Neil Borden came up with the term Marketing Mix for all the ingredients one requires to promote a brand, and then it was E Jerome McCarthy who reduced this mix to just four elements – Product, Price, Promotion, Place. But how many of us know that event management has its 4Ps as well – Planning, Promotion, Preparation, Performance… all the ingredients that an event manager requires to make events successful.
Planning is not just the first of the Ps of event management but the most important one as well. It reminds me of a quote written on my school wall – the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. Having a good event plan in place is like half the battle won.
Know his stuff and show yours: Event planning starts at the pitch level itself. If you want to bag the event, plan for the pitch. A thorough homework before the first meeting is highly suggested. Read as much as you can about the client, the industry it is in, its products and services, its competition, key messages that the client would possibly wish to disseminate, its TG/customers and their possible expectations besides a visit on the LinkedIn accounts of client executives you are scheduled to meet.
Imagine the bonhomie and the ensuing rapport you’d be able to strike if you discover a common connection (who can be a strong referee too) while reading about the person on LinkedIn. “Now I know why you know so much about aerated beverages…you were with Coca Cola, right?” Think of yourself saying this! If not anything, you’ve managed to break the ice with this gesture.
Tweak your event profile presentation accordingly. No point showing pictures of your fashion event to a mobile phone brand manager. Show him the pictures and videos of product launches you’ve done as an event manager, preferably in the technology space, as he’d be more interested in them than seeing anorexic models doing a ramp walk.
Take the ‘brief’, as detailed as possible: The first thing that I tell my team members interacting with the clients is to take a detailed brief, I repeat – as detailed as possible, in the very first meeting itself. If you cannot think of the right questions during the first meeting, it is suggested that you do a ‘mental reiki’ or visit the event site, take pictures and measurements and share a list later. No one minds right set of questions. Rather, they would be happy to answer them for you as it gives them an impression that you are serious about your business, will not miss anything and they’d be in good hands if they choose you as their event management partner.
The major objective behind this detailing is not just to impress the client with your knowledge quotient but to arrive at the cost sheet as well. If you miss too many things, you’ll have to pay for them through your margin as the client takes certain deliverable as a given. They have hired you for your expertise and not for doing a simple supply job.
Be on the same page: You should be able to perceive what the client has in mind…his ‘mental picture’ of the event he wishes to hire you for. Notes should be taken religiously and shared asap along with pictures downloaded from the net or from your own event picture folders, such that there is no mismatch whatsoever between what is being asked for and what you think is being asked for. If the client has specified certain materials to be used for fabrication, sourcing small sample pieces and taking them along for approval in the very next meeting is highly suggested. Send a team member and have the stuff dropped at the client office if you or the client is busy.
Call your 3D designer and share the brief as early as you can. Take him along in the briefing meeting if possible. Get the snapshots of the stage and other event areas prepared as per client’s brief with distinct visibility of his/her brand. They love to see their logos flashed at the right places. The more you sit upon it, the less you’ll remember and pass it on to the designer – the communication loss theory is always at work. If for some reason, you do not have the budget or the time to get the designs made, showcasing pictures of relevant events you have managed in the past also helps the client. It is a subtle yet effective way of showcasing your event expertise.
Value-add as much as possible: Help the client arrive at the event sequence, and agenda points as well if possible. Suggestions, even if not considered, are always appreciated. If the client is doing the event for the first time or has no idea of what should be done, you can give references of the events executed in the past and take him/her through the suggested plan. Educating the ‘first-time-event’ customer is an effective way of selling as he then begins to ‘see’ the event as you would want him/her to. Many a times, based on the knowledge he’s gained from you, he is able to compare the competition on why certain deliverable are missing from their proposal or why are they priced so high. In a way, the client eliminates your competition for you!
Make the quote modular: The client should be able to take a pick amidst event elements and services as per his requirement and budget. This is achievable only if you have shared an itemized breakup of costs. If your quote is less than the spend the client intends to make, he may order more of some desired event elements or services! Except changing rooms, transparency is welcome just about everywhere.
Write down the specifications: The client should know that the ‘sound’ you are offering is not just run of the mill but line array and hence costs more than what has been quoted by the competition. This will hold you in good stead if the client is meeting multiple event management companies before making a final choice – may just tilt the scales in your favor.
Documentation is a must: If you happen to bag the event, insist on documentation. Submit a formal proposal along with list of deliverable and associated cost preferably in a proforma invoice format and ask for a formal agreement, work order etc. Make your terms and conditions explicit, leaving no room for any ambiguity, especially when it comes to advance payments and payment schedule. This will help you procure the event requirements in time. Always get the contract/agreement proof-checked from your legal counsellor and chartered accountant.
Reverse-calendar the event: This reminds me of another quote – the trouble is, you think you have time. Everything usually takes more time than anticipated. Labor and suppliers do not adhere to the timelines they commit and then there are traffic jams, strikes, festival holidays, weekly offs…not everyone works on all days of the week, or for that matter 24×7 like you do. It’s not their event, it’s yours. Swallow the bitter pill. It’s just another event for them and you are just another customer, like so many of them they have. You may not place orders on them ever again but it does not make even an iota of difference to them.
You can’t do any damn thing about it but what you can do is reverse-calendar your event and place orders on time. For example, the invitations should be sent at least three weeks in advance; the site reiki and measurements should be done at least two weeks in advance; and the high resolution logos should reach you at least one week before the event for your graphic designer to make the backdrop design, standee design etc. and seek approvals thereof. This too, enthuses a lot of confidence amidst the client team and allays their anxieties. Once everything is in place, you should be seen networking with attendees at the event in a dapper suit rather than fixing things backstage in your jeans.
Can’t sell for more, buy for less at least: Remember the age-old saying – haste makes waste. Planning helps attaining efficiencies in terms of time and resources spent, including money. Increasingly, clients are becoming aware of the various event elements and services and their costs. Therefore, when one cannot extract decent margins in billing, the win lies in having adequate time to explore all possible options and procuring at lowest possible cost, sans any compromise on quality of course. And managing time for evaluating options is a function of planning again!
Delegate management: In case of a conference, if you take up the mantle of ensuring adequate participation as well, the client is likely to hand the event down to you. But for this to happen, it is pertinent to have a plan that answers basic questions – what is the communication to be sent out / invitation and key messages; whom all will it be sent out to / database; when shall the follow-ups be done / reminders be sent etc.
If there is a fee attached to participation, the selling team should have prior approvals from the client on discounts, if any, that can be extended such that they can close the deal without any back and forth. Event manager should have adequate time to procure database and do the needful on it.
If you are planning to call 100 guests for an event, extend a minimum of 300 invites and in case of paid events, chasing 1000 would be a safe bet. You need to adapt as per the response. It is always a good idea to have a microsite for the event with an online registration form and payment gateway integration. Collecting cash, cheques and demand drafts is dated and resource consuming.
Communications edge: You may have the largest of the screens at the event but what’s the point if the banquet meant for 1000 people has only 100 people watching them. Promoting your event therefore, is an absolute must. Besides the delegate management, this is another major value-addition that you can bring across the table for the client, beating your competition hands down. Help them get an event website or microsite made with participation form and payment gateway integration. Call up your contacts in the media and get the best advertising rates or a barter deal for them, something they could not have managed on their own. Help the client do pre-event PR, event PR, social media marketing etc. This supplements the delegate registration process as well.
Not making a checklist is a sin: Prepare a checklist of items to be bought or rented, services to be rendered, the preferred vendors/suppliers and their backups along with their contact details – landline as well as mobile phone numbers. Most of us in the event fraternity carry two mobile phones or have a dual SIM phone. You should have all possible numbers including those of their deputies or juniors on your list.
It is a good idea to identify and work with vendors/suppliers who are responsive – those who take your calls or bother to call back and message, even if they charge a tad more. This would save you a lot of heartburn when you are executing an event on a tight timeline, which is generally the case.
Resource allocation / delegating duties: No matter how multi-talented or hardworking you are, you cannot do everything on your own. Calculate the number of days to the event (reverse calendar) and break your work plan into smaller, achievable parts. You’ll then have achievable goals and can follow-up with the client for inputs accordingly besides assigning responsibilities within your team. Many running for the same thing or no one running for a particular thing – both scenarios are avoidable. It is always good idea to have some extra hands available for miscellaneous tasks. You cannot ask the guy on AV console to run and fetch the bouquets from your car. Buffer comes handy almost always.
Your team members should be aware of their responsibility as well as escalation points very clearly. This helps event managers to screen performers from under-performers too. For example, once the supplies have been bought by the procurement team, it is the clearly the store keeping staff who is responsible for any shortage. No one is able to pass the buck (read blame) on to another.
Value-additions cement customer satisfaction and repeat business: If you possess knowledge and experience, what use are they of if you simply hold on to them and not impart them to your client…someone who has placed his trust on you, would pay you for it and may place repeat orders as well. Put one of your expert staff on the job and mentor the client, assist him in his event speeches, presentations and videos, venue selection, pre-event rehearsals etc. Impressing the client is half the job done, if you are able to impress his invitees too and they give him a positive feedback, the client will be yours for a posterity.
Pre-event meeting & rehearsal: Practice makes an event near perfect. If it is possible, event rehearsals must be done. They give you an idea of what possibly can go wrong, the weak areas that need to be perfected and more importantly, the actual time each of the activities planned will take. Make all your important client executives, your team members and key representatives of your suppliers / vendors / service providers sit across the table for a pre-event meeting a day before the event or at least a couple of hours before the event commencement. Circulate the event sequence printouts amidst all, do a re-check on the duties assigned and the coordination that the teams have to do amidst themselves. Throw questions and seek answers – this will give you an idea of how well everybody is aware of their tasks. Take questions and answer them patiently to create an atmosphere where everyone feels free to share his concerns / doubts.
Ensuring safety and compliance: Ensuring required licenses, structural safety and fire compliance, traffic management, ambulance with all required medical facilities etc. are event manager’s responsibility. If the client wishes to undertake any of these on its own, mention the same in the contract / agreement explicitly. Insist and ensure that the client delivers on these important aspects. In case of any eventuality, it will be your neck on the blade first. However, if you have these things in place, it will save you a lot of wasteful & unpleasant experiences.
Again, performance comes from planning. Deliver what you have promised and planned for…be it numbers in terms of attendance, execution of the innovative concept, impressive décor and unveiling of the product being launched, personalization in the event theme, innovative concepts, maximum media presence and coverage thereof, mind blowing performances (achievable only if you planned for the best of artists), celebrity coordination, technical aspects – sound and light arrangement, out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to event photography and video production, crowd management, event security or for that matter event souvenirs (something they’d use and appreciate). Remember, proof of the pudding is in the eating!
– Dhiraj Ahuja
PS: The author is Director, Team Orange Events, one of the leading event management companies in India based at New Delhi and therefore, this blog is oriented more towards the event management scene in India. However, like universal truths, some observations apply to all.