PHD Presents…. What did we learn as a marketing and communications agency? AKA great tips for event management!
For any business to invest significant monies in a speculative event can be a daunting prospect. At PHD, we work with a large number of companies in the print and packaging sector and felt it was high time that our clients collaborated to tell some of the wonderful stories we know they have about their work in delivering innovation for environmental benefit. We therefore decided to run our own mini-conference where our clients could speak to an audience of media and industry associations about their work.
But in delivering, what in the end was a highly successful event, we learned a number of lessons in event management that will serve us well in the future and we thought we’d share these with you.
1. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Being spreadsheet queens, and having run several client events before, we knew that we needed to be organised and well prepared, thinking through the minute details, if indeed we were going to be successful.
Simply having a list of tasks is insufficient. We utilised software to Gantt chart our preparations and timings and developed a comprehensive database of attendees and suppliers. We also ensured the event management team had transparency of information, again through a software package, just in case someone was off sick or plans needed to change at speed.
Long before dates, venues and locations were determined, a brainstorm was completed to address as many creative ideas as possible to make the day go with a swing and then allocation of roles was completed amongst the team to ensure time, efficiency and costs were managed effectively. At the end of the day this was an event ‘over and above’ our normal client workload, so the volume of work had to be handled carefully.
2. Do your homework
From venues to giveaways, attendees to activities, there is a myriad of suppliers available who can help or regrettably, hinder your plans. Thorough homework, visits, sampling and testing ensures peace of mind on the big day. There’s nothing worse than getting excited about a goody bag to find the giveaways are low quality or not what you expected, or the venue expectations didn't quite match up to what was promised. Ensuring every detail is correct, matters.
At PHD, all giveaways, team shirts, documents and venues were pre-sampled and prepared well in advance of the big day. Even then, we had minor hiccups with sizing and numbers, but these were insignificant in the bigger picture where the big-ticket items arrived smoothly.
3. Don't under estimate workload and lead times
It’s very easy to think ‘we just need some logo’d bags and pens’ without realising that the vast majority of these items are made abroad with long lead times allowing shipment often from the Far East. Leaving orders to weeks before the event can create headaches even for the best organised events. 6-8 weeks should be considered a minimum lead-time for suppliers to meet your needs and don’t forget to use a graphic designer to generate the best results! Poorly set items (for example logos not set in the correct print format) will deliver off colour products, disappointing your clients.
4. Never assume
Really test your hypothesis that the event is needed. In our case, we needed to attract high profile journalists to an event they’d never heard of, which in itself was a challenge. Would they turn up? Would they be interested? Would they find it of value? The bottom line is to ask them!
We called several of our targets to ask whether they would attend if it happened, what they would look for in the event and what would be of value. Their feedback enabled us to put together a comprehensive programme on the on-trend topics they were trying to write about. It also meant we had secured pre-commitment to attending.
5. Getting bums on seats
The real challenge for any event is ensuring ‘bums on seats’ to make the day worthwhile. In our case, it was a free-to-attend event but having the right media present was key to our reputation with our clients. However, journalists are notorious for saying yes and not actually turning up (trust me – I have vast experience of that particular problem). Many fete journalists, so grabbing their time and securing their attention can be particularly challenging.
For PHD Presents we created a unique fold out invite, with the kind sponsorship of our box manufacturing client Boxmart to attract initial attention. We needed to stand out from the crowd and Boxmart certainly delivered.
It was then simply a case of e-blasting and calling until we secured the results we needed. We estimated that the journalists had been ‘touched’ four times by the time the event had come around and we still had dropouts on the day that didn’t let us know. Highly frustrating as you can imagine but we figured that was their loss and their peers walked away with great stories, new contacts and interviews galore.
6. Make everything flow
Our final tip is to really think how to make an event seamlessly flow. From arrival of guests or delegates, through presentations and activities, to lunch and coffee breaks; every stage has to be managed with precision.
At PHD Presents we didn’t rely on the venue staff to ensure our event worked seamlessly. We ensured they knew what we expected with clear instructions from the outset but we allocated PHD staff to each stage of the day, ensured hosting of clients and media alike was managed on an individual basis and the entire event was facilitated by a speaker to ensure timings and sections were managed.
A great tip – our staff all wore lanyards with their name on but on the back was a list of duties and timings of where they should be at each stage of the day to ensure no roles were missed.
All presentations were also created in a single template and linked together so there was no fussing with USBs and laptop changeovers. Speakers could step up and speak with ease. This also enabled equal attention for PHD and the client brand, if we’re honest. At the end of the day, this was as important for us pushing our brand and value proposition, as it was our client’s stories, which we never ever say.
7. So were we successful?
Yes is the resounding answer. After a lot of hard work and teamwork, our client and media feedback was excellent. We handed out feedback forms to everyone in exchange for goody bags and scored top marks across the board, which we were delighted with. We’ve also followed up thanking everyone, clients and attendees alike, further reinforcing the value of the day to everyone.
Despite success, we must always learn and not become complacent. Always sit down post any activity or event and question as a team ‘what worked well and what would we do differently next time?’
For PHD, we felt that we had the location, timings, presentations and promotion all correct. London, though expensive, is definitely the hub for our target media and we chose 1 Wimpole St, London as our location, which we rated very highly across the board of venue, organisation and food.
We recognised we need to do more to secure those all-important journalists but we also know that a ‘first’ event always suffers from a little wariness.
So thank you to everyone who got involved, we learned a lot, we have more to do but PHD Presents was a great success and our clients loved it so here we are planning 2019 already!