to do?

Steps to Success

Set your event objectives and who will be involved.

Planning, planning, planning! Pre-production is your most crucial stage.

Consider outsourcing all or part of the events management if you don’t have the resources in-house.

Establish a good, original theme, and be as creative as you want with it.

Have good speakers and presenters, and if they’re internal staff it doesn’t hurt to give them some tips on presentation skills. Limit the time they’re on stage.

Create the right environment with good lighting and audio, at a good location.

Provide good food. People always remember the food at events, so it could make or break their experience.

Follow through afterwards. Measure the event’s success, and where it didn’t hit the mark; improve on it next time.

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