In my last post I talked about the importance of a strategic events programme and how it should be an important lead generator and a customer engagement tool – not just a day out of the office.
I also highlighted the importance of having a dedicated events person to oversee a company’s events strategy in order to effectively plan in advance, negotiate discounts and to ensure the best value for money for what is often a company’s most significant marketing spend.
So what would a strategic events programme look like?
In my opinion, an events programme should take the same priority as a new product campaign or major press initiative and follow the same general format. Here are my top tips for developing the plan:
1. Have objectives: Know WHY you are participating in or organising an event
Go back to basics and ask why you are signing up to or organising a particular event. Is it to promote or launch something new? Generate new leads? To get clients together to get their input into your product roadmap? Maintain brand awareness? To keep up-to-speed with what’s happening in the industry? Whatever your reason(s), if you don’t articulate it clearly in advance you aren’t in a position to create a plan around it or develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure its success.
2. Develop KPIs
This is not the most obvious thing to do and can appear quite academic at first – but it’s important! Take for example a plan to exhibit at an industry conference in London for a total cost of £15k including sponsorship, travel and expenses for two sales personnel, two days as well as collateral production and give-aways. If the rationale for being there is to maintain brand awareness (often articulated as ‘because everyone else in the industry is there’), what KPIs can you put in place to ensure you are getting value for money i.e. what does brand awareness actually mean for you…
• Is it meeting existing clients to tell them about new developments or recent successes? If so, how many clients and/or prospects do you plan to meet over the two days? There’s your KPI.
• Is it to introduce new team members to the market? Again, how many clients do you plan to meet in and around the event? How many meetings planned? These are all KPIs that should be formalised and measured.
3. Pre-event planning
There is much more to pre-event planning than signing a contract, having branded collateral or give-ways and organising wifi or plasma screens for your exhibition space. Something as obvious as notifying clients and prospects of your attendance via your website, customer newsletters, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds can be overlooked, often because there is no plan in place or there is no dedicated person responsible for informing everyone of what’s expected and to ensure it gets done.
Identifying leads or media contacts from the pre-event delegate list to arrange meetings where possible is another obvious yet often forgotten activity – all of which could be avoided by using an events overview document or checklist outlining the plan and what the expectations are.
4. The event itself
Events get busy and we meet lots of people. However, collecting business cards and making new contacts is only useful if you can remember the context of your conversations and whether or not it was a just a nice chat versus a real possible contact. It sounds obvious, but make a note of who is who as soon as you meet them, so that 24 hours later when you are back in the office you can remember who you promised to follow up with and in what way.
This is equally applicable to client events – make note of the conversations you had at the time so that you know what follow-up is expected.
5. Post event activities: Make formal feedback mandatory
So the event is over, it has been discussed at the team meeting and deemed a success, because there were ‘lots of clients and prospects in attendance’. But when formalising the next year’s budget, is the exact same team still in place and can everyone remember the exact details. Can you remember the clients that actually attend?
Systemise feedback. Set up an online feedback form (Survey Monkey is free and allows 10 questions) and have everyone who participated fill it in and ensure they know it is tied to future event planning. Include any additional Travel & Expense costs to calculate the true costs of participation and ensure it all feeds back into the objectives and KPIs.
Ideally you should record this information in your Content Management System (CMS) so that it can be tied to your overall marketing and sales plan and associated return on investment.
Ensure you actively use the final post-event delegate lists to create appropriate follow-up communication for clients and prospects you engaged with during the event, as well as those you didn’t meet. But bear in mind that sending a blanket email to everyone on the list is a wasted opportunity if it’s not done correctly.
There are many reasons as to why every company should have an events strategy in place – not least to ensure value for money and return on investment on what is often the most expensive marketing activity undertaken by many companies.